The conditions under which poor children lived in the nineteenth century were appalling. Not considered as children but as miniature adults, they were expected to work long hours for little money,in often dangerous and crude conditions.
- One of the greatest fears for a family was to end up in the workhouse, so even the smallest children had to earn money.
- Children found employment on the land, in mines, on the streets and with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, in Factories.
- The large factories including the mills, employed many children. Mill machinery needed frequent fixing and the children’s small bodies were able to squeeze into the tightest of places where adults could not reach.
- The conditions in the factories were terrible with children operating large dangerous machinery, the air often filled with choking fibre and dust.
- The children, some as young as six, often worked more than twelve hours a day.
- Although attempts had been made by parliament in 1819 to improve working conditions for children, in reality, little had been achieved.
- The Factory Act of 1833 was another attempt at improving the lot of children working in factories.
It stated that:
- No child under 9yrs was to work
- Age certificates should be kept by employers
- 9-13yr olds were to work no more than 9hrs a day
- 13-18yr olds were to work no more than 12hrs a day
- No children were to work at night
- All children were to receive 2hrs of schooling a day
- Factory inspectors would be used to enforce the law
The effectiveness of the act is debatable
The detail of it was really directed at younger children who were to attend school for at least two hours on six days of the week. It is staggering when one reads that as far as holidays went, this act said that children and young persons were to be given all day on Christmas Day and Good Friday as holiday and eight half days in the year and that is all. The rest of the time they were at work or school. These were children as young as five.
The Act gave powers for the appointment of inspectors, because provisions of previous acts were not duly carried out. So accepting that the previous Laws for the Regulation of the Labour of Children in Factories were a complete waste of time and that children had continued to suffer under unscrupulous factory owners and managers, this act was vital for the welfare of children. Children under the age of 13 years had to be certified by a physician or surgeon as being “of the ordinary strength and appearance” of a child of their stated age. One wonders what happened to the children who failed this test. Their income was probably necessary for their family and so were they put back into employment, slipped under the net and therefore not seen? Sad times indeed.