The Royal Army Clothing Factory and Army Clothing Department at Pimlico
The Army Clothing Factory was established in Pimlico in 1857 to manufacture clothing for the Army and followed on from the successful introduction of the Army Clothing Department in 1855
Procurement of Army Clothing Prior to 1855
Prior to the formation of the Army Clothing Department, the clothing for the infantry and cavalry was supplied by the Colonels of the Regiments through their Regimental Agents. Each Colonel was allowed a certain annual amount for clothing and accoutrements for each man in the Regiment, a system known as “off reckoning”. For example for a Regiment of the Line, the Colonel received the following allowances:
Sergeant £7 9s 2d
Corporal £4 19s
Private £2 6s
With regiments seldom being at their established strength and the prices of clothing items being considerably less than the allowances paid, there was clearly the scope for large profits for the Colonels. Although, there were instances where some Colonels had suffered heavy losses as a result of the system.
While the system led to potentially large profits for the Colonels, it led to extreme misery for the workers producing the garments. In his letter VII of 9th November 1849, Henry Mayhew considered the conditions of men and women manufacturing Government Contract clothing;
“Small as are the earnings of those who depend for their living upon the manufacture of ready-made clothes for the wholesale warehouses of the Minories and the adjoining places, still the incomings of those who manufacture the clothes of our soldiers and sailors,….even less calculated to support life. I thought the force of misery could no further go than with the waistcoat and shirt hands that I visited last week. And yet since then, I have seen people so overwhelmed in suffering, and so used to privations of the keenest kind, that they had almost forgotten to complain of them.”
Mayhew collected testimony from some of the workers involved in the trade. Firstly, he interviewed a man who made soldiers’ trousers. The man received 6d a pair making trousers for the Foot Guards band could make a pair in five hours ( although he reckoned that it would take a middling worker eight hours) He then sub- contracted the seams out. The worker told Mayhew he could make about three pairs a day- possibly four in summer by working very hard. Work was not always available. At the best of times when work was brisk, he earned about 8s a week – but then had to pay for the thread and cotton, for sub-contracting the seams and for delivery costs. All told that left him with 3s and 7d a week to live on. However, the work was very precarious – in the previous year he had had eight weeks with no work and in the fifteen works prior to the interview had only made 15 pairs of trousers. He was sure that his average net earnings were not more than 3s a week.
The worker received his work from a piece-master who got a penny profit for each garment. He believed that the low prices stemmed from the very low prices at which the contracts were taken out, he was convinced that
“If the Government would take it into their hands, and give the clothes out themselves, the poor work-people might have prices that would keep them from starving... “
According to his testimony, the workers generally involved in that type of contract work were generally “old persons who have seen better days, and have nothing left but their needle to keep them “. There were also “many widows with young children, and they give them the seams to do, and so to manage to prolong life, because they’re afeard to die, and too honest to steal.”
Mayhew also interviewed a woman making army and police uniforms who lived off Grays Inn Lane. Again, she estimated to earn about 1s and 6d a week from the trade. Her husband had been in hospital with inflammation of the lungs and was unable to work; she had been obliged to pawn his tools.
Mayhew quoted extensively from the 1833 Report from the Select Committee on Army and Navy Appointments and evidence presented to that Committee.
“It appears, then, that the army clothing in the year above alluded to cost, for 105 battalions of infantry, £255,000. The supply of this was entrusted to 105 Colonels, and they paid £192,000 for the goods, taking to themselves £63,000 of profit out of the transaction.”
So the pre 1855 system allowed Colonels to make large personal profits; did not represent good value for the public-purse; and left the workers in a state of poverty. Something, therefore, had to change.
While the above system prevailed for Regiments of the Line, other Corps of the Army was provided with clothes by the Ordinance Department. By a Royal Warrant of 6th June 1854, Colonels were granted a fixed allowance in lieu of the “off-reckoning”. Effectively, it was determined that the public should pay the army clothing suppliers through the Regimental Agents with the Colonels being removed from the equation. However, this system still gave the public no benefit from competition within the Garment Trade. Therefore Lord Palmerstsone's Government decided to supply all clothing by public contract with the War Office and the Army Clothing Department was established to supervise such activities.
