THE TAILOR’S APPRENTICE

22grosstplancrop

Plan of Louis Bazalgette’s house and workshops at 22 Lower Grosvenor Street, Mayfair.

A large and busy tailoring establishment like that owned by Louis Bazalgette in Mayfair would have had to take on at least two apprentices a year.  This was not only to train them in the trade but also to ensure a steady supply of lads who would perform the essential but menial tasks that were required to keep the shop running smoothly.  This would also acquaint them with the proper running of the shop and business.  The apprentices would be indentured at about fifteen years of age and would probably have to do general work for at least the first year until being ‘put to the needle’ or allowed to start learning to sew.  Tailors started work as early as six a.m., depending on the shop, but the apprentices would have to arrive at least an hour before this to do the jobs which would allow the tailors to work.  Their chores would begin with cleaning the grates and bringing up coal for the fires , which were used not only in winter, at least one fire or oven being needed all year round for heating the goose-irons.  Then the bench would have to be tidied and any of the work-in-progress hung up on hooks.  Bolts of cloth needed to be put away, and then all ‘droppings’ under the tailors’ bench and the cutting table were picked up and put in their places.  Any usable pieces of cloth or twist had to be saved for possible re-use.  After this tidying the benches were wiped down and the floors sprinkled with water before being carefully swept to reduce dust.  This cleaning might have to be repeated during the day.

“New garments should be put upon the clothes-horse, or wherever else it may be the master’s custom to have them placed, and great care should be taken to fold them so that they be not creased, or otherwise be made to look rough and un-finished. They should, moreover, before the room is swept, be covered with wrappers, so as to keep them free from dust, or otherwise soiled. Such garments as may have been cut out, and have not yet been given to the journeyman, are commonly tied up and laid on the cutting-board till wanted; care should also be taken of these that they be not untied, so as to become intermingled; and if the master or foreman have left a garment on the board only partly cut out, it should be the care of the apprentice, after having removed it for the purpose of cleaning the board, to replace it in the same position as that in which he found it; and, also, to put the measures- book, measuring-tape, rule, or yard-wand, marking- chalk, and shears, or scissors, in such places as that they may be conveniently ready for use whenever they are wanted.”  [The Tailor]

The work that the apprentices had to do during the working day, apart from the usual fetching and carrying, included dividing parcels of thread, silk and twist into separate skeins and then storing it away carefully.  Finished clothes usually needed some cleaning and brushing and were then packed, ready to be ‘sent home’ (i.e., delivered to the client).  They would often have to deliver them personally, if the client lived close by, or if not, they would have to take them to the packet office and have them booked for delivery.

Only when the apprentice was judged to be keen and competent enough to be allowed up on to the bench would he begin his true training.  The first thing that he had to learn was how to sit properly in the traditional cross-legged ‘tailor-wise’ position.  This could cause him great pain at first, but with perseverence over the days he would become used to sitting in this way for longer and longer periods.  Tailors at this time worked at least a twelve-hour day, so a lad who was unable to sustain this position for long periods would go no further in becoming a tailor.  Small cushions would be used under each ankle-joint to help to prevent them becoming sore an swollen.  The stitches which the apprentice would learn were described in a previous blog.

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6 Responses to THE TAILOR’S APPRENTICE

  1. Sarah Waldock says:

    Poor little devils…still it has to have been better than going into the mills or down the mines. It’s the neck that really hurts sitting crosslegged to sew, unless you’ve got the position spot on; if you’re tired and your spine sags you know about it the next day.

  2. Charles Bazalgette says:

    Thanks, Sarah! I’ll put the bit about the neck in somewhere. I can feel it now as I am leaning forward peering at the screen!

  3. Richard Hiatt says:

    Many a day I’ve spent sewing perched on a table cross legged and yep my spine has a curve. Eyes have diminished over the years adding to the strain of sewing old georgian clothing. I’m currently transcribing an old 1809 book on tailoring and just happened to stumble on your blog. Great little read. Thank you for sharing.

    • chasbaz says:

      Thanks for your comment, Richard. I admire your dedication in spending so much time in this very exacting craft. And of course the toll it undoubtedly left on your body and eyesight. My book may be of further interest since it contains a great deal more tailoring detail.

  4. fascinating information .. my Gt Gt Grandfather was James Heward tailor listed on your list of Tailors . have found an advert advertising his work when he moved from London to Preston. family originated in Carlisle and had premises there. i wondered why they would move from London.
    Sue

  5. chasbaz says:

    Hello Sue, Glad you found him on the list. There could be any number of reasons for him to move, and I wouldn’t attempt to guess. But – well – illness, bankruptcy (check the London Gazette online), hiked rents, offer of a partnership in Preston, etc etc. good luck in finding more. Thanks for your comment. I know I get a lot of hits from people researching tailoring but very few bother to comment.

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