Factory chimneys vie with the tower and spires of Worcester Cathedral. The main industry of Worcester, the model for Helstonleigh in Mrs Halliburton's Troubles, was glove-making. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, nearly half the country's gloves were made in and around the town (see "Spirit of Enterprise"). Source: Noake's Guide, frontispiece.

Introduction: Glove Manufacturing in Worcester

Mrs Henry Wood's father, Thomas Price, owned a glove manufactory in Worcester. In his memoir of Mrs Wood, her son Charles recalls his maternal grandfather's close involvement with Worcester Cathedral, and also the difficulties he encountered in his business life, in the wake of William Huskisson's free trade policies. "The immediate effect upon English glove manufacturers was disastrous," he writes. "Men of limited works and means were ruined and disappeared at once and for ever. Others, more wealthy, kept on, hoping against hope, only to disappear in their turn. Those who weathered the storm did so at immense sacrifices" (Memorials, 44). All this is well supported in histories of glove-making in Worcester, which show, for instance, that out of a thousand men on 10 January 1832, only 113 were fully employed, and of the rest 465 were partially employed on miniscule wages, so that the poorhouses were overflowing: "Worcester, the chief glove city outside London, continued to decline" (Smith 60). Price, one of those who hung on rather than abandon his workforce to unemployment, never recovered from the losses he incurred in these years. He managed to enjoy "that earthly blessing, an easy competency, to the last; but it was all very different from what had once been" (Charles Wood, Memorials, 45). This traumatic phase of her family history makes the background to Mrs Wood's fourth novel, Mrs Halliburton's Troubles (1862), in which she calls for principled behaviour both in the domestic and industrial spheres, and across classes.

The Heroine as Exemplar

Volume II (1862) of The Quiver, the volume in which Mrs Halliburton's Troubles was originally serialised. Note the subtitle.

Mrs Halliburton's Troubles was first published in the religious periodical, The Quiver, from 19 April to 6 December 1862, alongside items with titles like "He Giveth the Victory" and "Prayers," and was described by Charles Wood as teaching a "powerful ... lesson" (Memorials, 257). It was meant to, and it does so by following the fortunes and misfortunes of Jane Tait, the eldest daughter of a London clergyman, who marries a poor but aspirational schoolteacher, Edgar Halliburton. Jane had known from the start that their lives would not be easy, but had learnt from her father "[t]hat troubles, regarded rightly, only lead us nearer to God" (14). And this is indeed what she experiences. Though life is still a struggle, Edgar starts off well, becoming a Professor at King's College, London, and the couple are happy. But Edgar falls ill, resigns his position, and takes the family away from the busy city to the pleasant cathedral town of Helstonleigh, where he has a cousin and an old friend. He hopes to recover his health and start teaching again. Here, however, Jane is coldly rebuffed by the cousin, the worldly Julia Dare; Edgar himself dies before he can make provision for his family. Jane is left completely penniless, with their four children to support. She is almost at her wits' end, and feels as anyone in her position would, tossing and turning in bed and even weeping in front of the children. But she is resourceful, and soon proves to be both a strong woman and an exemplary mother. She starts by becoming a "gloveress" of a somewhat superior variety, and taking in lodgers.

The Glove Trade in the Narrative

Much is said here of the glove trade, as, for example, in this early passage, introducing the moment when Jane decides to enter it herself:

During the summer weather, whenever Jane had occasion to walk through Honey Fair, on her way to this shop, she would linger to admire the women at their open doors and windows, busy over their nice clean work. Rocking the cradle with one foot, or jogging the baby on their knees, to a tune of their own composing, their hands would be ever active at their employment. Some made the gloves; that is, seamed the fingers together and put in the thumbs, and these were called "makers." Some welted, or hemmed the gloves round at the edge of the wrist; these were called "welters." Some worked the three ornamental lines on the back; and these were called "pointers." Some of the work was done in what was called a patent machine, whereby the stitches were rendered perfectly equal. And some of the stouter gloves were stitched together, instead of being sewn: stitching so beautifully regular and neat, that a stranger would look at it in admiration. In short, there were, and are, different branches in the making and sewing of gloves, as there are in most trades. (97)

This cottage industry scenario sounds idyllic. There is nothing here either of the "ceaseless roar and mighty beat and dizzying whirl of machinery" in Mrs Gaskell's cotton mills in North and South (1855), where the fluff that flies off during carding "winds round the lungs and tightens them up" of girls like poor Bessy Higgins (498, 118); or of the fierce "morning to evening, seven to seven" toil at the furnace of the female nail-makers described by John Ruskin's Fors Clavigera (VII: 174) later on (1877) — although the nail-makers also work at home, and in Worcestershire, too. The gloveresses, it seems, can mix their labours pleasantly with their child-rearing duties, and the results of their specialised skills are also satisfying. No wonder it strikes Jane "that she might find employment at this work" (97). She soon embarks on it, doing the fine "French point" finishing at the back of the gloves.

