How Hard Was It To Find A Job In Scrooge's Day (1843)

I was watching the movie “Scrooge,” (Alastair Sim version) and I know it takes several liberties with the book, but I got to wondering, since Bob Cratchit keeps working for Scrooge year after year, either Scrooge isn’t so bad after all, Cratchit likes being abused or that jobs were so scarce Cratchit simply didn’t even have the option to look for work.

So which do you think it was? Why did Cratchit keep working for Scrooge year after year and not try to get another job?

Oh by the way, I don’t want anyone to think I’m missing the point of the book, I do get it, I was just wondering about the job part :slight_smile:

Well, Scrooge probably wouldn’t have given him a reference. I think he was stuck. No unions, no welfare, no unemployment compensation. From my reading and from watching movies set in that time period, I think the employers held all the cards. If you were a skilled tradesman, you might have a little bit of control, but a clerk would be at his boss’s mercy.

1843–wasn’t that during the period that early industrialization & farm enclosure in the UK caused massive social dislocation & unemployment?

You are not wrong, this was the start of the “birth of machines” where they were going to replace all labor. Well they are doing this but no where as quick as everyone thought.

I thought about this a bit more last night. It’s been awhile since I read the book and I don’t remember – was Cratchit really unhappy in his job? Scrooge was miserly, sure, but did he mistreat Cratchit? Maybe Scrooge wasn’t any worse than the other employers, except for being a big ol’ grouch at Christmastime.

I haven’t read the book in over a year, but in the movie version they generally portray Cratchit as a whimp.

We just read this to the kids and I was thinking about it too. AFAIK, if you quit or were laid off from your clerky-type job and didn’t get a reference, you were plain out of luck. People just didn’t change jobs like that back then; if you worked for Bank X, you worked there forever and you didn’t expect any different.

It’s made pretty clear that Scrooge pays Bob as little as possible and doesn’t ever give him any perks at any time (like a decent fire in the office or a half-day on Christmas Eve). He’s also constantly threatening to fire Bob. I’m sure there were plenty of employers like that, but it’s certainly portrayed as wrong and especially miserly and cruel.

ETA I think Bob Cratchit is supposed to be Mr. Everyman. He’s nice and good and he works hard and loves his family, but he is in no position to stand up to his boss. That would be unthinkable for any clerk.

Servants were always leaving in a huff back then‚ weren’t they? Maybe Cratchit just wasn’t good at his job.

Scrooge’s treatment of Cratchit really wouldn’t have been unusual in those days. If Cratchit had moved to a different employer, odds on he’d have been treated exactly the same or worse.

Dickens obviously misunderstood his own character then, because he goes to great lengths to portray Scrooge as extraordinarily penurious.

Dickens saw himself as a social reformer. He had a message. His point was that the way lots of wealthy people acted towards their employees was wrong.

The industrial revolution took place over quite a period of time, innovations took time to spread, and the post Napoleonic recession of the 1815’s slowed investment in expensive machinery and ‘manufacturies’ for a decade or so.

One example of a secure trade would be that of the Cropper. The Cropper was a person who took woven cloth, once it had been ‘fulled’ (a process of pounding cloth which made it shrink but also made it thicker) Once fulled the cloth would be put onto tenter frames and stretched (hence the term ‘tenterhooks’)

Following this process the Cropper would recieve the cloth, and with a pair of very large shears, would crop the nap of the fabric which at this stage of production, was quite long.

This seems a long way about telling you what was happening, but what it meant was that although many other trades were slowly being replaced in the period 1800, to 1850 (it actually took far longer than most people think) the Croppers role was incredibly difficult for the technology of the day to replicate.

You’ll note that the Luddites, mainly weavers, were operating during the 1820’s and true mechanised factory production was becoming more widespread, instead of it being simply a collective home industry in a large building.

By around 1840 though, Croppers were almost no longer required at all, machines had been devised to do thier work, and they were one of the last of these trades in textiles to be a purely manual trade.

These and many other trades were replaced, most by around 1820, watch and clockmakers suffered similarly, even boot and shoe makers suffered,and when did you last hear of a ‘whitesmith’ or a ‘gold beater’?

This loss of lifetime learnt trades had a devastating effect, not easy to switch from one trade to another - so many were forced into unskilled factory work, with absolutely awful conditions.

