The Industrial Revolution of England was one of the most significant events in the creation of modern society. Not only was the revolution a time of great technological change but also social change. This report will cover a brief history of the main events and factors involved in the English Industrial Revolution (any reference to “Industrial Revolution” will referrer to the English Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th century; unless otherwise noted). The main focus of the report will deal with the child labor associated with the industrial revolution. Areas of child labor that will be explored include:
  • Definition of Child Labor
  • Types and Need for Child Labor
  • Working Conditions
  • Extent of Child Labor Use
  • Ending of Child Labor
English Industrial Revolution Overview
As times changed people changed too. The agricultural system in England had become more advanced allowing farmers to produce more crops using less resources (Kreis, 2006). As a result farmers could now afford to buy more than just the ‘needs’, they could now get their ‘wants’ too. The farming advances and people moving towards the cities in search of work were early catalysis to the industrial revolution says Kreis. The added wealth associated with the increased productivity of the agricultural sector increased the demand for manufactured goods. The demand required record numbers of laborers to produce the necessary goods. This increased demand also sparked tradesmen and carpenters to create new and innovative approaches for increased productivity of manufacturing processes.

As the end of the 18th century is reached major improvements in industrial manufacturing have taken place. The invention of the cotton spinning jenny by James Hargreaves during 1765 along with the 1775 advancements by James Watt to the steam engine and by 1779 the steam engine has been installed in cotton mills to drastically improve the speed at which cotton can be spun (Landow, 2006). These two inventions along with a few other advancements lead to as much as 10 times the cotton produced in 1790 than just 20 year prior (Kreis, 2006).

The use of the steam engine in the mills allowed the mills to move into the cities and towns from their previous locations along waterways because they no longer needed the water for power (Tuttle, 2001). Tuttle also connects that the increased work that could be done in the mills required more labor and factory owners had previously relied on orphans to do the work but now they are able to open up the work to more children.
Definition of Child Labor

Throughout this report child labor will be focusing on labor outside the home; particularly that of child labor in cotton factories. Child labor did exist in other industries such as mining, and agriculture during the same time but the inclusion of these areas within this report would only increase the length and not the validity of this report. Many of the aspects discussed in this report were true in these other areas also. Children will be defined, as under the age of 16, despite this fact some of the report will involve workers over the age of 16.

Types and Need for Child Labor
The two most common forms of child labor have become labeled as “Parish apprentice children” and “free labour children” according to Reed (2001). The “Parish apprentice children” were some of the first children to be brought into the factory setting. These were children who had been taken in by the government and placed in orphanages (Reed, 2001). Rich factory owners approached parish leaders with the idea of them taking in children and feeding, housing and providing for those children in exchange for the children’s work in their factories (Tuttle, 2001). Tuttle also points out, these children were not paid a wage for the work they did; the compensation in basic needs was considered enough and in many cases just barely enough to survive on. These children were subject to unhealthy working conditions, long hours, and harsh punishment (Tuttle, 2001). It has been estimated, as much one-third of the workers in the country mills during 1784 were perish apprentice children (Collier, 1964).

This was the case for many of the mills that were located along waterways and many times not in the larger cities (Tuttle, 2001). The children were often taken to these mills from larger towns. Tuttle also mentions that when the steam engine was invented and mills moved to larger towns a new option for workers came about, the children of the lower class. These people were hardly making it by and they could use any extra income possible. The factory owners started employing these children for extremely low wages, in some case a mere penny a day. These children were given the title of “free labour children (Reed, 2001).”

Working Conditions
The working conditions of the mills children were employed at are greatly debated. Reports were written on the conditions of these mills and the committees established to looking into the problem. Despite this the validity of these reports has come into question because the authors were interested in passing of labor laws and it is believed that these reports were falsified to aid in the passing of the laws (Reed, 2001). Two distinctive opinion groups have formed relating to the conditions of such factories. They are often referred to as the pessimist and optimists. Tuttle describes the view of working conditions in the factories as seen by the pessimists Alfred (1857), Engels (1926), and Marx (1909):

“Children worked under deplorable conditions and were being exploited by the industrialists. A picture was painted of the “dark satanic mill” where children as young as five and six years old worked for twelve to sixteen hours a day, six days a week without recess for meals in hot, stuffy, poorly lit, overcrowded factories to earn as little as four shillings per week (Tuttle, 2001).”

The optimists on the other hand were looking at the value that came from the labor provided by these children. In many cases these were the factory owners and managers who benefited from the labor. They would argue that the children’s employment was beneficial to “the child, family, and country (Tuttle, 2001).” Tuttle also points out the argument that the factory work was no harder then agricultural work previously done by children.