Establishment of the Army Clothing Department
On 21st June 1855, a Royal Warrant relieved Colonels and Regimental Agents of all responsibilities associated with clothing. Captain Petrie’s “Strength, Composition and Organisation of the Army of Great Britain” published in 1864 describes the set up at Pimlico as being
The Factory Department- presided over by the Superintendent of the Royal Army Clothing Factory- responsible for manufacturing some Army clothing.
The Inspector’s Department- presided over by the Inspector of Army Clothing – where all materials and articles received from external contractors were examined by experts before being stored.
The Storekeeper’s Department- where the stores were kept ready for issue.
The first Director General of Army Clothing was Colonel Sir Thomas St Vincent Troubridge Bart. CB appointed on 7th June 1855. A career soldier, he had served in the 73rd and 7th (Royal Fusiliers) Regiments of Foot from 1834 to 1853 before being retired from active service as a result of wounds received. He was paid a salary of £1,000 per year.
He was ably assisted by his young Assistant Director General, the 27 year old George Dalhousie Ramsay. Despite his relative youth, Ramsay already had a distinguished public service career and had served as Private Secretary to no less than three Secretaries of State for War, the Rt. Hon. Fox Maule (from 1st October 1849 to January 1852), Rt. Hon. Sidney Herbert (from December 1852 to February 1855) and latterly Lord Panmure from February 1855 until he took on the role of Assistant Director General.. He was paid £800 a year.
On 1st July 1856, Ramsay gave evidence before the Select Committee on Public Contracts. He defined the role of the Army Clothing Department as:
· To take charge of all patterns of clothing and appointments when they have been sanctioned by the Sovereign and sealed by order of the Secretary of State for War.
· To receive all requisitions for clothing and appointments from the Adjutant-general for the Foot Guards, Cavalry and Infantry of the Line.
· To examine the requisitions and to instruct the clothiers to comply with them within the time specified.
· To carry on all correspondence relating to the clothing and appointments and to be the sole medium of communication with the selected suppliers.
· To receive from the Inspecting Officers, the clothing inspected.
· To receive all requisitions for great-coats and warm clothing and to ascertain that the regiment was entitled to the supply requisitioned.
At the time Ramsay gave his evidence before the Select Committee, the Army Clothing Department was in a transitional phase and was effectively grandfathering the previous arrangements and paying for existing contracts. The Department would take over is full responsibilities from 31st March 1857. From that date onwards, the inspection of clothing was to take place at Weedon where it would be “inspected by the Inspectors there, who are all practical men, and have a complete knowledge of the supplies which they are called upon to Inspect”.
The Inspectors all had a background in skilled trades or in the army which enable them to carry out their tasks. The 1st Inspector (Cloth) Mr H Hoile had a background of 10 years with the firm of Costaker & Co, Cloth Merchants and one year in Mr Bliss’s Cloth Factory. The other Inspector of Cloth, Mr. T Mallett had 10 years experience as a woollen salesman in Bartleets’s Cloth Hall, London and 2 years with Bull & Wilson’s, St Martin’s Lane, London.
Going forward, it was proposed that the Government would make the contracts for the cloth for the Infantry based on an open tender process and having procured the cloth, it was to be examined and tested by the Inspectors at Weedon and then further contracts would be issued for the making of the clothing.
Under examination by the Committee, Ramsay concurred that the idea was that the Army Clothing Department would supply the Army with infinitely better clothing than it had ever had before without any additional cost to the Public.
A False Start a Weedon
The original Army Clothing Depot had been established by Lord Panmure at Weedon in Northamptonshire. A large site had been owned by the Crown at Weedon since 1803 where the Royal Ordnance Depot and later a barracks had been established in 1855 the site had the attraction that the large barracks were unoccupied and suitable for conversion to storehouses. It was also accessible by railway and the Grand Junction Canal. At the time, both Troubridge and Ramsay had objected to basing the clothing depot at Weedon, due its distance from Head-Quarters and the consequent difficulty in carrying out inspections.
The movement of Stores from the Tower of London to Weedon commenced on 1st November 1855 and on 1st December 1855, Mr James Sutton Elliott was appointed as Principal Military Storekeeper at Weedon. In fact, the transfer to Weedon and had been precipitately exercised and the new clothing depot suffered from early teething troubles. When Elliott arrived he found the books and records were in some state of disarray and that he had insufficient staff to deal with everything. The problems were compounded as a result of the rapid expansion of the Army, resulting from the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and the China Expedition in 1860. In 1859, a Commission was established to “inquire into the State of the Store and Clothing Depots at Weedon, Woolwich and the Tower.”
