Child Labour in the Industrial Revolution


    Scavengers and Piercers~ The youngest children in the textile factories were usually employed as scavengers and piecers. Scavengers had to pick up the loose cotton from under the machinery. Piecers had to lean over the spinning-machine to repair the broken threads. These were extremely dangerous as the children were expected to carry out the task while the machine was still working.

    Working Hours~ Young Children often worked for about twelve hours daily. If they were late for work there were severely punished. Children who arrived late for work they would also have money deducted from their wages. Time-keeping was a problem for those families who could not afford to buy a clock. In some factories workers were not allowed to carry a watch. The children suspected that this rule was an attempt to trick them out of some of their wages.

    Factory Food~ Factory owners were responsible for providing their pauper apprentices with food. Children constantly complained about the quality of the food. In most textile mills the children has to eat their meals while still working. This meant that the food tended to get covered with the dust from the cloth.

    Factory Pollution~ One of the major complaints made by factory reformers concerned the state of the building that the children were forced ot work in. Doctors were concerned about the "dust from flax and the flue from cotton" in the air that the young workers were breathing in. Most young wokers complained of feeling sick during their first few weeks of working in a factory. Robert Blincoe said he felt that the dust and flue was soffocating him. This initial reaction to factory pollution became known as mill fever. Symptoms included sicknedd and headaches.

The dust and floating cotton fibre in the atmosphere was a major factor in the high incidence of tuberculosis, bronchitis, asthma, and byssinosis amongst cotton workers. 

    Workhouse Children~ Many parents were unwilling to allow their children to work in textile factories. To overcome the labour shortage, factore owners had to find other ways of obtaining workers. One solution to the problem was to buy children from orphanages and workhouses. The Children became known as pauper apprentices. This involved the children signing contracts that virtually made the the property of the factory owner.

    Punishment in Factories~ Children who worked long hours in textile mills became very tired and found it difficult to maintain the speed required by the overlookers. Children were usually hit with a strap to make them work faster. In some factories, children were dipped head first into the water cistern if they became drowsy. Children were also punished for arriving late for work and for talking to other children. Parish apprentices who rain away from the factory were in danger of being sent to prison. Children who were considered potential runaways were placed in irons.

        Factory Accidents~ Unguarded machinery was a major problem for children working in factories. One hospital reported that every year it treated nearly a thousand people for wounds and mutilations caused by machines in factories. A reported added that the workers were often "abandoned from the moment that an accident occured; their wages were stopped, no medical attendance provided, and whatever the extent of the injurt, no compensation was afforded."

In 1842 a German noted that he has seen so many people in the streets of Machester without arms and legs that it was like "living in the midst of the army just returned from a campaign."