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Apprentices fined for hunting mice and singing
11:10am Friday 20th July 2012 in News
BEST BEHAVIOUR: A young apprentice watches attentively at the porcelain works. But not all the youngsters were so diligent.
A manager’s book cataloguing the misdemeanours of hapless apprentices working in the world famous Royal Worcester porcelain factory in the 19th century has been unveiled for the first time.
The remarkable 300-page ledger – called an ‘Excuses Book’ written in the 1850s provides a fascinating insight into life on the factory floor.
Royal Worcester porcelain works were one of the city’s most respected industries.
But behind the scenes workers were fined for a string of cheeky offences, including “letting off fireworks”, “chasing mice” and “breaking a milk jug”.
Despite the strictness of Victorian masters, bosses had a softer side and at the end of each year the fines were used to give the apprentices a trip to the seaside.
The book has gone on display for the first time at the Antiques for Everyone Fair at the NEC in Birmingham.
One notorious apprentice, called Parker, was repeatedly fined for causing havoc at work. In his most outrageous act in 1958, the apprentice was fined three pence for “letting off fireworks in shop”.
In the same year he was also fined three pence for mouse hunting and breaking a milk jug. He also got smaller fines for whistling during work time, “continual talking” and “singing and denying it after”.
Perhaps most intriguingly, the youngster was fined two pence for what is described as “making noises” – but what these noises may have been is not recorded.
Another apprentice was fined four-and-a-half pence for “going home before proper time” and one-and-a-half pence for “reading when requested not to do so”. Amanda Savidge, museum director, said that although the boys’ working conditions were strict, they were well-looked after by their employer. She said: “They had very strict rules, but all of the money that was taken from the fines was saved up over the year and spent on taking them out for the day.
“There was one little boy called Parker who was particularly naughty, he was fined for fidgeting, chasing mice, whistling, for being late and even for singing.
“Things that are absolutely considered normal behaviour for any young boy today but they were a no-no in those strict conditions.
“In one six-month period Parker was fined one shilling and 10 pence, which would have been a large chunk of his earnings.
“They started working as children, sweeping out the factory, but learnt skills which allowed them to become artists, painters, mould makers – all important functions within the factory.
“It was considered to be part of their education, in fact the company was quite good in later years and encouraged people to take up additional training opportunities in the local area.
“It’s a really fascinating find, it gives you a real insight into what life was like for the young lads working in the factory at that time.”
The book will be displayed at the Antiques for Everyone fair at Birmingham NEC until Sunday.