` History of Women’s Right to Work Act ‘

A Woman's Work

A Woman’s Work (Photo credit: jumpinjimmyjava)

#AceHistoryNews says following on from `International Woman’s Day‘ l thought this post about `Women’s Right to Work’ was apt.

Firstly this act changed the previous legal situation, in which all property automatically transferred to the control of a husband on marriage.

It granted some limited separate protection to a married woman’s property and also permitted women to retain up to £200 of their own wages or earnings.

Similar changes did not take effect in Scotland until 1877.

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International Woman's Day :*Denomination: 60 F...

International Woman’s Day :*Denomination: 60 Filler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Families and households:

Because of high birth rates and improving life expectancy, Victorian families were generally large. The growth of residential domestic service, even low down the social scale, and the prevalence of lodgers, especially in towns, meant that many households were further swollen in size and complex in formation.

Although households consisting of more than two generations or containing more than one husband/wife partnership had never been common in Britain, there was a tendency, especially in textile districts, for grandparents to live in households containing young children, particularly where mothers were working outside the home.

…many households were dependent upon female earnings, especially those households run by widows.

Many young people, especially young women, migrated to towns and cities in search of work as the possibilities of agricultural employment declined. Migration was facilitated by family and other connections: communities were recreated in towns and cities through local concentrations of settlement of particular ethnic, religious, regional or familial groups and by the possibility of finding accommodation through lodging or domestic service in the homes of contacts of this kind.

Most households necessarily drew income from a number of sources, with many women and juveniles adding to wage earning even if their employment was usually more intermittent and low-paid than that of adult males. Although the male breadwinner wage was increasingly regarded as the ideal and even the norm, in practice many households were dependent upon female earnings, especially those households run by widows.

As the mid-Victorian boom got under-way the demand for female and juvenile labour expanded, particularly where new technologies or patterns of work were resented by skilled men. Cheap female and immigrant labour was often used to undercut male workers. Urbanisation created manifold opportunities for female employment despite the regulation of hours and conditions of work for women and juveniles in certain sectors, and the coming of compulsory education after 1871. Thus most women in Victorian society, in the two-thirds of the population below the upper and middle classes, worked for wages. But in what occupations and how much?

The evidence of women’s work:

Two Victorian woman at work in a hat factoryWorkers in a hat factory  ©One of the greatest problems facing the historian of women’s work is the absence of reliable information. The census enumerators’ books are the most obvious source, especially for the period after 1841 when occupations were included; but in practice such information is vastly more accurate for men than for women for several reasons. Firstly, contradictory and inconsistent instructions were given about how to classify women’s work, particularly where this involved home-working or consisted of helping in a family run business (such work was sometimes deliberately excluded from the record). Furthermore, women’s work was often part-time, casual, and not regarded as important enough to declare.

Women may have also have preferred to keep their income-earning a secret from their husband.

Sometimes it was illegal (as with prostitution) or performed in unregulated sweatshops (a further reason for failure to record). Women may have also have preferred to keep their income-earning a secret from their husband. An occupational designation, for whatever reason, meant something very different for men than for women.
With the emphasis primarily upon their role as wives and mothers, women workers did not usually see their occupation as a centrally defining characteristic of their lives, and therefore frequently failed to declare it.

Business records can be used to supplement the census and to give an indication of the gender-specific nature of employment and wage earning in certain firms and regions. But the survival of wage books is generally poor and biased in favour of larger firms in the regulated sector – for example factory textile employment, where wages and employment levels were generally much higher than the norm.

Trade directories are another useful source but suffer from the fact that they were published irregularly, and record not employment but the names of business proprietorships. Household budgets have recently been used for research on women’s work. They have the advantage that they generally record all incomes, including poor relief and self-provisioning, allowing one to assess the contribution of women and juveniles to the family economy. Their disadvantage is that they have patchy survival over time and region, and they have varying levels of detail, accuracy and comparability because they were compiled for differing purposes.

The varieties of women’s work:

Two Victorian woman working on the stitch work of a womans dressWorking in the rag trade  ©What do we know from the difficult evidence about patterns of women’s work over time and in different regions and sectors of the economy? The most obvious feature of women’s work was its importance to most families, its variability across time and space and its persistent association with certain trades and sectors.

