Using animation and actual recorded testimony, historian Jane Humphries tells the story of the child workers whose exploitation was key to the success of the Industrial Revolution.
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I lived partly with my father and grandmother and partly in the workhouse.
When I was nine, I was then bound apprentice to a man who turned me over to the colliers.
My father said to him, "I had rather you'd tied a stone around his neck
"and drowned him."
# But you won't fool the children of the revolution
# No, no, wow! #
Three great golden men,
surveying their plans for the future.
Mathew Bolton, William Murdoch, and James Watt.
All key figures in Britain's Industrial Revolution.
This statue cast them as minor deities lording it over their domain
and stands here in the centre of Birmingham,
a city that benefited greatly from their combined genius.
There are monuments like this all over the country
because when it comes to the Industrial Revolution,
we all know who should get the credit.
It's the money men, the manufacturers, the inventors,
the engineers, the great and the good.
Men like these.
But these 18th and 19th century entrepreneurs and inventors
were only able to capitalise on their brilliance
thanks to an all-important resource,
raw material found in plentiful supply.
It was children.
Of course there's no memorial to their contribution
but the children of the revolution fortunately have left us something
much more important than stone and gold paint.
They've left us their own stories in their own voices
and they can still speak up for themselves
down across the centuries.
Standing by my father with a knot of whip cord in my button hole,
which showed that I had a desire to work with horses.
I stood there, waiting for the highest bidder for my services.
Before I'd left home, I'd read Uncle Tom's Cabin
and when I saw us all lined up, I remember thinking
it was much the same in England as it was in America.
Bar the whip.
They called them the white slaves of England.
What we just heard were the words of Charles Bacon, hired off in the 1870s.
I'm professor of economic history at Oxford University
and a fellow of All Souls College,
and for the last five years I've been searching for and studying
lost testimonies by the child workers of the Industrial Revolution.
The children of the Industrial Revolution were the first generation
of ordinary working-class British kids
to have their thoughts and experiences thoroughly documented.
Their stories are preserved in diaries, letters
and in published and unpublished autobiographies.
We also have government reports, parish records and early newspaper interviews.
But outside of academia, few people know these documents exist,
or appreciate how vast this treasure trove of hidden voices really is.
I began to read and research these eye-witness accounts of life in the age of manufactures
as a way of looking at child labour today in the developing world.
It's a sobering thought that the nearest equivalent to the Mumbai slumdogs
are the mud-larks and gutter-snipes of 18th and 19th century London.
But the more I read these childrens' stories,
the more it taught me about the lives of those people
who are our great, great, great, great grandparents.
We always see them as victims, drudgers and drones,
but it's not the whole story.
The children's relationship to the world of work was complex.
Their employment helped build up Britain's industrial power
but it also contributed to our modern notions of childhood.
Mind you, there were many amongst that first generation who signed up
for work without really knowing what they were letting themselves in for.
A rumour circulated that there was going to be an agreement between
the overseers of the workhouse and the owner of a great cotton mil.
The children were told that when they arrived at the cotton mill,
they would be transformed into ladies and gentlemen.
That they would be fed on roast beef and plum pudding,
and have plenty of cash in their pockets.
In August 1799, 80 boys and girls who were seven years old
became parish apprentices till they had acquired the age of 21.
The young strangers were conducted into a spacious room
with long, narrow tables and wooden benches.
The supper set before them consisted of milk-porridge of a very blue complexion.
Where was our roast beef and plum pudding?
That was the con played on eight-year-old Robert Blincoe,
as told to a journalist several years later.
He was bound apprentice to a spinning mill like this one.
This is Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire, founded in 1780.
It was built out in the sticks because it needed the river
that runs through the valley to power the machines inside.
The downside of that decision was that remote places like this were low on available man power.
So who would staff these mills?
Who would do the work?
The solution was to recruit the most vulnerable elements in society.
The first wave of factory labour in this country was made up of orphans.
They were the real life Oliver Twists, left to the mercy of the parishers.
And their employment was nothing less than state-sponsored slavery.
They were called parish apprentices
and, aged as young as seven or eight,
were taken by cart from their homes in the parishes of London
and other towns and cities,
and transported hundreds of miles away to places like this.
On arrival, they would be piled into dormitories like this one,
billeted near their workplaces
and indentured to the mills and factories as apprentices.
Once signed over, they had to stay here until they were 21, sometimes 24 years old.
This is the girls' dormitory.