I have reliable figures about the supply of water and sewer provision in industrial cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, and worst of all Bradford, that show that total life expectancy for unskilled workers was just 19 and for artisans it was just 27, and only 35 for the higher ups. Of course, this includes infant mortality but it does serve to show that life for anyone was hard, but especially so for the unskilled, children were working at age 10, the campaign for the 12 hour day had not yet begun, education act requiring compulsory tuition for children was still a couple of generations away.Remarkably from the OPs point of view, these figures I have date from 1840!

You also need to note that Dickens certainly saw true poverty first hand, it was all around him and he worked for a time in legal offices so he would have been familiar with the labyrinthine legal system, and desperation of those who had become subjected to the law.

Actually Bob Crattchett would have been in a better position than most, he could read, he could do accounts and his skills were not about to be replaced, far from it, his skills would have been in greater demand. Most of his problems came about from having too many children - not unusual in these days.

There were ‘gentlemens agreements’ across company owners not to pay more than the going rate in wages, in one case a Leeds woollen cloth maker William Hirst was one of the first to fully mechanise cloth production. To do this he incurred the wrath of those skilled workers in the trade - the Luddites - to such an extent that he had to have himself and his family protected by armed guards, and yet he broke the old cloth guilds system and de-skilled work- He was made bankrupt in the 1825 recession and put in a debtors prison - other mill owners clubbed together and bought him out of this position and provided with him with a pension in appreciation for his industrialisation, but mainly because he de-skilled work and brought the cost of labour down dramatically.

All this meant that there was no going from one employer to another to seek better wages, people were not particularly mobile and employers were not about to break ranks and pay the ‘going rate’ if they could hold wages down.

Add in large immigration, from the countryside, and also from Ireland and Scotland into England, there is suddenly more labour than work - good thing too for the company bosses as the natural growth of the local populations was not enough to keep pace due to high death rates, and expansion of industry.

Not in the books I’ve been reading. An excellent cook or butler might be stolen away by another family, but the average servant/employee would put up with a lot of crap before leaving.

Many servants depended on their employers for food and lodging, so that’s another consideration. They can’t go home – their families couldn’t feed them, which is why they ended up as servants in the first place.

Nah - he’s unusual in the way he hates Christmas, but his treatment of Bob Cratchit is fairly typical for the time. Ergo, what dangermom said.

Not unless the employer was perpetually grouch-o. And even then they’d usually leave in a minute and a huff.

Also, in 1843, Britain was in a recession.

That recession was a bit patchy, manufacturing towns and cities that had expanded into engineering - trains shipping etc - fared better than the older industries that were based upon farming.

Leeds had just recently completed the Leeds Liverpool canal which allowed for a huge expansion of coal, cloth and engineered goods trade.

The large flax mill in Holbeck had just opened, hainvg had to move sites in order to expand, Kitson had opened his steam train factory.

For Leeds the 1840’s were not quite boom times, but were pretty prosperous years of expansion, the population grew and this growth accelerated, with national inernal immigration to such an extent that one part of the city became known as ‘little London’ and another was later to be cause for concern over possible Fenian riots.

It has to be said that one towns growth had a cost on other nearby towns, Wakefield, Bradford, Hudderfield, Halifax all ost in importance and never rivalled Leeds again, these towns did have recessions.

Liverpool during this time was less adversely affected, significantly because of that canal link, you have to be careful about picking out recessionary times, as there could be quite significant local variances, with towns dependant upon certain industries suffering greatly, whilst others took advantage of innovation.

The only counter to this I would see is that Scrooge probably dealt with a variety of businessmen who would become acquainted with Cratchit, know he was a dependable & capable worker, and might just snatch him up except perhaps for some social convention that “this is just not done” or fear of some retribution from Scrooge.

I also often wonder what Fred does. Scrooge refers to him as being “poor enough” but he can afford what seems to be a pretty good Christmas feast for about a dozen people.

That ‘social convention’ was about not stealing each others employees by offering higher wages.

There was a real fear, brought about partly by the rise of the Chartists that the masses might take over, and that being seen to bid for workers could get it into the heads of same workers that they had some sort of power.

The combinations acts had only recently been abolished, however there was still huge fear of possible worker revolutions,there were some serious riots at the time in agriculture, through to Manchester - Peterloo - to the Tolpuddle matyrs you could make a pretty good case for saying that (coupled with the recession and replacement of skills by technology) that this was possibly the period of worst excesses of the industrial revolution.
We had some measure of electoral reform, the Liberals had not yet gained any momentum, and the 12 hour day for women and children had yet to be enacted, and when it was it was only weakly enforced.

Think of modern China, no workers representation, huge profits for the few and little for the masses and you have England 1840.