Laroche Chapter Five
My Gt.Grandfather Alfred La Roche became a Chair maker and later a cabinet maker and Employed a boy (I think this was my Grandmothers brother)
Augustine La Roche also made chairs with one of his sons so I have included in my story the history of the Chair makers.
Although they led a poor life at first some of them became Wealthy and moved from the area as the La Roche’s did.
The furniture makers
In the 19th century the East End brought in goods from around the world via the docks. But in another business the East End supplied the world itself — as the home of factories which furnished the homes of Britain and the Empire.
Before the 1830s most London furniture makers were based in the centre of London turning out posh pieces for the big houses of the West End. But new houses were shooting up in the East End, needing plentiful furniture and quick – a new business was about to be born.
In 1801 there was just one furniture firm in Shoreditch’s Curtain Road, 50 years later it was the hub of an East End business employing tens of thousands and producing the majority of the capital’s output.
The boom started with the opening of the East India and West India Docks and a new, plentiful supply of cheap timber. The building of the canals brought the timber inland, with sawmills setting up business alongside, and hundreds of small workshops sprung up in Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and Hoxton to produce cheap furniture.
It was cheap and easy to set up on your own, the workers needed only enough cash to buy wood to work on one piece at a time. The ‘small master’ system took root, with craftsmen working from tiny rooms or garrets, and so they became known as garret masters.
While the skilled West End masters put off marriage and children to dedicate themselves to their trade, the garret masters planned to have as many as possible. Families of six or more were not unusual, with all taking up an unpaid duty with the master, maybe as young as six.
The great Victorian chronicler of East End life, Henry Mayhew, recorded the tale of a Spitalfields garret master in 1850. The man started his 16-hour day at 6am, put his children to the same work six days a week, then sent his wife out to walk miles to sell their wares.
For all that work, the family would earn just 16 shillings, and they often went to bed unfed. As the master said: “Unless a man has children to help him he can’t live at all.”
Soon, many of the Jewish immigrants were flooding into the trade and by the turn of the century owned many of the firms.
Lobovitch, Hyman, Galinsky and Dolnisky around the Whitechapel Road became famous names.
Customers could try Caplins or Percy Young on the Commercial Road or Wickhams – the “Harrods of East London” – on the Mile End Road.
The biggest of them all was Lebus of Tabernacle Street, by the end of the 19th century the major furniture-maker in Britain. By the time the firm moved out to Tottenham Hale in 1903, it employed more than 1,000 people.
The industry was at its peak as the new century drew on, but World War Two brought disaster. Shortages of materials forced the Government to introduce Utility Furniture, using wood sparingly and produced in limited runs.
Many big factories were turned over to aircraft manufacture, small firms simply went under. Big names like Lebus and Beautility simply disappeared.
An East End industry, which had led the world, vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared.
For more information read Furnishing The World by Kirkham, Mace and Porter, Journeyman Books.
GARRET-MASTERS AND SLAUGHTER-WORK
SOMETHING ABOUT THOSE WHO PATRONIZE " SLAUGHTER-WORK"-THE "GARRET MASTER'S" ONLY WAY OF DISPOSING OF HIS GOODS - THE "SLAUGHTERMAN" CAN MAKE HIS OWN TERMS ON SATURDAY NIGHT- "A MAN MAKES UP A THING AND HE TAKES IT TO A SLAUGHTERHOUSE AND THEY HAMMER HIM DOWN TO THIS FIGURE" - "SLAUGHTER-WORK YOU CALLS IT: CALL IT MURDER WORK, AND YOU WONT BE FAR OUT "-"I RECKON THAT MY SHARE O'THEM TWO TABLES WILL BE JUST UPON SIX SHILLINGS" - "WORKING SUNDAYS, AND RECKONED ALL UP, IT MIGHT AMOUNT TO TWO OR THREE AND TWENTY SHILLINGS PER WEEK" - "I'M OUT O' LUCK, AN' THATS WHERE IT IS," SAID THE MAKER OF THE DRAWERS - I ALWAYS MAKE CHESTS OF DRAWERS, LEASTWAYS, WE MAKE 'EM; ME AND MY WIFE AND DAUGHTER" - "NO, I DONT GO TO CHURCH. THE OLD LADY AND LIZ GOES TO CHAPEL IN THE MORNING, AND I STAYS AT HOME AND COOKS THE DINNER FOR 'EM."