Female employment in the 1850s, 60s and 70s appears to have been higher than any recorded again until after World War II. Family budget evidence suggests that around 30-40 per cent of women from working class families contributed significantly to household incomes in the mid-Victorian years. This might have been even higher during the industrial revolution decades, before the rise of State and trade union policies regulating female labour and promoting the male breadwinner ideal.

Domestic service of all kinds was the single largest employer of women ...

As in earlier centuries, the bulk of waged work for women appears to have been found in trades associated with female skills or proclivities, particularly where these were also casual and low paid.
Domestic service of all kinds was the single largest employer of women (40 per cent of female occupations stated in the census of 1851 in provincial cities and 50 per cent in London). The textile and clothing sectors came a close second. Women were also found in large numbers in metal wares and pottery and in a variety of petty trades, especially in towns: confectionery, brewing and other provisioning, seam-stressing, laundry work, cleaning and retailing. Because many sectors which employed large numbers of women were concentrated in certain regions of the country (as with the cotton and woollen industries of south Lancashire and west Yorkshire), the statistics of female labour force participation varied across the country.
Women and the family firm:

Outside the working classes the traditional view of Victorian women is that they were little involved in business or enterprise and that their lives were largely devoted to the private sphere of domestic and family life. Certainly the cultural and evangelical ideals of the period placed women on a pedestal of moral probity, motherhood and domestic orderliness. There is some evidence that middle class women in some sectors of the economy did increasingly withdraw from direct involvement in family firms in the mid-Victorian period, whilst the legal status of married women and their limited property rights made it difficult for them to operate in business on their own account at least before the 1880s.

…the stereotype of the middle-class woman as the angel in the house can easily be overplayed.

 However, the stereotype of the middle class woman as the angel in the house can easily be overplayed. Widows and spinsters were rarely in a position to rest on their laurels or be ladies of leisure. Many of the former carried on family businesses after the death of their husbands, whilst the significant surplus of spinsters in Victorian society found work as governesses or in trades which were regarded as suitable for women such as millinery and inn-keeping, grocery retailing and other victualling.
Both widows and spinsters were prominent in property ownership and in financing businesses as sleeping partners. The typical firm in the 19th century was a small family partnership. Because of this many opportunities existed for wives and daughters to be closely involved. There is evidence of their important roles, especially behind the scenes: in retailing, book-keeping, correspondence, dealing with clients, arranging deals.
Women’s work, industrialisation and gender:

A photograph showing a Victorian woman working on making hat boxesMaking hat boxes  ©The nature of industrialisation was much influenced by the prevalence of women’s work and by the wider role of women in Victorian society. Women were prominent in many sectors which underwent considerable technological and organisational change partly because employers at first found it easier to recruit women and juveniles to new practices in the face of opposition from established, unionised or skilled adult male workers. Women provided a flexible, cheap and adaptive workforce for factories and sweatshops, and had feminine skills associated with some of the most rapidly expanding consumer goods industries at the forefront of industrialisation such as textiles, pottery, clothing and victualling. Some new technologies were adapted and modified with young female workers in mind, while the cheap labour of women and children could also hold back mechanisation in favour of traditional labour intensive methods.

Women provided a flexible, cheap and adaptive workforce…

Regional and sectoral variations in the extent to which women were involved in waged work had a major impact upon regional differences in gender relations within families and communities, and upon the complexion of local politics and trade unionism. Women’s wage-earning ability often gave them more influence over wider familial and community decision-making. This included decisions about consumption, and has been held partly responsible for the increasing independence and fashion consciousness of young women, and the rise in mass spending on household goods, clothing, furniture, curtains and foodstuffs. The more women worked for wages the less time they had to produce their own goods for the home.
A double burden:

A Victorian wife keeps house for her on looking husbandVictorian working women bore the brunt of household duties (Punch cartoon, 1894)  ©In areas where many women, including married women, worked full-time for wages (for example in some of the cotton textile towns of the north-west such as Preston) there may have developed greater sharing of housework between men and women, and a more prominent role for women in local politics. However, there are more examples where working women shouldered the double burden of waged work and the bulk of household responsibilities, and where their role in politics remained marginal.

