Hard at Work in Factories and Mines: The Economics of Child Labor during the British Industrial Revolution

By Carolyn Tuttle | Go to book overview

7
Is Child Labor a Fading Memory?

The employment of children and youths decreased by the end of the nineteenth century but had not disappeared altogether. Many boys and girls were still working in the textile fictories while young men continued to work in the coal and metal mines. A Report on Proposed Changes in Hours and Ages of Employment in Textile Factories ( 1873[754] LV) revealed that despite child labor legislation a large number of children were still employed. The figures in Table 7.1 show the number of children over the age of nine who were working in textile factories and mills up to ten hours a day in Great Britain in 1870. The largest number of children--333,041--were employed in the cotton factories, although a considerable number still worked in flax, worsted, wool and silk mills. In fact, over seventy-five percent of the workers in the cotton, flax, worsted and silk manufactories were still children. Clearly, child labor had not disappeared from the textile industries of Great Britain by 1870.

In coal and metal mining, boys and young men were still working underground by mid-century. Based on the commissioners' observations and a few selected enumerations, the presence of children and youths in coal and metal mines is confirmed. After examining the coil fields of Monmouthshire, Brecon and Glamorganshire, Commissioner H. Seymour Tremenheere reported, "The employment underground of boys under 10 years of age had also been resumed in several works by admission of the managers and their mineral agents. At Blaenavan, the mineral agent very frankly stated that there were at least 30 out of 120 boys underground under the legal age" ( 1850[1248] XXIII:63). Similarly, Commissioner Tremenheere's report of South Staffordshire and Worcestershire coal fields gives the impression that young children were still working underground in 1851.

The crying reproach, however, in regard to the great mass of the mining population of the district, and of those engaged in analogous occupations, remains in full force-that of sacrificing the best interests of their children by sending them to work at the earliest possible age, in order to profit by the small sums they can earn. The excuse that such additions to the receipts of the family are necessary can seldom be valid in this neighborhood, where wages are so high. . .( 1851[1406]) XXIII:3).

-213-

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