The following is a continuation of my essay on Ballard’s journal. See the earlier entry from 14th May 2015 for the first part.
Ballard’s tour of the North of England continued with a visit to Manchester. Although he admired the architecture, particularly in the suburbs, he was not much enamoured of the town, due to a factor remarked upon by several visitors during the 19th Century: the pollution. Along with the cramped living conditions, caused by the rapid increase in town-dwelling workers, this was one of the unfortunate consequences of the Industrial Revolution.
‘Manchester is quite a smoky place. Upon my walking a little way out of the town I found it was quite fine weather, and what I supposed a foggy day was only an accumulation of coal smoke from their manufactories.’
Harsh working conditions were by no means limited to the major towns of the North. Despite the remarkable growth of the British manufacturing industry over the previous decades, Britain was still a majority agricultural economy. Travelling to Leeds, Ballard saw huge tracts of heath land, unsuitable for farming, and consequently over-cultivated land where it could be put to an agricultural use:
‘After passing the wastes mentioned I saw many farms, the land appearing to be in the highest state of cultivation. The farmers all over the county employ old women and children to pick up dung in the streets and roads, and they gain (I am informed) one shilling per day by this miserable employment.’
Ballard was ideally placed to observe such details, as his extensive tour of the country was accomplished by means of stagecoach travel. It would not be many years before this means of transport for tourists was largely replaced by the railway network; by the late 1830s, the most direct routes were attainable only by locomotive. Although this would allow visitors to Britain to reach their desired destinations much more quickly, it would also spell an end to the journal-writers’ detailed observations of the countryside on their more leisurely road journeys. Ballard had arrived at a time of generally poor regulation of road improvements, so he had plenty of time to cast his critical eye over the agricultural landscape. The fact that American roads were generally in an even poorer condition at the time presumably contributed to his amazement at the breakneck speeds of ‘seven and eight miles per hour’.
‘There is not the least derogation from respectability in riding upon the outside. I should certainly myself give it the preference in fine weather as you are enabled to have a much better view of the country through which you pass than when inside the coach. The danger is however greater in the event of an accident happening to the coach, but as they are made so very strong they are in a degree guarded.’
The social commentary here is invaluable. The reduced cost of travel on the exterior of a coach would naturally lead historians to assume it was a form of ‘second class’ transport, but Ballard clearly formed the opposite opinion. There is no doubt that there was often a perceived social divide between ‘outsides’ and ‘insides’, as the two different classes of passengers were often known, but perhaps the difference in price could be attributed more to danger or discomfort in wet or cold weather, rather than any loss of social propriety. Certainly travel on the roof of a coach had been extremely dangerous before the 19th Century, but advances in coach design at the beginning of the century improved matters to such an extent that more liberal legislation was necessary; in 1806 the number of ‘outsides’ who could legally travel on any one coach was increased from six to twelve in the summer and to ten in the winter, although this was modified slightly in 1811 to allow only ten exterior passengers, whatever the season. Later in his travels, on a trip from London to Leeds, Ballard was shocked to be travelling at an even faster rate than before:
‘After going with almost incredible swiftness, we arrived at Leeds, at 6 o’clock in the morning, being at the rate of eight miles and one-third each hour (including stoppages for refreshments, changing horses, etc.) – a velocity with which I desire never to travel again.’
So far, Ballard had been saddened by the treatment of children in Britain, both in the factories of the towns and the farms of the country. His arrival in Leeds on his first visit to the town was no exception, where he found that child labour was an integral part of the mining industry. Although he did not dare to ‘venture down’ into a coal pit, he ‘met many little children driving jackasses with paniers of coals on their backs.’ When he returned to Leeds after spending nearly a month in London, Ballard observed how technological advancements now meant that children could perform jobs that previously had been achievable only by hard manual labour:
‘At a warehouse I saw a packing press having thirty-two tons power, arising from the pressure of a pail of water pumped up to the ceiling through a small pipe, and which in returning forces the press down with this amazing weight. It is so easy in its operation that a lad of eight years has sufficient strength for the purpose.’
As impressive as the Industrial Revolution was to Ballard, he was never far away from the grim realities of child labour, when he was visiting factories. At a cloth mill in Leeds he found ‘about fifty wretched boys and girls’ at work on steam-powered machinery, ‘the eldest not over ten years of age’. Concerned for their welfare, Ballard questioned the owner whether the children were ever allowed a break to ‘play’, but he was informed that they worked for 13 hours with just one break for dinner:
‘Thus these poor little wretches are confined in these hells – for I cannot find a more appropriate name – deprived of education and buried in these dark, noisy and unwholesome dens. They either pass a quick but miserable existence or furnish turbulent, ignorant and vicious members of society.’
Four years later, the Tory government would attempt to improve conditions for children in factories, by limiting the working day to 12 hours and prohibiting children under the age of 9 from working at all. Without the benefit of factory inspectors, the new law was largely ignored. Under a Whig administration, Althorp’s Factory Act in 1833 further limited the hours, introduced a limited amount of compulsory schooling and appointed inspectors to ensure the rules were carried out. This was just the beginning of a succession of factory acts that would seek to improve conditions in factories throughout the 19th Century. Ballard had witnessed factory conditions at their harshest.
Some of the upper classes sought to keep things that way. Whilst in Britain, Ballard moved in a wide social circle and was subjected to opinions that were often quite alien to him. One lady of society told him how working children should remain working children, and never be educated:
‘During conversation in the evening a lady observed, after one of the young ladies had been singing and playing, that it was quite shocking now to behold every vulgar, ill-born wretch attain an accomplished education, and that she understood that every tradesman’s daughter was taught music, etc. Most unfortunately she directed her remarks to me, and by the manner in which they were delivered she seemed to require my assent to her observations. This she did not have, and I, I suppose, for my republican notions, forfeited the lady’s good opinion of my politeness.’
We will return to Ballard’s journal in a few days.