Waterford County Museum, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, Ireland. Charity Reg: 17397
Tel: +353 (0)58 45960  Email: [email protected]
Articles    Photos
Table Of Contents
Victorian Virtues And Social Control

Portlaw A Nineteenth Century Industrial Village

8. Victorian Virtues And Social Control

Entrepreneurs & Philanthropists - Victorian Virtues And Social Control

"There is an air of improvement in everything that appertains to them" (Hall 1840: pg. 310). This is Mrs Hall's verdict about the state of the people of Portlaw as a consequence of the Malcolmsons. As outlined in The Model Village Of Portlaw there were many people who shared the prosperity of the Malcolmsons, and this group did not include employees only. In building houses for their workers, they did not forget the basic infrastructure of an inhabited town. As well as building the houses for the workers, they also kept them in repair. They were, however, to do much more. One of the very first things the Malcolmsons did was build a school. The majority of the students were known as "half timers" - a concept in operation elsewhere at the time! These "half timers" or 19 part timers" were young girls and boy s employed by the Malcolmsons. Unless they attended school for the full number of hours required each week they did not receive their wages. Education was also offered to the adults in the village. In the central part of the school house there was a large room - 60 feet by 30 feet - this was used as a room for evening classes for adults and it was also used for discussions among the workers and employers.. Other events were also hosted here. David Malcolmson told Shiel of his school, he boasted of it saying "no sectarian animosities, no quarrels about the bible are allowed to prevail. Here all the children of the factory are instructed in reading, writing, and the elements of arithmetic, and no sort of interference with their religion is attempted" (Shiel 1828: pg 358). The school flourished whilst the Malcolmsons remained in Portlaw and later on an infant school was added.

The year 1838 saw the formation of what must have been the earliest in this country - a temperance society. Its object was to promote temperance and the habit of saying. It was called the Portlaw tontine Club. At one point in time it had a membership of five hundred persons. Coinciding with this Society, there was also a Thrift Society, which was initiated to encourage the workers to save. The Malcolmsons were doing their ultimate to discard the notion of the drunken Irish man unfit to do anything but dig. At all times they tried to enforce law and order in an attempt to keep the village one of high regard. Mr Malcolmson was the local Magistrate and a district court was held each week. In the Census of 1841, only two males were listed as administering to Justice. No employee was allowed smoke in the presence of their employer and the strictest morality was prevailed, it being a rule to dismiss any girl who was guilty of the slightest impropriety" (Shiel 1828: pg 358). Evidently the Malcolmsons were trying to impose social control on the people, without a doubt the industrialist did serve to profit from a sober workforce and a contented one.

The Malcolmsons, although keeping a vigilant eye on the behaviour of their workers, they did not overlook their need for recreation and comforts. They provided a billiards room, handball court, concert hall and set up a brass band, as well as shopping facilities. The Malcolmsons were perfectionists; this alone was exemplified in the room occupied for billiard playing. So as to allow unrestricted play, "recesses were scooped out in the corner of the room so the player would not be encumbered by hitting against the wall." In accordance with referring to the comforts they bestowed upon their employees, it must be mentioned that each female employee was given a brush and comb in order to keep herself well groomed, and upon marriage received from her employers a gift of bed linen. These may appear to be trivial matters, but they all prove as indicators of the type of life that existed in the industrial village of Portlaw in the nineteenth century. As well as trying to impose social control on the people, it also appears as if the Malcolmsons were trying to transform the village socially as well. It may be presumed that not many other villages in Ireland at the time had the same strict controls on drinking, smoking, behaviour and also even personal grooming. Seemingly the Malcolmsons were instilling into the people virtues which were not inherently Irish but perhaps more like those existing in Victorian England.

As mentioned in The Portlaw Cotton Factory, a providence Society was inaugurated for the welfare of the workers. As early as 1837, the Malcolmsons appointed a resident surgeon to the factory - Dr James Martin. The Martin hospital, which is still in operation today, was built in his memory. They were also responsible for providing the village with fresh water and light. A large settling pond was built within the factory gates, the water of the Clodagh flowed through here and proceeded through a filter bed and accordingly was pumped to tasks on higher ground. Each street was then served by this fresh water, as pumps were strategically placed at the top of the streets.

The factory never stopped, the wheels revolved for twenty-four hours, huge lamps at night were used to light up the factory and the village. To enable this to be possible, a-.gasworks was established near the canal. Each night it is said that a gas lightman employed by the factory would go around the village lighting all the lamps. In the centre square of the village in later years a fountain was erected in memory of an employee. This fountain was made of cast iron and it was constructed in the Mayfield Foundry. The Company also erected a town clock, and each morning it was the duty of the watchman to go out and ring this bell in order to waken the workers. Portlaw was certainly true to its name a Model Township. The Malcolmsons supplied their workers with everything from housing to education whilst not overlooking their need for recreation. As Lewis pointed out in his travels "the health, education and morals of this newly created colony have been strictly adhered to by it's patrons" (Lewis 1837: pg 466).

