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Child Workers and Industrial Health in Britain, 1780-1850

Child Workers and Industrial Health in Britain, 1780-1850

Peter Kirby
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Child Workers and Industrial Health in Britain, 1780-1850
    Book Description:

    Historians have long recognised the importance of child health during the Industrial Revolution, but few have explored the health of working children in any analytical detail. In this comprehensive study, Peter Kirby places the occupational health of employed children within a broad context of social, industrial and environmental change during the period 1780 to 1850. The book explores the deformities, fevers, respiratory complaints, industrial injuries and physical ill-treatment which have long been associated with child labour in the factory workplace. The result is a more nuanced picture of child health and child labour during the classic 'factory age' which raises important questions about the enduring stereotype of the health-impaired and abused industrial child. Peter Kirby is Professor of Social History and Director of the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare at Glasgow Caledonian University.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-401-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VII)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. VIII-VIII)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. IX-IX)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. X-XII)
  6. Introduction: Locating Children’s Industrial Health
    (pp. 1-35)

    In recent decades, economic and social historians have produced a growing number of monographical studies exploring the complex problem of child labour during the Industrial Revolution.¹ Historical demographers and medical historians, meanwhile, have offered increasingly detailed investigations of child health and welfare in early urban and industrial society.² The subject of children’s occupational health, however, has attracted little serious analysis. Indeed, the poor health and ill-treatment of child labourers in mills and factories has long remained a seemingly incontrovertible feature of the historiography of British industrialisation.³ Child industrial workers are popularly represented as marginal figures, creeping along narrow coal seams,...

  7. 1 Child Health and the Manufacturing Environment
    (pp. 36-60)

    Almost every aspect of the health of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century child workers was affected by the unprecedented urban and industrial growth of the period. A tripling of the population in the century after 1750 was dwarfed by a quadrupling in the size of the major industrial and trading centres between 1800 and 1850.¹ New forms of production in the industrial districts of the West Midlands, northern England and the central belt of Scotland drew increasing numbers of workers into growing manufacturing towns, exposing them to unfamiliar raw materials, industrial chemicals, pollution and an unfavourable urban disease environment. Technical...

  8. 2 Child Health in the Industrial Workplace
    (pp. 61-98)

    It is crucial that the occupational health of early industrial children is set within an analysis of the complex epidemiology of early factory towns. However, specific occupational ailments amongst working children were often explained in terms of particular aspects of work practices and environments. Accounts of the effects of work upon the body were based upon long-established medical knowledge. Most eighteenth and early nineteenth-century doctors expressing opinions about the health of working children tended to draw largely upon theoretical approaches by established authorities such as Ramazzini who, in the late seventeenth century, had ascribed industrial ailments to two major sets...

  9. 3 Certifying Surgeons, Children’s Ages and Physical Growth
    (pp. 99-123)

    The arrival of the first factory inspectorate in 1834 was accompanied by new requirements to assess the ages and physical conditions of factory children. The main provisions of the 1833 Factory Act excluded children below nine from factory work and limited those aged nine to twelve to forty-eight hours per week.¹ When the inspectors took up their positions, however, they soon discovered that the age clauses of the Act were largely inoperable because there existed no reliable documentary means of verifying the ages of child applicants for factory work. Evidence from parish registers was often unreliable because the gap between...

  10. 4 The Ill-Treatment of Working Children
    (pp. 124-150)

    The corporal punishment of working children occupies an important position in both the history of child labour and in wider discussions about the general welfare of children in the past. The majority of historical discussions of child punishment in early mills and factories have implied that physical abuse was common and many accounts have relied heavily upon contemporary anecdotal accounts of brutality gathered from government reports such as the Sadler Committee of 1831–32. The Hammonds, for example, argued that in cotton mills ‘scarcely an hour passed in the long day without the sound of beating and cries of pain’,...

  11. Conclusion: Relocating the Health of Industrial Children, 1780–1850
    (pp. 151-162)

    The complex epidemiology of early manufacturing towns and the wide variety of industrial processes carried out by child workers preclude any generalised statements about the effects of industrial work upon child health. Despite such difficulties, however, it is clear from the diversity of children’s occupational health experiences examined in this study that the enduring and often simplistic stereotype of the health-impaired and abused industrial child can no longer be sustained. Working children were prone to a wide range of exogenous factors such as the urban disease environment, social class, household poverty, pre-existing disability or orphanage, and such influences almost certainly...

  12. Appendix
    (pp. 163-166)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 167-202)
  14. Index
    (pp. 203-212)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)