The Commission looked into the state of affairs at Weedon and concluded that, “the general mode in which the business of the Weedon Establishment was conducted was far from satisfactory.”
The Commission apportioned some of the blame for the shortcomings at Weedon on the unfortunate Elliott, mainly as a result of his continued absences from the site. Some of these were undoubtedly justified due to the necessity of his attendance at the War Office or the Deport in Mark Lane (London). Although according to the Commission, there was also “too much reason to believe that much of the time during which he was absent was devoted to his private pleasures in neglect of his public duty.” The Commission acquitted Elliott of any dishonesty or deliberate intention to do wrong and in their opinion the main defects at Weedon were attributable to the War Office.
In a fairly damning indictment the Commissioners concluded:
· It was a mistake to locate the clothing depot so far from London making it difficult from frequent visits by the Director-General and Assistant Director-General. (By the time the Commissioner reported this problem had been solved by re-locating the Depot to Pimlico).
· It was a mistake to appoint the first head of the establishment at Weedon without any specific instructions as to its organization
· It was a mistake to supply Elliott with insufficient staff when the Depot was established
· It was a continuing mistake not to increase the staff in proportion to the work at Weedon and in accordance with Elliott’s frequent requests.
· It was a mistake that, notwithstanding the distance from London, more frequent inspection visits were not carried out.
· It was a mistake to have insufficient stores located at Weedon
· It was the most serious mistake to have separate contracts for the cloth and making up the uniforms. This had led to double contracts, double correspondence, double transport costs and double inspection costs. (Again by the time the Commissioners reported, single contracts were being made for fully made up clothing.)
However, in some mitigation, the Commissioners did concede that:
“It must not, however, be forgotten that the operations of the Government clothing establishment have been carried on under considerable disadvantages. It was formed when the war with Russia was at its height, and encumbered, when peace was made, with a considerable quantity of returned stores, which, though not unserviceable, were rendered obsolete by alterations and improvements in the patterns. It was called upon to provide the clothing for 1858-9 for the troops despatched -to India (40,000) six months earlier than it would have been due if they had remained in Great Britain. Yet we are assured that no single instance occurred in which the embarkation of these troops as delayed for want of clothing. It had also to clothe 62,000 additional men added to the army, besides the 30,000 embodied militia. With all this strain upon the resources and energies of a new establishment, there can be no doubt in our opinion that the clothing as furnished to the army has very greatly improved in quality, and that this improvement is owing not only to the sealed patterns being better, but to the greater care taken in inspecting the clothing.”
The Commission concluded that the mission of the Clothing Department should be:
· That the soldier shall be supplied with good clothing. They agreed that this has been done under the present system better than it ever was before.
· That he shall be supplied with punctuality. This had not yet been done, but the causes of the failure in this respect were exceptional, and they saw no reason why it should not be accomplished by a Government establishment, as well as by a contractor nominated by a colonel.
· That he shall be supplied at a reasonable cost to the public. Assuming that in this respect no substantial advantage has hitherto been gained.
· That clothing, which is to be paid for by public money, and used for the public service, shall be furnished after fair competition by any respectable firms willing to contract for the supply.
So although, the new system had not commenced in outstanding fashion, it was generally adjudged to be better than that which had gone before. The Commissioners also dismissed claims that the Weedon experiment had caused heavy losses to the Public purse- more generally that it had not achieved the expected for savings.
Establishment of the Army Clothing Factory, Pimlico
So the clothing Depot moved back to Pimlico. Sir Thomas Troubridge was appointed Deputy Adjutant-General at Horse Guards and Captain Caffin succeeded him as Director of Stores and Clothing. Ramsay became Assistant Director of Stores and Clothing, but especially charged with the Clothing Department. The next step was for the Government to start manufacturing the clothing for the Army. Already, in 1857 a Government Factory was established at Woolwich to make clothing for the Royal Artillery and Engineers. This experimental system was extended to Regiments of the Line, since this produced impressive savings to the public purse it was decided to extend the system of direct manufacture by the Government and in 1862 the Army Clothing Factory at Grosvenor Gardens in Pimlico was established.
