On this day in history : 2nd July 1819 – A Cotton Mills & Factories Act is passed in Britain, prohibiting children under 9 from working in textile mills and older children from working more than 12 hours a day….

Image : The Wellcome Collection CC BY 4.0

Children as young as 5 or 6 were often forced to work day and night, with little or no education and very few meal breaks….

Prompted by previous social reform work, undertaken by Welsh textile manufacturer Robert Owen, investigations into child labour were carried out by the committees of Robert Peel and of the House of Lords…. This resulted in the Factory Act of 1819, which was to be the first in a set of laws to improve working hours and conditions in the cotton mills…. However, there were no inspectors to enforce the laws and local magistrates had to be relied upon…. Mill owners argued that parents wanted their children to work – and many a child’s age was lied about….

A further Act was passed in 1833 which forbade night work for the under 18s…. The government also pressed for two hours a day schooling…. Four paid inspectors were appointed to enforce the regulations…. In 1844 schooling was increased to three hours and these children became known as ‘part-timers’, as between the ages of 8-13 the working day was restricted to 6.5 hours so they could attend lessons…. It was also in 1844 that the working day was reduced to 10.5 hours for women and 13-18 year olds….

Child labour finally stopped in the cotton mills around 1918 when the education system was reformed and half-time schooling was phased out….

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