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Picture 11993990, 1908 photograph by Lewis Hine, image copyright Mary Evans / Glasshouse Images

Elizabeth Fortescue provides her numbers for the Factory Inspector’s Report, 1834
by Di Slaney


Yes sir, I went into a factory when I was six years old,

Mr Robinson’s of Papplewick, a mill for spinning cotton.

I was small for my age sir, and my father had been told

that I could fit between the frames without being hurt

to collect up the loose fluff.  The hours were six to seven

with an hour for dinner, and I was there eleven

years. I picked the fluff, then became a little piecer

to mend the threads. I worked for Mary Ellis when her niece

grew up too big, then I met my John while he was scutching.

Though we had nothing much between us we married

at nineteen. John came up from London and the workhouse,

he started little here like me with all the new machines.

Altogether I was twenty years at Robinson’s in their mills

for spinning cotton, sir. I began with carding and roving

then came to spinning and doubling.  I liked the carding

best even though fluff covered me day through night.

Spinning barefoot in the oil was worse than piecing,

I feared that I would slip and fall upon the spindles or

do some harm to the machines. After all that trouble

with the frameworkers, I was then at Farnifields of Edingley

for thirteen months and next we came here, sir. I am a reeler

at this Nottingham mill now. I wind the thread onto the bobbins,

mind the warp goes to the beamer and the weft goes to the weaving

shed. I begin work at six and finish at nine. I am forty-nine.

My health was very good until long after I was married

but within these last ten years it has failed me. I am subject

to sick headaches and generally weaker, although I still

keep up these hours and laugh with the young quillers

in the winding room. I’ve borne seven children in my time, sir,

just five living, but think I don’t look much amiss for forty-nine,

many people have said that. Will your book list me by name, sir?

I learned my letters as a little piecer. Let me get this fluff off your top hat.



© Di Slaney, first prize in the Slipstream Poets Open Poetry Competition 2023

Picture 11993990, 1908 photograph by Lewis Hine, image copyright Mary Evans / Glasshouse Images



Di Slaney lives in Nottinghamshire, England, where she runs livestock sanctuary Manor Farm Charitable Trust and independent poetry publisher Candlestick Press. She was the winner of The Plough Poetry Prize 2022, and has had her poetry broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Di’s poems have been widely published and anthologised, as well as highly commended by both the Forward Prize and the Bridport Prize. She is the author of two poetry collections: Reward for Winter (Valley Press, 2016) and Herd Queen (Valley Press, 2020).


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