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Post by Stanley » 21 Apr 2012, 08:24


[these extracts are published by permission of the author and editor, Chris Aspin.]

'WE PUBLISH this day," announced the Morning Chronicle of October 18, 1849,---the first of a series of communications, in which it is proposed to give a full and detailed description of the moral, intellectual, material, and physical condition of the industrial poor throughout England.---The undertaking, which continued until the end of the following year under the heading -LABOUR AND THE POOR,- was described by a nineteenth century historian of the English Press as “an unparalleled exploit in journalism"; and E. P. Thompson has said that the correspondents' reports form “the most impressive survey of labour and poverty at mid-century which exists” (2) But apart from the London section, which was the work of Henry Mayhew (3) the project has been almost entirely forgotten.

The present volume is an edited version of the reports from Manchester and the surrounding textile districts published during October and November, 1849. Their author, Angus Bethune Reach (pronounced Re-ach), was a prolific journalist whose descriptive writing raised the reporter's craft to new heights during the middle years of the century. The son of an Inverness solicitor, Reach settled in London in 1841 at the age of 20 and won his spurs on the Morning Chronicle, for which he continued to work until illness ended his career in 1854. Charles Mackay, the poet and Reach's colleague on the newspaper, said of him :

‘In the capacity of a narrator of events which largely interested the public, he was constantly employed; and introduced a style till then unpractised, except in editorial articles, by means of which he brought before the reader's mind a vivid picture such as a novelist would paint, of every occurrence that passed under his eye-rapid, correct, graphic and full of life and animation. Under his influence the reader could see what he saw, hear what he heard and share all the emotions and excitement of the actual spectator of the scene. This was an immense advance upon the old reporting style. It immediately found imitators in other journals, and picturesque reporting became thenceforward the fashion.’ (4)

“No amount of work seemed too much for him," added Mackay, and another contemporary writer, George Sala, said it was no uncommon thing for Reach to work sixteen hours daily. He was therefore an ideal person to take part in the survey of 1849-50. He made a thorough investigation of conditions in the industrial districts, setting down his findings with admirable fluency and understanding in lengthy articles, two of which were published weekly during the early part of the undertaking. This would have been enough work for most men, but throughout his career on the Morning Chronicle, Reach contributed regularly to other newspapers and journals and found time to write novels and a number of humorous works. He also investigated the condition of the wine growers and vineyard labourers of the Garonne, publishing his articles in 1852 under the title, Claret and Olives. Reach died in November, 1856, at the age of 35.

The Morning Chronicle's survey was prompted by the severe outbreak of cholera which focussed attention on the condition of the poor during the summer of 1849. “No man of feeling or reflection”, said the newspaper in its introduction to the investigation, “can look abroad without being shocked and startled by the sight of enormous wealth and unbounded luxury, placed in direct juxtaposition with the lowest extremes of indigence and privation. Is this contrast a necessary result of the unalterable laws of nature, or simply the sure indication of an effete social system?"

In trying to find the answer, the newspaper certainly succeeded, as it predicted it would, “in making very valuable additions to the general stock of knowledge”, and today the numerous articles are a rich source of information for both the national and local historian.

Reach began his survey in Manchester and also used the city as a base from which to make excursions to the surrounding districts. It was a particularly interesting moment for undertaking an inquiry into the condition of the poor. These were the closing months of a decade which had brought important changes in the country's financial and economic policies, in factory legislation and in the attitude of local authorities to health and sanitation. The 1840s had also seen a strengthening of voluntary help for the working classes, in particular that performed by the Sunday schools, and a gradual improvement of trade following the severe depression of 1841-44.

The Manchester which I am describing [wrote Reach] is the Manchester of prosperous times. True, there has not been any recent fever of production; there has been no sudden and imperious demand for calicoes, such as in the olden times, before Ten Hour Bills were heard of, would have kept the steam-engines throbbing, and the mechanism whirling for fifteen or eighteen hours out of the twenty-four; but there has been for some time a fair and steady trade; the workpeople have for some time earned fair and steady wages, and the butcher and baker have happily had the power of being reasonable in their demands.

The ten-hour working day had been in operation a little over a year when Reach arrived in Manchester, but he found ample evidence of its benefits.

“I have personally conversed with at least two dozen young men and women who have learned to read and write since the passing of the Ten Hours Bill. Night schools for adults are now common; most of these have libraries attached to them. The men and boys learn reading, writing and cyphering; and the women and girls, in addition to these branches of education, are taught plain, and are in many instances teaching themselves fancy needlework.”