It's bigger than the boys' dormitory next door.
It looks a little bit primitive, doesn't it?
However, inside the factories, things were far from basic.
State of the art machinery shook and pounded the walls of these mills
from dawn till dusk,
and all the while, children kept time with the relentless beat.
So how many people would be working this machine?
Typically, two men and a young child to a pair.
The machine that we have here represents only half of that pair.
-Was it dangerous?
Injuries generally occurred in the last two hours of the day.
-So, injuries happened when people lost concentration?
I see over here in this picture, the boy's not wearing any shoes.
You weren't allowed to wear your clogs,
the footwear of that period,
simply because, with these machines running all the time,
you get a level of cotton dust
building up on the floor, like snow,
and if your clog iron was to catch the railing on the floor,
the possibility of a spark and you would set fire to the floor
and burn the mill down, so mill room work was always barefooted.
I heard that there was a fatality
associated with this machine in the past.
Yes, a 13-year-old boy.
One of the most important tasks that he was involved in was wiping down.
The men in charge of these machines would draw the carriages out
onto the end of the railings and then apply a brake to prevent the carriage retracting.
The children then had to go round the back of the mule and crawl underneath.
On this occasion, the guy in charge of this mule took his brake off
and commanded the child to get out, and the child either didn't hear him or he didn't get out in time
-and consequently, he was crushed in a roller beam and killed instantly.
Parish apprentices were often called pauper apprentices
because the new factories provided the powers that be with a cheap way of dealing with poor children.
Work became a substitute for social welfare.
Katrina Honeyman is a history professor at Leeds University and an expert on parish apprentices.
Our image of child labour is almost entirely negative.
Does that really cover the experience of the pauper apprentices in this time period?
Many children went off to their apprenticeship -
whether it was factory or elsewhere - quite excited at the possibility
of becoming an independent worker, learning a skill.
They had regular meals, even if they weren't great.
-They got education.
They had a roof over their heads.
But right from the start, they would be working 14 or 15 hours a day,
sometimes more, with the possibility of overtime,
for which they might get a little money.
Otherwise they weren't paid.
This free labour was integral to the rise of the new industries.
Managers didn't want adults who were used to less regimented ways of working.
Children could be made to adapt.
Not only that, but many machines were designed
to be operated by small children, with their nimble fingers.
Can we see these children as pivotal to the emergence of this new form of enterprise?
It's difficult to see how the industry could have expanded
in the way that it did without the quantity and the nature
of the child labour that was available.
The master carder's name was Thomas Birks.
Tom the Devil, we called him.
He was a very bad man.
Everybody was frightened of him.
He once fell poorly and very glad we were.
We wished he might die.
We were always locked up out of mill hours,
for fear any of us should run away.
One day, the door was left open.
Charlotte Smith said she would be ringleader if the rest of us would follow.
She went out but no-one followed her.
The master found out.
There was a carving knife which he took and, grasping her hair, he cut if off close to the head.
This head-shaving was a dreadful punishment.
We were more afraid of it than any other,
for girls are proud of their hair.
Rural and picturesque, this place seems a world away
from scary urban factories, but Quarry Bank had its runaways too.
In 1856, a girl called Esther Price was caught escaping.
She was sent up here to the punishment room in the attic of the house.
Here it is. This is the punishment room.
The windows would be blacked out.
Her bed is a blanket on the floorboards.
She got supper and breakfast
but was locked away here for a whole week on her own.
Poor little mite.
As an added and coincidental cruelty, as she was taken up here,
she had to pass by the corpse of an adult who had died earlier that day
and was laid out in the attic for collection.
Alone in the dark, stomach empty, a corpse for company.
No wonder she wanted to run away.
This siphoning off of poor and orphaned children from state care
was not going to sustain the huge industrial expansion that Britain was experiencing.
The country needed lots and lots of cheap labour,
so the order came from the very top - use the children.
During the war with revolutionary France,
Prime Minister William Pitt was warned that British manufacturers were unable to pay their taxes.
They blamed high wages.
With one in ten men away fighting,
able adult workers came at a premium and cut into profits.
Pitt's advice was short and simple.
He is supposed to have told them, "Yoke up the children."
Luckily for Pitt and for Great Britain PLC,
for the first time in its history, the country was awash with children.
In the mid 1700s, the population of Britain was small and stationary,
around 5.7 million.
But by the end of the century it had shot up by more than 50%,
to 8.7 million.
So, what changed?
