This is a bit of a ramble, some about the mungo and shoddy trade in Ossett, the way the town grew as the industry expanded and just a little about my family who lived and worked in Ossett. I will leave it to others to do more detailed work on the shoddy and mungo industry. People with a greater knowledge of the industry are invited to comment or give additional information.
Above is the Ossett coat of arms showing the industries of Ossett. The motto " inutile utile ex arte" roughly translates as "The skill of making the useless, useful".
Mungo and shoddy are the materials produced from the recycling of wool waste, hence Ossett's motto. Shoddy is a low grade cloth made from the by-products of wool pressing or from recycled wool. One of its main uses was in the manufacture of soldiers uniforms. It is made from the longer fibre material produced by the recycling process. Mungo is made from the short fibre material and is used to make felt, etc.
The BBC video below about the shoddy industry seems to imply that the shoddy manufacturers were “get rich quick” merchants who were out to make large profits out of a poor quality product. This may be true in a very few cases but most were hard working people trying to make a living in difficult times. It is true that the quality of shoddy varied but whether the use of the word “shoddy” for inferior, poor quality things is justified I am not at all sure.
This article tells you far more about the shoddy industry than my brief story. Towards the end there is what is perhaps a letter head for Frank Townend. He was my grandfather's uncle, married to my great grandmother's sister.
The early 19th century was a very difficult time for many of our industries due to wars in Europe and trade embargoes. I have read that cloth manufacturers at that time were short of wool and therefore the idea of adding recycled wool to new wool was a timely idea. In 1802, the firm of Parker, Telfer and Affleck, mathematical instrument makers of Glasgow, produced a machine, to quote from the specifications "For preparing and reducing articles made of wool into a state of being used again". Obviously improvements were made to the machine over the years but modern machines still work on the principles of this early invention. It was not until about 1813 that Benjamin Shaw of Batley, a nearby town to Ossett, developed a process using recycled woollen rag, combined with virgin wool to make the material known as shoddy. The idea was rapidly taken up by businessmen in the nearby towns and it was mainly this industry that created the wealth and development of Ossett. The population of Ossett grew rapidly with the development of the industry:-
1801 - 3,424
1831 - 5,325
1841 - 6,077
1861 - 7,950
1871 - 9,190
1881 - 10,957
1891 - 10,984
1901 - 12,903
1911 - 14,087
1931 - 14,838
I have vivid memories how, as a young boy in the 1940's and 1950's, a periodic visitor to the street where we lived in Wakefield was the Rag and Bone Man. Our regular one was lucky and had a horse and cart. The less successful ones used a handcart or even carried things in a sack. We always knew when he was about from his very loud cry of "Rags and Bones, Rags and Bones". Of course he collected not just rags and bones but anything he could sell for recycling. The woollen rags eventually arrived at the local rag warehouses. Rags that were not fit to recycle were allowed to rot and they were used as manure on local fields. Some industrialists such as Sir Harry Hardy from Morley, made most of their fortunes out of this.
David Scriven, Secretary of Ossett Historical Society kindly provided the following information -
Rag sorters were susceptible particularly to two diseases, “shoddy fever” and smallpox.
Angus Bethune Reach, a journalist working for the “Morning Chronicle”, visited Dewsbury and Batley in 1849 as part of an investigation into living and working conditions in the textile areas of the industrial north. When he went to a Dewsbury rag mill he was struck by the amount of dust coming from the windows of the mill and coating its roof. Inside, on the first floor, he saw rag sorters sitting amongst the “filthy goods” which were heaped in “poverty-smelling masses”. The atmosphere in their room “was close and oppressive”. The rag grounding machines on the ground floor were surrounded by “choking dust” and the walls and roof beams were coated in fibres. The grinders all suffered from “shoddy fever”, “a sort of stuffing of the head and nose, with sore throat” which sometimes made them stop work for two or three days. Dr. Hemmingway of Dewsbury told Reach that “shoddy fever was a form of bronchitis. Prolonged exposure to shoddy dust led to repeated attacks of fever which weakened the lungs and could lead to “pulmonary consumption”.
(AB Reach “The Yorkshire Textile Districts in 1849”, edited by C Aspin (Helmshore Local History Society, 1974), pages 7-10).
An outbreak of smallpox, the first for seven years, began in Ossett in January, 1903 with three cases. The victims were removed to the isolation hospital at Storrs Hill. (“Ossett Observer”, 10 January, 1903)
In his annual report for 1903 Ossett’s medical officer of health, Dr George Spencer Greenwood, said the town had escaped lightly from the smallpox epidemic as there had only been 15 cases. This he claimed, was due to the prompt removal of the patients to hospital and the thorough disinfection of houses and clothing. (“Ossett Observer”, 19th March, 1904).
Dr. S.W. Wheaton, medical inspector of the Local Government Board, reported in 1905 on the smallpox epidemic in the Dewsbury Poor Law Union. There were 15 smallpox cases in Ossett in 1903 and another 62 in 1904. Ossett isolation hospital has been overcrowded and the administration of the Borough Council had been “unsatisfactory”. He pointed out that there was widespread local opposition to vaccination and at least 75% of the population was unprotected. (“Ossett Observer”, 25th March, 1905).
Presumably Wheaton’s figure of smallpox cases in Ossett covered only part of the year.
Back now to the family history. In early life Ernest was a "journeyman sawyer" and later a cabinet maker going from rough sawn wood to very fine joinery work.
The term "journeyman sawyer" intrigued me so I looked it up on the genealogy websites and found this:-
"As I understand it a Journeyman was a tradesman who had completed his apprenticeship and was therefore qualified, but who worked for someone else, usually a 'Master' (Sawyer).
The Journeyman was probably called so because he had to travel about working for various 'Master' employers until he became an employer himself. A Sawyer (or rather two sawyers) sawed up the raw lumber using a long double-handed saw over a saw-pit. The unfortunate one, usually the apprentice, was the sawyer who stood in the pit and got covered in saw-dust!
The typical work of a sawyer would be to saw logs into planks for house or boat building. The term 'Master' (ie.Master Locksmith/Sawyer/Mariner/Shoemaker), seems to be often misunderstood to mean 'having some special higher ualifications in the trade' but is really just a Master who employed others in the same trade."
I understand that when sawing at the saw-pit the man at the top was called the "top dog" and the one underneath (usually the apprentice) "the under dog", terms that have now found understandable new meanings.
Unfortunately, I never knew my grandfather as he died young after getting a splinter of greenheart wood in his arm that went septic and killed him quite quickly - something that would be easily avoided these days.
As I said - a bit of a ramble.