However, Jane's eldest son William sees a different side of things when he goes to work for the glove manufacturer, Thomas Ashley. He sees how the skins are washed, treated with water and egg-yolk and trodden in a tub, dried, smoothed, softened, dyed, pared of any remaining flesh, smoothed again, rough cut, slit and shaped before being sent to the women for sewing, and then pulled, padded or rubbed to brightness, sorted, packed and labelled, and sent off: "A great deal, you see, before one pair of gloves can be turned out" (134). Before his father died, William had been a pupil at King's College school, and he finds it hard to give up his full-time studies and adjust to his new role, especially to the menial work he is given at first, which includes dusting Mr Ashley's desk very, very carefully, and using over-sized unmanageable shears to cut damaged skins into strips to make the equivalent of string. It is all a "hateful business" (134).

When William gets home after his first day, he cannot hide his misery. "Up he went to the garret, and flung himself down on the mattress, sobbing as if his heart would break." But this is only a cue for Mrs Wood's encouragement, a blend of Smilesian philosophy and religious prosletising. Jane, mastering her own sympathy, tells her son that his lot could be even worse: like the boys he has told her about at the factory, who are covered with black dye, he might be content with his lot. "But that could never be," he wails, before realising that, yes, the boys are cheerful enough, and seem to expect no more from life than what they have. "He saw the drift of the argument. 'Yes, mamma,' he acknowledged; 'I did not reflect. It would be worse if I were quite as they are.'" She continues by driving home her aspirational and Christian message:

William, we can only bear our difficulties, and make the best of them, trusting to surmount them in the end. You and I must both do this. Trust is different from hope. If we only hope, we may lose courage; but if we fully and freely trust, we cannot. Patience and perseverance, endurance and trust, they will in the end triumph; never fear. If I feared, William, I should go into the grave with despair. I never lose my trust. I never lose my conviction, firm and certain, that God is watching over me, that He is permitting these trials for some wise purpose, and that in His own good time we shall be brought through them. (135-36)

Two strands of Wood's thinking appear here. The predominant one comes from her unquestioning Christian faith, a faith that "never failed her," says her son Charles, explaining that his mother never so much as opened a "[s]ceptical book" (Memorials, 234). The other surely derives from Samuel Smiles's promotion of "diligent self-culture, self-discipline, and self-control," and the "honest and upright performance of individual duty" (v) in his immensely popular Self-Help of 1859. The two strands are easily woven together. William's next youngest brother, Frank, tells a friend's father, a surgeon impressed by his abilities and general attitude, "there's not a parable in the Bible mamma is fonder of reading to us than that of the ten talents" (205).

Jane herself leads the way in this respect. Her success in helping to educate her sons brings her a better source of income, as a tutor, enabling her to give up her glove-finishing. Soon she has some of the Helstonleigh College boys boarding with her. Now at last she is able to put more on the table than "bread and potatoes and a little milk" (83). As for William, he keeps his nose to the grindstone, studying the classics, and eventually French, in the evenings. And everything falls out just as his mother had prophesied. The boy proves his worth at the manufactory, is favoured by the fair-minded Thomas Ashley — based, perhaps, on Wood's father — eventually becoming his partner. After that he is even accepted as the Ashleys' son-in-law, having won not only the friendship of their fractious semi-invalid son Henry, but the love of their daughter Mary. In this way, William's honest efforts in the glove industry are crowned with position, wealth and love. Meanwhile, his brothers follow the same trajectory outside it. The cheerfully ambitious Frank rises to distinction as a barrister, and the more earnest Edgar ("Gar") becomes Vicar of nearby Deoffam.

