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Duration: 1 hour

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.

Last on

Wed 10 Aug 2011 22:30 BBC Four

  • BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: The Industrial Revolution

    BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: The Industrial Revolution

    In the first of two programmes, listen to Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Industrial Revolution.

    Listen to BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: The Industrial Revolution
  • BBC Learning Zone Broadband

    BBC Learning Zone Broadband

    Free video and audio teaching resources for all subjects of the primary and secondary curriculum.

    Watch video clips on child labour from Learning Zone Broadband
  • Jane Humphries

    Jane Humphries is a fellow of All Soul Souls College and a Professor of Economic History at Oxford University and the author of "Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution".

    In "The Children Who Built Victorian England" she uses the biographies, letters, diaries and documents of hundreds of working children to tell the story of the Industrial Revolution from their perspective. By accessing their testimonies she allows them to speak up for themselves and what they have to say may surprise you. These children weren’t mindless drones or soul-less victims; they were feisty, clever, gutsy and determined people who collectively made sure that future generations did not suffer the same fate they did.

    The programme also sees Jane visiting Jane visits the places where the children worked as she tries to get a picture of how widespread the practice of child labour was. She also looks at the kind of jobs that, 200 years ago, were seen as appropriate for children.

    More tellingly she also reveals the social conditions which created a population boom amongst the poor - one which was exploited by the early industrialists. For example most of the new factories were built in sparsely populated areas and so their workforce was provided through the trafficking of orphans from the cities. These destitute children aged eight and sometimes younger, who were handed over by the Parish authorities and signed up to work for free until they reached adulthood. Without this available slave labour many businesses would never have got off the ground.

  • About the Animation

    The animation for the programme was created by artists from the BBC Wales Graphics department as well as current and former students of the Newport Animation School.

    The students took part in the programme as part of their degree course where they are set real "live" briefs from the media industry.

    This is the first time the school has worked with the BBC and has resulted in the students getting their first on screen credits.


Executive Producer
Christina Macauley


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