in the Industrial Revolution to Today


gives us some examples of the cruel way children were
exploited during the Industrial Revolution. Several of
Charles Dickens novels give vivid descriptions of the
schools and the workhouse, and Charles Kingsley’s ” Water
Babies” gives some idea of the miserableChild sweep.
life of the young boys who worked as chimney sweeps.

works tell us of the philanthropic provision of schools
for teaching spinning and weaving and dwell on the system
of reward for diligence and good behaviour such as two
shillings for paying the Hearth Money tax or “a portion of
bread to be distributed every Sunday after Divine

insulting and hypocritical the smug middle classes became
and what’s more, they were to prosper further at the
expense of child labour.

Industrial Revolution took time to take effect in Scotland
and it was from the mid 18th century that families began
moving from their rural homes and settle in what were to
become the major engineering, chemical and shipbuilding
towns along the River Clyde. Be in no doubt of the
magnitude of the change taking place as by the end of the
nineteenth century the central belt of Scotland was the
most heavily industrialised area on earth.

The mill

development of power looms saw more jobs become available
that were suitable for women and children. This was a
great change as the children moved from a home working
environment where there was some relaxation to the less
personal and supervised factory conditions. Some
manufacturers believed there were advantages in employing
young, small children to clear fluff from under the looms,
and that they should be under 12 years of age if they were
to be trained for future work in the mill.

Better Late than Never.

and Morals of Apprentices Act 1802
restricted work hours of pauper children to 12 hours a

Act 1819
employment children under 9 years prohibited
hours of work for under 16 yrs limited to 12 hours a

Act 1833
government inspectors appointed to enforce the law.

Act 1842
prohibited employment of women and young children
below ground

Education Act 1872
compulsory school attendance for children between the
ages of 5 and 13.

Amongst the
better arrangements to come out of the new mechanical age
was the New Lanark mills of David Dale who built a
barracks capable of housing 500 orphaned children. These
were a model of cleanliness , with the children clothed
and educated whilst also working in the mills during a 13
hour day. Clearly not wholely philanthropic in its initial
provision, it was Dale’s son in law, Robert Owen, who took
things further. Under Owen no children worked under the
age of ten but went to day school, those over ten having
an evening school for an hour and a half. Owen`s regime
was strict and sought to change not only working
conditions but also the home life and attitudes of the
workers. Homes were visited and inspected by supervisors
who would make unannounced visits to see the home, check
its cleanliness, hygene, and the workers conduct away from
the mill. Whatever we might think about such 
encouraged the employees to help to improve themselves,
gave them pride in their work and themselves.

the long hours and demand of the overseers to keep up with
the “rhythm of the machines” often led to terrible
accidents withTime for work
fingers crushed or amputated, limbs caught in unguarded
machinery or the child dragged by their ragged clothing
into the machines. Chest illnesses such as pneumonia and
bronchitis were prevalent and made worse in the wet
spinning flax factories where barefooted girls from ten to
fourteen years of age worked, soaked to the skin, on wet
stone floors. Tuberculosis was rife especially in the dry
and dusty conditions to be found in cotton spinning, such
that boys employed there were noticeably thinner and paler
then elsewhere.


There were
two main coal fields, those of the West of Scotland in
Ayrshire and Lanarkshire; and the coal fields of Fife in
the East. They were major sources of work and became
increasingly important with the mining of iron ore and
development of the iron, engineering and ship building

How sad the
coal miner who said:

“Children were and are property, for they are taken down as soon as they can carry coal “.

The fate of
the children in the mining communities is a harsh story
compounded by the system of serfdom that existed and which
meant that a son followed his father under ground. There
existed a system of “arles” – the accepting of a present
in exchange for an oath to serve; some children were
caught up in it as early as their christening when a
parent accepted a present; or by parents signing documents
committing them to serve when old enough.

In the West
of Scotland mines only boys from about 8 years of age went
underground for a 11-13 hour day. In the East girls and
boys of six or seven years of age went underground for a
14 hour day. Women and children began to be exempted from
working underground from about 1800 but not so in the East
where the practice continued until the 1840’s.

The boys
would be required to haul a small truck, tied to their
waist, with 2 – 5 cwts of coal (224 – 560lbs or 100 – 250
kg), through a passage only 16 – 20 inches high. The lucky
ones might get a job opening and closing the traps for the
face workers and coal movers to pass from one part of a
shaft to another. The older boys would be allowed to join
the men as face workers when thought to be competent to do
so – this meant more money.