1864 Children’s Employment Commission Report on Pimlico
In 1864, the Second Report of the Commissioners, of the Children’s Employment Conditions reported on conditions at the Army Clothing Factory. It was a generally favourable report. The Inspector, Mr H W Lord commented that:
“Every facility was afforded me for visiting and obtaining information as to the practical working of this excellent institution; the arrangements adopted to secure the comfort and health of the workpeople seemed to have been very successful.”
The factory at Pimlico was described as consisting of a very large and lofty hall, with an arched roof of glass, and having two galleries, an upper and a lower one, round its four sides. Mr Lord was conducted on a tour of the facility by Captain Taylor, who had moved to Pimlico already having gained considerable experience at the government manufactory. On the occasion of Lord’s visit there were present 724 women, 5 were absent from sickness, and 25 from other causes, in most cases from their having to go to receive pensions or half-pay on that day: so large a number of absentees was considered as being exceedingly rare.
Very few of them were under 18 years of age, the youngest of all was 14, she and some three or four from that age to 16 made up trimmings.
It is found that they must be first rate sewers, before they are taught the use of the machine, in order that they may understand, whether the work brought to their machine is properly prepared for it.
In the department which made the Chacos women were also employed, although it was really a kind of saddlers' or cobblers' work, and had previously been considered man's work ; but the men in that branch had proved so disreputable and disorderly, that Captain Taylor determined to try what women could do, and the result has been most successful. They made some 2,000 chacos a week.
The bulk of the work was carried on in the centre of the hall; where there were 58 machines, each having 8 persons, besides the machinist, preparing or finishing the garments. At the time of the inspection nothing but great coats were being made, at the rate of 4,000 a week. In the previous January 28,578 new tunics, great-coats, jackets, and trousers were made on the premises.
All the sewing machines on the ground floor were moved by steam power, communicated by straps from horizontal shafting; the shafts pass along the floor, and are securely boxed; there was at first a difficulty in regulating the speed, but that is managed by a small wheel, which tightens or slackens the straps as required, and is applied by the pressure of the foot of the machinist on a pedal.
Nearly 450 persons were still directly employed out of doors; the names in the book of one viewer are 200, and in the other 230; some of these have one or two members of their family to help them, so that perhaps a thousand were employed altogether,
The hours were from 7.30 A.m. to 6.15 P.m., with an hour for dinner from 11.45 to 12.45; all the women left the premises for that meal; on rainy days 20 or 30 of those who live at any distance usually ask and are allowed to stay, the rest manage to go with one of those who live near. They had about 15 minutes for tea, which was taken on the premises; they paid Id. to an eating-house keeper, who is allowed the use of a room and range for preparing tea...
Interestingly, Captain Taylor remarked that it would no doubt be much easier to give out material for 100 garments to a responsible piece-master, and look only to him to have them returned properly made ; however, he thought that "the workpeople are "much more ready to serve us now that we employ "them directly. They happen to be working hard "to-day, because it is the last day of our week; they "will get through as much to-day as they will all "to-morrow and the next day."
Captain Taylor was also confident that there was a wonderful difference observable in the improved physical condition of the people, after they had been working for a month or two at the Depot, and that the example set them there, contributed much to raise the tone of the whole neighbourhood.
It was necessary to be very careful about the character of the women; every one filled in a form and brought a reference, signed by a clergyman and a householder. Captain Taylor commented that:
“My own experience has convinced me that in order to manage a "number of women you must treat them kindly and "firmly, give them work enough, but never have even the appearance of making distinctions and "favourites."
There were separate water-closets for the women; places for washing, and apparatus; and a room for their bonnets and cloaks: all the women were divided into sections, each had a number, and a peg with a corresponding number in the partitions appropriated to their section. They were issued with a uniform.
According to Mr Lord’s report:
“There seemed a general conviction that the workpeople are better off, both as regards their earnings and their habits and health, than when they worked for contractors, while at the same time the Government saves money; in one single article, the tunic, the contractor's price has been reduced from 18s. 6d. to 15s. lid. “
Mr Lord also took testimony from some of the workers, which showed how things had moved on since Mayhew’s day;
“I worked for an army contractor before I came here. There were above 50 there. I earned about 14sa week there; here I have a little more, 15s. but we are never after time here ; we worked for a whole week sometimes there from 8.30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and once all night through. The workroom was very hot, for the pressing was done and the irons heated in the same room where all the people were; the machine-room had a very low ceiling.
