The Furnaceman 1850

Author: Dr Louise Miskell, narrated by Trevor Jones and Ewan Donaldson

I saw two of the workmen at dinner at the fireplace of one of the calcining furnaces, and I questioned them. One was a robust and healthy looking young man, who had been only a few months in the works; the other looked spare and sallow, was married, and his wife and daughter, clean and well dressed, were waiting whilst he made his dinner…They were dressed (as nearly all the labouring men dress here whilst in their work) in white canvas trousers, a blue woollen shirt and checked neckerchief. They had each a handkerchief bound round the head in lieu of cap or hat.

The strongest and youngest of them said: ‘I am nineteen years of age and I earn, as a calciner-man, 13 shillings a week. I am on duty twenty-four hours together; but I sleep here before the fire, from twelve at night till two in the morning. I come on at six in the morning; we then wheel ore from the bottom of the furnace to the receiving house, “turning by”; this takes us from six till eleven o’clock. Every two hours we are called by the watchman to stir the calciner, which takes a quarter of an hour. At ten at night we are called to “pull out”; this takes one hour and “recharging” takes one hour; it is then twelve at night. The watchman then calls us to stir at two, at four and at six o’clock, when the twenty-four hours are up. I then go home and am off duty twenty four hours; but in the meanwhile I can work at unloading vessels by which I earn sometimes four shillings in the course of twelve hours.’

Source: Letters of the Morning Chronicle correspondent in South Wales. They were published as part of a series in the Morning Chronicle newspaper between March and April 1850.

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