These were some of the first fruits of reform; but as Reach observed, -“Education is but yet opening its trenches and arranging its batteries. The social and sanitary pioneers have but just begun in earnest to advance”. There was still much that shocked the visitor to Lancashire : squalid cellar dwellings, Oldham mills with their hot, unventilated rooms filled with flying dust, the drugging of young children whose mothers worked all day. It is an honest, impartial account that Reach gives.

Professor T. S. Ashton described the reports of the Royal Commissions and Committees of Inquiry as “one of the glories of the Victorian age. They signalised a quickening of social conscience and a sensitiveness to distress that had not been evident in any other period or in any other country”. The Morning Chronicle's survey is a worthy companion to those investigations.

Reach wrote his descriptions of Manchester during and not at the end of his stay and he returned several times to topics discussed in earlier reports. I have therefore arranged the Manchester material under separate headings rather than giving it as it originally appeared.


Helmshore, 1972

1 H. R. Fox Bourne, English Newspapers, 1887, ii, p 154,

2 E. P. Thompson and Eileen Yeo, The Unknown Mayhew. 1971, p 23,

3 The Survey was the starting point of Mayhew's London Labour and London Poor. Mayhew continued his investigations after leaving the Morning Chronicle.

4 Charles Mackay, Forty Years' Recollections, 1887, L pp 150-151.

[Transcript of section 7 Angus Bethune Reach’s report on the use of drugs as pacifiers. Page 24.]


THE UNDUE proportion of infant mortality arises from the neglect of mothers who are compelled to leave their young children at home while they labour in the mill. This I hold to be the blackest blot on the factory system. Whether it can be remedied is a question which I will not attempt to answer. “Pregnant women," says Dr Johns, “frequently continue their work up to the very last moment, and return to it as soon as ever they can move about”. “in Ashton under Lyne”,- says Dr Coulthard, “it is no unfrequent occurrence for mothers of the tenderest age to return to their work in the factories on the second or third week after confinement, and to leave their helpless offspring in the charge of mere girls or superannuated old women”. The same authority mentions the case of a nurse "suckling three of these children," and so exhausted as to be “unable to walk across the room” while the children were “almost unable to move their hands and feet”. The inevitable result of this system is the reckless and almost universal employment of narcotics. First, the child is drugged until it sleeps, and then too often it is drugged until it dies.

There is not a more thoroughly household word through the cotton spinning towns than “Godfrey”. Indeed, just as the gin-loving race of London delight to call their favourite beverage by dozens o slangy affectionate titles, just as there is “Cream of the Valley”, and “Regular Flare-up”, and “Old Tom”, so there is to be found in the druggists' shops in the lower districts here, “Baby's Mixture”, “Mother's Quietness”, “Child's Cordial”, “Soothing Syrup”, and so forth, every one of these lulling beverages being a sweetened preparation of laudanum.

Druggists were exceedingly shy of giving any information upon the practice of dosing infants; but it is one of such great interest and importance that 1 resolved, coute qui coute, to obtain a body of evidence upon the subject. With this view I have waited upon many medical men, examined a great many elderly factory hands, male and female, and called at no fewer than thirty-five druggists' shops.

The information given to me by medical men was general in its character, and may be summed up in the evidence elicited from Mr John Greg Harrison, one of the factory medical inspectors, and a gentleman carrying on a very large practice amongst the operative classes.

“The system of drugging children is exceedingly common and one of the prevailing causes of infant mortality. Mothers and nurses both administer narcotics; the former, however, principally with the view to obtaining an undisturbed night's rest. The consequences produced are imbecility, caused by suffusion on the brain, and an extensive train of mesenteric and glandular diseases. The child sinks into a low torpid state, wastes away to a skeleton, except the stomach, which swells, producing what is known as pot-belly. If the children survive the treatment, they are often weakly and stunted for life. To this drugging system, and to defective nursing, its certain concomitant - not to any fatal effect inherent in factory labour - the great infant mortality in the cotton towns is to be ascribed.”

From evidence given me by mill hands, I select the following cases, observing that they merely serve as samples of the ordinary stories told me by those who were sufficiently candid to speak out upon the subject.

An intelligent male operative in the Messrs. Morris's mill in Safford stated that he and his wife put out their first child to be nursed. The nurse gave the baby “sleeping stuff” and it died in nine weeks. The neighbours told his wife how the baby was dosed, but the nurse denied that the child had ever got anything of the kind. They never sent a child out to be nursed again. For that one they paid 3s. 6d. a week, and the weeks that the nurse washed for it, 4s. The mother had to get up at four o'clock and carry it to the nurse's every morning; but the distance was too far for her to suckle it at noon, so the child had no milk until the nurse brought it home at night. The nurses are often old women, who take in washing, and sometimes they have three or four children to take care of. The mother can often smell laudanum in the child's breath when it comes home. As for mothers themselves, they give the “sleeping stuff” principally at night to secure their own rest.