“I worked for another contractor; there were about as many there as (the last witness) says there were where she was, none under 15, and very few under 17; the room was cool enough, for it was in the rafters and very draughty ; we used to suffer very much from tooth-ache and face-ache. Our hours were from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; but I have stayed many a time till 11 p.m., several nights a week for months, and never had any meal after our tea at 5 p.m. We used to get very tired. That was a year or two ago.”
1871 Factory Inspector’s Report on Pimlico
An 1871 Factory Inspector’s Report describes the Army Clothing Factory in similarly glowing terms. In the context of a previous discussion of the model factory at Saltaire, the report by Alexander Redgrave describes the factory in the following terms.
“I would however notice upon the present occasion, an establishment of much less pretention, but in many respects one of the most remarkable factories in the country.
It is of a, totally different kind from ‘those grand establishments upon which money has been lavishly spent by a merchant prince. It is an establishment the supreme authority of which canvasses every item that is proposed to be expended —which enters into competition with old customs and confirmed habits—-which is open to the sharpest criticism of competing manufactures and of taxpayers, and which can have no secrets of management, or manufacture,—I refer to the Royal Clothing Factory, at Pimlico. “
Redgrave describes the principle aim of the Factory as “ getting the most for your money,” and that everything had to show that clothes made in a Government establishment could be produced better and cheaper than by public competition; no easy task considering the notoriously low wages in the sector.
According to Redgrave’s report, the cloth, flannel, linings, etc received from the merchants or manufacturers had to be duly tested, and then passed on upon requisition to the clothing factory, which had to answer in clothes and waste for the cloth received.
The clothing of the army was a task which required no small amount of organization since in the small but important details, the buttons, braids, stripes and so forth, the uniform of almost every regiment differed. Even within a regiment, the band, the drummers, the sergeants, and corporals all had distinctive uniforms, with different braids etc. The factory had to keep in store about 900 patterns for articles used in regimental uniforms. All the minutiae were manufactured elsewhere and put together on the uniforms at the Pimlico Factory.
Redgrave describes the improved working conditions in the factory
“Those who have ever been in a tailor’s workroom know that the evils of overcrowding which are found there are increased a thousand fold by the coke stove which is always hot, always reeking, for keeping the irons warm which are constantly in use to press the seams; it will also have been remarked that the ironing the seams (which require a pressure of about 200 lbs.) is no light work.
At Pimlico the irons are arranged in the upper western floor or gallery. They are all heated by gas jets, with pipes to carry off the heated air. They are suspended over the ironing boards, and are weighted. When a seam is to be ironed it 'is placed upon the board, the tailoress presses a pedal with her foot, which raises the ironing board, and at the same time allows the iron to descend. The iron is simply guided by the hand, and the necessary pressure is obtained by the foot at the least expenditure of the strength of the tailoress.
The ironing room is as healthy and as well ventilated as any part of the establishment.”
In common with Mr Lord’s earlier report, Redgrave’s report comments on the good overall conditions at Pimlico.
“The hours; of work at the Pimlico establishment are much within the “factory hours," and however much the department has been pressed, the hours have never exceeded 60 per week.”
Again Redgrave attests to the huge improvement in conditions compared to the contract system. :
“One cannot help feeling what an enormous amount of happiness this establishment has promoted in rescuing hundreds of women from the miseries and trammels of the contract system, under which they starved for so many years. “
His report concludes:
“The preceding facts have been gleaned during inspections I have made in the course of my duties, and while I beg to acknowledge the courtesy and frankness of Col. Hudson in explaining in every detail, the economy and management of the establishment under his charge, I must also bear testimony to his success in fulfilling to the letter the regulations of the Factory Acts.”
So in a period of some 20 years from when Mayhew had written, the provision of Army Clothing had changed beyond recognition. After a false start at Weedon, a centralised Government department now controlled both procurement and manufacture; the private profits of the Colonels had been removed; the costs of providing Army Clothing to the Public purse had been reduced and seemingly the conditions of the workers had been improved.
The Army Clothing Depot at Pimlico closed in 1933 and was demolished. It has now been replaced by the prestigious residential complex of Dolphin Square which still stands overlooking the River Thames in Pimlico.
The Unknown Mayhew- Selections from the Morning Chronicle 1849-1850
Annals of British Legislation 1859
Strength, Composition and Organisation of the Army of Great Britain- 1864
The Military \forces of the Crown- Charles M. Clode -1869
Reports of the Inspectors of Factories – February 1871