Factory children as young as five years old worked long hours in appalling conditions. This is the evidence given by a factory inspector based on his experience and interviews with the children.
A succession of Factory Acts during the 19th century sought to regulate the working time and jobs open to children in cotton mills, coal mines and factories.
Even so, as late as the 1861 census, there were more than 34,000 boys and girls under 10 years old in paid work, and more than 600,000 aged 10 to 15.
In 1840, Lord Ashley, later the 8th Earl of Shaftsbury, who had long been interested in reforming factory working conditions, persuaded Parliament to establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children’s Employment.
Its first report in 1842, on children’s working conditions in coal mines, and a second report the following year focusing on mills and factories, proved explosive, and led to the Factory Act of 1844 which restricted children to six and a half hours’ work a day.
These extracts are of evidence given to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children’s Employment by its own inspectors, factory children, their mothers and a poor law relieving officer.
Evidence on the employment of children, 1842
Report of A. Austin, Esq. on conditions in the pin-making factories of Warrington
It will be seen by what I have already stated that children are employed at an extremely early age at pin-heading; that they are actually capable of performing the work even when no older than five years and a half. One of this age I saw sitting at a stamping-block on my first visit to the pin factory, the morning after my arrival. The child was under the protection of its grandmother, and was sent with its aunt, the sister of its deceased mother, to the pin-heading room in which she worked…
Children of this age are not at present taken into employment by most of the overlookers, but they are on some occasions tolerated … and even encouraged, as the payment of one penny per week, mentioned in my letter of 7th February, shows, in order that they may be efficient workers when they arrive at the age of 10 years. For “when children are taught young they are able to earn from 2 shillings to 5 shillings a-week when they arrive at 10 or 12 years old.” And again… “we admit them as soon as they are able to reach the block; the fingers of the little ones are more fitted to handle the small work.”
That children have been heretofore employed before they were six years old will appear from the evidence of many. Mary Catledge states that “Henry went to it when he was little short of six [he is now 10, consequently that was four years ago], and Margaret was turned six – she is now eight, consequently that happened two years ago. Mary Varnworth, an overlooker, aged 45, ” has been at work since she was going six years old.” I need not multiply references . Mr P Edelsten, a principal in the firm of S. Edelsten & Co.,’ says, as stated above “we admit them as soon as they are able to reach the block.”
Except the young child before mentioned, I have seen only two who were younger than seven years old. One of these could spell simple words of one syllable. He was six years and a half old when put to work.
Mary Catledge, aged 34.
What is your occupation? — Heading pins. Has 5 children; only 4 at home.
At what are they employed?—Two of them heads pins.
What do the others do ? — Why they does nothing; they are too young.
How old are those who go to pin-heading ?—Henry is turned 10, and Margaret is turned 8.
How long have they been at it? — Why, Henry went to it when he was a little short of 6 years old, and Margaret was turned 6.
What did they earn the first year ? — Sometimes about 3d, sometimes about 4d. a-week; not that at first beginning.
How many hours did they work for that ? — They do not require them to attend regularly at first, but when parents goes with them they egg them on. I went myself with them at first; I took them at 7 in the morning and they came away after 9 in the evening.
Did they come home to meals ? — They had half an hour to breakfast. They do not allow any time in particular for meals, but they can take time if they like.
Did your children take time? — Yes, Sir. I always required them to have half an hour for breakfast, 1 hour for dinner, and half an hour or better at bagging time. I have worked at pin-heading from the time I was 6 years old.
Did you ever attend Sunday schools while you were there ? — Yes, Sir; I always attended Sunday schools.
Can you read and write ? — I can read, not write. (Gave her one of the instruction books to read.) “You will in each case give a particular description (hesitation) of different kind of works in which the children are apployed.”
Do your children go to Sunday schools ? — Yes, sir; 3 out of 4. The youngest is 2 years and 7 months old ; it is too young for the infant school.
What Sunday school do they go to ? — That in Winnick-street: they call themselves the Wesleyan Association.
What are your earnings now? — 1 s[hilling] a-week; sometimes 1s. 3d.
You do not, work the whole of the day? — No.
Because you attend the children? — Yes.
Nancy Ashton , 37 years old.
Do you work at pin-heading ?—Yes, Sir. Has no husband with her, he is abroad somewhere. Has 3 children.
Are they all at home ? — Yes.
Their ages ? — The eldest is 14 ; the second, 12 ; the youngest going 9: all 3 girls.
What work do they do ? — The eldest sheets, and the second sheets also; and the youngest heads at home with me.
Those who sheet, what do they get? — Sometimes more than 2s., sometimes less; when they have plenty of work it is more than 2s.
How much more ?—Sometimes 2s 6d they have brought home.
What can you earn at heading?—The little girl and me got Is. 9 1/2d between us last week. 1 d. off for the stamp; we found our own candle.
Did you work by candle-light ? — Yes, by candle-light and by day-light too.
What can you two earn together? — Four or five shillings.
How many hours, &c.? — Twelve or fourteen hours a-day.
