chapter  3
15 Pages

Gangs

The worst form of girl labour, from the point of view of bourgeois respectability, was the ‘gang’ system, which provoked a special commission of inquiry, and a great deal of outraged commentary, in the 1860s. I t was most firmly established in the Fen districts of East Anglia and in the East Midlands. The farms in these parts tended to be large, but the labouring population was scattered and comparatively scarce because there were many ‘closed’ parishes, where cottages had been pulled down by their owners to avoid liability for poor rates, while their tenants moved away to ‘open’ parishes where they could find places to live. The labour to work the land then had to be brought from afar, often in the form of travelling gangs, who went from farm to farm to perform specific tasks.