Factory Inspectors

On 29th August, the government's the 1833 Factory Act was passed by Parliament. Under the terms of the new act, it became illegal for children under nine to work in textile factories whereas children aged between nine and thirteen could not be employed for more than eight hours a day. The main disappointment of the reformers was that children over thirteen were allowed to work for up to twelve hours a day.

To make sure this legislation was obeyed, the government appointed four factory inspectors. The inspectors were soon complaining that they were having great difficulty checking the ages of the children working in the factories. Although factory children had to obtain age certificates from local doctors it soon became clear that this was not stopping children under nine from working in textile factories.

Primary Sources

(1) J. S. Poulter, speech in the House of Commons, 9th May, 1836.

It is a common practice to obtain false certificates as to the ages of the children. These children are dressed up to appear much older than they really are; and I can mention the names of children who, at eleven years of age, have been certificated as being thirteen years old.

(2) James Harrison, a doctor from Preston, wrote a letter to factory inspector, Leonard Horner, about age certificates.

The truth is rarely told. Employers and parents have good reasons to make false statements. My plan is to regard the minimum height for a child of eleven years of age to be 4ft. 1in.; twelve years, 4ft. 2in. and of thirteen, 4ft. 3in.; and not to give certificates of those ages to children who were under the minimum sized fixed for their respective ages.

(3) Leonard Horner, Inspector of Factories Report (1850)

On the 4th May, Mr. Jones and I visited the factory of Christopher Bracewell & Brothers at Earby. It stands apart from the village, in an open field, and as we came near, one of the brothers was seen running with considerable speed from the house to the mill. This looked very suspicious, but we did not discover anything wrong. A few days afterwards I received an anonymous letter stating that when Mr. Bracewell saw the factory inspector he went to the mill, and got those under age into the privies. He also said that the children worked from 13 to 14 hours a day. In a few days, Mr. Jones went again to the mill, taking the superintendent of police at Colne along with him. After having made his first examination, he directed the constable to search the privies, and there were found in them thirteen children. All of them were found to be illegally employed in the mill.