Contrasting Families and Fates

As so often with this author, the point is emphasised all too obviously by comparing the Halliburtons with another family, whose background is morally lax. Julia Dare, the cousin who was so heartless when the Halliburtons arrived in Helstonleigh, had been acting out of fear of discovery. She and her lawyer husband have a nasty secret. They had denied her uncle's dying wish, that they should share his legacy with his nephew Edgar Halliburton. The Dares' eight children, with all their needs amply supplied except the need for good guidance, are even more unprincipled than their parents, producing the same kind of contrast between families that Wood makes between the virtuous Channings and the harum-scarum Yorkes in The Channings (1862) and its sequel, Roland Yorke (1869). In her rather simplistic scheme of things, the Dares too receive their just reward — or, rather, punishment. "The ways of Providence are wonderful!" Mr Ashley tells William, "what men call the chances of the world, are all God's dealings. Reflect on the circumstances favouring the Dares," he continues,

"reflect on your own drawbacks and disadvantages! They had wealth, position, a lucrative profession; everything, in fact, to help them on, that can be desired by a family in middle-class life; whilst you had poverty, obscurity, and toil to contend with. But now, look at what they are! Mr. Dare's money is dissipated; he is overwhelmed with embarrassment — I know it to be a fact, William; but this is for your ear alone. Folly, recklessness, irreligion, reign in his house; his daughters lost in pretentious vanity; his sons in something worse. In a few years they will have gone down — down. Yes," added Mr. Ashley, pointing with his finger to the floor of his counting-house, "down to the dogs. I can see it coming, as surely as that the sun is in the heavens. You and they will have exchanged positions, William; nay, you and yours, unless I am greatly mistaken, will be in a far higher position than they have ever occupied; for you will have secured the favour of God, and the approbation of all good men." (328-29)

Ashley is paternalistic in his dealings with William, but he sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet here, and he is proved to be absolutely right.

The Dares provide the sensational side of the narrative. The younger generation's vices range from dishonesty and indolence to womanising and drinking, and the four brothers are constantly in trouble, the older ones always in debt. The police (represented by Sergeant Delves) are twice involved. On the first occasion, the third son, Cyril Dare, apprenticed to Mr Ashley alongside William, takes a cheque from his master's desk. This is hushed up. More melodramatic is the murder of the Dares' eldest son, Anthony. Suspicion falls on the next brother, Herbert, who had been arguing violently with him, and would not explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder because he had been with the wayward Quaker girl, Anna Lynn. This is the one occasion when Herbert tries to behave honourably. But he finally does explain, clearing himself at the last minute. Only at the very end of the narrative is the culprit's true identity revealed: the highly excitable Italian governess whom Herbert had led on, and then spurned, had mistaken Anthony for Herbert in the dark, and launched herself on him instead, with unforeseen consequences. The upshot of the scandal and court case is the ruin of the Dare family's reputation and finances.

Social Circumstances of the Glove Operatives

Fine gentlemen's gloves from an American catalogue of the early 20c. They were made in England — still a selling-point, and have the kind of French stitching on the back that Mrs Halliburton used in her glove-finishing days. Source: Smith 16.

The Dares' downfall presents an object lesson to any educated reader who might be living a life without faith or principles. Nothing, it seems can arrest this family's decline. But the increasingly wretched lot of the glove workers is presented quite differently, as a problem to be solved. Jane Halliburton herself had soon been disabused about the residents of Honey Fair. She had quickly learnt that they too fell short, in more ways than one. They were improvident, the women given to fripperies and the men to drink. Then, with the passing of the years and the running down of the glove industry, their standard of living deteriorated drastically.

Wood was fully aware of one possible approach to this situation — striking for better pay and working conditions. However, as a manufacturer's daughter herself, and a lifelong staunch conservative, she was not in favour of industrial action. She had very recently dealt with the issue at length in the sub-plot of A Life's Secret, which had started appearing in The Leisure Hour in the January of 1862, only a few months before Mrs Halliburton's Troubles opened in The Quiver. The two works overlapped for a short while. In A Life's Secret, the trade in question is the building trade, and here the author's anti-strike stance had caused such a furore that the editor of The Leisure Hour had had to add a note at the end of the first chapter of Part II:

It need scarcely be remarked, that Sam Shuck [the activist] and his followers represent only the ignorant and unprincipled section of those who engage in strikes. Working men are perfectly right in combining to seek the best terms they can get, both as to wages and time; provided there be no interference with the liberty either of masters or fellow-workmen. — Ed. L. H., February, 1862. (222)

So controversial was the serial that A Life's Secret was not issued in book form until 1867, with the same note included, and a preface by the author pointing to it, and declaring her sympathy with the men and their families (the note later disappeared: the 1904 Macmillan edition has omitted it). In Mrs Halliburton's Troubles, therefore, while sticking to her guns, Wood was careful to provide a viable alternative to a strike, something that would bring employers and employees closer rather than driving them apart.