Another operative in the same mill gave the following evidence: He had put out one child to nurse, and he and his missus had sorely rued it ever since. The child, a girl, had never been healthy or strong, and the doctors told them, when she was 14 months old, that she had been dosed, and how it would be with her. They paid 5s. a week to the nurse. His wife then earned 15s. a week in a mill. At present he thought that 4s. was about the average paid for nursing children. The nurses very often take in washing and put the infants to sleep by drugging them. He had six children, and they were all hearty except the first.

A female weaver in a mill at Chorlton stated the case of a little girl who was nursed by a neighbour of hers and who got “sleeping stuff.” The child seemed to be always asleep and lay with its eyes half open. Its head got terribly big and its fingernails blue. The mother took the child from the nurse and carried it to the doctor, who said it was poisoned. The mother went on her knees crying, and said she had never given the child anything; but it died very soon after. The witness was a married woman, but had never had any family. She had often heard tell of the effects of “sleeping stuff” and how it killed the poor children.

Another woman, employed in the weaving room of the same mill, had put out all her children to nurse and had lost none of them. But she had a good kind nurse, a married woman, not one of the regular old nurses who made a trade of it. She had often heard of children getting “sleeping stuff”. It made them that they were always dozing, and never cared for food. They pined away, their heads got big, and they died. She carried her own child every morning to the nurse, rising for this purpose a full hour before she went to the mill because the nurse lived some way off. The nurse did not rise at the same time, but she (the mother) put the baby into bed to her and left it there till the evening. She did not suckle it in the course of the day because the distance was too far to go. All her children were thriving.

I now come to the druggists. With one or two honourable exceptions, these individuals either point blank denied that the drugging system existed, or declined giving any information whatever. More than one of the proprietors of the most noted “Godfrey shops” in Manchester were amongst the latter class, while of the others, who repudiated the traffic entirely, several of them had their windows crowded with announcements of different forms of the medicine which they were cool enough to declare they did not deal in.

My inquiries extended to the use of laudanum in different forms by people of all ages, and I transcribe the evidence of those druggists from whom I received any information worthy of the name.

A highly-respectable druggist in Salford states as follows:- The use of laudanum as a stimulant by male and female adults is not at all uncommon. His sales in that way are, however, small. He disposes of about a shilling's worth weekly, in pennyworths. Some of his customers will take a tea-spoonful or a tea-spoonful and a half of laudanum; and in bad times, when they have no money, they come and beg for a dose. The sale of crude opium has, he thinks, diminished in his part of the town. When people come for laudanum, to use it as a stimulant, he sells it mixed with tincture of gentian, in the hope that it may do them less harm. Children are drugged either with Godfrey's Cordial or stronger decoctions of opium. Every druggist makes his own Godfrey, and the stronger he makes it, the faster it is bought. The medicine consists of laudanum sweetened by a syrup and further flavoured by some essential oil of spice. Mothers sometimes dose their infants, but the nurses carry the practice to the greatest extent. The mother takes the infant from the warm bed at five o'clock in the morning and carries it to the nurse's, where it is left till noon and often drugged to keep it quiet.

Among the druggists who were obviously disingenuous upon the point, 1 may particularly mention one, not far from the Rochdale-road. He tried to pooh-pooh the whole thing. “He sold nothing of the kind, at least next to nothing, nothing worth mentioning. Oh, no. The fact was that a great deal of nonsense was talked upon the subject. Isolated cases might be found, but to say there was anything like a general practice of drugging children was to raise a mere bugbear.” Now, during our conversation, which occupied about five minutes, my cool and candid friend actually suited the action to the word by handing over the counter, to two little girls, three distinct pennyworths of the very drug the demand for which he was resolutely denying! I would have given something for that gentleman's power of face. I think it could be made useful.

Another druggist told me of a common feature in this hocusing system. The women go to shops where the “cordial” is made weak, and where a certain quantity, say half a teaspoonful, is prescribed as a dose. Afterwards they go to shops where the mixture is made stronger, and without making any further inquiry buy the drug and give the child the old dose. Yet some of the druggists, said this gentleman, “put twice or thrice as much laudanum into their Godfrey as others.”