The answer's in here.
This is St Michael's in Madeley, Shropshire,
built by that great man of the industrial age,
Thomas Telford, in 1796.
There's been a church on this site since Norman times.
The marriage registers are long and very well maintained.
Ah, these are beautiful records.
You can see here somebody's not been able to sign their name
so they've put their mark,
and elsewhere, they've struggled to write their signatures.
A study of these and other records have shown
that as the 18th century progressed, more people were marrying younger.
Now, why was that?
Previously, men and women were employed to work the land
and "lived in" with their employer,
usually a farmer or big local landowner.
These men liked to keep their young employees single
because married employees had children and were more of a burden.
But advances in farming practice
meant less people were needed to grow food.
So fewer people "lived in"
and more were kicked out.
That meant that there was no master to ask for permission to wed.
These liberated workers began travelling, earning their wages in new industries.
The pay wasn't great but it wasn't based on the sliding scales of farm work.
They reached their peak potential earnings at younger ages
and so were tempted to marry and start a family sooner.
Women with jobs found their earnings could shore up new families,
adding again to the temptation to marry younger.
As for those women who couldn't find work,
well, they were eager to marry young and gain financial protection.
The result? In the early 1700s,
the average age of British brides
had been nearly 27.
By 1800, it had fallen to 23 ½.
Those three additional years of married life were crucial.
Girls were at their most fertile and could produce two additional babies.
# Get it on
# Bang a gong, get it on! #
So at the very moment that Britain was prepared
to take the giant technological leap into the machine age,
it had its largest, youngest population.
And it was a mobile population, able to adapt to change.
Everything was tailored towards delivering the industrial future.
But that industrial future needed feeding
and children played a role in that too.
We tend to think of children from this time
as working in mines and factories,
but, in fact, child labour was ubiquitous.
Almost every workplace would have had children in it.
The biggest employer was actually agriculture.
Agriculture accounted for about a third of children's jobs,
often on small set ups like this one.
This farm was attached to the local rectory
and worked by a small team including boys and girls.
Of course, agriculture is one area
where we still see children working today,
ushered into the life of the farm
under the watchful eye of their parents.
The children of the industrial revolution rarely enjoyed such a gentle introduction.
Unlike the factory apprentices, child farm workers were often the
only children employed on an establishment.
They were also housed with their master or another adult worker,
and there was no one looking over the shoulders of these men
to see how they were treating their child employees.
As a result, these children were often more vulnerable than the children who worked in factories.
For example, men's reminiscences tiptoe around the topic of child sexual abuse.
But in the testimonies I've read, there are two cases where boys were probably molested.
And both involved lonely little farm workers consigned to the care
of other adults, far from the protection of friends and family.
Just like the heavy industries, agriculture had a job for every age group.
The entry level into farm work began at six years old,
when children could be employed as human scarecrows.
When I was six and two months old, I was sent off to work.
I do not think I shall ever forget those long, hungry days in the fields scaring crows.
You can imagine the feeling of loneliness.
Hours and hours passed without a living creature coming near.
I cried most of the time.
In desperation I would shout as loud as I could, "Mother! Mother! Mother!"
But Mother could not hear.
She was working in the hay field two miles away.
By my seventh birthday I was driving the plough.
Any repairs to plough or harness had to be taken to tradesmen.
Once, after working all day long, I had to carry a plough horse collar that required whittling,
and the plough coulter, that needed repairs at the blacksmith.
These two heavy things made a burden far too much for me,
but I had to trudge with them as best I could the mile and a half across the fields to Everdon.
William Arnold was just six years old when he went to work on that farm in Northamptonshire.
This is a horse collar like the one he carried.
Let me show you just how heavy this is.
Now we need the coulter, because he also carried that.
This is part of the plough.
40 pounds. That probably weighs more than he did.
In many ways, the crow scarers and the children fetching and carrying for farm labourers
were on the lowest rung of the employment ladder.
But many testimonies tell us that even at that level and at a young age,
the children saw these punishing labours as an opportunity.
They were proper workers and they wanted to get on.
In our village there was a wealthy banker and justice of the peace.
I began to drive a pair of horses at plough for him.
After a bit, thinking, I suppose, that I was a smart, likely lad, he made me a sort of stable boy
and gave me eight shillings a week to start with.
Here was a rise for a lad who was set on rising as fast and as much as he could.
There were no slack half hours for me, no taking it easy with the other lads.