First, she shows sensible Stephen Crouch telling the disgruntled glove operatives that in the present difficulties Mr Ashley has just paid another firm's operatives out of his own pocket. He is an honourable master. Then he appeals to their instinct for self-preservation: if they all pull out, they will simply suffer worse hardship. "The masters have good houses over their heads, and their bankers' books to supply their wants while they are waiting," explains Crouch, addressing the outspoken operative, Joe Fisher,

"and their orders are not so great that they need fear much pressure on that score. The London houses would dispatch a few extra orders to Paris and Grenoble, and the masters here might enjoy a nice little trip to the seaside while our senses were coming back to us. But where should we be? Out at elbows, out at pocket, out at heart; some starving, some in the workhouse. If you want to avoid those contingencies, Joe Fisher, you'll keep from strikes." (109)

These appeals work. The strike never materialises. Wood then focuses on her strong belief that action has to come from within: not in opposition to Ashley and others like him, but in self-improvement. Mrs Halliburton herself is the best example in this respect. But the men have not been raised to set their sights any higher. This is where William comes in. As he rises in the glove manufactory, he sees a very different picture of the workers' lives to the one that first charmed his mother:

The unpleasant social features of Honey Fair thus obtruded themselves on William Halliburton's notice; it was impossible that any one, passing much through Honey Fair, should not be struck with them. Could nothing be done to rescue the people from this degraded condition? — and a degraded one it was, compared with what it might have been. Young and inexperienced as he was, it was a question that sometimes rose to William's mind. Dirty homes, scolding mothers, ragged and pining children, rough and swearing husbands! Waste, discomfort, evil. The women laid the blame on the men: they reproached them with wasting their evenings and their money at the public-house. The men retorted upon the women, and said they had not a home "fit for a pig to come into." Meanwhile the money, whether earned by husband or wife, went. It went somehow, bringing apparently nothing to show for it, and the least possible return of good. Thus they struggled and squabbled on, their lives little better than one continued scene of scramble, discomfort, and toil. At a year's end they were not in the least bettered, not in the least raised, socially, morally, or physi- cally, from their condition at the year's commencement. Nothing had been achieved; except that they were one year nearer to the great barrier which separates time from eternity.

Ask them what they were toiling and struggling for. They did not know. What was their end, their aim? They had none. If they could only rub on, and keep body and soul together (as poor Caroline Mason was trying to do in her garret), it appeared to be all they cared for. They did not endeavour to lift up their hopes or their aspirations above that; they were willing so to go on until death should come. What a life! what an end!

Not unexpectedly, the upright and compassionate young William feels he would like to "in some way help them to attempt better things...." (254).

At first he feels there is little he can do: "He knew that any endeavour, whether on his part or on that of others, who might be far more experienced and capable than he, would be utterly fruitless, unless the incentive to exertion, to strive to do better, should be first born within themselves" (254). The author cannot resist speaking in her own voice here: "Ah, my friends! the aid of others may be looked upon as a great thing; but without self-struggle and self-help, little good will be effected" (254).

How are the men to be motivated, then? In a foreshadowing of the settlement idea of later decades, William institutes evening get-togethers at the house of the intelligent operative Robert East. William himself goes along regularly to encourage the men and lead discussions, providing books and such equipment as fossils and a microscope to open their eyes and minds — and keep them from the public house, the Horned Ram. And it works! Their aspirations are gradually raised. Much impressed, Mr Ashley offers to pay the rent on an unused Mormon meeting house for them (the occasion for some amusing banter on the issue of polygamy), and Honey Fair is gradually turned around:

Honey Fair! Could that be Honey Fair? Honey Fair used to be an unsightly, inodorous place, where mud, garbage, and children ran riot together: a species, in short, of capacious pigsty. But look at it now. The paths are well kept, the road is clean and cared for. Her Majesty's state coach-and-eight might drive down it, and the horses would not have to tread gingerly. The houses are the same; small and large bear evidence of care, of thrift, of a respectable class of inmates. The windows are no longer stuffed with rags, or the palings broken. And that little essay — the assembling at Robert East's, and William Halliburton — had led to the change. (449)

It is not just a matter of appearances: self-respect has come too, and with it a new appreciation of the value of education. The children are in school, men no longer frequent the Horned Ram, debt is no longer prevalent, and people share a sense that life in this world is but a preparation for the next. "In short, Honey Fair had been awakened, speaking from a moderate point of view, to enlightenment; to the social improvements of an advancing and a thinking age" (449).

