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Housing Conditions of French Workers

Jonathan Ross

    Housing conditions for French workers during the early industrial era were significantly different from conditions of todayís workers. Living conditions for early French industrial workers were extremely unpleasant and far from a relaxing escape after a rigorous dayís work. By examining the lives of four different workers during the early industrial era in France we can get a better understanding of how bad the housing conditions actually were.

    Home for an early French worker meant a crowded and unsanitary dwelling where workers would return after their long day of work. Housing conditions were often cramped, with poor lighting and poor sanitation. There was no running water or indoor plumbing, which meant the nearest restroom was a good distance away, outside in the cold air.

    Conditions for all French workers during this time period were harsh, but often varied from worker to worker. Migrant workers often rented a room in boarding houses similar to dormitories. Migrants would share a room with around twelve other workers and sleep on hard plank beds. Established workers in the area were more likely to live in apartments on top floors of old stone buildings in the city, consisting of one or two rooms that they shared with another family or other workers.

    Young workers during this time period never really enjoyed a stable home because of their participation in the Tour de France. The Tour de France was an organized journey that artisans took part in to gain work experience needed to become successful. Workers were forced to move around from town to town settling wherever they could find work. Jacques Etienne Bede was one particular worker who struggled through difficult living and working conditions to stay alive. Bede was a wood turner who lost his father at a young age and was mistreated by his mother. He set off on his own for work in French towns, making furniture wherever he could find employment.

    Suzanne Voilquin was a French worker in the 1820ís and 1830ís who was forced into labor at a young age after the death of her mother and abandonment by her father. She was left to tend for her younger sister and worked many jobs to support the two of them. The two of them lived in a one-room apartment on the third floor of an old building. The home was close to her work, which was its only advantage. The room was not comforting for the two of them and Voilquin had bad memories of climbing up the foul-smelling stairwell each day after work.

    Martin Nadaud was born in 1815 in the small village of La Martineche. Martin became a masonís assistant and struggled through poverty and degradation as a peasant in the early industrial era. As a young boy, Martin and his family shared a hut with their livestock. The family and livestock used the same entrance into the hut, but were divided by a partition that separated the animals from a room that served as both the kitchen and bedroom. A loft that hung above the kitchen was used to dry out the animals feed. The feed was spread across a plank floor and bits of seed and straw would frequently drop down on the kitchen table where the family ate their meals.

    Norbert Truquin considered himself as being spoiled for the first five years of his life. After his father went bankrupt in 1838, Norbert was soon sent away to work for an old wool comber. The two lived in a three-and-a-half meter long by three-meter wide workshop that was lighted by one window. Norbertís bedroom for three years was a coal cellar located under the stone steps of the workshop. He made a bed out of a sack, which he slept in during his three years with the wool comber.

    Conditions for workers in France during the early industrial era seem unimaginable to workers of today. Heat and indoor plumbing are two luxuries todayís workers often take for granted that were not available to workers over one hundred fifty years ago. Although the conditions were very unpleasant, the four workers examined in The French Worker managed to become successful members of the working class in early industrial France.

 

 

All design copyright Sara Hinds 2002

All essays copyright students of History 541,  University of Kentucky 2002

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