Increase in Leisure Time
It took a long time for some millowners to realise that workers were not simply extensions of the machines, to realise that not only did they need time to recover physically from their labour, but that they needed time for recreation. Pubs were the first to cater for this need, but later came organised sport, the music hall, excursions on the canal, excursions on the railway, public concerts and the cinema.
In the 1840s hours at the cotton mill were from 6.00 in the morning until 5.30 at night, with half an hour for breakfast and one hour for lunch. It was a six day week. Six days a week came the dreaded tattoo on the bedroom window as the knocker-up did his rounds with his long pole. Six days a week you had to get out of your bed at 5.00 in the morning, get dressed in the cold and dark and turn out into the street to join the huddled mass tramping the cobbles in silence towards the brightly lit mill. Six days a week you'd enter the weaving shed and hear a lone loom start up, thrashing away in the corner, then another would join it and then another, until the whole shed was aroar with a monstrous din; the legacy of industrialisation, a din that would be ringing in your ears long after you’d left the place almost 12 hours later.
Working conditions for shop workers may have been less harsh, but the hours were longer. It was 7.00 in the morning until 11.00 at night, and 7.00 until noon on Sunday. Often a shop owner wouldn’t shut until his competitors did, and he would send an assistant out to make sure.
There were no holidays with pay and the only public holidays were Good Friday and Christmas Day. This was the real legacy of the Industrial Revolution: machines didn't need a holiday, machines didn't need a rest and the Factory System came as close as it could to making the operatives follow suit. The legacy is still with us today, bank holidays are grudgingly given, working hours are creeping up.
It was all so different in the 18th century. The Bank of England enjoyed 47 days off a year. All saints' days were holidays and handloom weavers would often have Monday and Tuesday off, and the day when they took their finished piece to the 'putter-out' was something of a holiday, a break from the routine and the chance to see something of the wider world.
Manchester man William Marsden began a campaign for an early finish on Saturdays in the 1840s. It was stoutly resisted by mill owners, horrified at the thought of machinery lying idle. The campaign succeeded and Manchester operatives were the first to finish at noon on Saturday.
The Factory Act of 1850 prohibited the employment of women and children after 2.00 pm on Saturdays. Reluctantly the mill owners gave way and men too were granted the same privilege. The situation for shop workers however didn't improve until the 1880s when shop owners finally granted an early finish during the week, on Thursday in Blackburn and Tuesday in Darwen.
In 1847 an act was passed to reduce mill hours to ten a day, though not all mill owners took any notice of it. The 1871 Bank Holiday Act introduced the concept of holidays with pay and created holidays on Boxing Day, Easter Monday, Whit Monday and on the first Monday in August.
It was the arrival of mass forms of cheap transport that gave a boost to the demand for shorter working hours and longer holidays: the railways and to a lesser extent the bicycle. Although it was the mill owners who were primarily reluctant to grant more time off work, the authorities too were alarmed. What would the workers do, apart from spend more time in the pubs and become more of a nuisance? At least if they were locked up in the mills, they were out of the way all day.
Cheap excursions on the railways could carry thousands to the seaside or to the races. Owning a bike meant you could get out into the countryside. And of course providing refreshment and accommodation for these early holiday-makers was a new industry in itself. The tourist industry was born and the pressure to create more leisure and more money-making opportunities was on.