…working women shouldered the double burden of waged work and the bulk of household responsibilities…

As the 19th century progressed, there was a greater prevalence of gender-specific employment which was often used to enhance control and discipline in the workplace.
Supervisory roles were almost exclusively taken by men, and men also came to operate the most expensive and sophisticated machinery and to monopolise the high status and higher paid jobs even in textiles.
The expansion of heavy industries such as iron, steel, mining, engineering and ship building in the later century also created sectors which employed almost exclusively male labour, which were associated solely with male attributes and which endorsed the male breadwinner ideal. Thus a hardening of gender assumptions in the nineteenth century was closely associated with corresponding changes in the workplace.
Find out more:

Books

Women’s History in Britain, 1850-1945 ed. June Purvis (London UCL Press 1995) A collection of essays covering a range of topics from women’s work and the family to education, health, sexuality and politics.

Women, Gender and Industrialisation in England, 1700-1870 by Katrina Honeyman (Basingstoke Macmillan, 2000) A concise volume good on gender, class and industrialisation.

The First Industrial Woman by Deborah Valenze (Oxford OUP, 1995) Good on the implications of shifting employment patterns, agricultural work and domestic service.

A History of European Women’s Work, 1700 to the present by Deborah Simonton, (New York Routledge, 1998) Good for the longer time perspective and for European similarities and contrasts.

Links:

The Womens’ Library An organisation of historians of women in Britain promoting research and writing on women’s history. This website also contains a number of very useful links to other websites associated with the history of women.

Spartacus Schoolnet A website directed at schools containing biographies of key women in the history of the British women’s movement.

Places to visit:

There a several museums which help to recapture the nature of Victorian society and the place of women within it, most obviously the Victoria and Albert Museum in London which has wonderful collections of art and artefacts reflecting the nature of the middle and upper-class Victorian home. Smaller museums yield information and evidence of women’s work and their patterns of dress and consumption. Most notably Quarry Bank Mill at Style, Cheshire; the textile museum in the Halifax Piece Hall; and Platt Hall Museum, Manchester.

The new industrial and commercial middle classes of the Victorian era were great patrons of the arts, and some British provincial art galleries contain major collections of the sorts of works which they commissioned as well as work depicting domestic interiors and women. Amongst the best of these art galleries are the Birmingham City Art Gallery and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Consult some primary sourcesT detailing the nature of women’s work and household activities such as business records, census enumerator’s books, trade directories, household budgets and private diaries. Details of business records relating to women in the West Yorkshire textile industries can be found in The West Riding Wool Textile Industry: a catalogue of business records by Pat Hudson, (Edington, Pasold, 1976). Other guides to archive holdings can be found on the websites of most major repositories. Many collections of working class autobiographies have been published and include several written by women. For a guide see for example, The Autobiography of the Working Class: an annotated critical bibliography vols 1-3 ed. by J. Burnett, D. Vincent and J. Mayall, (Hassocks Harvester 1984, 1987, 1989).

Examining surviving Victorian housing from outside and from within can be very revealing particularly if these can be matched to information from Census returns. It is possible to reconstruct Victorian households at each census point and to imagine where each household member resided within the house. In many major cities there are now organised walks which are helpful in tracing Victorian history and women’s history trails. Details of these can usually be obtained from local history libraries.

About the author:

Pat Hudson is Professor of History in the School of History and Archaeology at Cardiff University. She specialises in the impact of economic and social change within different local and regional, economic, social and cultural settings. Her books include The Industrial Revolution (London, 1992).

 

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” I Have A Dream Sculpture in St Helens Lancashire”

#AceHistoryNews says the Dream is a sculpture and a piece of public art by Jaume Plensa in SuttonSt HelensMerseyside. Costing approximately £1.8m, it was funded through The Big Art Project in coordination with the Arts Council Englandthe Art Fund and Channel 4.

Dream at Sutton Manor Colliery outside of St H...

