| During the 19th century working-class children
were often employed in factories and on farms. For many families,
it was more important for a child to bring home a wage than
to get an education. The combination of dangerous working conditions
and long hours meant that children were worked as hard as any
adult, but without laws to protect them. Children were cheaper
to employ than adults, and easier to discipline.
Pit-brow girls, Wigan, 1893
Report of Martha Appleton's
|The case of Martha Appleton in 1859 highlights
the terrible working conditions thousands of children across
Britain endured every day in the 19th century. As a 13-year-old
textile worker in Wigan, Martha was employed as a 'scavenger',
picking up loose cotton from beneath machinery. On one particular
day, Martha fainted and caught her left hand in an unguarded
machine. In the accident, all her fingers were severed. Martha
lost her job because she was no longer able to work efficiently.
|The successful exploitation of child labour was
vital to Britain's economic success in the 19th century. In
1821, approximately 49% of the workforce was under 20. In rural
areas, children as young as five or six joined women in 'agricultural
gangs' that worked in fields often a long way from their homes.
Although a law against the employment of children as chimney
sweeps was passed as early as 1788, young people - because of
their size and agility - were still used in this role for much
of the 19th century.
Martha Appleton's accident:
letter from Inspector of Factories
The plight of 'climbing boys', 1818
(168k) | Transcript
|Changes came in 1833 when the Factory Act was
passed. The Act not only created the post of factory inspector,
but also made it illegal for textile factories to employ children
less than 9 years of age. The Act came at a time when reformers
like Richard Oastler were publicising the terrible working conditions
of children, comparing the plight of child labourers to that
of slaves. The timing was significant: slavery was abolished
in the British empire in 1833-4.
|It was also during
this period that people started to recognise the importance
of education for children (only a minority, mostly from the
wealthy ruling class, had any kind of formal schooling at the
beginning of the century). Under the Factory Act, textile factories
were ordered to provide at least two hours of education daily
for children under the age of 13.
||Further legislation limiting child labour in factories
was introduced in 1844, 1847, 1850, 1853 and 1867. After 1867
no factory or workshop could employ any child under the age
of 8, and employees aged between 8 and 13 were to receive at
least 10 hours of education per week. But such legislation was
not foolproof. Inspectors often found it difficult to discover
the exact age of young people employed in factories, and reports
showed that factory owners did not always provide the hours
set aside by law for education.
|Towards the end of the 19th century attitudes
towards children shifted further. The National Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) was founded in 1889;
and earlier, in 1870, the Education Act had brought huge changes.
The Act put in place the building blocks for a free and compulsory
education system. Gradually, every child in Britain was introduced
to schooling. By the late 19th century, children's lives were
beginning to be transformed. They were going to school instead
of work, and being treated as children instead of 'little adults'.
With the protection of the law, many could now avoid the exploitation
of their childhood and gain an education.
Three schoolboys, 1898
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