Children in Factories, Mines and Workhouses

HideShow resource information

What were the conditions of factories/mines like?

  • Long working hours: normal shifts were usually 12-14 hours a day, with extra time required during busy periods. Workers were often required to clean their machines during their mealtimes. illustration of a cotton mill.  A child crawls on his hands and knees under a moving machine, sweeping up cotton.
  • Low wages: a typical wage for male workers was about 15 shillings (75p) a week, but women and children were paid much less, with women earning seven shillings (35p) and children three shillings (15p). For this reason, employers preferred to employ women and children. Many men were sacked when they reached adulthood; then they had to be supported by their wives and children.
  • Cruel discipline: there was frequent "strapping" (hitting with a leather strap). Other punishments included hanging iron weights around children's necks, hanging them from the roof in baskets, nailing children's ears to the table, and dowsing them in water butts to keep them awake.
  • Fierce systems of fines: these were imposed for talking or whistling, leaving the room without permission, or having a little dirt on a machine. It was claimed that employers altered the time on the clocks to make their workers late so that they could fine them. Some employers demanded that their overseers raise a minimum amount each week from fines.
  • Accidents: forcing children to crawl into dangerous, unguarded machinery led to many accidents. Up to 40 per cent of accident cases at Manchester Infirmary in 1833 were factory accidents.
  • Health: cotton thread had to be spun in damp, warm conditions. Going straight out into the cold night air led to many cases of pneumonia. The air was full of dust, which led to chest and lung diseases and loud noise made by machines damaged workers' hearing.
1 of 4

Why did many factories employed young children?

  • It was cheaper to employ younger children
  • They could work for more years.
  • They are more naive- they won't complain.
  • They are smaller and more nimble so they can do fiddly jobs that adults who are too large, can't happen.
  • There was no education or childcare for the lower class so their parents wouldn't know what to do with them while ther were at work. 
  • Increase extra money and income for the family. 
2 of 4


To cater for the many people impoverished by the Industrial Revolution, the Poor Law and Poor Law Unions were introduced. Each Union had its own workhouse. Many workhouses segregated dormitories into those for males only and those for females, so families sent to workhouses were often split up.

  • Inmates were forced to work hard, and working conditions were often very poor. Many illegitimate or abandoned children were sent to the workhouse.
  • Poor Law unions collected money to support poor people in local areas, to try and keep families from the workhouse.
  • There were seven classes that were split. Married couples, even the elderly, were to be kept apart at all costs so that they could not 'breed'. Each of the seven classes was supposed to have its own exercise yard. There was no segregation of inmates after the seven classes had been separated. This meant that the old, ill, insane, slightly unbalanced and fit were kept together both day and night with no form of diversion. 
  • The buildings themselves were stark, undecorated, prison-like structures. There were no curves in the buildings, only sharp corners. There was no architectural decoration. High walls surrounded the whole workhouse, cutting off the view of the outside world from the inmates. Even the windows were six feet from the floor, and a further 'refinement' was to have the window sills sloping downwards, preventing them from being used as seats of shelves. 
  • You needed a certificate to prove you are 13 but it was often overlooked/fraudlent. Little or no safety in the work places.
  • To get food, people would get tokens from the overseers and the tokens were only allowed to be used on a small shop with very expensive items- therefore the overseers benefited from token schemes.
3 of 4

The 1838 Factory Act and 1842 Mines Act

  • The Poor Law was the way that the poor were helped in 1815. The law said that each parish had to look after its own poor. If you were unable to work then you were given some money to help you survive. However, the cost of the Poor Law was increasing every year. By 1830 it cost about £7 million and criticism of the law was mounting.
  • The money was raised by taxes on middle and upper class people, causing resentment. They complained that money went to people who were lazy and did not want to work.
  • In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed by Parliament. This was designed to reduce the cost of looking after the poor as it stopped money going to poor people except in exceptional circumstances. Now if people wanted help they had to go into a workhouse to get it.
  • The poor were given clothes and food in the workhouse in exchange for several hours of manual labour each day. Families were split up inside the workhouse. People had to wear a type of uniform, follow strict rules and were on a bad diet of bread and watery soup. Conditions were made so terrible that only those people who desperately needed help would go there.

Motives for reform-

  • They thought that if woman were got rid off then unemployed men would be able to take the jobs and earn more money. (men had a bigger salary than woman)
  • The crowding together of the young of both sexes and the hot atmosphere of most mills make people have a sexual appetite. 
  • Families neglected- no-one to do housework, cooking, cleaning and baby sitting. 
4 of 4


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Britain and the Industrial Revolution resources »