The majority of women who worked in mills worked as textile weavers, many of whom would have started working at the age of 15, after leaving school. There were many different reasons for going into the mill; some went because their friends did but others went out of pure necessity for wages. In Lancashire, most women went into the mills due to the lack of any other form of employment.
Working in the mills was hard, there was a standard of excellence expected from the workers. Cloth that was produced was checked and had to be perfect. An average work day would start at 7.30am and finish at 5.30pm, with a break at dinnertime. Apart from this, there were no other breaks unless to get a drink or to go to the toilet. Each weaver would have 4 looms to operate, and up to 10 looms as technology progressed. They were paid by ‘piece rate’ which meant that clocks on the factory machines monitored the work and they got paid for the amount of cloth they had produced. This led some women to work for long periods of time without breaks, as time away from machines docked their wages.
The mills were noisy, dusty and sometimes dangerous. Accidents were not uncommon. Weavers had to be careful not to trap body parts in the machines or be hit by ‘flying shuttles’. Shuttles were long oblong devices that would travel forwards and backwards across the loom at high speeds and could cause serious injury. Mills were also more susceptible to fires due to the cotton fibres that settled on the machines. If the machines were not cleaned and there was a spark, it would light the cotton fibre and many fires were started this way.
Due to the loud nature of the mills, the workers became experts in lip-reading, or ‘memowing’.