Dabin Chung

Mr. Alexander Ganse

History Research Seminar

October 16th, 2005

 

Industrial Child Labor in Britain

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

I. Introduction

 

II. The Role of Child Laborers

A. Textile Factories

B. Coalmines

 

III. Conditions in Workplaces

A. Age

B. Working Hours

C. Lack of Nutrition

D. Verbal and Physical Abuse

E. Accidents

F. Regulation and Penalties

G. Mandatory Schooling

 

IV. Reform

A. Advocates

B. Barriers

C. Chronology of State Intervention

1.Insufficient Means of Restriction

2. Short Time Committee

3. Sadler and the Factory Act of 1833

4. Lord Ashley and the Mines Act of 1840

5. Ensuing Factory Acts

6. Subsequent Mines Acts

D. Reasons for Successful Implementation

1. Public Fame of the Committee Reports

2. Gradual Changes

 

V. Problem of Faulty Resources

 

VI. Conclusion

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

I. Introduction

Long before the Industrial Revolution, a child was regarded as a ready source of labor.  Most children were expected to help household chores, work in the fields, or inherit the family business after some period of apprenticeship.  However, although the children before the mid-eighteenth century led a strenuous life, they were mostly not subject to industrial work and were under the supervision of their family elders.  However, after the Industrial Revolution, the families once engaged in agriculture increasingly moved into urban areas and became cheap sources of labor for factories.  In addition, the children and women who were once not welcomed as laborers were employed to do manual work.

One cannot deny that the wages children helped the families' financial abilities.  However, the wages they earned were not enough to overcome the imposed difficulty.  Furthermore, because the children were no longer under the protection of their parents but supervised by factory managers, they were more exposed to continual abuse.  Furthermore, they were too young to protect themselves from mistreatment and consequently were in the lowest level of the 'labor hierarchy. '  In Britain, commercial child labor was mostly concentrated on textile factories and coalmines.  In the case of Britain, the problem of child labor has been solved, after much debate and failure, through continuous efforts of special commissions and various Factory Acts.

 

 

II. The Role of Child Laborers

A. Textile Factories

Child labor in textile factories has been the most prevalent, visible form of labor during the mid-nineteenth century.  In Lancashire, the weaving sector increased its share of the cotton textiles child labour force from one percent to forty-three percent between the 1850s and 1890s.[1]  It was the rapid technological changes of textile production that had important consequences on the proportion of different age levels.  An increase from two-to four-loom, and later six-looms, weaving necessitated the employment of more child 'tenters,' who are general assistants to adult weavers, to prepare shuttles and clean the factory machinery.

B. Coalmines

Coalmining was another industry that was heightened by the advent of the Industrial Revolution.  However, the technology employed in mining remained unchanged.  Most of the mines refused to implement advanced means of mechanical conveyance and remained inefficient and labor-intensive.

Child laborers in coalmines were employed to work with haulage and ventilation.  Most child miners worked in underground haulage operations as 'putters' (pulling carts and sledges) or as 'drivers' (driving horse and pony carriages).  The narrow roads and low ceilings have made it inevitable to use increasing numbers of child laborers in coalmining industry.  Some children 'trappers' opened and closed the underground ventilation door to maintain the direction of air currents, for the miners were always at the risk of explosion and suffocation due to accumulations of toxic gas.  According to an interview conducted by the Children's Employment Commission in 1841 in Britain, only thirty percent were working in ventilation whilst fifty percent were in haulage.[2]  Also, it is notable that only few children remained as 'trappers' beyond the age of eleven or twelve and the vast majority of coalmining children aged ten to fourteen remained concentrated in the haulage sector.[3]  The hazardous working environment, poisonous gas, and lack of sunlight posed lasting threat to the well-being of the child laborer.

