On this day in history….2nd July 1819

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….

Public domain

On this day in history….7th August 1840

On this day in history : 7th August 1840 – The practice of sending children up chimneys in order to sweep them is banned in Britain….

Climbing boys (and sometimes girls) were technically chimney sweeps’ apprentices…. Master sweeps would often be paid by the Parish to teach orphans and pauper children the trade…. Once signed over by the authorities or guardian the child would be bound over to the sweep…. His obligations were to teach the craft, provide food and a second set of clothing, make sure his apprentice washed once a week and attend Church on a Sunday…. It was also stipulated a child could not be sent up a chimney that was on fire…. Apprentices were not paid for their work….

The Temperance Sweep from ‘Street Life in London’ – LSE Library via Flickr

It was a cruel, harsh and dangerous occupation…. Children as young as four would be sent up chimneys that could be flues as narrow as 9 x 9 inches…. It was not uncommon for the climbers to get stuck; death by suffocation or burning in the hot, soot encrusted chimneys happened all too often…. Soot, being carcinogenic, caused chimney sweep’s cancer (soot wart) – which affects the scrotum….and was found in boys as young as 8-years-old…. This disease has the distinction of being the first ever recognised occupational cancer….

These children were seldom treated kindly by their masters – in fact they were frequently viewed as commodities….to be sold to other sweeps – fetching between 7 shillings and 4 guineas….

A master chimney sweep and his apprentice – public domain

In 1840 the Revised Chimney Sweeps Act was brought in, raising the minimum age of apprenticeship to sixteen…. However, it was widely ignored as there was no way of enforcing the legislation….still children, many under the age of ten, were forced to climb chimneys….

In 1863 Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water Babies’ was published and raised public awareness to the plight of children being mistreated through this type of employment…. A new Chimney Sweeps Regulation Act came into force in 1864 – but once again it was ineffective….

1875 saw the Chimney Sweeps’ Act….making is compulsory that all chimney sweeps had to be licensed…. This time the enforcement of the law was overseen by the police – effectively bringing an end to the exploitation of children in this way in Britain….

The Little Chimney Sweep – public domain