The Foremen, Hafod Copper Works (1841)

Author: Professor Huw Bowen, narrated by Jeff Rees


John Thomas, aged 59, and George Hughes, aged 46, foremen at the Hafod Copperworks. John Thomas had been working in the works for 26 years and George Hughes has been there for about five years.

‘We look after the boys and girls that are labouring about the works. We put them to work and keep their time. We have in all about 130 boys and girls under 18. There are about 60 boys and 70 girls, about one half of them under 13.

The hardest work to which the boys are put is working ‘the calciners’ [types of furnace]. They are mostly worked by boys from 13 to 16 years old. Their turn continues for 24 hours and they are obliged to tend the furnaces every two hours.

They can sleep for an hour, perhaps two or three times in the night. They work six turns or ‘watches’ one week and eight the other and get 2s. 6d. [12½ p] for each double watch of 24 hours.

The youngest boys and girls are employed to wheel the coal and ashes for the furnaces which are worked by their fathers and most of the children employed are the children of the workmen or those who have worked her. We do not consider the children are overworked her but we don’t think it is a fit place for girls to work as it unfits them for all other work.

The characters of the men and their wives are generally improvident. The men are rather fond of drink and the women are bad managers. The colliers appear to save more money than the copper men although they do not get so much. The copper men must, however, from the nature of their work at the fires, live better, and they wear out more clothes, particularly shoes. They mostly wear flannel shirts and wear out four in the years when two will serve to colliers.

Source: Children’s Employment Commission (1842)

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