Pages

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Bennett on mass production

Arnold Bennett shows us the reality of mass production without automation. This kind of thing probably went on well into the twentieth century. In some ways I find it more depressing than any amount of squalor described by Dickens. 

You may have observed the geometrical exactitude of the broad and thin coloured lines round the edges of a common cup and saucer, and speculated upon the means by which it was arrived at. 

A girl drew those lines, a girl with a hand as sure as Giotto’s, and no better tools than a couple of brushes and a small revolving table called a whirler. Forty-eight hours a week Mary Beechinor sat before her whirler. Actuating the treadle, she placed a piece of ware on the flying disc, and with a single unerring flip of the finger pushed it precisely to the centre; then she held the full brush firmly against the ware, and in three seconds the band encircled it truly; another brush taken up, and the line below the band also stood complete. 

And this process was repeated, with miraculous swiftness, hour after hour, week after week, year after year. Mary could decorate over thirty dozen cups and saucers in a day, at three halfpence the dozen.

Arnold Bennett - Tales of the Five Towns (1905)

6 comments:

Sam Vega said...

Thank goodness that human beings no longer have to submit to that sort of drudgery - it's all done by robots.

And as that particular horror left us, we gained spreadsheets, databases, programming, meaningless committees, and targets.

I'd like to have a go at painting lines on a cup if I could then use it to drink the blood of an Equality and Diversity zealot...

Graeme said...

I visited Jersey around 1986 and a major tourist attraction was the pottery factory....where we could watch people paint identical patterns on p-ottery continually during a shift. It was, seemingly, a source of pride for the Jersey economy but you have to wonder...

Roger said...

Be careful what you wish for is my thought. These people learnt by 'sitting with Nelly', given a while and they got the hang. Way back I worked at a place a little like this - and it was a happy sort of place - ordinary housewives loading up the hydrogen furnaces, young girls with vacuum pencils assembling semiconductors. Several hundred were employed and enjoyed a great sense of community. Now what have we replaced these jobs with - stacking shelves or packing books for Amazon or living on benefits. Soulless drudgery? I wonder.

Demetrius said...

Having done a little on factory floors well over half a century ago we have forgotten the camaraderie and strong social feeling among workers at that time and before. I have read a great deal of Bennett and learned a lot from him. Grannie told me to read him, but then she was born in Hanley in 1876 and one of her great grannies was a Sneyd.

A K Haart said...

Sam - do Equality and Diversity zealots have blood? I though it was mostly piss.

Graeme - we visited the Wedgwood factory some years ago. We asked a figure painter if he enjoyed the work and he said he had enjoyed it until they adopted quality certification and all its associated paperwork.

Roger and Demetrius - I suppose there are other important factors apart from the repetitive nature of the work. Noise, cleanliness, pressure and so on.

In the late sixties I visited a Rolls Royce workshop where the guys were on piece work. The noise was appalling. The worst work place I've ever seen - I don't know how they coped.

Demetrius said...

The tacking shed at the British United Shoe Machinery Company would be hard to beat for noise. Rows of big machines banging out tacks from strands of steel. Mercifully, I was on the outside maintenance gang. It was amazing how much work needed doing by the puff and shank shed. This was staffed by females.