Dream at Sutton Manor Colliery outside of St Helens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Origin:

 Channel 4‘s “The Big Art Project” along with several other sites. The project culminated in the unveiling of “Dream”, a 66 feet sculpture located on the old Sutton Manor Colliery site. St Helens retains strong cultural ties to the coal industry and has several monuments including the wrought iron gates of Sutton Manor Colliery, as well as the 1995 town centre installation by Thompson Dagnall known as “The Landings” (depicting individuals working a coal seam) and Arthur Fleischmann‘s Anderton Shearer monument (a piece of machinery first used at the Ravenhead Mine).

The council and local residents (including approximately 15 former miners from the colliery) were involved in the consultation and commission process through which the Dream was selected. The plans involved a full landscaping of the surrounding area on land previously allowed to go wild after the closure of the pit.

English: Dream Sutton Manor New sculpture near...

English: Dream Sutton Manor New sculpture nearing completion on the site of Sutton Manor Colliery. The workmen give scale to the 20 metre high work of art. Dream is fabricated in pre-cast concrete, with a white, almost luminescent finish using a marble/concrete aggregate mix in marked contrast to the black of the coal that still lies below. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dream consists of an elongated white structure 66 feet (20 m) tall, weighing 500 tons, which has been cast to resemble the head and neck of a young woman with her eyes closed in meditation. The structure is coated in sparkling white Spanish dolomite, as a contrast to the coal which used to be mined here. It cost nearly £1.9 million and it is hoped it will become as powerful a symbol in North West England as Antony Gormley‘s Angel of the North is in North East England.

Jaume Plensa himself stated “When I first came to the site I immediately thought something coming out of the earth was needed. I decided to do a head of a nine-year-old girl who is representing this idea of the future. It’s unique.”

The original design of the sculpture called for a skyward beam of light from the top of the head, and the sculpture’s working title was “Ex Terra Lucem” (“From the ground, light”), a reference to St Helens’ previous motto. Due to objections from the Highways Agency, the sculpture was not lit, but in 2010 a new planning application was submitted to St Helens Council for it to be floodlit.

The Dream sculpture is built out of moulded and cast unique concrete shapes, 90 pieces in all contributing to over 14 tiers (54 individual elements for the head, each weighing 9 tonnes). Dolomite was utilised as a concrete aggregate in order to provide the brilliant white finish. Additionally titanium dioxide was added to the mix in order to provide a self-cleaning mechanism. The construction required the construction of individual moulds for each piece and took a total of 60 days to cast.

The foundations of the sculpture extend 125 feet into the ground with 8 piles driven in to secure it.

The sculpture is sited on an old spoil tip of Sutton Manor Colliery which closed in 1991 and it overlooks the M62 motorway. Prospective visitors may download audio guides and smart phone apps before visiting.

  1. “The Daily Mirror Website”. The Mirror. Retrieved 21 July 2009.
  2. “St. Helens Dream”. St. Helens Council.
  3. “The Channel 4 Big Art Project In St.Helens”. Channel 4.
  4. Sooke, Alastair (25 April 2009). The new face of the North West. Telegraph Review. The Daily Telegraph. p. 16
  5. “The St Helens Star Website”. St Helens Star. Retrieved 28 October 2010.
  6. “Visiting Dream. Dream-St. Helens. Retrieved 4 March 2012.

 

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Snapshot of History: “Joseph Grimaldi Clown Extraordinaire”

Joseph Grimaldi as Clown Joey

Joseph Grimaldi as Clown Joey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

#AceHistoryNews says Joseph Grimaldi (1778–1837) was an English actor, comedian, dancer, and the Regency era‘s most successful entertainer. He popularised and expanded the role of “Clown” in the harlequinade that formed a part of British pantomimes during the 1800s, and became a key pantomime performer at the Drury Lane, Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden theatres. While a boy, he appeared on stage at Drury Lane as “Little Clown” in the pantomime The Triumph of Mirth; or, Harlequin‘s Wedding. Other successful roles at the theatre followed, but he left in 1806 to take up theatrical residencies at the Covent Garden and Sadler’s Wells theatres. As he matured, he began performing as Clown, for which character he created the white-face make-up design still used in pantomime and by many other clowns today. The numerous injuries he received as a result of his energetic performances eventually led to a decline in his health and to his semi-retirement in 1823.