In saying that the Malcolmsons supplied their workers with everything, one may say that this is a slight exaggeration. However, this is not so, Portlaw under the Malcolmsons became a self sufficient community, and no reference to Portlaw is complete without mentioning the infamous "Leather Money". This "leather money" as it came to be known was in fact only cardboard. These tokens were issued to the employees in pence and halfpence. Considering the amount of workers employed by the factory, this method of payment rendered it possible and safe to pay all workers. It was only by choice that the workers received these tokens, instead of cash. The tokens, however, were not limited to Portlaw; they had a tender of twenty miles and were freely accepted in all shops in the city of Waterford. "The firm enjoyed a reputation for stability and solvency and their tokens were freely accepted as cash by the trades people in the district and for a radius of twenty miles around" (Went 1968: pg 75). Many criticisms were made concerning these tokens as Mayfield Stores, one of the main shops in the village accepted these tokens, and this shop was owned by the Malcolmsons. However, it must be acknowledged that this shop supplied groceries and drapery at a cheaper rate than the rest of the shops in Portlaw. In 1844, an action for libel was taken against the newspapers "Warden" and "Statesman" by the Malcolmson Brothers. They attacked the factory as follows "we are of informed one factory in this country, of which the Quakers are proprietors, where no money at all passes from the tyrant to the slaves, but where small tokens of stamped leather procure goods at the shops of the tyrants, which on this trick system they impose at their own profit on their miserable slaves. This, we believe, to be entirely illegal and it certainly is wholly unconscientious" (Munster Express 1971: pg 19).

The Malcolmsons won the case. However, it is I suppose up to each individual to decide whether they believe that this was a tyrant/slave situation, or just one of the many new elements introduced by the Malcolmsons into the village. I personally believe that the very last thing they were was unconscientious. They had built Portlaw for the betterment of their workers. Admittedly any industrialist serves to profit from a happy and contented workforce, and therefore, this was presumably the reasoning behind the Malcolmsons supplying their workers with all the conditions as already listed. Although it may appear that the workers were totally under the control of the Malcolmsons - inside and outside work there were adverse situations elsewhere. MacNiece says of these industrialists who cared for their workers that despite reaping the benefits of a sober and industrious workforce, many entrepreneurs were aware "of the growing pains of social awareness and many entrepreneurs were stimulated by genuine religious and social motives to improve the bit of their workers", (MacNiece 1981: pg 174).

This is true of the Malcolmsons, I feel that it is only now after viewing what they achieved in Portlaw that one can appreciate their Quaker philosophy. Shiel speaks of David Malcolmson, in high tones of acclamation. He attributes great praise to the work he did in Clonmel. He says of David Malcolmson "he evidently felt that best of all luxuries, the consciousness of being the creator of felicity" (Shiel 1829 pg 359). The Lord Lieutenant of this same period, viewed the factory in Portlaw as well as the village and proceeded to call David Malcolmson a benefactor-, of Ireland. Isabel Grubb in her book entitled Quakers in Ireland starts her book with a quote which says "by their fruits ye shall know them".. She was speaking of the Quakers. The Malcolmsons were known by their "fruits", they lived according to their Quaker philosophy.

The Quaker belief and philosophy is one of equality. They aim for simplicity and integrity, however they-are not puritanical. "We enjoy material blessings but try to resist materialistic attitudes, believing that earthy possessions are held in trust" (Quakers belief pamphlet). Many great businessmen were and are Quakers. They excelled themselves in matters of finance and industry. In the nineteenth century, the Malcolmsons were not the only exponents of sobriety and industry. Many Quakers such as W.R. Jacob of Waterford, Richardsons of Bessbrook, Goodbodys of Clara - all became industrial magnates. The same is true of England, the Cadbury, Fry, Rowntree families, all were Quakers. Apart from a perceivable trend in industry matters among these families all were benefactors to certain towns and villages. If they accumulated wealth in an area, they never forgot their source of wealth. It took more than capital, intuition, land and entrepreneurial skills to make an industry, it also required an indigenous population for without the workers there was no industry and subsequently no wealth to be derived. Therefore, the least these industrialists owed their workers were good working and living conditions. Just as Robert Owen a Quaker was to build a model village, the Malcolmsons were to follow him, and proceeding the Malcolmsons were the Richardsons and Cadburys. The preceeding chapters prove the Malcolmsons to be much more than entrepreneurs, they were philanthropists also. Although the virtues they did impose on the village were somewhat puritan, the village was presumably a healthier and safer place to live as a result. The Malcolmsons gave to many a place of work and a home to live in. They were entrepreneurs and very shrewd businessmen and their Quaker belief and way of life helped them accumulate their wealth. Isabel Cru-bb in referring to the good deeds done by the Quaker families of the Malcolmsons and Richardsons says of both: If perhaps, Quakers have done more successful work for their fellowmen as kindly landlords and founders and directors of large firms than they have done through definite organisations for philanthropy" (Grubb 1927: pg 143).

The Malcolmsons were entrepreneurs and philanthropists; the mixture of both was what brought them their meritorious success.

Author: Tina Foran

Join Our Mailing List

Join our mailing list and get all the latest news for free via email. Simply enter your email address in the box below and press the 'Join' button.

Make A Donation

Waterford County Museum is a non profit voluntary museum. We would be grateful for any financial donation large or small.

Make payments with PayPal - it's fast, free and secure!

Social Media

Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Blogger Follow us on Youtube
© Waterford County Museum 2014. All rights reserved. Please read our Terms of Use
Website By: Déise Design