THE convenient doctrine that the value of a thing is neither more nor less than the most it will realize, if carried into the markets very often, beguiles a worthy and good-natured person into innocently aiding and abetting an act of injustice against his fellow-man repugnant to his proper nature. As, for example, being a decent and industrious young fellow of the mechanic class, and in pursuit of a manly determination to do my duty in that state of life to which it has pleased Providence to call me, I am about to get married - consequently, I visit a furniture warehouse, with a view to furnishing my small house. My means are not extensive, and I select for my purpose what is known as a cheap furniture warehouse.
The proprietor in his dealings with me, liberally upholds the reputation of his establishment. I purchase chests of drawers, tables, chairs, etc., at a remarkably reasonable figure. Indeed, I am assured by the salesman that the price I have paid would barely cover a fair price for material and workmanship. I don't believe this. Indeed, it appears to me such a manifest tarradiddle that my faith is somewhat shaken in my bargain. An uncomfortable suspicion disturbs me that overconfidence in my own judgment has led me astray, and that I have been imposed on. But did I know all perhaps I should rather wish it were so.
As a working man myself, and one who has respect for the righteous edict that the labourer is worthy of his hire, I would rather that I had been swindled to the extent of 10s. In my dining-table, than be aware that the abatement of that sum, which rendered the article cheap, was at the cost of the poor wretch who made it, and who, instead of receiving, say, a pound for the job, was ground down by the cheap furniture [-111-] "slaughterman" to execute it for five or six shillings; which meant about half-a-crown a day for all his sweating and driving from daylight till dark.
I call it an evil proceeding on the part of the man from whom I bought the table, to make me a party to his infamous system. Any one may have the table for me. I never could enjoy a dinner off it. Whenever it was fairly spread, and I was about to wield the carver, I should expect to see a phantom cabinet-maker arise from between the leaves-a gaunt and chalk-faced man with mahogany-dust matted in his hair and powdered over his ragged shirt-sleeves. He would be making hungry mouthings at my beef; wringing his ghostly hands, and wagging his head at me accusingly. True, I might say With Macbeth, "Thou canst not say I did it;" but I could not help feeling that, though unwittingly, I certainly had a hand in the grim business, and my untouched plate would testify to the effect of a guilty conscience on even a robust appetite.
He was a man the sweat of whose brow had matted the red sawdust in his grey hair. His face was cadaverous, and his shirt sleeves tattered and torn. I met him in the Whitechapel Road one Saturday night, as late as nine o'clock, and he was standing, with a boy, beside a barrow on which rested a chiffonier in an unpolished condition. The boy had been into the furniture shop just opposite.
"He says he can't be bothered now," said the boy, addressing his father; "you must wait half-an- hour if you want him to look at it. You should ha' took his money when he offered it you, he says."
"Did you tell him I'd take it now, Dick ?"
"Yes," replied Dick ; " I told him that, and he said he would see about it."
"Ah, then I know what that means," said the cadaverous cabinetmaker; and, with rueful resignation on his haggard face, he sat on the barrow-handle to wait.