The women
and young girls would carry heavy loads (up to about a
hundredweight and a half (168lbs or 76 kilos) ) from the
coal face to pit head for up to 13 hours a day. One six
year old girl is reported as carrying half a hundredweigh
(56lbs- 25kg) per load; another who could carry two
hundredweight (224 lbs – 100 kg) at age fifteen. Is it any
wonder that they suffered crippling injuries and physical
deformity from labouring underground as they too, suffered
the “black spit” – silicosis, that made the face worker or
hewer an invalid by the age of 40. The whole family
working in the mine had its effect on the home which was
of squalor – a family of parents and seven children living
in a single room ten feet by fourteen feet, furnished with
two ramshackle beds and tattered covers was said to be


1861 Census showed
34 % of all Scottish houses had 1 room
37 % had 2 rooms
50 % of the population of the industrial towns lived
in 1 or 2 rooms
(compared to 7 % in England)

The slum

The slums
arose often in previously “genteel” districts”, crowded
ghettos with whole families in a single, damp and
unventilated room. Access to the home was through alleys
and courtyards which were often no more than a dung yard
where it was said, tenants “hoarded their own dung to help
pay the rent”.

In the home
clothing was often shared to allow some of the family to
go outside, while others stayed in their ragged communal
bed. These same crowded rooms would also be home to
lodgers despite there being no privacy for family members.

The rapid
growths of the slums and return of disease saw an
inevitable rise in child deaths and the return of
chidren’s complaints such as rickets. The conditions were
ripe for bronchitis and pneumonia, measles, diptheria and
other highly contagious infections such as measles.

The first
three years of life were the vital years for a child who
if surviving by then stood a reasonable chance of reaching
maturity. Some estimates suggest that about half of the
children born in any year would die before they reached 10
years old. And the long working hours had another
unexpected effect: two thirds of the poor had no direct
connection with a church and its moralising influence.

Infant Mortality

comparative death rate for children under one year old
in Scotland
1855-59 118 per 1000 of live births
1895 -99 130 per 1000
1900-04 122 per 1000
1998 5.5 per 1000

deaths did not fall very rapidly during the Victorian era
until there was positive action about the slums in the
years after the the report by Edwin Chadwick in 1842 on
the sanitary conditions among the labouring class. Even so
the tenement slums of the Gorbals area of Glasgow in the
early 20th century took over fifty years to clear and
rehouse the population.


was for a long time ahead of England and the near
continent in giving care to children through the influence
of the kirk but slipped behind as the kirk’s influence
wained in the very areas where help was needed the most in
the slums.

nineteenth century saw such as Thomas Guthrie (1803 –
1873), minister at Greyfriars in Edinburgh who was a
leading figure in his day in the Temperance movement and
who was responsible for setting up schools for the vagrant
children – “street arabs” he called them (a description
that was later used by the famous Dr. Barnardo, who
shipped hundreds of thousands of “Home Children” to the
colonies). Another Scot who did good works was William
Quarrier who in 1829 set up orphanages for homeless
children in the village of Bridge of Weir.

England, where the problems associated with urban growth
and the Industrial Revolution began sooner than in
Scotland, non conformist faiths began to set up Sunday
schools under the influence of Robert Raikes in 1780, and
purpose built orphanages shortly followed. As early as
1743 John Wesley had founded his Orphans House in
Newcastle; a free dispensary for the sick poor in 1746 and
a charity school in London in 1747.

Muller of the Plymouth Brethren set up an orphanage in
Bristol in 1832; C. H. Spurgeon, a Baptist minister did so
at Stockwell, London in 1867; Dr T. B. Stephenson in 1871
at Lambeth (London) which became the National Children’s
Home; and Dr Thomas Barnado his home in 1870.

In 1881
Edward Rudolf founded the Church of England Incorporated
Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays (it
became The Childrens Society in 1946) and was among the
first to coordinate help for the disabled or “crippled”
who were particularly discriminated against.

charitable societies, led by the Rev Benjamin Waugh,
combined their interests in the formation of the National
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
in 1888 and campaigned hard for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Children Act of 1891. Legislation was finally enacted
at the turn of the century to enable the the police to act
in cases of ill treatment or if a child was in danger.

So began
the 20th century possessed of the necessary tools to do
something meaningful and quickly where a child was found
to be in need of care. It had taken the best part of 500
hundred years to curtail cruelty to children in the work

these advances, as of 31 March 1999 there were about
11,200 children “in care” in Scotland – 1 per cent of all
children under 18 years of age. Sadly, even as we turn the
next corner into the 21st century, we still read of cases
of terrible cruelty to the innocents and now the social
problems brought about by drugs and alcohol. – how many
children will , as one Scottish seven year old did, take a
cache of heroin to school to give to his teacher “because
it is killing my mummy “.

It is still
the determined efforts of the charity workers that brings
attention to the needs of children. How many more cycles
of oppression, cruelty and abuse do the children have to
endure without our learning from the agonies of the past.
? Will cruelty in the home also take 500 years to abolish?
I hope not.

Next: The
Dustbin Kids.