 

 

III. Conditions in Workplaces

A. Age

As the spinning machinery in textile factories and narrow passageways of coalmines required small physique, young children were inevitably found in those industrial workplaces.  Also, it was profitable for the owners to employ children, for they cost little compared to adult, male workers.  Therefore, childhood laborers constituted a considerable proportion of the entire population.  For example, according to Booth, workers under the fifteen years of age have composed fifteen percent of the workforce in textiles and dying in 1851.  Many started working as early as at the age of five and generally died before they were eighteen.[4] 

B. Working Hours

Until the Factory Act of 1833, the factories were free to decide on the working hours.  The laborers usually worked for more than twelve hours without breaks.  Consequently, child laborers suffered lack of sleep and were more vulnerable to mistakes and injuries.

Matthew Crabtree was one of the forty-eight people whom the Sadler Committee interviewed in the year of 1832.  According to the Sadler Report that catalyzed the Factory Act of 1833, Crabtree had worked in a factory from the age of eight.  He had worked sixteen hours a day, from five a.m. to nine a.m.  He usually went to sleep immediately after supper, and was woken up by his parents every morning.  According to Crabtree, he was ''very severely'' and ''most commonly'' beaten whenever he was late to work.  The fear of being beaten, said Crabtree, was ''sufficient impulse'' to keep up with his work despite his drowsiness.

C. Lack of Nutrition

The child laborers were from poor working families who could not afford to feed themselves without the children contributing financially.  Even with the children's wages, most families were barely able to sustain themselves.  Also, the child laborers frequently complained about the quality of food provided in the workplaces.  Some testified before the Parliament that they could not eat the meager meal they were given because of exhaustion and pollution.  The photographs of childhood workers testify malnutrition and abuse.  Child laborers have smaller build than their wealthier peers, yet the wrinkled faces covered with soot block the viewer from accurately surmising the children's age.

D. Verbal and Physical Abuse

The child workers were under the supervision of strangers -- factory managers who were employed by the factory owners.  Also, the work did not require much finesse, and there were many unemployed children willing to substitute the worker's place.  Consequently, the factory managers did not carry the responsibility of the welfare of the workers; they were simply paid to ensure that the factory is operated smoothly.

The treatment of children in factories was often cruel and extreme.  The children's safety was generally neglected.  The youngest children, around the age of eight, were not old enough to activate the machines and were commonly sent to be assistants to adult main workers.  The people in charge of the factory's whereabouts would beat and verbally abuse the children, and take little consideration for the worker's safety.  Girls could not be the exception to beatings and other harsh forms of pain infliction.  In some factories children were dipped head first into the water cistern if they became drowsy.[5]  The girls were also vulnerable to sexual harassment.

E. Accidents

Trivial mistakes due to lack of sleep resulted in serious injuries or mutilation.  The Sadler Report commissioned by the House of Commons in 1832 said that: ''there are factories, no means few in number, nor confined to the smaller mills, in which serious accidents are continually occurring, and in which, notwithstanding, dangerous parts of the machinery are allowed to remain unfenced.''  The workers were in most cases abandoned from the moment of the accident with no wages, no medical attendance, and no monetary compensation.

F. Regulation and Penalties

       The regulation was harsh and the punishment inhumane and sporadic.  The rules regarding tardiness and attendance were especially more stringent. 

       One common punishment for being late or not working up to the work assigned would be to be ''weighted.''  An overseer would tie a heavy weight to worker's neck, and have him walk up and down the factory aisles so the other children could see him.  This punishment could last up to an hour.  Weighting led to serious injuries in the back and the neck.[6]

       The violators sometimes had to pay the consequence monetarily.  Elizabeth Bentley, before the Sadler Committee in 1832, mentioned that she was usually quartered; ''If we were a quarter of an hour too late, they would take off half an hour; we only got a penny an hour, and they would take a halfpenny more.''  Some witnesses compared themselves as slaves, and the overseer as slave drivers.

G. Mandatory Schooling

       One could argue that lack of schooling had forced the children to factories, and mandatory schooling was the key to eradicating industrial child labor.  It is true that illiteracy blocked the children from elevating the social and economic hierarchy.  However, the Education Act of 1870 contained provisions to allow school boards to compel attendance but necessary by-laws were not enforcement to implement these provisions.   In short, the mandatory schoolings in Britain were introduced too late to critically contribute to the reform. 

