Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sending 13-year-old pauper children to work in the mills

For decades, Henry Fleming (our resident of No. 2 Charles Street in 1871) was a senior official with the Poor Law Board.

As Secretary in the early 1860s, he dealt with some interesting correspondence which now is online as the 1861 Sessional Papers of the House of Lords.

Link to the book of Sessional Papers

In the section entitled "Pauper Children", there is a series of letters, some with supporting appendices, dealing with proposals from some factory owners in England to take children from the workhouses as apprentices.

(The papers are not easily numbered, but using the on-page search function to find "pauper children", you should get to the right place.)

The children Henry Fleming corresponded about were to be apprenticed from age 13 to 17 as spinners in the textile mills. They were to work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 1 p.m. on Saturday.

The entire report is heartbreaking in its details. There are the names and ages of individual children. Orphan. Father deserted, mother dead. Father believed in Australia, mother dead. Seven years in the workhouse to date. It goes on and on.

Some of the adult mill workers had no socks or shoes when the inspector called. The owner said it's because they preferred it that way. But, reported the inspector, "… when they go to meals and leave off work, they are all provided with factory clogs, which create no unusual clatter in the streets."

Henry Fleming, as Secretary to the Poor Law Board, may not have been a decision maker but may have had to brief the Board on the details of the apprenticeship proposals, at the least.

Henry was a man who spent his leisure time as a socialite, riding horses, gossiping, and generally hanging out with some of London's top society, and his working hours dealing with the details of caring for the destitute.


  1. The use of small children as cheap labour was really quite scandalous in those times. This excerpt from a book about the mills at Papplewick and Linby in Nottinghamshire talks about it:

  2. Thanks, Elaine.

    One thing about the situation Fleming was involved with, there was actually a lot of concern about how the children would be treated. I think they didn't want to be sending 10-year-olds to work, as had happened earlier.

    I think it was all very sad, but in the context of its time, a couple of things cross my mind. One is that school leaving age was 14 not so terribly long ago, wasn't it? And, in that same volume of House of Lords papers, there is correspondence to another official (not Fleming) from the people in favour of sending the children to work. They pointed out that in the absence of that opportunity, the girls particularly would end up destitute as soon as they were too old to remain in the orphanage / workhouse, which I think was age 17.

    The Industrial Revolution has a lot to answer for, even though it brought a lot of good things.

  3. PS Elaine, your link has some excellent information, even though some of the stories and facts are said. People researching Nottingham history are lucky to have such a resource.

  4. That site is brilliant Jill - I only came across it because my maternal ancesters lived at Papplewick (which I think is a brilliant name!) for a while and yes, worked at t'mill making textiles....


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