To make more money, to do more, to know more, to be a somebody in my little world was my ambition.
They might not have had much choice about their employment,
but many children were determined to seize what opportunities come along
with a level of determination and enthusiasm that is astonishing, if sometimes hard to imagine.
Some jobs really did require huge amounts of courage.
With a view of immediately testing my capabilities,
my new master persuaded me to climb a chimney on my very first morning. With feet standing on the grate,
the body would nearly fill up the width of a chimney.
I climbed with my right arm lifted above the head, the left down by my side.
The elbows were pressed hard against the brickwork
to hold the body suspended until the knees were drawn up.
Then the knees on one side and the bare heels on the other held me secure.
While the right hand applied the scraper to bring down the soot, the knees and elbows, through the
constant pressing and the friction with the brickwork, became peeled, thus allowing soot to penetrate.
It caused ugly, festering sores which took several weeks to heal.
Breathing was always more or less a difficulty.
A hood, called a climbing cap, was drawn over the head and tucked in at the neck.
But even with that protection, I was subject to the taste
and inhalation of every kind of soot into my throat and lungs.
Where fires had only just been put out, the sulphurous fumes were sufficient to stifle one.
Once the fumes were so strong that I fell from top to bottom, nigh insensible.
Yes, they really did put kids up chimneys.
This is the kind of normal chimney that George Elson would have been dealing with.
That one is so wide that you would have had no challenge.
He'd have been up and down like greased lightning.
What really tested boys' mettles were chimneys that measured nine inches by nine inches,
which is this size.
To get into and wriggle through and clean something like this
seems practically impossible.
Martin Glynn is president of the National Association of British Chimney Sweeps.
So, Martin, here's a very old chimney, right here.
This is the kind of thing those boys would have to clean.
So, tell us, how did they go about doing it?
Well, the little boys were known as climbing boys,
apprenticed to the trade at seven years old in some cases.
They used to use their elbows and knees to scamper up inside the chimney.
In many cases they stripped naked.
Although they have some sort of early uniform, the soot use to fill the pockets,
and because the chimney design was so small, they became wedged.
So they used to strip naked so they could escape back down the chimney after cleaning.
What equipment did they have?
The little climbing boys, and in some cases girls,
they used to use a small scraper such as this, a little metal scraper with a wooden handle,
and the traditional sweep's handbrush,
which would literally, they would scrape the soot away and brush with the hand brush.
The exploitation of climbing boys and girls was rightly seen at the time as a national scandal.
However, even when new technology was introduced in the form of jointed chimney brushes
and sweeps no longer needed children, it didn't mean the boys and girls were spared.
There was still a great reluctance for the master sweeps of the day to do away with boys.
It was far cheaper to purchase a small boy from a family for a guinea or two,
a few shillings from the poorer families, and in some cases little girls as well.
-Boys and girls were cheaper than brushes?
-Absolutely, at the time.
In one horrible incident in Dover in Kent, where a master had sent a boy
up the chimney with a wet tarpaulin to extinguish a chimney fire,
and apparently he climbed into the flume, very reluctantly, the master threatened to beat him,
he attempted to climb further into the chimney, became stuck in the chimney, wedged,
and apparently they heard his screams for over two miles.
Not exactly chim-chimmeny-choo-ree, Mary Poppins, is it now?
It shows how hard life was and how few opportunities there were
that many climbing boys quit the trade and went off to serve in the armed forces.
The scandal of boy soldiers is something today that we associate
with the most callous regimes in the developing world.
But putting boys into war zones was actually an old British tradition.
For example, there were 13 of them who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar on this ship, HMS Victory.
One of them was a 16-year-old midshipman, Lieutenant William Rivers.
His father was also on board, and William first went to sea with him on Victory aged six and a half,
and he immediately saw action and was wounded off Toulon.
I had the honour of serving in three general actions.
In the first, I received two wounds in my right arm.
In the latter, while receiving orders from his late Lordship, Admiral Nelson,
I received a wound on my face,
which was shortly followed by a gunshot wound which carried away my left leg.
Both William the father and William the son appear in that famous painting,
Death of Nelson by Benjamin West,
with William Jr being dragged off the deck on the bottom corner.
Altogether, 720 boys fought in that battle,
and they served at every single level of the ship society.
Matthew Sheldon is head archivist at Portsmouth's Royal Naval Museum.
Matthew, you've actually got William Rivers' diary.
Yeah, it's quite unusual to actually have a kind of personal account from this date for someone who was young.
