The following is the third of eight stories about life working in a Jute mill. These sketches give a great insight into the operations of these mills, from the different machinery to the way leisure time was occupied. They also give a sense of how a family unit could be impacted by this new way of life, which was a world away from a quiet little toun in the Howe of Fife.
Chapter III.—The Spinning Flat.
Through a series of incidents which I need not particularise I by-and-by found my field of labour and sphere of observation in the spinning flat, that very place I had been so solicitous to see and know about. My work there was to oil the machinery. It is easy to see that where so much depends upon smooth and rapid motion, every bearing must be kept moist and sweet, and therefore an oiler’s duties are important. I had to undergo a course of pupilage at this for several days under a young man who was about to be promoted as second foreman; and as I received much patient kindness at his hand, I cannot but note how much of practical goodness is to be found among millworkers. Not but that the general features of mill manners are such as to impress one unfavourably—so much rudeness, duplicity, and profanity, hidden by the noise and activity of work, afford anything but a good school for the morals of young persons. But against so dark a background the guileless faithfulness of Harry, my predecessor, appeared all the more striking.
Tutored by him, I learned not only what was to be done, but the reason for its being carefully attended to. Neglect in my duty could not be hidden, for the rapid motions soon dried up the imperfect supply of oil, and induced heat and hindrance. Besides, what a disgrace as well would it be to hear some journal screeching out my remissness. An intelligent hint from Harry taught me a lesson in conscientiousness in the discharge of other duties than the more oiling of machinery—a lesson which has been of use to me all my life.
It was at the beginning of winter I made this change of work—the weather was becoming cold, and I was therefore the more struck by the warmth of the spinning flat as compared with the low mill. There we had a stone floor, and a good deal of openness about the whole apartment; but here the floor was of wood, and the room was pervaded with a pleasant kind of warmth, which felt as if one had suddenly gone into another climate. The heat of this place arises from the friction of so many shafts and spindles revolving at great speed. On the coldest day of winter we may find the spinner girls going about their work with bare feet, and yet quite comfortable. The heat is better than from steam pipes or stoves, and is very rapidly evolved, for ten minutes after starting, the whole place feels quite as warm as on a summer day. There was also a more agreeable smell in the place, the heavy towy flavour of the low mill was almost absent, an the fragrance of the lubricating oil (in which the mineral element was present) came in its place. The noise of the machinery, although deafening, was so steady and solid that after a little while I did not notice it at all. The workers are so little affected by it that they rather observe the unpleasantness when, from any accident during working hours, the machinery is stopped, and the room, instead of being pervaded by the deafening rush suggestive of silence, has sharp talking and noisy steps to strike them with disagreeable acuteness.
My duties led me over every part of this flat, and gradually made me aware of the whole process as well as the functions of the different parts of the machinery. I saw that the essential principle of the spinning frame was the same as that of the roving frame I had attended so long. The rove bobbins which were brought hither were set on pins on the top of the frame and the end drawn down between a pair of retaining rollers running at a slow speed, but immediately it was caught by another set going much faster, and the slack rove was drawn into a thin thread—the revolving flyer and bobbin in front giving it a twist, and it was then the finished yarn. At the end of the frame were pinions which could be shifted so as to adjust not only the reduction (or draw), but also the twist of the yarn, and a good spinning foreman could regulate this to any degree by an exchange of wheels. This I learned not only to assist at, but to do independently, and I wisely reckoned it a valuable lesson to me. Continue reading “‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 3 (28 May, 1881)”