"It means just this, sir," he explained to me, when, a few minutes afterwards, we were beguiling the spare half-hour, not sitting on the barrow, but within sight of it "It means that he bid me seven-and-twenty-and-six for it at six o'clock to-night, and that now he'll make me take six-and-twenty or perhaps twenty-five, or I shall have to wheel it back to the Waterloo Road, where I live. And he knows precious well I won't do that. That's his dodge in getting me to wait half-an-hour. He can as well see me now as then; but, don't you see, it is nine o clock, and in half-an-hour the shops will be shutting up, and it will be all over with my chance. How comes it that I've got the chiffonier for sale? I've always got something for sale. Oh, yes; hawking it about like this on a barrow, or, if it's a bigger thing, in a cart. It's the garret-masters way of doing business in our line. I'm a garret-master - master, good Lord!" and he shrugged his shoulders under his tattered shirt and there are scores of us, hundreds I may say, taking all of them in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green. We're called garret-masters because of the hole-and-corner way in which we live, I suppose, and our poverty compelling us to put up with sky lodgings. The garret-master in the cabinet trade works most exclusively for the slaughterhouses - I mean for the advertising shops. Half of 'em are slaughterhouses, as we call 'em. I could give you [-112-] the names of some that would surprise you - houses that trade off hundreds of pounds of furniture in a week, and who depend on poor hand-to-mouth fellows like me to supply 'em. What shall I get out of that chiffonier If I let it go for five-and-twenty shillings? Well, it ain't quite fair to take it at that, because that's what we call a 'pole-axing' price - something wus than common slaughtering. I suppose I shall get twenty-six for it; that will pay me five-and-six for two days' work. Of how many hours? Oh, if you work for slaughterhouses you musn't talk about hours. I started on this job on Thursday tea-time, and I worked till eleven, and I was up and at it at five and I worked till a bit after twelve a-Friday night, and I was up at five again this morning, and I polished him off about four in the afternoon. Thirty- five hours is it? Very likely. I never reckon it. What's the use?"
"It seems a large piece of work to get through even in that time," I remarked.
"It is all a tight fit to squeeze it into the time, I can tell you," said the poor cabinetmaker, wiping his forehead at the mere recollection. "Course it's scamped. You wouldn't find it out if you was to take a candle and go over every inch of it; but I know it is, and the slaughterhouses know it is. They don't care. As long as a thing is 'viewy' they don't mind. There is a good solid week's work in that bit of furniture for a man to give his honest mind to it, and allow himself time for sleep and wittles. But it's wonderful what a man can get through when he's spurred enough. It's like them walking and running men at the Agricultural Hall. One does a bit more than another, and that one a bit more than him till blowed if the last 'un ain't done very nigh twice as much as the first. It's that what keeps the slop furniture trade what it is, worse luck. A man makes up a thing and he takes it to a slaughterhouse, and they hammer him down to their figure, and then p'r'aps they'll say, 'If you like to do 'em at a shilling each less, you can bring in a dozen in the next month.' Well, sir, you see the temptation. A man says to himself, 'If I don't do it another will, and I might manage it if I got up an hour earlier every morning;' and so he goes on, cuttin' it finer and finer, till he finds himself working almost all the hours God A'mighty made. What will that chiffonier sell for in the furniture shop? Two pun fifteen. If it goes out on the hiring system, three pun ten. It will cost about three shillings to polish, so that the slaughterman will get it for thirty shillings, say. A long profit? I should rather think so. It's awful the price they pay us. It wouldn't be so bad if they didn't know all about it; but they do. They could tell exactly what an article of furniture cost you in the shape of materials, even to the very brads and the glue; and it does seem cruel hard for 'em to offer a man a price sometimes that don't pay him a couple shillings a day for his labour. We call 'em all slaughterhouses, but there's some not so bad as others. A man may get regular work at some of 'em, and earn his pound or three-and- twenty a week, if he sticks to it from Sunday morning to Saturday night. Sundays - Ah! I ain't had a Sunday, cept that foggy one when the cough took me so bad. not for these five months. I don't mind. I'd sooner work than mope about and think. It might be [-113-] different if I had Sunday clothes to go out for a walk into the country, but a man can't wear his apron on a Sunday, and mine, unfortunately, kivers more patches than I should care to make public."
At which point of our conversation his boy looked in to say that Mr. - wanted to know whether he was to be kept waiting all night, or whether he was to shut his shop-door.
"I must say good-night, then, sir," said the poor cabinet-maker, getting up in a hurry; "I shall have to close with him at any price if I want to see a bit of grub on the table to-morrow, and he's a nasty-tempered one."