       Also, one could argue that mandatory schooling would only wear off children who are already exhausted from long hours of tiring labor.  Schooling did little good to children who were physically deprived. Lack of sleep will most likely risk dangers of lethargy and expose the children to more accidents.

 

 

IV. Reform

A. Advocates

Although they had more say than those in other countries, supporters of reform in Britain did not have much ground until the early nineteenth century.  The key to greater influence was the educational impact the committee reports had on the mass.

The advocates of the reform assembled and formed Short Time Committees in 1831 dedicated to help the reform bill's passage through Parliament.  However, as the committee was mostly composed of spinners and weavers, the radical Short Time Committees did not exert much influence before the Sadler Report in 1832 provoked public uproar.

Also, the English novelist Charles Dickens contributed to educating the public by vividly describing the agony of the economically unfortunate in his novels.  He touched themes that contemporary writers avoided: poverty, sickness, despair, and hardship.  Dickens had the motivation to do so because of his unforgettable experiences at a blacking factory at the age of twelve.  It is said that he embodied himself in Oliver Twist in the novel Oliver Twist, Pip in Great Expectations, and David Copperfield in David Copperfield; the young protagonist in each book is usually not given a proper job, food, or shelter until he miraculously encounters his fortune.

B. Barriers

Child workers generally labored to assist the task of the adult workers; the two labor populations did not directly compete with each other.  Therefore, one could argue that the child workers considerably contributed to the impoverished family income.  As the children were regarded source of labor for long, some did not object to sending their children to factories.  Even if others did not approve of the treatment in workplaces, they had no valid and legal means to protest.

Also, the wealthy was usually those in politics; they opposed attempts to regulate the age limit and the sanitary conditions in the workplaces. Thomas Wilson, an owner of three collieries, interviewee of the Ashley's Mines Commission is quoted below.

I object on general principles to government interference in the conduct of any trade, and I am satisfied that in mines it would be productive of the greatest injury and injustice.[7]

State intervention seemed to be impossible at this point of time.  But things took a different turn in 1833.

C. Chronology of State Intervention

1.Insufficient Means of Restriction

Before the Cotton Factories Regulation Act of 1819 (which set the minimum working age at nine and maximum working hours at twelve in textile industries), there was no significant regulation restricting the age of young workers.  Despite the attempt, the practical impact of the Cotton Factories Regulation Act was much doubted, and the age minimum for the mining industry appeared after a considerable period of time, after the Ashley's Children's Employment Commission of 1842.

2. Short Time Committee

       In 1831 John Hobhouse, the M.P.(Member of Parliament) for Westminister introduced a bill restricting the age and working hours of child labor.  Workers spontaneously started forming what became known as Short Time Committees in an effort to promote the bill.  However, because Hobhouse agreed to make changes to his proposal, it failed to provide any practical machinery for its enforcement. In the House of Commons, Michael Sadler, the M.P. for Newark and main spokesman for the Short Time Committees, proposed a bill limiting hours in all mills to ten hours for persons under the age of eighteen.  Despite the mass meeting in Huddersfield (16,000 people) and Manchester (100,000 people) gathered to demonstrate the power of the reform advocates, the Parliament was unwilling to pass Sadler's bill.

3. Sadler and the Factory Act of 1833

       However, the report of the Sadler's parliamentary inquiry into child labor has shocked the British public into pressuring the government to protect children working in factories.  Thus the Factory Act of 1833, applying only to the textile industry, was passed.  Young person (between age thirteen and eighteen) might be employed no more than twelve hours daily, a child (aged nine to thirteen) no more than nine hours.  Also, the Act set a normal working day in the textile industry; the working day was to start at 5:30 a.m. and cease at 8:30 p.m.

4. Lord Ashley and the Mines Act of 1840

       The Factory Act of 1833 only touched the textile industry when the working conditions of the mining industry were no better.  In 1840, Lord Ashley, another advocate of child labor reform, set up the Children's Employment Commission.  Its first report on mines in 1842 caused a stir among the public who were once unaware of women and children employed as miners.  The Mines Act of 1842 prohibited the employment of all females and boys less than ten years of age from working underground in mines.

