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The combination of dangerous working conditions and long hours in cotton mills meant that children worked as hard as any adult because there were no laws to protect them. There were no health and safety laws at all in those days!
Children were cheaper to employ than adults and much easier to keep under control. The use of child labour was vital to Britain's industrial success in the 19th century.
Children worked in many industries and in terrible conditions, not just in cotton mills. They could be found down mines, in iron foundries, brick works, match factories, sweeping chimneys and many other places.
They were often taken advantage of and didn't have anyone to speak up for them. This was a time when very few working class adults had the vote, so children were not considered very important at all.
Some important people, like Robert Owen believed that child labour was terrible. Mr Owen and others, like Lord Shaftesbury (Earl of Shaftesbury) and Robert Peel worked hard to persuade the government and the public that it was wrong for children to suffer health problems and miss out on schooling due to work.
It took a long time for the government to decide that working children ought to be protected by laws. This was because many people did not see anything wrong with the idea of children earning their keep. Eventually after many years, laws were introduced which attempted to try to protect children from terrible working conditions, reduce their long working hours and eventually end child labour in Britain. These first laws were called the Factory Acts. Even then, it was difficult to enforce the law. Going to school wasn't made compulsory for every child in Scotland until 1874. So, Mr Owen really was ahead of his time. The children of New Lanark had been going to school since 1816!
|New Lanark World Heritage Site
South Lanarkshire, Scotland, ML11 9DB
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