He went to sea actually at the age of I think six and a half,
and he then actually stays on the ship, on Victory,
for the next 10 years, right up to the Battle of Trafalgar.
He was exceptional, but probably not unique.
I'm sure he wasn't unique, no. We've got another case
on the people who were on board Trafalgar with a father and a son on board, so that did happen.
So certainly not an exception, but I think six and a half is quite young.
What are the other materials here?
This is a prize money register. When ships were in action, if they captured a ship
the value of the ship was divided among the ship's crew.
We see it shared out after the Battle of Trafalgar, and I particularly like this one for Samuel Robbins here,
who is getting his one pound seventeen and sixpence,
and so there you have a kind of 15 year old Marine Society boy.
-Did he get educated?
-Well, he can certainly sign.
Absolutely. Did he get educated by the Society or did he get some learning on board?
Marine Society boys were the naval equivalent of the parish apprentices.
They were boys who were dependant on the state for their welfare and
who instead of being sent to cotton mills found themselves in naval barracks and trained for the sea.
Not all of these raw recruits were orphans, however.
Many were just kids who found themselves in a spot of bother.
The Marine Society were concerned about the growing number of teenagers
they saw hanging around on the streets, seemingly unsupervised,
a bit like the sort of ASBO kids we have today.
They're like, something must be done. The solution was, why not send them to the sea? They seem quite lively.
That would be the kind of boys initially, but also generally just
people struggling to care for their children.
So sometimes parents would bring their children to the Society?
Sometimes parents, friends... Sometimes masters who would be
dissatisfied with their apprentices would come up and say, "Look, he is incapable of learning the trade.
"He wants to go to sea. Can you take him?"
What was it like for these boys when they found themselves on board ship?
It was obviously a tough change. They lost their home.
They lost any attachment figure they would have had before
and were thrown into this community of sailors - not exactly choirboys -
being 13 or 14-years-old only, so it was surely very intimidating at first.
But we heard horrible cases in battle of boys being injured and people being killed around them.
They all remember their first encounter with death.
It seems something that sticks with them for ever.
The first time that they see someone's head blown away
by a cannon shot, that sticks.
But then what is remarkable from then on,
they all say that they're numbed to the horrors of war.
We had not fired two broadsides before an unlucky shot cut a poor man's head right off!
The horrid sight, I must confess, did not help raise my spirits.
The ship that struck us was so much disabled that she could not live upon the water.
It gave a dreadful reel.
We were afraid to send any boats to help because they would have been sunk
by too many souls getting in her at once.
You could plainly perceive the poor wretches climbing over to winward and crying most dreadfully.
Even our own men were in tears, groaning, "God bless them."
But were they really numb to it?
We've got testimonies that sailors are apparently having seven times more likelihood
of ending up in a lunatic asylum, so really, the signs are that they very much struggled
afterwards, that while they were on board it was all fine and covered up,
but when back on land and alone, then the truth maybe came out and it really showed like if that ever
digested or if that locked it up in like a sea chest deep down in their soul and hope never to open it again.
Obviously these hellish experiences left their mark.
But the testimonies demonstrate that the harshness shown to the children of the revolution
did not stop them from acting selflessly towards others.
Take the older brother of the young Alexander Somerville, the wonderful William.
William was a stripling when I was born, and worked for such wages
as a youth could obtain in that part of the country.
When he came home at night he would strip off his coat, take off his hat,
put on his nightcap and get down the box and sort through the old hemp and scraps of leather.
He'd examine all the children's feet to see which of them had shoes most in need of mending.
And then he would sit down and cobble the shoes by the light of the fire until near midnight.
He would rise at four o'clock in the mornings and do the heaviest part of James' work
amongst the farmers' cows and other cattle
before going to do his own day's work two or three miles distant.
James was too young for the heavy task of cleaning, so William got up
every morning to do that part of his work and so keep James in employment.
The one overriding motivation for these children
was helping the warm heart that was at the centre of their lives.
My brother and I had the deep satisfaction of knowing
it was not through any fault of our mothers
that we were forced to go through so much privation.
She was a good angel in the home, and the one on whom we all had to lean.
"Mother, Mother, I have earned half a sovereign and all of it myself!
"And it is yours, all yours!
"Every bit is yours!"
In time my wages went up to nine shillings a week
and I was able to be a real help to our little household
and lighten somewhat the burden of care
resting on my mother's shoulders.
