The industrial revolution was a significant milestone in world history, having a tremendous effect on societies worldwide. The industrial revolution had a profound effect on the lives of working-class individuals and their offspring in industrial societies (Brck 2016). Inventors and entrepreneurs today are successful not just because of their ideas and creations but also because they enlisted the assistance of one critical factor: children. These children were instrumental in bringing about the industrial revolution; they were the first generation of workers. It is deeply surprising to realize that child labour played a significant role in the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom. Indeed, without child labour, this pioneering economic change would not have occurred in the manner that it did. The industrial revolution resulted in the formation of current social classes. Children from middle- and upper-class households were afforded additional possibilities due to their family’s social status. Still, children from lower-class homes were expected to assist in providing for their families (Foundations of Western Culture 2016). During the Industrial Revolution, children were forced to work to keep up with the demand for products, although this proved dangerous and divisive. This research will rely on important sources to substantiate its findings: oral testimony from children workers featured in the documentary “The Children Who Built Victorian Britain.” Additional sources include significant testimonials from Jane Humphries’ “Childhood And Child Labor In The British Industrial Revolution.” Working children faced severe conditions, which resulted in various health problems, both mental and physical.
According to the BBC documentary “The Children Who Built Victorian Britain,” Dave Adams, a current Newport Animation School student, developed and produced the children’s theatre that acts as the backdrop for William Parker’s story (BBC 2011). This story confirms Parker’s account, taken from a letter to his parents. As twelve-year-old William Rivers relates, he receives “two wounds to his right arm, plus the face, which was quickly followed by a gunshot, and similarly a wound that took away his left leg” while accompanying other soldiers to the War Zone. The systemic conditions of child labour that existed in Britain throughout the Industrial Revolution were much more difficult to convict than the act of removing children from industrial civilization. As these children grew into adults, these incidents resulted in profound trauma and later mental health concerns (Foundations of Western Culture 2016).
Similarly, according to Jane Humphries’ account of “Childhood And Child Labor In The British Industrial Revolution,” Edward Rymer was forced to work in the pit at the age of ten, along with his brother John. As he recounts, “we began our first shift without food, shoes, or light.” This source demonstrates how the children of the industrial revolution perceived their pain and the reason for their forced labour. Like the other numerous children, Edward Rymer had been without parents and then had to rely on themselves to survive. As a throwback to the past, children were employed in various typical lines of work, including coal mining, rat-catching, and chimney sweeping. Children work painfully long hours in mills and factories, generally ten to fourteen hours every day. In lines of work, including coal mining and chimney sweeping, workers were at significant risk of long-term and short-term injuries and health issues (Humphries 2013).
As a result, another account of the BBC documentary “The Children Who Built Victorian Britain” highlights, Sarah Carpenter, age nine, has a disturbing story. A student from Newport Animation School brings the sad story of Sarah Carpenter to life. Sarah’s narrative was recorded and published in 1849 in the Ashton Chronicle by a journalist named Joseph Rayner Stephens (BBC 2011). Sarah Carpenter recounts their humiliation and threats. She claims that she and other girls were once locked up or had their hair cut off (girls) “we were always locked away,” “cut off close to her head,” and “were more scared of it than ever.” While being exploited, children were exposed to a range of forms of exploitation, including shocking accident rates, low earnings, very little food, and little to no breaks. Children were more susceptible to abuse, and they were beaten and abused. This resulted in fear and trauma later in life.
Indeed, the children labouring at the time faced hard labour conditions, which resulted in various health implications, both physically and mentally. As illustrated by the illustrative sources above, child labour was a pervasive aspect of industrial cultures, particularly Britain. Children as young as four years old were frequently exploited in the factories and mines(Brck 2016). Since they were young, children made great workforce members, readily taught new tasks, and were submissive and obedient to authority. Since factory owners required many workers at a low cost and with little upkeep, they prefered to employ minors. Children were abused, overworked, and underpaid for a considerable length of time before anyone sought to change things. Poorly regulated child labour resulted in harsher punishment, fewer rewards, and increased sickness and injury. Ineffective parliamentary statutes to restrict children’s labour in factories and cotton mills had already been passed as early as the 19th century. The British government made precautions to safeguard youngsters from the harsh environment, circumventing various Australian laws.
BBC 2011, BBC – Programmes, BBC, viewed 13 October 2021, <https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/>.
Brck, E 2016, Child Labor in the Industrial Revolution, History Crunch – History Articles, Summaries, Biographies, Resources, and More, History Crunch.
celestetmoc.weebly.com 2014, Children of the Industrial Revolution, Museum of Childhood, viewed 22 May 2019, <https://celestetmoc.weebly.com/industrial-revolution-childhoods.html>.
Foundations of Western Culture 2016, The Children that Lived Through the Industrial Revolution, Foundations of Western Culture.
HUMPHRIES, J 2013, ‘Childhood and child labour in the British industrial revolution, The Economic History Review, vol. 66, no. 2, pp. 395–418.
Youtube – Mckeown Tube 2014, The Children Who Built Victorian Britain, www.youtube.com, viewed 17 March 2022, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=_6ByG7q74qg>.