Living in obscurity during his final years, he became an impoverished alcoholic.

Grimaldi died at home in Islington, aged 59, having outlived his wife and his actor son Joseph Samuel

Read More at:
#History2Research

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History of Walter de Coutances

Coat of arms of Coutances (Normandy) drawn by ...

Coat of arms of Coutances (Normandy) drawn by Aroche for Blazon Project of French-speaking Wikipedia, with Inkscape. Source: own drawing – Blazon: unspecified (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

#AceHistoryNews – Snapshot of History

Walter de Coutances was a medieval Anglo-Norman Bishop of Lincoln and Archbishop of Rouen.

He began his royal service in the government of Henry II, serving as a vice-chancellor. He also accumulated a number of ecclesiastical offices, becoming successively canon of Rouen Cathedral (pictured), treasurer of Rouen, and Archdeacon of Oxford. King Henry sent him on a number of diplomatic missions, and finally rewarded him with the Bishopric of Lincoln in 1183. He did not remain there long, for he was translated to the archbishopric of Rouen in late 1184.

When Richard I, King Henry’s son, became king in 1189, Coutances absolved Richard for his rebellion against his father and invested him as Duke of Normandy. He then accompanied Richard to Sicily as the king began the Third Crusade, but events in England prompted Richard to send the archbishop back to England to mediate between William Longchamps, the justiciar whom Richard had left in charge of the kingdom, and Prince John, Richard’s younger brother. Coutances succeeded in securing a peace between Longchamps and John, but further actions by Longchamps led to the Justiciar’s expulsion from England. Coutances died in November 1207 and was buried in his cathedral.

Read more: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_de_Coutances>

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History of the Grand Order of Masons

The Square and Compasses. The symbols employed...

The Square and Compasses. The symbols employed in Co-Freemasonry are mostly identical with those in other orders of Freemasonry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The earliest official English documents to refer to masons are written in Latin or Norman French. Thus we have “sculptores lapidum liberorum” (London 1212), “magister lathomus liberarum petrarum” (Oxford 1391), and “mestre mason de franche peer” (Statute of Labourers 1351). These all signify a worker in freestone, a grainless sandstone or limestone suitable for ornamental masonry. In the 17th century building accounts of Wadham College the terms freemason and freestone mason are used interchangeably. Freemason also contrasts with “Rough Mason” or “Layer”, as a more skilled worker who worked or laid dressed stone.

The adjective “free” in this context may also be taken to infer that the mason is not enslavedindentured or feudally bound. While this is difficult to reconcile with medieval English masons, it apparently became important to Scottish operative lodges.

Lodge and the Guild: 

The historical record shows two levels of organisation in medieval masonry, the lodge and the “guild”. The original use of the word lodge indicates a workshop erected on the site of a major work, the first mention being Vale Royal Abbey in 1278. Later, it gained the secondary meaning of the community of masons in a particular place. The earliest surviving records of these are the laws and ordinances of the lodge at York Minster in 1352. It should be noted that these regulations were imposed by the Dean and Chapter of the Minster

Earliest Masonic History: 

Anderson's Constitutions, 1723

Anderson’s Constitutions, 1723 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The earliest masonic texts each contain some sort of history of the craft, or mystery, of masonry. The oldest known work of this type, The Halliwell Manuscript, or Regius Poem, dating from between 1390 and 1425, has a brief history in its introduction, stating that the “craft of masonry” began with Euclid in Egypt, and came to England in the reign of King Athelstan.[2] Shortly afterwards, the Cooke Manuscripttraces masonry to Jabal son of Lamech (Genesis 4: 20-22), and tells how this knowledge came to Euclid, from him to the Children of Israel (while they were in Egypt), and so on through an elaborate path to Athelstan. This myth formed the basis for subsequent manuscript constitutions, all tracing masonry back to biblical times, and fixing its institutional establishment in England during the reign of Athelstan (927-939).