5. Ensuing Factory Acts

       The Factory Act of 1884, designed solely for textile factories, was the successor to the 1833 Factory Act; it had lowered the limit of working hours of children under age thirteen from nine hours to six-and-half hours a day.  The Factory Act of 1847 (also known as the 'Ten-Hour Act') said that women and children between the age of thirteen and eighteen could work maximum of ten hours a day or fifty-eight hours a week.  The Factory Act of 1850 increased the working hours, but put an end to the shift system.

6. Subsequent Mines Acts

       The Coal Mines Inspection Act of 1850 reinforced the previous 1842 Mines Act by dealing with safety in the mines.  More mine inspectors were provided to produce reports of working conditions and safety in the workplace.  The Mines Regulation and Inspection Act of 1860 increased the number of inspectors and prohibited boys below the age of twelve from working underground.

D. Reasons for Successful Implementation

1. Public Fame of the Committee Reports

       The success of the nonviolent, practical reform laid on the impact of two committee reports, Sadler's and Ashley's.  The public responded to the confrontational stories of the testifiers, and pressured that the legislature take charge to protect the child workers.  The problem of child labor was no longer a problem of the radicals, but of the public.  Furthermore, the attention of the public made it difficult for the factory owners to disregard the law.

2. Gradual Changes

       The Factory Act of 1833 and the Mines Act of 1842 provided a huge step to reforming the problems in child labor.  However, they were not complete as the bills made concessions to pacify the political opponents.  For instance, the advocates of the child labor reform demanded a limit of ten hours, but it took some time before the demand was accepted.  Subsequent Acts have filled up the loopholes of the previous Acts to perfect the regulation.

 

 

V. Problem of Faulty Resources

Most statistics that are available could not be completely trusted.  One especially was careful not to depend entirely on skewed numbers or individual case studies.  Also, throughout history, many scholars and ideologists have distorted the facts to prove their assertions.

Until the child labor issue became a state issue, most of the investigators touched only the surface of the problem.  The factory overseers could easily usher the investigators away from the truth.  Also, the survey has not been conducted systematically as to portray an accurate sketch of the labor picture.  On the other hand, some reports have been accused of exaggerating the current situation to bring the child labor issue to a state concern.  Major government reports on child labor were uneven in the coverage, focusing predominantly upon children in industrial occupations.

In addition, some ''determined'' historians have maneuvered the statistics to exaggerate child labor as an example of corruption and depravity when child labor helped improve the family's financial status.

 

 

VI. Conclusion

Industrial child labor has occupied only a small portion of the child labor population.  Also, it had lasted for a fleeting moment in British history.  However, child workers in industrial workplaces need to be highlighted as history in which children were placed under the custody of a stranger in a confined, unwholesome space; the children were exposed to a higher possibility of abuse and mistreatment.

Although child labor in Britain shared similar characteristics with other industrialized countries of a later period of time, the British government relatively peacefully restricted the employment of children.  The publicity of the special commission reports and the attention of the public had contributed greatly.

Child labor, as much as it is criticized for its faults, should be analyzed, considering every possible factor.  It is true that the child laborers have suffered from exploitation and unintended neglect, yet the family would've starved if not for the contribution of the children.  History should not be hastily judged, but observed objectively for future's sake.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Freedman, Russell. Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade against Child Labor. New York: Clarion Books, 1994.

 

Hindman, Hugh D. Child Labor: An American History. New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2002.

 

Horn, Pamela. Children's Work and Welfare, 1780-1890. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995.

 

Kirby, Peter. Child Labour in Britain, 1750-1870. Hampshire: Palgrave, 2003.

 

Winstanley, Michael J. The factory workforce: in Rose, The Lancaster cotton industry: a history since 1700, Preston, Lancashire County Books, 1996

 

Zelizer, Viviana A. Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1994.

