Hard Times

weavers at the Horrockses factory, 1917

The story of the cotton industry in Preston was not always very successful. The employees at the cotton factories were working under very harsh conditions. The days were long, and the labour was heavy and often dangerous as the machines got bigger. And minimum age to work was raised to 12 by 1899.

Charles Dickens wrote about the industrial society in England, and engaged with the workers. In his book Hard Times (1854), he wrote about Preston, which he called Coketown. We cut, pasted, and altered some parts of the book that describe the town in the midst of the eighteenth century.

employees at the Horrockses factory, 1921

Coketown was a town red brick, or brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but, as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.

In the innermost fortifications of Coketown, where nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in; at the heart of the labyrinth of narrow courts upon courts, and close streets upon streets that all very like one another; here, the multitude of Coketown worked and lived.
People equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sounds upon the pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next. Generically called The Hands & Stomachs, as these were the parts their human bodies were reduced to. Hands that worked, and Stomachs that had to be filled to make the Hands work again.

Horrockses yard, 1902. All pictures are from the Preston digital archive

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