Monday, 10 October 2011

The Big Hoose


The park opposite was once the grounds of the man who owned this 'Big Hoose.'  He was one Sydney Courtauld, descended from George Courtauld who opened a Silk Mill in 1809.  Weaving, of one sort or another has continued in this part of Britain for around a thousand years, give or take a few. The lowlands of Europe, the Netherlands, Belgium, Flanders and Northern France, abounded with weavers of high quality and the wool trade at first, and silk later, became major industries. Many small towns, large villages to us today, have huge churches built around 900 years ago, less to worship God than to show the world just how rich the town had become! Various wars and persecutions arose from time to time, almost weekly as far as I can see, and many weavers arrived in the British mainland.  This town has much evidence of this, one small item being naming the many narrow passageways 'Gants' after the Flanders style.  House roofs also show indication of Dutch design, and the establishment of the weaving trade is evidence itself.

George Courtauld had emigrated to America where he gathered to himself a wife and produced eight children, seven of whom survived.  I suppose there was little else to do in the colonies with no football to watch. However he returned to his homeland in the late 18th century and began to work at his trade of weaving.  In 1809 he opened a silk mill creating 'crape' a hard stiff material that was very popular in the 19th century. A Unitarian and a believer in social reform, as long as he made vast profits, his mills were worked mostly by women as they were cheaper to run.  Many were children, aged around 10-13, and  a great many of these came from 'well run' workhouses.  Not quite slavery, although they worked long hours for one shilling and five pence a week, women got five  shillings, the workhouse however got £5, and another £5 after a year.  Where was Dickens at this time I ask?  

George returned to America in 1818 and remained there until his death allowing Samuel his son to run the business.  By the 19th century Samuel Courtaulds had three huge mills, powered by steam, spread around the area, employing many workers, although not on the most generous wage, and naturally sacking those who went on strike. Like his father he was a Unitarian, a supporter of reform and yet failed to develop the workers wages according to his profits.  As wages rose fifty percent, from 5 shillings to10 shillings for women, his profits rose by 1400 percent. Men by they way got 7 shillings and twopence, and this also rose in time.  However fewer men were employed. Today I suspect he would be a Liberal-Democrat, or rich communist if you prefer. He lived in a stately manor called Gosfield Hall to the north of the town and the family graves can be seen in the small Gosfied churchyard, for those who delight in that sort of thing.  Death makes all equal, although the poor have no stone slabs to mark where they lie.

The Unitarian heresy was taken up by all the family and a great many 'good works' proceeded from this. Various members of the family built hospitals, public gardens, houses, schools, town halls and the like.  Some also went on to encourage the arts, got involved in public service, such as becoming members of parliament and participated in a variety of benefits to the districts in which they lived. However these benefits, positive as they indeed were, came from the low wages paid to the workers. Would higher wages meant less benefits, I wonder?   

Bocking Place gardens were indeed laid out by someone with a very good eye.  A walk across the park in summer shows a remarkable variety of excellent trees, thoughtfully planted, and it is sad to think that the designer would not see his design at its best. The huge house was sold around 1920 and and later became a girls school. This closed in 1993, and occasionally an ex-pupil will be seen skipping over parts of the grounds once strictly forbidden. The glee these, not so young girls have in this is astounding!  The house has now been developed into flats for those who wish to emulate the rich.

While it would be nice to say this building is home, it represents a somewhat pretentious approach to life, now long gone.  Essex has many large houses, once owned by the rich and important, all surrounded by large well laid out grounds, now rarely used as homes, although my landlord lives in one!  His staff are underpaid and overworked also!  Today's rich still like the pretentious big house, but while some may be businessmen others may well be footballers, actors or musicians.  The days of the landowning powerful have not gone, but they have certainly shifted. Personally a small house would suit my little life, I have no desire to be that important.  There again, I have no chance anyway, ho hum.....       



Jenny Woolf said...

I don't approve of paying low wages but there's something to be said for doing philanthropic works, however critical. I guess the modern equivalent might be those of us who buy cheap clothes from chainstores which are so incredibly cheap because they are made with sweated labour and child labour in third world countries... and who DON'T support charities. I reckon that the average person today has a more comfortable life than most Victorians, rich or poor. I'm really interested in the differences between times past and times present, I think we underestimate how different it all was then and how hard it is to make an objective judgement of the way people behaved in those days.
Anyway it's another interesting post from you, which is always good. I enjoy reading your blog.

FishHawk said...

Alas, He keeps insisting that you are actually very important. When I hear this, I am comforted with knowing that it may have come from the other side.

Adullamite said...

Jenny, I love history. The Victorian times are quite close to me as my uncles and aunts in Fife were born late Victorian, early 20th c so I can 'feel' it in one sense.

Fish, Wot?

Relax Max said...

So deep. So complex. I am at a loss.

Adullamite said...

Max, Too deep for you?

Jeremy Janson said...

LOL! In America "Big House" means prison.

Jeremy Janson said...

As for low wages, you know the wages were still better then what they could've gotten elsewhere, and in some ways I think it's actually good for countries and people that low wages exist as a punishment for not creating a sufficiently good environment for productive activity, even if in this case it was mostly gender relations that caused it. Reduce unemployment and develop the land and wages naturally rise. I'm not saying there's never a time for regulation, including of course self-regulation from the businessowners themselves, but wages are clear enough - everyone knows what a shilling is.

Regulation, including even the self-regulatory variety, is for things like safety that workers cannot be expected to fully understand or account for. To accurately assess the safety level, including long-term safety threats, of a facility requires about 3 months of work from a team of trained engineers, and even then, if they do not have a good accounting for the chemistry and biohazards they may still mess up.