In the late 19th century, Britain was one of the richest nations in the world, yet sweated labour existed at the bottom of almost every trade. The manufacture of all kinds of clothing, as well as umbrellas, boxes, toys, lace, nails, chains, shoes, leather goods, even furniture, relied on the availability of cheap labour. In 1888 a Report as to the Condition of Nail Makers and Small Chainmakers described the poverty of these workers:

Mrs Davis is the wife of a vice maker and has a family of ten children. Her husband is much out of work. She is making the best small chains, and is one of the best in the trade. One of her daughters blows for her. Mrs Davis says she might earn 5s (25p) per week if she struck all her time in the workshop. Two of the family were at work as chainmaker and vice maker and earned 6s (30p) and 3s 6d (17.5p) respectively. Their rent was 3s 6d (17.5p), and there was 9d (3.75p) to pay for schooling. How the family lived from one week to another she really could not tell. Several of the children were without shoes, and how to get them for the winter she did not know. They had to be content with bread and butter, or bread and lard, and tea to most meals, but sometimes they would have bacon or fish and bread to dinner. That day they had only gruel.