The Domestic System

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Domestic System Sources

In the 18th Century the production of textiles was the most important industry in Britain. Most of the work was carried out in the home and was often combined with farming. There were three main stages to making cloth: carding, spinning and weaving. Most cloth was made from either wool or cotton, but other materials such as silk and flax were also used.

The woven cloth was sold to merchants called clothiers who visited the village with their trains of pack-horses. Some of the cloth was made into clothes for people living in this country. However, a large amount of cloth was exported.

(1) Daniel Defoe, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724)

The nearer we came to Halifax, we found the houses thicker, and the villages greater. The sides of hills, which were very steep, were spread with houses; for the land being divided into small enclosures, that is to say, from two acres to six or seven acres each, seldom more; every three or four pieces of land had a house belonging to it.

Their business is the clothing trade. Each clothier must keep a horse, perhaps two, to fetch and carry for the use of his manufacture, to fetch home his wool and his provisions from the market, to carry his yarn to the spinners, his manufacture to the fulling mill, and, when finished, to the market to be sold.

Among the manufacturers' houses are likewise scattered an infinite number of cottages or small dwellings, in which dwell the workmen which are employed, the women and children of whom, are always busy carding, spinning, etc. so that no hands being unemployed all can gain their bread, even from the youngest to the ancient; anyone above four years old works.

(2) Samuel Bamford, Early Days (1849)

The farming was generally done by the husband and other males of the family, whilst the wife and daughters attended the churning, cheese-making, and household work; and when that was finished, they busied themselves with carding and spinning wool or cotton, as well as forming it into warps for the looms. The husbands and sons would next, at times when farm labour did not call them, size the warp, dry it, and beam it in the loom. A farmer would generally have three or four looms in the house, and then - what with the farming, the housework, the carding, spinning and weaving - there was ample employment for the family.

(3) George Walker, The Costume of Yorkshire (1814)

The manufacture of cloth affords employment to the major part of the lower class of people in the north-west districts of the West Riding of Yorkshire. These cloth-makers reside almost entirely in the villages, and bring their cloth on market-days for sale in the great halls erected for that purpose at Leeds and Huddersfield.

Before as we would identify them, all manufacture of products like textiles was done at home and on a small scale. Work was confined to a cottage with everybody doing their bit. Work done at home - hence the "" in the title - was slow and laborious. Daniel Defoe, of "Robinson Crusoe" fame -wrote about his journey through Yorkshire in about 1720 and described how he saw small cottages, small scale production and each family working for itself. However, not everything was done under one roof. Defoe noted that in Norfolk those employed in spinning worked elsewhere to those employed in weaving.

domestic system
The process in the making of for clothes was as follows :
of the wool after it had been sheared from the sheep.
of the wool - this was brushing it to separate the fibres. If a comb was used, this would be to get the fibres parallel.
∑ The cleaned and carded wool would then be spun by spinsters. This was frequently done by young . If these girls had not got married at a young age, it was believed that they would remain unmarried all their life - hence the term today. The finished product of the spinsters was called yarn.
∑ the yarn would then be woven by a skilled weaver using a handloom.
∑ The finished product would then be sold to a .
Each of these processes probably took place in separate cottages and spinning was seen as a job for women while was seen as a manís job.
What was so good about the domestic system ?
∑ the workers involved could work at their own while at home or near their own home.
working in the system were better treated in this system than they were to be in the factory system. As the women of a family usually worked at home, someone was always there to look after the children.
∑ conditions of work were better as windows could be open, people worked at their own speed and when they needed to. Meals could be taken when needed.
∑ as people worked for themselves they could take a in what they did. Tension in the work place was minimal as the family worked as a unit.
∑ the best home produced goods were of a very good quality - though this probably was not true at a general level.
However, the domestic system did have a number of major weaknesses in the growing industrial power that was the United Kingdom :
∑ the production was very and the finished product was simply not enough to, in the case of textiles, cloth the fast growing population of the United Kingdom . A better and system of production was needed.
∑ the complete process of production was usually done in several cottages and time was lost as materials were taken from cottage to cottage as one stage progressed to the next.
∑ the power of water was being developed and small cottages could not possibly take advantage of this source of .
∑ the image of nice quaint country cottages giving workers a quality lifestyle (if not well paid) simply is not a correct one. Defoe witnessed children as young as four working in the domestic and the waste that gathered around country cottages which did not improve the standard ad quality of life for those who had to live near such waste.
With a growing population that needed feeding, clothing etc. a new way was needed to meet the demands that a growing would make on Britain. This would lead to the new factories, large and deep coal mines, huge ship building ports and the growth of our industrial with all the problems they were to bring.