Despite the two extremist views of the working conditions for children in factories it is clear that children were often times not treated fairly. With this wide range of views on the conditions behind child labor it is unclear to exactly what extent the children were treated unfairly. Based on today’s standards children it would not be considered acceptable for children under the age of ten to be working in factories for any period of time.

Extent of Child Labor
The extent to which child labor was used is staggering to consider. The actually number of children working in cotton mills is hard to come up with. In the early part of the industrial revolution no English censuses were taken that counted children working until the 1841 census (Tuttle, 2001). As seen by Table 1, the breakdown of the starting age of child laborers in the cotton factories of Manchester and Stockport estimated from later inquiries, nearly half of the workers in the factories started while they were under the age of 10 (BPP 1818; BPP 1819). The same report also noted that another 27.9 percent of the workforce started between the age of 10 and 13. When factory owners were questioned, during congressional investigations into child labor, about why they used child labor many of the responses were similar to the following: “Children are most expert, active, and complete when taken young, and a decided preference is given to them afterwards (Galbi, 1994).” The 1841 British Census reports that the textile industry employed almost 107,000 children and the children accounted for a significant portion of the employees in the textile industry (Tuttle, 2001).


Ending of Child Labor
Many factors came into play to bring about a change in the use of child labor. Some people were concerned with the social and physical wellbeing of the children working in the factories. One of the most debated issues related to the decline in child labor is that adults were being withheld work so that children could do the jobs because the factories didn’t have to pay the children like they do adults (Tuttle, 2001). Reed discusses the decline in child labor as a sense of economic terms:

“So it is that child labor was relieved of its worst attributes not by legislative fiat, but by the progressive march of an ever more productive, capitalist system. Child labor was virtually eliminated when, for the first time in history, the productivity of parents in free labor markets rose to the point that it was no longer economically necessary for children to work (Reed, 2001).”

The British government took steps to protect children from the harsh atmosphere of by passing numerous acts. The first came in 1819 with the Cotton Factories Regulation Act of 1819 that regulated the minimum age of workers at 9 years old and they could only work a maximum of 12 hours per day (Tuttle, 2001). Tuttle also mentions that the Regulation of Child Labor Law of 1833 created government inspectors to oversee factories to ensure they were following child work guidelines. One of the final regulations that the British parliament passed to regulate working conditions was the Ten Hour Bill of 1847, which limited the working day of women and children to ten hours per day (Tuttle, 2001).

The English Industrial Revolution was a time that brought about major changes to the manufacturing and economic societies of the entire world. The technological advances of the time were quite extraordinary but with such advances they bring about a new social order. During this revolution children were one of the groups that were drastically affected because they were called to work in the factories. The demand for manufactured goods had increased to such a level that there was a shortage of workers who were willing to learn the new technologies of the textile mills. Children became the next best option for the workforce because they were young and easily taught new task while being obedient and respectful of authority (Tuttle, 2001).

Works Cited
Alfred (Samuel Kydd). The History of the Factory Movement. London: Simpkin Marshall, and Co., 1857

BPP (1818) Minutes of Evidence on the Health and Morals of Apprentices and others employed in Cotton Mills and Factories. Sessional Papers, House of Lords, vol. 96, appendix

BPP (1919) Minute of Evidence on the State and Condition of the Children employed in Cotton Factories, Sessional Papers, House of Lords, vol. 110, appendix

Collier, F. (1964). The Family Economy of the Working Classes in the Cotton Industry, 1784-1833. Manchester: Manchester university Press.

Engels, Fredrick. The Condition of the Working Class in England. Translated by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, Moscow. London: E.J. Hobsbaum, 1969 [1926]

Galbi, D. A. (1994, June 13). Child Labor and the Division of Labor in the Early English Cotton Mills. Retrieved October 24, 2009 from

Horrell, S., & Humphries, J. (1995). The Exploitation of Little Children': Child Labor and the Family Economy in the Industrial Revolution. Explorations in Economic History , 32(4).

Kreis, S. (2006, October 11). The Origins of the Industrial Revolution in England. Retrieved October 24, 2009 from History Guide:

Landow, G. P. (2006, January 26). The Industrial Revolution: A Time Line. Retrieved October 24, 2009 from The Victorian Web:

Marx, Karl. Capital. Vol. 1. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1909

Reed, L. W. (2001, December 7). Child Labor and the British Industrial Revolution . Retrieved October 25, 2009 from Mackinac Center for Public Policy:

Tuttle, C. (2001, August 14). Child Labor during the British Industrial Revolution. (R. Whaples, Ed.) Retrieved October 24, 2009 from EH.Net Encyclopedia:

Additional Resources
An Online Guide to Textile Industry during the Industrial Revolution - Submitted by students at Pinewood Elementary School.