Of course I don't know what the chiffonier realised ; but I lingered long enough, I suppose I should be glad to say, to see the barrow wheeled empty away.
The following Saturday evening I started earlier - between six and seven in the evening-and began my exploration in the Blackfriars Road, making my way towards Camberwell. I very soon discovered convincing proof that the man I had talked with a week before had not exaggerated, when he told me that there were scores of poor fellows of his trade driven to adopt this precarious method of gaining a livelihood. In less than three hours I counted thirteen different carts and harrows waiting with unpolished goods outside cheap furniture shops. And the poor hawkers were, as regards their hungry, haggard, and poverty-stricken appearance, as much like my unfortunate chiffonier maker as if they were his brothers. Furniture of all kinds they had to dispose of-bookcases, sideboards, "loo" and other tables, chests of drawers, and chairs.
A glance sufficed to disclose the kind of dealing that was going on.
The make-believe, perfectly-indifferent and impatient-at-being-bothered demeanour of the furniture-dealer, as he stood at his shop door, listening to the application of the poor garret-master, and the painful eagerness of the latter as he endeavoured to bring the hard-bargain-driving to a successful issue, told the story as plain as spoken language.
I watched a man "rushing" two middle-sized mahogany loo tables, and when he came away from the furniture-shop, I took the liberty of asking him what sort of "deal" he had made.
"About the same as usual, sir," he replied. " Oh, no; it ain't no secret. If the information will, as you say, serve a useful purpose, you are welcome to all I can tell you. Leastways, if it is a secret, I ain't paid for keeping it as such. Slaughter-work you calls it; call it murder-work, and you won't be far out. Eighteen shillings each is the price I got for them two tables, and the stuff in 'em, going the cheapest way to market, cost me four-and-twenty-and-nine-pence. That gives me eleven and threepence, with three ha'pence an hour for the barrow to take off that, and I've been out three hours. How long did they take me to make? Not longer than I could help, you can take your oath. I began 'em yesterday morning early - me and my two prentices, which one is a grown man now, and takes his fifteen shillings a week off me. T'other one has only got to be fed, with sixpence a week pocket-money as yet. One way and another, I reckon that my share o' them two tables will be just upon six shillings. That's for two days' stiff work. Sometimes I make a bit more. Working Sundays, and reckoned all up, it might amount to two or three and twenty shillings. But look at the hours never less than thirteen, and oftener sixteen a day. Couldn't I earn more in a good cabinetmaker's shop? One time I might, but they wouldn't have me now. Taint likely, unless I went into the country, where I wasn't known. And even if he had the chance of a good shop, a man gets so used to slapping things together; it would be a long time before he got out of the way. I've thought of getting out of the slaughter business lots of times; but don't you see how it is, sir ? I'm in debt a bit for wood and things, and my earnings serve for hand to mouth at home, and barely that. I haven't got a hour to spare to seek a job in. It is all rattle and drive. Selling what you've got, and make haste back, calling on your way to buy fresh stuff; and slipping into it again as soon as you've had a mouthful of wittles. That's where a man is nailed to slop work. When once it gets tight hold on you it will never let you go. You're wuss off than a hunted rat; he can turn when things grow desperate and stand at bay. But there's no standing at bay again slop work, sir. To stand against it is to starve, and so you may just as well let it go on huntin' you, in a manner of speaking; one ending being much about the same as t'other. No, I don't know of any way of making matters better for us. The regular cabinet-hands have their societies, of course, but there's nothing like that in our line. We're more anxious to spoil each other's interests - in the way of trade, I mean - than to try and stick together for mutual benefit. It's precious hard, though, to be ground down so without there being occasion for it. The shopkeeper must have his profit of course; but it's mean to take it all out of the likes of me, and give the public, who don't ask for it, and don't want it, the bread out of the mouths of my young 'uns, and the clothes off their backs. It's easy enough to explain how a man may drop into the slaughter business. He loses his job in a regular shop, and is out o'work for a month or so. Well, he's got his tools, and for a few shillings he can buy a bit o' wood and set to work. Half a loaf is better than none, and he'll be earning something, anyhow. P'raps he's a young fellow and strong, and he says to himself, I can easily makeup the difference in price by working a few hours more every day. But p'raps at first he'll keep himself quiet and pay a man to hawk his things round, so that his old masters and shopmates mayn't know what he's up to. But he's sure to be found out, and then he's made desperate by being sneered and jeered at, and he goes in for doing the best he can for himself; in spite of everybody. The worst of it is that everybody else is doing the same thing in the swim he goes in for, and he soon finds that the best he can do for himself and them depending on him is to keep a loaf on the table and steer clear of the broker's man."