Boys and their mothers, eh?
But Mums became the centres of their world because more often than not Dads were away or missing.
Their absence was prompted by poverty, death, travelling for work,
and in the case of 10% of the male population,
because of being called away to fight abroad in the Napoleonic wars.
Feckless fathers were often blamed for exploiting their children by the politicians and the upper classes,
but in many ways men were the first victims of industrialisation.
Machines took away their skills and livelihoods
and called upon their children, who were cheaper and more docile.
Those fathers were left behind.
It was when I was about eight years old that our family misfortune fell to our lowest ebb.
The saddling trade in London had been going worse and men were short of work.
The large army contracts for cavalry saddles had now gone to the factories.
It was the beginning of 1876 when my father was turned off from his work and became unemployed.
The effect of these undeserved fortunes on my father was however noticeable to me then and later.
After 1876, he became more and more silent, and even morose.
There is no greater trial to a self-suspecting and good work man
than that of finding his services are not needed,
leaving him to spend his days trying to secured a job,
only to be met by the sign, "No hands wanted."
Add to this the misery and poverty when he returns home,
and it is not surprising that even a strong-minded man should break down.
Given the frequency of broken families, the grinding poverty, and the need to work,
these children could never have enjoyed a childhood as we might know it.
But there again, this was an era where the concept of childhood remained fluid.
People were at odds about what childhood meant, when it started and when it finished.
Even the children were sometimes confused.
In 1850, the journalist Henry Mayhew interviewed a nameless
eight-year-old watercress seller in London's East End.
On and off, I've been very near 12 month in the street.
Before that, I had to take care of a baby for my aunt.
No, it wasn't heavy, only two months old.
But I minded it for ever such a time until it could walk.
Before I had the baby, I used to help my mother who was in the fur trade,
and if there were slits in the fur, I'd sew them up.
All my money I earned, I puts in a club, and draws it out to buy clothes with.
It's better than spending it on sweet stuff, for them that's got a living to earn.
I ain't a child, and I shan't be a woman until I'm 20.
But I'm past eight, I am.
A lot of children, when they started work full-time, and the watercress girl had been in full-time work
since about the age of five, ceased to think of themselves as children.
Sometimes, they felt much better about themselves
when they did start working.
So, what motivated them?
I think that just comes automatically.
You're not earning for yourself, you're learning to tip up the earnings to your mother
who might give you a little bit back but it's basically for the family.
If you can think, my money went towards the joint on Sunday,
the only meat we get in the week, then you're going to feel a sense of self-esteem and pride.
MUSIC: "Everything in Its Right Place" by Radiohead
By the middle of the 19th century, there seems to have been a groundswell of concern
that as a society, we were not allowing kids to be just children.
As early as the 1830s, people are talking about these children being children without childhood.
I think the origin of this, the most immediate origin is the romantic poets,
and it's difficult to exaggerate the impact which Wordsworth had.
Wordsworth got away entirely from the idea of original sin.
He thought children came from heaven, trailing clouds of glory, famously.
So, they can actually rescue adults who have gone astray.
If you begin to internalise this kind of view of childhood,
then the lives of these children at work are anathema.
People are beginning to say, when a child starts work, he or she ceases to be a child.
Certainly that innocence would be lost.
Certainly, the innocence would be lost,
because they'd be mixing with adults,
but they'd be having their childhoods taken away from them.
The only way they would have their childhoods handed back to them
would be if Parliament intervened.
And that was something that initially seemed highly unlikely.
It is not surprising that the first official reports into child labour
were supportive, and written in a stomach-churning, rose-tinted way.
I have visited many factories and I never saw a single
instance of corporal chastisement inflicted on a child,
nor indeed did I ever see children in ill humour.
They seemed to be always cheerful and alert,
and the work of these lively little elves seemed to resemble a sport.
As to exhaustion of their day's work they evinced no trace of it emerging from the mill in the evening,
to commence their little amusements with the same alacrity
as boys issuing from school.
So why did things change?
Why did this place, the Houses of Parliament start to legislate against child labour?
When did Britain begin to think that working kids to death was a bad idea?
Parliament had been largely happy to keep its nose out of the issue of child employment.
Crucially, though, the times were a-changing -
the children who had survived the mines and factories
were growing up, and getting organised into early trade unions.
Popular culture also began to report on the worst abuses.
Dickens started his serialisations
of Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.