Can you find no better employment for you and your children?—Not unless I could find plenty of charing, but I cannot.
Could you not find better work for the children? — They won’t take them at factory, because they know nothing, and I cannot keep them when they are learning. The oldest wanted to go badly to factory last summer, and indeed, she went different mornings to learn, but she must work a fortnight for nothing, another fortnight for is. ; and as she learned, they would raise her, but I could not, keep her; I could not spare her wages so long ; if it was only 1s. I missed it. There was no one I could get credit on to while she learned, therefore I was obliged to have her back.
Do you any of you know if there arc any persons who are earning 20s. a-week, who send their children to pin-heading? — No.
Did your children ever go to school?—No, Sir; they have no clothes to go in; they have only the things they stand in. I strips them on Saturday night and washes their things. They used to go when times were better to St. John’s Sunday school.
Can they read a little? — Yes, Sir, and they often try at it.
Can you help them? — Yes.
Do you find your children healthy at the employment? — All answer yes.
Do their masters treat them well? — No complaint of that. In some places they are warmed, but in others, the places are not warm enough for them to work all day in this cold weather. Some places that are well warmed in winter are too close in summer, and those that are airy and pleasant in summer are too cold in winter.
Do you get anything from the parish? — Yes, I get 3s. a-week from the parish. The town has been very good to me.
The mark of NANCY ASHTON x
William Taker , as spelled by himself.
Twelve years old. Has been in the workhouse 4 years, and at pin-heading 1 year and a half. Can read a bit. [Tried him with a printed form; he could read words of one syllable with difficulty.] Cannot write. Goes to work at half-past 6 in a morning.
How much work are you obliged to do in the day? — Two pounds.
How many hours does this take? — Eight hours.
Do you ever get punished if you do not do it?—Yes, flogged
How? — They have a bull’s pizzle.
What do they do with it ? — Sometimes lays on the back, sometimes on the hand.
Do you go to school every day ? — Yes.
What time ?— Nine o’clock till 12 ; then 1 to 4.
How then can you do 2 Ibs. of pins? — Did not go to school last week; had a cold; the schoolmaster told me I had better stop away.
Who was the schoolmaster ? — Mr. Stephens, of the National school.
Does he often send you away for being ill? — Yes, Sir, he sent 2 or 3 boys away for being ill. When I go to school I only do 1 Ib.
What do you learn at the National school? — I learn to read, and write, and spell.
Is that man who smokes his pipe your overlooker ? — Yes, Sir.
Is it he who beats you? — Yes, Sir. He has not beaten me lately.
Cannot spell it properly. [Spelled Mary but not Broadhurst.] Is 13 years old. Has been here 2 months or better. How long have you been at work at pin-heading ? — I do not know to tell greatly. Was at pin-heading before I came here. I headed at Brazils , but they have given over. I headed afterwards at Buckley’s Court. Her father and mother were both out of their mind when they came into the workhouse; her mother is gone to Lancaster , her father is better. Has had a complaint in her bowels and in her head. Is able to work now.
Why not go to school? — I went to school before I came here; to Sunday-school.
How many hours do you work at pin-heading now ? — From half-past 6 in the morning to 6 at night.
Do you ever work after supper? — Yes, sometimes a little longer, but not much. Her work is 1 1/12 lb. a-day.
When are you washed and cleaned ? — We are washed every morning; and Saturday night we are stripped and washed in cold water.
Mr. James Cruikshank, relieving officer and assistant overseer.
Have you any knowledge of the age at which children are employed in the pin factories? — Yes. From the frequent visits that I have made among the parents of children, I have uniformly found them to be employed from 6 up to 12 or 14 years of age.
Do you know how many hours following they work ? — When work is brisk, they begin at 7 o’clock in the morning and leave work at between 8 and 9 in the evening.
Do you know of any night work ? — No, sir. The children so employed seldom continue at 30 the business up to 14 or 15 years of age.
Can you give me a reason for that ? — I have considered a good deal about it, and I attribute it to this—that, in consequence of there being so many of them together in one room, employed together with adults, they acquire habits to which they are strongly attached.
What are those habits? — I should call them habits of indolence, and a disregard to self-improvement, and indifference to better their own condition.
What do they do after they leave work at 14 years of age ? — I can scarcely tell: some of them go to driving coal-carts; some are transported. I have urged some of the parents to send them to the factories, but they say that their health could not stand it, and that they would be catched (by the machines). I got places for 3 at a factory recently, but the parents of 2 of them took them away and sent them back to the pin shop. At the factory we kept them 1 month, and the overlooker was going to put one into a place where she would have earned 7 s[hillings]. a-week, but the parent sent them back to the pin shop, where they only earned 3s[hillings].
Can you account for this? — No. enumerates 4 boys who were transported who had previously been brought up in pin shops. Do you think that more young men misbehave themselves who have worked at the pin factories than at any other employment? — I do, Sir; and their conduct in after-life proves it; for they are brought up generally in ignorance (with few exceptions), and that ignorance produces immorality.
(Signed) JAMES CRUIKSHANK