Wage Forfeits at Strutt Mills

Whilst cataloguing the D6948 collection relating to Messrs W G and J Strutt, the cotton mill owners in Belper and Milford, there have been some interesting records to look at, including lots of employee records. You may have seen some previous blog posts relating to the child mill workers, which are part of this collection. Another type of document I would like to showcase is a wage forfeit or deduction book. The book showcased in this post is D6948/G/2.

During the Industrial Revolution, there were all sorts of reasons why an employee could have their wages deducted, including being late, or talking whilst working, just to name a few. Some of these reasons may seem alien to us, but were common practice for all factories, not just those owned by the Strutts. When starting work, the employee would have been told about such deductions as they would have been a condition of their employment.

Also note the top entry for ‘riotous behaviour’. I wonder what happened there!

The wage forfeit book is arranged by quarters of the year and is dated between June 1805 and June 1813. Each entry made includes the following information: date, name of worker, name of person who reported them for breaking rules of employment, the offence committed, and the amount deducted from their wages. Below are a few example entries. The most common entry was leaving without giving notice or running away, can be seen above.

Another common entry was for not sticking to deadlines or happened to drop or spoil some of the cotton you were working on. Cotton was important to factory owners, as it was shipped in from the West Indies and the Americas during this time, usually grown and picked by enslaved people. Whatever its provenance, it was regarded as a valuable commodity and costly for any business to lose any, hence the reason for wage deductions.

There are also some strange examples of offences, ranging from shouting at soldiers to dancing around the room. One of the other unusual offences can be seen here in ‘putting Joseph Haynes dog into a bucket of hot water’. That certainly raises a lot of questions, even more so as the poor dog was dipped in water at least twice within a few pages of this book. Another just off the bottom of this page includes ‘neglecting his work to talk to people’. I think many of us would be guilty of that one, whoops!

Perhaps the most interesting thing is the wide variety of offences committed. Looking at them with a modern eye, they often appear amusing, but they would have been less so to the person whose wages were being deducted, or to the management they worked under. These offences were seen as very serious as they took the workers away from their job and undermined the productivity of the factory.

With the long hours and low pay, albeit that the factories provided a better income and stability than agricultural work did, it must have been a hard life. Even more so with the long list of rules for employees to abide by.

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