And he knew a bit about child labour -
at 12, he'd worked 12-hour shifts in a blacking factory
with boy called Fagin.
Slowly reform began to manoeuvre itself onto the political agenda.
In 1831, radical MP John Hobhouse tried to introduce a bill restricting child labour.
He proposed that no child under nine should work in a factory
and that 9-to-18-year-olds' hours of work should be limited to 12 a day or 66 a week.
In response to his efforts, workers around the country
formed short time committees to promote the cause
and argue for more legislation.
Is it not a shame and disgrace that, in a land called
"the land of the Bibles", children of a tender age
should be torn from their beds by six in the morning, and confined,
in pestiferous factories, until eight in the evening?
Ten hours a day, with eight on Saturdays, is our motto...
may it be yours.
In 1832, MP Michael Sadler became the main spokesman
for the Short Time Committees.
Mass meetings in the factory districts drew crowds of 100,000 and more in support.
And while Parliament continued to resist reform, it did give Sadler the authority to launch an enquiry.
That commission interviewed 48 child workers and when his findings were published in 1833,
they shocked genteel British society.
While I am earnestly pleading the cause of these oppressed children,
what numbers of them are still tethered to their toil,
confined in heated rooms, stunned with the roar of revolving wheels,
poisoned by the noxious effluvia of grease and gas,
till weary and exhausted, they turn shivering to beds from which
a relay of their young work fellows have just risen.
The same year, 1833, the first Factory Act was passed,
unfortunately, it only applied to the textile industry.
However, it did ban children under nine from working, and limited the
hours of work of children aged nine to 13 to nine a day.
But its real significance was that it laid down a marker for future reform.
Reports from the front line of child labour began to filter back to the middle classes.
Most shocking of all were accounts of underground work in Britain's coal mines.
But what caused the uproar was not the hazardous work of children
in these pits, it was topless ladies.
In some pits, it was practice for women and young boys to be chained
to the carts that the miners filled with coal.
They then dragged them to the surface through black, hot, filthy tunnels
where the heat was so fierce
they usually stripped to the waist to cope.
When these artists' recreations of their working conditions
were published, they caused a furore.
This is the Big Pit in Blaenavon,
one of the places industrial Britain was born, in iron, coal and steel.
The pit was started in 1840 and it's a museum now,
but you can still get underground, and see some of the old seams.
When you get down there, you get a real sense of what was asked of the child miners.
There we go. OK, this way everyone, please. Thank you.
Come on in.
This is gloomy, down here.
This is how it was.
So, a little boy or girl would be...
-A little boy or girl would stand...
-Sitting right there?
Sitting by the side of the door and they would listen for horses.
When the horses come along, they would open the door,
they would let the horses go through and they would close the door. 10 hours a day.
Back in those days, they had company in the timberwork.
-They would have insects, cockroaches.
Running around their feet, rats.
I thought you are going to get to the rats.
-Mostly the children, they worked in the dark, they had no lights.
-Didn't they have a candle?
If the families could afford candles. But as you can imagine,
candles were a naked flame, candles were dangerous with gas.
So we'll turn our lights out
and I'll ask you to take one of your hands, put it against your nose
and tell me if you can see your fingers.
Shall we try that now? Take one of your hands against your nose.
-Can you see your fingers?
-I cannot see anything.
So, imagine these children in this, for 10 hours a day.
I'm a trapper in the Gawber Pit.
It does not tire me, but I have to trap without a light and I'm scared.
I go in at four and sometimes half-past three in the morning and come out at half-past five.
I never go to sleep.
Sometimes I sing when I've light, but not in the dark.
I don't like being in the pit.
After the scandal of the climbing boys,
the sacrifice of the child soldiers, and the shame of the pit and factory girls,
parliament finally began to face up to the situation.
Even then, though, it was a struggle.
The story of that struggle is locked away in here,
the Victoria Tower in the Houses of Parliament.
It's not so hard to understand why there were so many twists
and turns in Parliament's relationship with child labour.
It was a Parliament that was not just sympathetic to the interests of manufacturers and mine owners,
it was largely made up of manufacturers and mine owners.
But is still staggering that reform took so long.
Inside this sealed vault is every piece of legislation
passed by Parliament since 1460.
Each of these rolled-up scrolls is a bill,
and even the organisation of these scrolls
shows what an infuriating time the reformers had in effecting change.
Now we can see how frustrating and prolonged this struggle really was.
This document, down here, is the first protective
labour legislation for children, the Parish Apprentices Act of 1802.