By a druggist carrying on an extensive business in a low neighbourhood in Ancoats, inhabited almost exclusively by a mill population, I was informed that personally he did not sell much narcotic medicine, but that it was tolerably extensively vended in small "general shops", the owners of which bought the drug by gallons from certain establishments which he named. He informed me also that he was in the habit of making Godfrey without putting laudanum into it, a system, from all I hear, very much akin to making grog without spirits. He affirmed, however, that the carminative ingredients, used for flatulence, constituted an important element of the medicine, and one for which it was frequently bought. He expressed his belief that the drugging system was gradually going out, and that the “old women” and midwives, who were its great patrons, were losing their hold upon the mill population. Recipes, which had been handed down in families for generations, and which often contained dangerous quantities of laudanum, were occasionally brought to him to make up, but he found little difficulty in convincing their possessors of the noxious character of the ingredients, when he was sometimes allowed to change their proportions. Sometimes a half-emptied bottle of cordial would be brought, in order that more laudanum might be put into it - a request which he always met by pretending to comply with it, and sending the applicant away with the contents of the phial increased by a few drops of harmless tincture. The mortality among infants in Manchester this gentleman attributed not to narcotics, but to careless nursing and insufficient and unwholesome suckling. “When women work nearly all day in a hot and close temperature, and live for the most part upon slops, their milk does children more harm than good. Infants are suckled hastily at dinner time, while the mother is eating her own meal, and then they are left foodless until well on in the evening. The consequence is a train of stomach complaints, which carries them off like pestilence. Children who had been drugged with “sleeping stuff” he could recognize in a moment. They never appeared fairly awake. Their whole system appeared to be sunk into a stagnant state.” He believed that when such doses were administered, nurses were chiefly to blame; for mothers often came to him with their ailing children, asking, in great trouble, whether he thought that “sleeping stuff” had anything to do with the child's illness. The proportion of illegitimate children carried off through inefficient nursing was terrible. As to adults, he knew that a good deal of opium and laudanum was taken by them. Women were his chief customers in that way. He had seen a girl drink off an ounce-and-a-half of laudanum as it was handed to her over the counter. Most of these people had begun by taking laudanum under medical advice and had continued the practice until it became habitual.

While we were talking, another druggist entered the shop and confirmed the main points of the above statement. He added that when he was an apprentice, twenty years ago, in a country place, principally inhabited by hand-loom weavers, his master used to make Godfrey in a large boiler by twenties and thirties of gallons at a brew. He believed that the people did not drug their children half so much now-a-days. Coroners' inquests were good checks. Almost all the laudanum he sold was disposed of in pennyworths. “A great number of old women took it for rheumatism."

I beg , however, to direct particular attention to the following evidence, given by a most intelligent druggist carrying on a very large business in a poor neighbourhood surrounded by mills, and a gentleman of whose perfect candour and good faith I have certain knowledge: “Laudanum, in various forms, is used to some extent by the adult population, male and female, and to a terrible extent for very young children. I sell about 2s. worth a week of laudanum, in pennyworths, for adults. Some use raw opium instead. They either chew it or make it into pills and swallow it. The country people use laudanum as a stimulant, as well as the town people. On market days, they come in from Lymm and Warrington, and buy the pure drug for themselves, and 'Godfrey' or 'Quietness' for the children. Habitual drunkards often give up spirits and take to laudanum as being cheaper and more intensely stimulating. Another class of customers are middle-aged prostitutes. They take it when they get low and melancholy. Three of them came together into my shop last night for opium to relieve pains in their limbs. These women swallow the drug in great quantities. As regards children, they are commonly dosed either with 'Godfrey' or 'Infant's Quietness.' The first is an old fashioned preparation and has been more or less in vogue for near a century. It is made differently by different vendors, but generally speaking it contains an ounce and a half of pure laudanum to the quart. The dose is from half a teaspoonful to two teaspoonfuls. Infant's Cordial, or Mixture, is stronger, containing on the average two ounces of laudanum to a quart. Occasionally paregoric, which is one-fourth part as strong as laudanum, is used. Mothers sometimes give narcotics to their children, but most commonly the nurses are at fault. The stuff is frequently administered by the latter without the mothers' knowledge, but it is occasionally given by the mothers without the fathers' knowledge. I believe that women frequently drug their children through pure ignorance of the effect of the practice, and because, having been brought up in the mills, they know nothing about the first duties of mothers. The nurses sometimes take children for 1s. 6d. a week. They are very often laundresses. Half-a-crown a week may be the average charge of the nurse, and the 'nursing' commonly consists of laying the infant in a cradle to doze all day in a stupefied state produced by a teaspoonful of 'Godfrey' or 'Quietness.' Bad as the practice is, it would not be so fatal if the nurses and parents would obey the druggists' instructions in administering the medicine. But this is what often takes place. A woman comes and buys pennorths of 'Godfrey. Well, all is right for five or six weeks. Then she begins to complain that we don't make the 'Godfrey' so good as we used to do; that she has to give the child more than it needed at first; and so nothing will do but she must have 'Infant's Quietness' instead, for, as she says, she has heard that it is better, i.e. stronger. But in process of time, as the child gets accustomed to the drug, the dose must be made stronger still. Then the nurses, and sometimes the mothers, take to making the stuff themselves. They buy pennorths of aniseed, and treacle and sugar, add the laudanum to it, and make the dose as strong as they like. The midwives teach them how to brew it, and if the quantity of laudanum comes expensive, they use crude opium instead. Of course numberless children are carried off in this way. I know a child that has been so treated at once; it looks like a little old man or woman. I can tell one in an instant. Often and often a mother comes here with a child that has been out to nurse, to know what can be the matter with it. I know, but frequently I dare hardly tell, for if I say what I am sure of, the mother will go to the nurse and charge her with sickening the child; the nurse will deny, point blank, that she did anything of the sort, and will come and make a disturbance here, daring me to prove what of course 1 can't prove legally, and abusing me for taking away her character. The children also suffer from the period which elapses between the times of their being sucked. The mothers often live on vegetables and drink quantities of thin ale, and the consequence is that the children are terribly subject to weakening attacks of diarrhoea.”

