Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Teaching (M.S.T.) in History






Factory laws and legislation -- Great Britain, Great Britain -- Politics and government -- 1800-1837



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, ii, 70 leaves)


During the eighteenth century England underwent vast changes in her methods of production. As a consequence the factory posed a new experience for the workers. Although conditions and hours of work were better in textile factories than in most contemporary occupations, worker discontent was great because of the stricter regimen which the factory imposed. Conditions for children, generally the same as for the adults were no worse than they had always been. Although none of the early factory legislation was enforced, the Factory Act of 1833 and those that fol1owed are differentiated from previous efforts by their organized support, among which was that given by a group of Tory evangelicals. The evangelicals intended to limit hours to ten for all factory workers by restricting to that limit hours for persons up to eighteen years. The work of children and adults was so interrelated as to require them to work together. Legislation was introduced into commons in 1832 by Michael Sadler and in 1833 by Lord Ashley. Sadler's bill never got out of committee but the committee’s report served as a valuable source of propaganda. Ashley's bill was sent to a royal commission controlled by Benthamites who so altered the bill’s form as to cause Ashley to give it up. Acceptable to parliament in its new form, the bill clearly differentiated between child labor, which hours it limited to eight, and adult labor, which was left to protect itself. The Benthamite bill also required the manufacturers to provide education for their children; and inspectors were to attempt enforcement of regulations. Although parliamentary reform and an election had occurred in 1832, this revolution had no effect on the 1833 bill's passage. Factory legislation was the product of public demand and organized support rather than political upheaval. Furthermore, this was not a contest between Tories and Whigs, Establishment and evangelicals, or middle class and aristocracy. The simple motivation behind the bill was Christian humanitarianism. The debate arguments, themselves, fell into several categories and were repeated in volume and embellishment according to assumed value. The proponents of legislation emphasized the deleterious effect of the long hours; the inequities of the existing employment problem; and “the system” of competition and machinery which produced such conditions. The opponents threatened that family income would necessarily be reduced; that there would be massive unemployment due to collapse of the industry; and that such legislation would be contrary to natural laws of economics demanding free enterprise. Of course each side offered rebuttal to the other; conditions were really quite good; mortality rates were lower in the cities than elsewhere; the natural laws of economy would have to suffer rather than the children; there was no foreign competition, only British; and so forth. The Benthamite Factory Act was a disappointment to Ashley and his colleagues. They had failed in their effort to achieve a ten hour work-day. The effect was to spur them on to greater efforts. Ashley spent a successful lifetime in developing reform legislation. As with earlier legislation, this Act was poorly enforced: manufacturers and parents conspired to keep children at the mills; the education provisions were evaded or poorly employed. Of great value for the future, however, were the reports compiled by the parliamentary committee, the royal commission and the factory inspectors. These reports aided the reform effort later in the century.


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Portland State University. Dept. of History

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