It was hoped that iron bed frames would re­pel the in­sects that in­vaded wooden ones. But the pests found iron as ap­peal­ing as wood

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - MASS OBSERVATION -

manned by im­mi­grants who ‘scamped’ for ‘ linen drap­ers’ or ped­dled their wares at nearby mar­kets, were bare, black­ened, can­dlelit lofts or cel­lars.

Other work­shops, cor­ners carved out of liv­ing quar­ters, sub­jected their near­est and dear­est to shrieks of buzz saws, clouds of saw­dust and an­kle-deep wood shav­ings. In ad­di­tion, as a mas­ter cheer­ily ex­plained in 1875: “I’m obliged to keep up a good fire, how­somever hot the weather may be, ‘cos of my glue.”

Come au­tumn and win­ter, peo­ple ev­i­dently bought less fur­ni­ture as de­mand for cab­i­net mak­ers dried up at th­ese times. Yet ap­par­ently, th­ese “hard-work­ing, in­tel­li­gent, sober gen­tle­men”, known for “liv­ing… near their work­shops, and go­ing home to ev­ery meal”, were rarely out of work for more than a month or six weeks at a time.

Cab­i­net mak­ers who av­er­aged 30s a week could usu­ally af­ford a good joint of meat as well as the oc­ca­sional new dress for the wife, and some­thing for the chil­dren. At other times, they pawned un­sold goods on a Satur­day night to pay for their Sun­day din­ner.

Scrap­ing a liv­ing

Un­for­tu­nates who were paid by the piece, how­ever, could barely keep their fam­i­lies in hearth and home. In­deed, one con­fided: “I have not been able to re­alise the price of a day’s work, say 5s, above the cost of ma­te­ri­als, though up­wards of a week has been con­sumed in man­u­fac­tur­ing [the] ar­ti­cle – the con­se­quences be­ing short fare, scanty cloth­ing, a sell­ing and pledg­ing of all the nec­es­sary ar­ti­cles of home, ne­glect of chil­dren’s education, and, should a longer con­tin­u­ance of want of em­ploy­ment have en­sued, ev­ery ves­tige of home… swept away.”

Re­search­ing cab­i­net maker an­ces­tors may be chal­leng­ing. In var­i­ous UK his­tor­i­cal trade di­rec­to­ries, which you can search through at ances­, the vast ma­jor­ity ap­pear as “cab­i­net mak­ers”, re­gard­less of whether they as­sem­bled bed­steads, crafted crib­bage boards, or carved claw-and-ball chair legs.

Census records should show whether they were ever more pre­cise in their de­scrip­tions. Melody Am­sel-Arieli is a ge­neal­o­gist and au­thor who is based in Is­rael

Tan­nahill & Sons has been mak­ing cab­i­nets in Kil­marnock since 1882

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