I observed another unfortunate, who bore on his face, and on his attenuated, ill-clad carcase the stamp of "garret-master" as plainly as though he were branded all over in six-inch letters, turning away disconsolate from the doors of a slaughterhouse in the neighbourhood of the Elephant and Castle, a handsome shop, extensively stocked, and presenting every indication of a flourishing and profitable business. The slaughter-work in this case took [-115-] the shape of three chests of mahogany drawers, unpolished, as usual, and comprising a load for a horse rather than for the slim, elderly man and the undersized boy who were hauling at it.
"I'm out o' luck, an' that's where it is," said the maker of the drawers, with marvellous resignation under the circumstances. "I'm a bit late with 'em, and others have been here afore me. I run a chisel into the back o' my thumb last night " (the member in question was wrapped round with a bit of old stocking), "and it chucked me out this morning. Yes, it's a bad job, but we must make the best of it. They ought to go at the price. How much do you think, sir? I'll take five-and-twenty shillings apiece for 'em. They offered me three pun ten for the lot over the way, but I'll wheel 'em back to Spitalfields before I'll take it. What do they cost me - each, you mean? Well, since you don't ask in idleness, and it may be as you can do us a good turn, I'll lay it out fair to you. They're four-posters, they are. Your cedar for ends will stand you in four shillings, and your veneers for the five drawers and for the top runs into three-and-six. Then there's your stuff for the body, and a bit o' clean deal for your drawer fronts, there's six-and-six; and your locks and knobs, and a set of four turned feet is as good as four-and-threepence more. That makes nineteen-and three altogether. I don't say that I'd always take five-and-twenty each for 'em. I'd expect and very likely get seven-and-twenty if it was earlier: but every half-hour makes a difference when its growing late. You wouldn't buy 'em of me if anybody else would have bought 'em. You're told they are duffing goods, of course, or you wouldn't find it so hard to get rid of 'em. I'll take 'em off your hands at a price; but I'd sooner you took 'em away. I always make chests of drawers. Leastways, we make 'em - me and my wife and daughter. Bless you, yes. They can both use a rip-saw or a plane as well as I can. We made them chests atween us this week. That's one towards next week, and all over cost-price is earnings. Are there many French cabinetmakers? Not many that I know of; but there, you, see, I mightn't know of 'em any more than they know of me. I dare say there's a good deal of it done on the quiet. Yes, if I take five-and-twenty for each of these, we earn nineteen-and-six-which is a bad week - we count on making a pound; but then, you know, we've got to work for it. Heart alive, I should think so; so you'd say if you saw all three of us pegging away in our little crib with hardly room to move, and that long before the first milkman in the morning until lamplight at night. But we don't care so as we make a pound. That's four-and-six for our rooms and eighteenpence for our work shed, and gives us fourteen shillings to live on. But then, see, it ain't every man has got my advantages in having a old woman, and a girl turned of eighteen, and strong as a little mule, able and willing to cut their own grass. No, and we never work on Sundays. I shouldn't expect to get as much as I do to be thankful for if we did. No, I don't go to church. The old lady and Liz goes to chapel in the morning, and I stays at home and cooks the dinner for 'em, which is a change for me, and makes it comfortable all round."
The Victorian Dictionary
compiled by Lee Jackson
See the additional Notes Below received 25 November 2007.
