Tea For Socks

(1. Townsend Gahan in 1925)

From 1890-1891, Mr. F. G. Townsend Gahan, a civil engineer, travelled through his native Co. Donegal on behalf of the Congested Districts Board, in order to survey rural poverty before they (the CDB) could begin their programme of ‘lasting improvement’. Here is some of what he had to say about the local knitting industry.

“It is on tea that the small dealers make their greatest profits, and it is tea principally they make the women take in exchange for their eggs or knitting.” (Glenties)

“The rate of wages is very low, and the system of payment most objectionable, the work being always paid for in tea, sugar, tobacco etc., never in money, the value besides in many cases being only a nominal equivalent for the low wages. Although the price paid for socks is nominally 1s 6d, yet since that is generally taken in tea and always in goods, 1s 2d is about the actual money value, and not only that but very often women are almost forced to buy goods they do not want at all.” (Brockagh)

“The shopkeepers who distribute the yarn get a commision and are paid in cash for the stockings when returned, but they only pay the people (the knitters) in kind.” (Gweedore)

(2. Gweedore village around 1890)

Pictures: 1. is taken from Deeds Not Words by Geraldine Mitchell; 2. is taken from here.

(Compare the situation in northern Scotland at the same time here.)

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My first post! I hope you found it interesting. It seems to be the case that socks/ stockings were what were being knitted at the time for sale/ exchange, rather than any other type of garment or accessory. I’ve been looking through the long quotations of CDB records and surveys that Mitchell quotes in her excellent (I highly recommend it – and it’s just €5 if you buy it directly from the Irish Countrywomens Association!) biography of Townsend’s daughter, Muriel, and picked these ones out to illustrate the point. I can’t wait to consult the actual records themselves, and see what else I can find that Mitchell didn’t quote herself. More socks, hopefully.

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This entry was posted in congested districts board, donegal, knitting, townsend gahan. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tea For Socks

  1. This is lovely. Really enjoyed it. Thanks.

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