'Unhealthy conditions' in hat factories

The health of hat factory workers and the high number of cases of consumption (tuberculosis) in Luton brought claims and counter-claims over working conditions at a meeting of the Beds National Health Insurance Committee. But the discussion was closed without any form of decision being arrived at.

Concerns were raised - not for the first time - by Mr Murray Janes after it was reported that there were 27 cases of consumption being dealt with in Luton, compared with seven in Bedford. He thought conditions in the straw hat industry were detrimental to health and likely to bring on consumption.

Scores and scores of young girls had to work in basements the whole of the day, he said. The atmosphere was very bad and the ventilation was bad too. He thought the factory inspectors should see the conditions under which some of the workers were engaged, insist upon proper ventilation and not allow young women to work under such conditions.

He next touched on the hot air from basements that people walking along the streets of Luton experienced. Bunsen burners were used in factories and these threw off a great deal of heat, noticeable particularly in winter time. The atmosphere in the factories concerned was very bad and detrimental to the health of workers. Mr Janes believed that factory inspectors had power to insist upon flues being installed to carry away the heat.

Deputy Mayor of Luton, Councillor H. O. Williams, in effect claimed Mr Janes did not know what he was talking about. He denied "absolutely" that there were girls working basements in Luton factories. There were some men working on ground floors and in some basements, blocking hats.

Electric light had been supplied to the factories, both for lighting and power purposes, and in both upper and lower rooms of the factories atmospheric conditions were better.

He believed the real reason why Luton compared so unfavourably on consumption compared with other places in the county was because it was looked after so well and the average for Luton was a shade below the average for the country as a whole.

In the northern parts of Bedfordshire, particularly in the agricultural districts, there were nothing like the facilities for notification of cases of the disease as there were in Luton. It was not because consumption was not there, it was because they did not know of the cases and that was why Luton compared so badly with other parts of the county.

Mr Janes said he could show Mr Williams a place right in the centre of Luton where men and women were engaged in felt work and where in the busy times the girls worked from eight in the morning to eight at night, when they were relieved by the men. Here "fluff" from the basement flew up into the street.

[The Luton News, November 19th, 1914]