 

Bloy, Marjie. August 13th, 2002. ''Victorian Legislation: a timeline.'' The Victorian Web. October 16th, 2005. <http://www.victorianweb.org/history/legistl.html>

 

Booth, C. ''On the Occupations of the People of the United Kingdom, 1801-81.'' Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (J.S.S.) XLIX (1886): 314-436.

 

''Child Labor.'' Children's Rights. 2004. Human Rights Watch. April 25th, 2005. <http://www.hrw.org/children/labor.htm>

 

''Child Labor.'' Scholastic. April 18th, 2005. <http://teacher.scholastic.com/scholasticnews/indepth/child_labor/for_teachers/index.asp?CR=Grolier&article=encyclopedia>

 

''Child Labor.'' July 2005. Wikipedia. July 14th, 2005. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_labor>

 

''Child Labor 1750-1850.'' Encyclopaedia of British History. Spartacus. April 18th, 2005. <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/IRchild.htm>

 

''CHILD LABOR: Frequently Asked Questions.'' Child Labor and the Global Village. April 18th, 2005 <http://www.childlaborphotoproject.org/childlabor.html >

 

''Child labor in factories: A new workforce during the Industrial Revolution.'' 2002. Needham. May 30th, 2005. <http://nhs.needham.k12.ma.us/cur/Baker_00/2002_p7/ak_p7/childlabor.html>

 

Cody, David. ''Child Labor.'' October 2003. Hartwick College. May 30th, 2005. <http://www.victorianweb.org/history/hist8.html>

Cody, David. ''Dickens: A Brief Biography'' 1988. The Victorian Web. October 15th, 2005 <http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/dickensbio1.html>

 

Col, Laura Del. ''The Life of the Industrial Worker in Ninteenth-Century England'' 22 July 2002. The Victorian Web. October 13th, 2005 <http://www.victorianweb.org/history/workers1.html#sadler>

 

Col, Laura Del. ''Testimony Gathered by Ashley's Mines Commission.'' September 26th, 2002. The Victorian Web. October 13th, 2005. <http://www.victorianweb.org/history/ashley.html>

 

''Punishment in Factories.'' Spartacus Educational. October 16th, 2005 <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/IRpunishments.htm>

 

Ramonet, Ignacio. ''Broken childhoods.'' January 1998. La Monde diplomatique. April 18th, 2005. <http://mondediplo.com/1998/01/00leader>

 

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Shahrokhi, Laila. ''History of Child Labor.'' 1996. Child Labor: Exploitation of Children in the Workplace. May 30th, 2005. <http://www.earlham.edu/~pols/globalprobs/children/Laila.html>

 

''Short Time Committees.'' Spartacus Educational. October 16th, 2005 <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/IRshort.htm>

 

Tuttle, Carolyn. ''Child Labor during the British Industrial Revolution.'' August 15th, 2001. EH.Net Enyclopedia. October 10th, 2005 <http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/tuttle.labor.child.britain>

 

''World Day Against Child Labour: Mining and Quarrying.'' World Day Against Child Labour. July 2005. International Labour Organization. April 25th, 2005. <http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/ipec/wdacl/2005/index.htm>

 



[1] Winstanley, Michael J. 'The Factory Workforce', p. 132.

[2] Kirby, Peter. 'Child Labour in Britain, 1750-1870', p. 78

[3] Kirby, Peter. 'Child Labour in Britain, 1750-1870', p.78

[4] Cody, David. ''Child Labor.'' October 2003. Hartwick College. May 30th, 2005. <http://www.victorianweb.org/history/hist8.html>

[5] ''Punishment in Factories.'' Spartacus Educational. October 16th, 2005 <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/IRpunishments.htm>

[6] "Child labor in factories: A new workforce during the Industrial Revolution." 2002. Needham. May 30th, 2005. <http://nhs.needham.k12.ma.us/cur/Baker_00/2002_p7/ak_p7/childlabor.html>

[7] Col, Laura Del. ''Testimony Gathered by Ashley's Mines Commission.'' September 26th, 2002. The Victorian Web. October 13th, 2005. <http://www.victorianweb.org/history/ashley.html>