Children's Employment Commission Part II
This huge government publication of 1842 contains evidence on the employment of children. Evidence is given by interviews with the employers, adult workers and children, relating to the work and lifestyle conditions. It is an extraordinarily rich and vivid resource of detailed information on early 19th century social conditions in the manufacturing areas of Great Britain and Ireland.
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In 1840, Lord Ashley, who had been concerned over the previous decade about childrens' working hours and conditions and had sponsored a “10 hours” bill in 1833 to reduce their working hours, persuaded Parliament to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children's Employment. . The Commission produced two reports. The horrific First Report on Children in Mines, published in May 1842, led to the 1842 Coal Mines Act prohibiting the employment underground of all female labour and of boys under 10 years old. The Second Report, published early the following year (though dated 1842) covered Trades and Manufactures. The Appendix to this Second Report contained the “Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners. Due its size this Appendix was split into two parts, Part II of which is now available online on The Origins Network. The Appendix is an extraordinarily rich and vivid resource of detailed information on early 19th century social conditions in the manufacturing areas of Great Britain and Ireland.
Children's Employment in Trades and Manufactures
The Commission investigated children's employment in dozens of trades and manufactures throughout Great Britain. Sub-Commissioners reported from all over England, from North Wales, from the East and West of Scotland, and from the North and South of Ireland. They undertook the interviews and related investigations personally, and their reports are often very detailed (see particularly those of R.H.Horne) Most reports cover the following topics: nature of employment, state of the place or work, hours of work, meals, accidents, holidays, wages, health, moral and intellectual condition. Other topics include the employees' housing and leisure.
Evidence was collected from personal interviews with hundreds of children and young adults, as well as parents, employers, clergymen, medical men, magistrates, teachers, and others. Evidence from an interview was generally checked against other interviews to ensure the accuracy of the data presented and conclusions reached.
The transcripts of the interviews give an extraordinary immediacy. This clip is from an interview with a Wolverhampton child.
While working conditions for many were unpleasant and unhealthy, this was by no means the norm, and many interviewees were remarkably positive about their work and their employer. This clip refers to a Dublin pin-making factory.
There are frequent and detailed descriptions of life generally. The clip below refers to printing-trade worker near Glasgow.
This clip describes a typical Saturday night in Wolverhampton.
How to use the Reports of the Children's Employment Commission
Social and personal information
This extraordinary source can be used in many ways. You can find out about working conditions in factories in the first half of the 19th century, all over the British Isles. You can find out how your forebears lived, the kind of housing they stayed in, what they ate, what they did in their leisure time, how much money they earned. You can learn about their education, both temporal and spiritual – there is considerable coverage of the children's moral welfare. You may also – if you are lucky – identify specific ancestors in the reports: the interviewees, of whom there are several hundred, are nearly always named. The very comprehensive index includes the names of all persons mentioned in the reports.
There is often considerable detail about occupations, the nature of the business, what the various activities were, the different types of job, and the types of machinery used (including illustrations in some cases). The level of detail can be extraordinary; see for, example, the description of textile printing in a report from the West of Scotland. All the many occupations mentioned in the Reports are listed in the index. So if you are seeking information about the occupation of some 19th century ancestor, these reports are an excellent resource.