What were Victorian factories like?
Britain was the first country in the world to have lots of factories. Factory machines made all kinds of things. Machines did jobs, such as spinning, previously been done by families at home.
Factories were noisy. People had to shout above the rattle and hiss of machinery. They breathed air full of dust, oil and soot. Iron and steel works got so hot that workers dripped with sweat. Flames and sparks lit up the sky darkened by smoke from factory chimneys.
What were cotton mills?
Cotton mills were factories where cotton was spun into thread. In woollen mills, wool was spun in a similar way. Weaving machines turned the thread into textiles, such as cloth and carpets. In Victorian Britain, the cotton and wool industries employed thousands of workers, mostly in the north of England.
Mill workers lived in small houses close to the factories.
Why was factory work dangerous?
Factory owners employed children because they were cheap, did not complain, had nimble fingers, and could crawl about under machines.
Small girls worked in mills as 'piecers'. They mended broken threads. 'Scavengers' crawled beneath clattering machines to pick up scraps of cotton. They risked getting caught in the machinery, losing hair or arms. Yet most mill-owners thought factory work was easy. At first, there were no laws to protect working children.
New laws to protect children
People called reformers, such as Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885), argued in Parliament for laws to stop child-work. Inspectors, called Commissioners, went into factories and mines. They talked to working children to find out the facts. These are three of the new laws passed by Parliament.
1841 Mines Act - No child under the age of 10 to work underground in a coal mine.
1847 Ten Hour Act - No child to work more than 10 hours in a day.
1874 Factory Act - No child under the age of 10 to be employed in a factory.