Looking Forward

Mrs Wood's unshakeable faith, expressed in a narrative tailor-made for The Quiver with a schematic plot and sometimes one-dimensional characters, seems to set her firmly in the past. Her constant theme that trials are sent to test us, and to prepare us for rewards in this world or the next, relates her work to Religious Tracts which had flourished mainly in the earlier part of the century. This is most noticeable when Jane's second child, her one daughter and namesake Janey, becomes consumptive like her father, and dies a holy death very much like his, in the tradition of Mrs Sherwood, whose "exquisite books" Wood so much admired (Roland Yorke, 410). The Leisure Hour, for which Wood was also writing during part of this time, was in fact published by the Religious Tract Society, which was now trying to broaden its appeal by secularising its output "at least superficially" for a new generation (Sutherland 530). As for the industrial parts of Mrs Halliburton's Troubles, these owe much to Wood's own Worcestershire memories, and more recently to Mrs Gaskell's industrial novels, Mary Barton (1848), as well as North and South.

Yet some aspects of Wood's work look ahead. At the end of North and South, for example, Mr. Thornton, not trusting in institutions as such, plans "one or two experiments" with the workforce (515). William's informal initiative gives these a shape, providing an early blueprint for the settlement movement of later decades. Settlements among the working classes would be promoted towards the end of the century in novels like All Sorts and Conditions of Men (1882) and The Alabaster Box (1900) by Walter Besant, and Robert Elsmere (1888) by Mrs Humphrey Ward. The spruced-up Honey Fair looks ahead too, to the efforts to improve the living conditions of factory and city workers in places like Port Sunlight on the Wirral, and to the whole Garden City movement. In view of its popularity, perhaps Mrs Halliburton's Troubles not only looked forward to future developments, but also helped to bring them closer.

It is remarkable that a novel written for a specifically religious organ like The Quiver should have become, after East Lynne and The Channings, Wood's third most successful work. The description of the glove industry certainly adds interest, as does the largely sympathetic delineation of the Quaker community: Anna Lynn's reputation is redeemed instead of being irrecoverably lost after her involvement with Herbert Dare. Central to the novel's appeal, however, is the power vested in Jane and other women characters. They are seen to determine the whole tone of the family, and indeed the whole course of its fortunes. Jane herself is in every way the head of the household, and her life is a model of Christian endurance, good management, and victory over hardship. Related to this focus on female power is a wealth of domestic detail, relayed with Wood's "very keen sense of wit and humour" (Charles Wood, "In Memoriam," 254). The exasperating conduct of the Dare children at the dinner table, the result of their having had their "every little whim and fancy" (221) indulged, is calculated to strike a chord in any parent. Successfully immersing her readers in the "troubles" of the Victorian workplace and home, this author suggests both their causes and solutions, not subtly, it is true, but often in ways that still resonate with us today.

sales figures, 1904

Mrs Halliburton's Troubles, Wood's third most popular book, was in its 210th thousand by 1904. Source: back matter in Roland Yorke.

Related Material


Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. London: Penguin Popular Classics, 1994. Print.

Gloves (a sales catalogue). New York: W. W. Smith, 1912. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

Noake's Guide to Worcestershire. London: Longman, 1868. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

The Quiver, Vol. II (1862). Google Books (free Ebook). Web. 9 December 2013.

Ruskin, John. Works of John Ruskin, Vol. XXIX (Library Ed.) Ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. London: George Allen, 1907. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

Smiles, Samuel. Self-Help, with Illustrations of Character and Conduct. Boston: Tiknor and Fields, 1866. Internet Archive. Web.97 December 2013.

Smith, Willard M. Gloves Past and Present. New York: Sherwood Press, 1917. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

"Spirit of Enterprise Exhibition — Glove Making." Worcester City Museums. Web. 9 December 2013.

Sutherland, John. The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction. London: Longman, 1988. Print.

Wood, Charles W. Memorials of Mrs Henry Wood. London: Richard Bentley, 1894. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

_____. "Mrs Henry Wood: In Memoriam" The Argosy Vol. XLIII (January-June 1887). 251-70; 334-53; 422-42. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

Wood, Mrs Henry. The Channings. London: Richard Bentley, 1881. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

_____. A Life's Secret: A Story. Vol. I. London: C. W. Wood, 1867. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

_____. A Life's Secret: A Story. London and New York: Macmillan, 1904. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

_____. Mrs Halliburton's Troubles. London: Richard Bentley, 1890. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

_____. Roland Yorke. London: Macmillan, 1904. Internet Archive. Web. 9 December 2013.

Last modified 9 December 2013