Shortly after the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge of EnglandJames Anderson was commissioned to digest these “Gothic Constitutions” in a palatable, modern form. The resulting constitutions are prefaced by a history more extensive than any before, again tracing the history of what was now freemasonry back to biblical roots, again forging Euclid into the chain. True to his material, Anderson fixes the first grand assembly of English Masons at York, under Athelstan’s son, Edwin, who is otherwise unknown to history.Expanded, revised, and republished, Anderson’s 1738 constitutions listed the Grand Masters since Augustine of Canterbury, listed as Austin the MonkWilliam Preston’s Illustrations of Freemasonry enlarged and expanded on this masonic creation myth.

Seal of Premier Grand Lodge of England

Seal of Premier Grand Lodge of England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In France, the 1737 lecture of Chevalier Ramsay added the crusaders to the lineage. He maintained that Crusader Masons had revived the craft with secrets recovered in the Holy Land, under the patronage of the Knights Hospitaller. At this point, the “history” of the craft in Continental Freemasonry diverged from that in England.

The first record of the degree is in 1769, when Thomas Dunckerley, as Provincial Grand Superintendent, conferred the degrees of Mark Man and Mark Master Mason at a Royal Arch Chapter in Portsmouth.

Following the Union of the Antients and Moderns Grand Lodges and the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813, the articles of union stated that there would be three Craft degrees only, including the Royal Arch, excluding the Mark degree. For this reason, while in the rest of the world Mark Masonry became attached to Royal Arch chapters, in England it was actually proscribed from the Union until the 1850s. It was a group of Scottish masons who procured an illegal warrant from Bon Accord Chapter in Aberdeen to set up a Mark lodge in London. An attempt to add Mark Masonry to the approved craft workings was defeated in 1856, and a Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons was created in response.

As Freemasonry spread around the globe in the 18th and 19th centuries, Mark Masonry became well established and now has a worldwide presence, with six daughter Grand Lodges and the degree being worked under alternative administrative structures elsewhere. In England, the current Mark Grand Master, HRH Prince Michael of Kent, is the younger brother of the Craft Grand Master, HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.

Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas speculate in their 1996 book The Hiram Key that the construction of the Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland (1440–1490) provided the interface between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. Accordingly, the first degree and Mark Masonry was introduced by William Sinclair, whom they claim was the first Grand Master and founder of Freemasonry.

Modern Day Freemasonry:

Many twentieth century totalitarian regimes, both Fascist and Communist have treated Freemasonry as a potential source of opposition due to its secret nature and international connections (not to mention its promotion of religious and political tolerance through its symbolism). It has been alleged by Masonic scholars that the language used by the totalitarian regimes is like that used by some modern critics of Freemasonry. 

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The Diary of a Nobody

Diary

Diary (Photo credit: toby___)

The Diary of a Nobody is an English comic novel written by the brothers George and Weedon Grossmith. Originally serialised in Punch magazine, it first appeared in book form in 1892. It records daily events in the lives of a London clerk, Charles Pooter, his family and numerous friends and acquaintances; most of its humour derives from Pooter’s unconscious and unwarranted sense of his own importance, and the frequency with which this delusion is punctured by gaffes and minor social humiliations. The daily routines and modest ambitions described in the Diary were recognised by contemporary readers, and provided later generations with glimpses of the past that it became fashionable to imitate. Before their collaboration the brothers had pursued successful stage careers, George as the principal comedian in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas for 12 years; Weedon had earlier trained as an artist and illustrator.

Although the Diary’s initial reception was muted, it grew in popularity and helped to establish a 20th-century genre of humorous popular fiction based on lower or lower-middle class aspirations. It has been the subject of several stage and screen adaptations.

 

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History of Trading Standards – Weights and Measures – Part Two

"The Proclamation regarding Weights and M...

“The Proclamation regarding Weights and Measures A.D. 1556” by Ford Madox Brown, a mural at Manchester Town Hall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TRADING STANDARDS

Part TwoWEIGHTS AND MEASURES

The earliest assessment of weight was simply the load which a person could carry. Measures of length, and thus area, were also assessed in relation to the body – the foot, a hand or a pace. Accurate measurement was only required by rulers who would weigh the treasures in the Royal strong room, whilst for ordinary people trade continued by barter.

