Victorian Voices

Cocker Brothers, Sheffield (part 2)

The following text is a transcript of a page from the 1862 Royal Commission report into Children's Employment.

It describes the  Cocker Brothers Factory in Sheffield, which made wire. An interviewer went to speak to the children who worked there, including 11-year-old Martin Hefrin, who worked 12-hour days winding wire.


Martin Hefrin age 11. - Wind wire at a machine. Work from 7 a.m. till 7 p.m.. Make a quarter of a day over sometimes, but never more.

Went at 9 years old to hardening and tempering crinoline steel at Tower wheel. In winter the proper hours were from 7 a.m. till 7 p.m., but we had to work over a good deal, and I didn't like it at all. For many and many a month we worked till 9˝ at night every day but Monday. [Of course Saturday is also excepted - J.E.W.] That reckoned a quarter over for each day. 

Many a time we used to work till twelve at night. Either once or twice - I cannot be sure which - I worked from 7 one morning all through the next night and day, and on till twelve the following night, and then was allowed to come in late the next day. 

This 'ere D---[the man for whom he worked - J.E.W] worked by the piece, and had so much a hundred-weight, and he gave me and the other lad with him 3s. 6d. a week. He afterwards raised me to 4s. He let us have an hour and a half or two hours to sleep in the dinner time at night. There was only me and another man to keep the fires up, and we had done work by 12, say, and then had to get up at 2 a.m., and get the fires, &c. ready for the next morning. 

We never worked in the meal times. The man was very kind to us. I had to live very badly, and if I had no dinner he always gave me a bit. That boy upstairs (No. 150) can tell you the same. We worked there together, and did the same job.

Left that place for more wages, and went to a crinoline factory in Pond Hill, where I winded strip. There we worked from 6 a.m. till 6 p.m., and at another time from 12 till 12 the next day or night, changing turns each week. There we worked in us [our] breakfast half hour and in us dinner hour. We were forced to, whether we liked or no; we could not help it. Had, I think, ˝d. for the breakfast half-hour, and 1d. for the dinner hour extra. Drew 5s. 10d. a week, my proper wages being 5s. Got the sack there because some lads were throwing about, and the man came in and said it was me.

They never took much trouble with me at school: Before I went to  work, mother used to send me to school, but me and another lad used to pretend to go and didn't. But me and another lad what works here both go to Sunday school now. Can read a little. Know what the Bible is, but not what it is about. Can't read it, and don't know what they read out of it...
After people die their soul departs to hell or heaven. Heerd 'em axing [asking] who made us and that, but I never used to take much attention of them. God made us.


James Dunagan, aged 12, spent his working days rubbing wire with a rag.

At Tower wheel [he] worked a day and a night running about four times; never worked for longer than that. Worked from 7 a.m. till 9 or 9˝ p.m. three nights a week, viz., Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, most weeks through the winter. 

He told the interviewer:  In summer we worked days and nights, so could not work overtime, except a lad was away; then they axed [asked] us and we did it. At the crinoline factory, at Pond Hill, worked over in the dinner hour and had 1d extra for it. Did not work over in the breakfast half hour. 

There is a boy downstairs (No. 149.) who worked at these two places with me. Cannot say whether he ever worked for more than a day and a night together, but I never did. When I had done that I was off next day and night. Gave my wages to mother, and she gives me some spending money out of it. When I get more for overtime she gives it to me for myself to get a cap with, or something.

Cannot read. There are 20 shillings in a sovereign. Twelve months in a year, and 50 weeks in a year. Yes; think it may be 52.


Crinoline - skirt made of wire hoops worn under a dress. Used in the Victorian period by women to give a bell shape to their skirts.

Shillings - old unit of British money made up of 12 old pennies

Sovereign -a gold coin worth one pound, used in Britain between the early 17th and the early 20th centuries

Tempering - hardening metal by heating it to high temperatures, then cooling it

Discussion ideas: 

  • How many men are in the group photograph? Is it easy to tell the boys from the men?
  • Do you think they are all wearing a uniform and would this be provided by the factory?
  • Look at the people in the photograph and then look at the people in your class, what are the differences?
  • What was a crinoline? Why did it need wire?
  • What is the 'sovereign' James mentions?
  • Read all the other work place descriptions (S Laycock and Thomas Turton) and decide where you would prefer to work.

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