Hearing in several quarters of the “little shops” which retailed “Godfrey”, I looked out for such an establishment, and in a back street in Chorlton, surrounded by mills, I hit upon what I wanted, a shop in the “general line”, in the window of which, amongst eggs, candies, sugar, bread, soap, butter, starch, herrings and cheese, I observed a placard marked “Children's Draughts, a penny each.” There was a woman behind the counter, and on my making inquiries as to whether she sold “Godfrey” or any similar compound, she replied she had not for six months. The draught announced in the window was purgative.

“Then you used to sell 'Godfrey'?”

“Oh yes. We used to make it and sell it for children when they were cross; but people did not think ours strong enough.”

“What did you make it of?"

“We took a pennorth of aniseed, a quarter of a pound of treacle, and a pennorth of laudanum (a quarter of an ounce). Then we stewed down the aniseed with water, and mixed up the whole in a quart bottle.”

“And so this stuff was too weak?"

"Aye, that it was. I could have sold it fast enough if I had made it stronger; but I daren't do it for fear of getting into trouble.”

“Do you ever give it to your own children?" - there were several sprawling about the back parlour.

“Yes. But I never put a pennorth of laudanum into the bottle that I gave it to them out of.”

“But very strong stuff is generally used?"

“Indeed it is. You may know the children that get it at once - if you have any experience in them things - they're so sickly, and puny, and ill-looking. It's a shocking thing that poor people should be obliged to give their children such stuff to keep them quiet.”

When we take into consideration this horrible system of juvenile “hocusing”, this feeding infants upon loathsome syrupy laudanum rather than their mother's milk, when we duly ponder on the state of filth in which children left inefficiently attended must live (and the nature of the superintendence they receive is well illustrated by the fact that more than 4,000 go annually astray and get “lost” in the streets of Manchester) - and, finally, when we take into consideration such facts as those stated by the registrar of Deansgate, in Manchester, when he tells us that, in one district, nearly 200 children died in a year “without any reasonable attempt having been made to save them” the miserable little wretches having been soothed and stupefied in their sickness by opiates - when we endeavour to realise in our minds in its full horror this foul and unnatural state of things, can we feel either shocked or surprised at the deliberate declaration of the registrar, that, in Manchester, in the course of seven years, there perished 13,362 children “over and above the mortality natural to mankind?" Yes: 13,362 “little children brought up in dwellings and impure streets - left alone long days by their mothers - to breathe the subtle sickly vapours - soothed by opium, a more cursed distillation than hebenon - and when assailed by mortal disease, their stomachs torn, their bodies convulsed, their brains bewildered, left to die without medical aid, which, like hope, should come to all, the skilled medical man never being called in, or only summoned to witness the death and sanction the funeral!”

There are two exciting causes for this mass of infantine misery. First, but in a comparatively small degree, the unhealthy state of the houses; secondly and mainly, the neglect and all the concomitant evils consequent upon the mothers of children of tender age passing their days in the mill. Herein - I cannot too often repeat it - lie, in my solemn conviction, the bane and disgrace of the cotton system.

[Transcribed by SCG with the permission of Chris Aspin, 27 June 2005]
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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