Limited to parish apprentices and largely toothless.
These documents are arranged chronologically.
It's like walking through legislative history.
We have to go all the way down there and all the way back here,
still in the 1800s but there's a long way to go
before we get to any more protective labour legislation.
OK. 1810. 1815...
1819, The Cotton Factories Act.
I'm not going to get it down for obvious reasons,
but that Act tried to limit the age of starting work to nine years old.
1820s, more 1820s.
Into the 1830s.
To here. 1833. The first piece of protective labour legislation
that's really effective, limiting the length of the working day.
But we actually have to go next door for the material that really bites.
As you see, they've changed the system by this time.
But here we have it, this is the Factory Act of 1884.
It limited the length of the working day for children under 13 to six and a half hours.
41 years of argument, debate, struggle and investigation
for three and half hours of children's working time.
Meanwhile, out in the real world,
there's huge sectors of employment that were totally unregulated
and crying out for reform.
For example, construction.
I worked at a brick and tile works that was three miles from our home.
Each day, a six-mile walk was added to the day's work of 12 hours.
The work was heavy for a lad of my age.
Each brick weighed about nine pounds,
and in the course of a day I carried several tons of clay bricks.
We usually started work at six in the morning,
when I would pick up the bricks from the floor of the shed.
For this I received seven shillings a week.
My mother said that the work was too hard and the distance too long
for me to walk every morning and night.
She told me the money would be missed, someone would have to go short.
But it was no use being slowly killed by such work as I was doing,
and it was making me hump-backed.
It was not until I had been away from the work for several weeks
that I was able to straighten myself out again.
In those reminiscences, Will Thorne recalled being a nine-year-old worker in the 1860s.
This brick-making kiln is similar to the one that would have employed Will.
This barrow is like the one that he'd have to move, loaded with bricks.
There's 25 bricks here, which would have been a child's load.
Adults moved 50.
I think I'm supposed to try and move this.
Whoa. This isn't easy.
It's not easy at all!
The bricks I've just smashed were made here,
at Bliss Hill Victoria Museum, by Tony Mugridge, the last independent travelling brickmaker in Britain.
I'm standing back out of the spatter path because this is kind of messy.
But, Tony, we are interested in how they managed to get round
the child labour legislation in the brick fields and maintain children's employment.
There's a very clever thing.
What would happen is that the people would be employed, the workers,
men and women, in the brick fields.
There were employed by the brickmaker.
If the brickmaker employed children, he'd be breaking the law.
So what he did, he'd employ the people to employ their own children.
By doing it that way, they got round it all.
What kind of jobs did the kids do?
The children would be preparing the clay down in the soap pit over there.
They would pick the clay up and carry it to the work benches.
The clay is very heavy.
A lump like this...
I believe you. I believe you.
We are probably talking around 12 to 14 lb weight of clay.
By the time they are eight, nine and 10, they are able to move the brick barrows easily
and by the time they are 11 or 12, they're making bricks.
Will is a great example of how the child workers were far bolshier than we give them credit for.
He first went on strike at the ripe old age of six.
Not surprisingly, he grew up to be a union leader
and then later a member of parliament.
He enjoyed a distinguished career until he retired in 1946, aged 84.
The industrial generation powered Britain's journey towards
wealth and influence, and then set about improving the lot of those youngsters who followed on behind.
As that generation grew up, they began to organise into trade unions
and to campaign for changes in employment law.
As a result, kids started to disappear from the workplace
and slowly parliament began to back a new solution
to the problem of what to do with children.
Labour is replaced by learning and childhood becomes defined by new rite of passage. Education.
By the end of the 19th century,
school leaving age provides a clear boundary, and one enshrined in law.
Instead of being seen as fuel FOR the future,
children BECAME the future.
In effect, that old romantic notion finally came of age.
Childhood is important.
It needs protecting.
Children are special.
And the children who survived the first industrial revolution
were even more so.
We've always given these children our pity
but it's our respect they deserve.
They were heroes, whether there's a statue to them or not.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
The catalyst to Britain's Industrial Revolution was the slave labour of orphans and destitute children. In this shocking and moving account of their exploitation and eventual emancipation, Professor Jane Humphries uses the actual words of these child workers (recorded in diaries, interviews and letters) to let them tell their own story. She also uses groundbreaking animation to bring to life a world where 12-year-olds went to war at Trafalgar and six-year-olds worked the fields as human scarecrows.