Today I have received from a Chair Museum in Exeter Devon
Thank you for more information about your ancestors who made chairs. I have printed out the pictures and your letter and will file the info. Will let you know if I should come across the name etc. Your ggg grandfather is sitting on a handsome chair which looks to have the influence of the Carolean period with the barley-twist uprights and carved top-rail.
Regards and good luck with your researches.
Alice Brown Antique Chairs & Museum
So I looked on the Internet and found this little snippet:-
Early Stuart or Jacobean, Cromwellian and Late Stuart Period James Ist……….1603-1625
(Contemporary French Periods Henri IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV, 1589-1715)
Gate leg tables are usually associated with Jacobean times, drawers were more in general use. Oak continued to be the main wood in use. Tabletops were often of round or oval shape; the back legs of chairs were nearly always turned. Handles and large scroll hinges of wrought iron "cocks head" design were frequently employed, as were brass drop handles. Mirrors began to take a more prominent place.
During the latter part of the 17th century around 1670 The Huguenot silk weavers began to settle in Spitalfields London, beautiful fabrics were produced. Lacquer work imported from the East became fashionable. The massive bulbous leg gave way to simple turnery, vase shaped pillars (sometime fluted) often being seen. Geometric design prevailed; carving was more restrained than hitherto the later chairs were often upholstered in velvet or pigskin with large brass nails. Grandfather clocks were probably first introduced into England during the latter part of this period from Holland and walnut was more generally used at this time.
Yorkshire chairs are of this period, cane panelling was extensively employed in Carolean times, barley sugar twist, turned legs and rails, pierced and carved back work to chairs all came to the fore.
Genuine articles show the heads of wooden pegs securing the tenon into the mortice; original pieces have turned wooden knobs to doors and drawers. Chequer and herringbone inlay work was extensively used bone, ebony, ivory and mother of pearl was extensively used, Marquetry was in considerable use in the later pieces. Oak furniture was treated with a dark varnish mixed with oil so that it sank into the wood and did not form a surface polish. Grinling Gibbons work influenced much of the later designs, foreign influence was also much in evidence, workmanship continued to improve.
Then I found this article which explains the Flemish style
JACOBEAN PERIOD (1603-1688): Includes Jacobean Period (proper) from 1603 to 1649, Cromwellian period 1649 to 1660, and the Carolean period 1660 to 1688. The furniture of the early Jacobean period retained the general characteristics of the preceding periods, but Flemish and Dutch arts and manufactures were influential in forming what is known as the Jacobean style. The term is derived from Jacobus, the Latin for James. Furniture was stout and staunch, even to clumsiness, severe in form and line and replete with ornament, much of which was discontinued during the Cromwellian days. As a rule it was put together with mortise and tenon, and held in place with dowels. Chairs were comparatively scarce. They usually had arms and they were seats of great dignity. The characteristic chair of early 17th century was the wainscot chair with a cresting across the top. Oak was still the favored wood. At the time of the Commonwealth, chairs with spirally turned legs and low, open backs appeared with either caning or vertical balusters or slats. Bun or ball feet with under-bracing generally used. It was not until after the Restoration in 1660 that chairs became the usual seat at the table for meals. At the end of the Carolean period, chairs with Flemish "C" and "S" scrolled legs, stretchers and top rail were common. Tables in considerable variety appeared, notably the gate legged type; the cupboard in different sizes, and for a variety of purposes, was a favourite piece of furniture during the last half of the century. It was an article of both convenience and ceremony.
From 1660 onward, Restoration influences, essentially foreign, wrought a vast change in the fashion and forms of English furniture. At first, oak was the staple material used, superseded by walnut after 1660. This last was a more suitable medium for the scrolls, twists and curves then coming into fashion. Other native woods were also used occasionally. Glass began to be used for mirrors, doors of book-cases and other furniture. Carving, inlay; veneer, turning, painting, gilding, panelling, applied ornament and upholstering in brocades, velvets and needle-point were all used in processes of decoration during the progress of the period. The furniture of the American Colonies reflected many of the styles of the mother country.