The oldest known weights date back to around 8000 B.C. and by 3000 B.C., trade weighing had begun. This spread from the Indus civilisation and by 2500 B.C. the whole Babylonian and Egyptian empires were weighing goods for trade transactions. With the development of coinage around 700 B.C. the need for accuracy and standardisation became more important.

In England various systems of weights have come and gone. Different systems were used in different areas and in different trades. By Tudor times no fewer than six different measures of the pound weight were in use, according to what was to be weighed and in which industry.

In the field of length measurement there were similar variations. In the Thirteenth Century four different measures of the foot were in use in England and Wales, according to the area where they were used and whether they were used for building or land measurement.

Over the following centuries a slow process of standardisation followed with Monarchs and Parliament passing statues with the aim of producing conformity and accuracy. Standard weights and length measures were produced and maintained to provide accurate standards against which copies could be assessed.

Standards Plaque by Steble Fountain. Liverpool

Standards Plaque by Steble Fountain. Liverpool (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 1790’s in France the Metric system was introduced both for weighing and measuring. This system, based on natural constants, was adopted by 18 countries in 1875. In 1897 the Metric system became legal for trade use in Great Britain.

Today the United Kingdom, along with the United States, are the only major trading nations not solely using the Metric system. This however is changing. Already pre-packed goods are sold in Metric units, and by the beginning of the next millennium only a few transactions, such as the sale of pints of beer, will be in Imperial units.

FOOD AND DRINK

Apart from the systems of weights and measures the area of trading standards work with the longest history of regulation has been the composition and sale of food and drink.

The Assize of Bread and Ale of 1266 regulated the weight of the Farthing Loaf, and the quantity of a Penny of Ale according to the price of the ingredients. Bakers or Brewers who gave short measure could be fined, put in the pillory or flogged.

Over the following centuries, further legislation was enacted covering the selling of a variety of foodstuffs such as wine, cheese, fish, salt and tea. These acts covered the quantities products were to be sold in, and the measures to be used. Further acts covered the checking of equipment and weights used in trade transactions.

Legislation was also passed to ensure the quality of foodstuffs and outlaw adulteration. Unscrupulous producers and traders would add sawdust to bread dough, grease to coffee and even sulphuric acid to vinegar. Where adulteration resulted in widespread serious illness or even death the tradesmen could be executed.

English: BIPM logo

English: BIPM logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, mill owners were complaining their workers were performing badly due to the poor quality, adulterated food. This again led to legislation being passed throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Today the quality, weight and description of foodstuffs are covered by a wide range of laws. Trading Standards Officers inspect factories and retail outlets to ensure standards are maintained.

CONSUMER PROTECTION

From the 1960’s onwards legislation was passed concerning consumer safety and consumer protection. This legislation includes the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 which prohibits false descriptions about goods and services; The Consumer Credit Act 1974 which regulates the provision of credit, and the Consumer Protection Act 1987 which covered the safety of consumer goods and also dealt with misleading prices.

In the 1990’s legislation has largely been from the European Parliament or has enacted European Directives. This has included the General Product Safety Regulations which has the requirement that consumer products are safe.

ADMINISTRATION

In the Middle Ages, enforcement of weights and measures, and food statutes was in the hands of the Monarch’s local agents. This could mean the local courts, magistrates or sheriffs. Trade Guilds often regulated food transactions in order to control quality.

In 1340 the post of the Clerk of the Market was established. The post-holder in each town was responsible for ensuring that all false weights and measures were destroyed.

Acts of Parliament in 1834 and 1835 established the post of Inspector of Weights and Measures, and the Adulteration of Food and Drugs Act 1872 created the position of Food Sampling Officers.

Today Inspectors of Weights and Measures, or Trading Standards Officer as they are now known, are employed by Local Authorities.

Thank you to West Yorkshire Trading Standards for supplying this information.

Related Article: Part One: https://britainshistory.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/history-of-weights-and-measures/

 

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