The Museum of Industry and Science in Manchester, England covers a lot of ground relative to the Industrial revolution. John, Denise, and I happened to arrive just as a live presentation was being held on the old processes of turning cotton to thread to fabric. John’s parents and my family of great grandparents and great aunts worked in these cotton mills in Darwin and Wigan during the late 19th and early to mid 20th century as weavers, speciality cotton machine workers, and a few coal miners, too. It was fascinating to watch these antiquated devices still in working condition and be told by John what his parents did. My great aunt was able to work 6 weaving machines simultaneously which must have been quite a remarkable feat.
And, for the record, the children, women, and men who worked in this industry worked in unsafe conditions not only from the lack of shields over moving parts of the machinery, but also from the cotton fibers wisping about in the air leading to chronic and sometimes deadly lung conditions. There were no OSHA standards in those days nor did the factory owners pay fair wages. They worked long hours, had no paid vacation or sick leave or 401k programs but did all they could to keep their mortgages paid (when lucky enough to own a place like my great-aunt Annie did), and their kids educated. Most kids of these workers did everything they could to move away as soon as they could with rarely a look back at what they were leaving. If they were ambitious enough, they had a chance of changing their world and their children’s destinies. And two of my cousins did just that as soon as they were old enough to leave Darwen by achieving degrees and prestigious careers. Not everyone was so lucky.
I had always pictured the area as oppressed and bleak but when touring Darwen a few days later, I found there to be a subtle prettiness and low key sophistication from this industrial town I had never expected to see after what others in the family had led me to believe. However, they and their families before them lived it in another time and era.
Some people made a lot of money back then from the labors of the workers in the cotton industry. America has quite its own history with that business using mostly black slave labor in the cotton fields of the Southern United States. (For some reason I still remember, after learning it in grammar school, the devastation to the cotton fields from the boll weevil invasion.) That is another story altogether.
Next up, what one of these British profiteers did with some of that cotton money in Manchester: The Rylands Library.