Fictional Family in the Textile Business in London 1850-1914
This paper is a fictional account of a family in the textile business in London. The time period is 1850 to 1914 and makes reference to inventions, trends and other textile pertinent data. In addition the family role in society is addressed through the use of plot structure and dialogue.
The Mills of The Bedford Family
Julianne heard him enter the house before she saw him, but that was the way it was with her brother. Alan was the most energetic young man she knew and his dedication to the family textile business was unmatched by anyone in London or the surrounding areas. As he breezed into the room he glanced at Julianne before addressing their father.
Father, we need to hire some weavers right now! That shipment of machines from America has been delayed and there are none to be had in the city. Each passing day is costing us more than this house is worth!"
Bradley smiled at his only son. He remembered his own youthful textile days with warmth and happiness. Watching his son bounding in and discussing the needs of the family mills was something he had waited his whole adult life to see. Now that it was here, he was proud of the man his son had become. While Alan poured a drink for himself and his father, Bradley took a moment to reminisce the life they had so carefully built and protected in London. Today, in 1914 the textile mills for the most part ran smoothly as long as they had proper management but it was not always that way. Bradley remembered being a boy and hearing the arguments and the tempers flare around the fire late at night between his father and his grandfather about the workers and the way they were treated.
In 1850 Bradley had been a mere thought but after his birth he heard the stories as if they had happened that morning. Everything was done by hand, just about because of the grandfather's refusal to let the power machines take the place of workers that had been loyal to him for their entire adult lives. The industry was on the brink of some exciting and revolutionizing discoveries that would change the direction of the industry forever. But nobody knew what was around the corner, they only knew what they had then and it was a family operated business, which his grandfather had built with his own father in the early 1800's. It was during the time when London still had a high society way of life and Bradley's family was on the top of the social list when it came to parties and command performance visits for members of the royal family. The Bedford's were known throughout London for their wealth and power, but they were also known for the way they treated their employees. Many factories at the time were using child labor. Bradley still remembers a fight he overheard between his father and grandfather about a competitor's textile mill in Glasgow.
His father had asked permission to employ children as the Glasgow mill had begun doing. His grandfather had refused to even discuss the idea. Bradley shook his head now. He could easily have been born into a poor family at the time and had to go to work in a factory not unlike the Bedford Textile Mills when he was only four or five years old. His grandfather, however, was the only mill owner on the continent that refused to employee what he referred to as babies.
NO!!!" Bradley still remembers hearing him shout at his father.
We will NOT have babies slaving away in that heat when they should be playing in the fields and still napping midday. "
His father had argued for hours, and Bradley remembered his grandfather pointing at him, sitting quietly on the floor and asking his father.
If you feel it is okay, then why don't you put Bradley to work?" For a minute Bradley had been scared thinking about having to work in a hot factory all day instead of playing with his pony, Spot. But his fears were soon alleviated when his father left the house mumbling about the stubbornness of his grandfather.
Bradley was still reminiscing when Alan handed him his brandy.
Father, do you think it will ever pick up again? "
Since the war things had been a bit slow. They had picked up during the war because the textile industry manufactured parachutes, canvass items and other needed supplies to help in the war efforts, but lately there had been a lull in which the textile industry was struggling. "Boy, you don't worry about it, just ride it out" Bradley confidently told his son. "I remember when the machines that weave fabric wee first on the market. We all ran out and bought hundreds of them and fired our weavers. Then the shipment was delayed and we had to try and hire back those very people we had just let go." Bradley chuckled at the memory. "They told us to stick our weaver machines in a very interesting place and I can't say as I blame them, but they came back to work and saved the mills from closing down and we have made sure to find work for them and their family members ever since. You will get through this crisis son, the Bedford family has always had good luck when it came to business and wealth. "
The introduction of power driven machines had been something that caused the entire industry to be able to reinvent itself completely. Before the industrial revolution occurred textile workers worked form their homes. The mills would purchased materials and they would distribute them the workers in their homes. This is where the term cottage industry was invented. Each worker had a job or a specialty that they performed and they did so and then took the finished job to the mill supervisors to turn in for the next process. This system was very difficult because the merchants had no control over the quality of the merchandise they received. The industrial revolution allowed for power driven machines to be placed within one location and workers could come to the factories and have their work supervised and corrected on the spot. This revolutionized the industry because it gave the textile industry consistency in its quality like it had never had before. Bradley knew this story by heart as his grandfather had told it to him on many cold winter nights as they sat together watching his father do the books and grumble about the cost of having the only all adult labor force in all of London.
While Bradley listened patiently to Alan's concerns he nodded his head already knowing what he wanted to say. When Alan was finished detailing how difficult it would be to find and hire hand weavers on this short notice but he had no choice because the shipment from America had been delayed.
Son when I was just a small boy all of our loomers in all the factories were done by hand. There were no such things as power loomers. When they were first invented in 1803 they were so cumbersome and expensive that your great grandfather Bedford refused to let go of the old ways and invest in a few. He insisted on our mills using hand loomers even in the face of the industry changes that were taking place. However, as with all progress nothing stays the same and by the mid-1800's almost the entire industry was using power looms and getting the job done ten times faster than our workers could do even on their best day. Grandfather finally gave in and in 1860 he allowed power loomers to enter the mills but he was not happy about it. They worked so fast however, he could not help but be impressed. My point is son, you make due and you have been so spoiled by the machinery of modern times you cannot fathom doing it any other way, just like your great grandfather could not fathom moving the mills into modern society. But he did and it all worked out fine. You hire some workers, pay them a decent wage and they will turn out work faster than you think they will."
Now in 1914 the mills stopped employing children but in the mid-1800's they had worked children more than 80 hours a week and paid them dirt wages. The Bedford mills had gained a reputation for being able to make a profit, keep their prices low and not abuse children by placing them in factories when they should have been in school. This caused the family to be held in high regard throughout London's high society and soon the Bedford mills were getting business referrals that nobody else was privy to. The family was building an empire on its reputation…