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Sweatshops

The ready–made clothing industry expanded rapidly, and as well as the factories the industry gave rise to a large number of workshops and homeworkers. Many of these small workshops were run by Jewish immigrants coming into the country from Poland and Russia who set up in business as tailors, most of them in the Leylands district between North Street and Regent Street. Working conditions in these sweat shops were appalling. A graphic description was given by Robert Sheracy in 1896:
'They all work for a weekly wage and from twelve to seventeen hours a day. Here may be seen in some filthy room in the Leylands, fifty people, (men, women, boys and girls), all huddled together sewing as though for dear life. A girl may be earning 6 shillings a week, a man from 22 shillings to 30 shillings. The stench in the room, its uncleanliness, surpass description. The finished garments are lying pell-mell on the floor in the filth and the vermin. They are 'flogged into their work' for all the time the gaunt sweater stalks about, scolding, inspecting, while now and then he will snatch a garment from some worker's hand and set himself to work upon it, whilst a stream of vituperation pours from his lips.'

In 1888 the Lancet published a report of the Special Sanitary Commission on the Sweating System in Leeds, describing both the conditions in the sweatshops and those for home workers. The report concentrates on the drainage and sanitary conditions in the workshops one description of a workshop where 80 men and girls were employed reads: 'the floor was abominably dirty, and one of the foremen who had worked there acknowledged that he had never known the boards to have been cleaned....The closets were of the trough system, and immediately under  the workshop windows. The trough had been neglected, and not emptied. The water was black and gave off offensive odours, and the closet seat was filthy.'

Large firms contracted out work to the small workshops, and to home workers, and factory employees often took work home, finished it overnight, and took it back to the factory in the morning. Conditions were no better in the worker's homes. On visiting one street, where there were only two toilets for seven houses, the Sanitary Commitee reported that 'the stench is so great that in a cottage on one side of the passage we found the inhabitants could not open their windows.'

The photographs show Copenhagen Street and Bridge Court in the early 1900's, both in the Leylands district of the city.

Click images to enlarge
Inside a sweatshop, 1896
Inside a sweatshop, 1896
Slipper maker, 1896
Slipper maker, 1896
Copenhagen Street
Copenhagen Street
Bridge Court, off Bridge Street
Bridge Court, off Bridge Street




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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003