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Inspectors of Factories

Leonard Horner was an Inspector of Factories for the government and was responsible for ensuring that the terms of the 1833 Factory Act were observed. In this report he says that the Act was being evaded by many factory owners and workers.

To the Right Honourable Lord John Russell

London, 8th January 1839

My Lord

In the last quarter I visited Manchester and some of the neighbouring places, Burnley, Padiham, Colne, Crawshaw Booth, Rawtenstall, Haslingden, Edenfield, Ramsbottom, Bury, Leigh, Chowbent, Tylesley, Radcliffe, Oldham, Lees, Rochdale and neighbourhood, and Ashton. The four superintendents in my district have been engaged, as usual, in their respective divisions .... A considerable portion of my own time, and of that of all the superintendents has been taken up in collecting and arranging the information required to make out the returns ordered by the House of Commons on the 7th and 15th of August; particularly the former, respecting the number of persons employed, and the moving power in each factory. The examination, copying, and classification of the answers, under the various heads, which has been necessary to enable me to comply with the terms of the order, have already occupied the whole of the time of Mr. Wood for more than a month, and to complete the work, nearly as much more time will be required; but it shall be got ready with as little delay as possible.

Matters are very much in the same state, as regards obedience to the Factory Act, as I have reported them to be for some time past; that is, the main provisions are fairly observed in the majority of instances, and it has been necessary to resort to prosecution in many others; I have no expectation that there will be much change for the better, until the imperfections of the existing law are removed. It is unnecessary for me to repeat what these are: scarcely a week passes in which my superintendents and I do not find ourselves cramped, and often frustrated, in our endeavours to obtain the full advantages and protection which it was the intention of the legislature to secure to children and young persons by this law. I particularly allude to the offence of employing children twelve hours a day who are under thirteen years of age, often considerably so. But the culpability is fully as chargeable upon the parents of those children, and upon the operative spinners, who hire them as their assistants, as it is upon the masters of the factories. In a visit to a mill near Bury on the 23rd of November last, I noticed a girl who was working, as I was informed, twelve hours a day, and had been doing so for more than two years, who appeared to me very young to have a certificate of thirteen; and on examining her father, by whom she was employed as his piecer, he admitted that she was between eleven and twelve years of age. On calling for her certificate I found that it was dated the 17th of August 1836. Here, then, was a father, in the receipt of good wages and in regular employment, who had been knowingly working his own child twelve hours a day, and that too from the time when she was little more than nine years old. It is not at all improbable that he was one of those who sent up petitions calling on Parliament to interfere for the protection of the poor factory children, 'the white slaves', who were so cruelly over-worked by 'the hard-hearted, avaricious masters'. On showing the certificate to the surgeon, whose signature it bore, he could give me no explanation of it, on account of the distance of time; but from his respectability, I have no doubt that it must have been fraudulently obtained. Instances are perpetually occurring to us, I am sorry to say, of parents who are so regardless of every other consideration, than how they can make most money by the labour of their children, that they will resort to every species of deception about their age, in order to obtain the wages of twelve hours' work; and cases of forgery and falsification of certificates of baptism have been more frequently met with in the last quarter than in any former period. It may naturally be asked why the improper employment of the child above-mentioned was not sooner put a stop to: to this I can only reply, that the child might have been, and probably was, absent of concealed at former visits: for we know full well that our being in the neighbourhood is speedily known, and then those who are conscious of transgressing take all means to escape detection. In this case the proprietor was not aware, I believe, of the improper employment of this child, for I have the best authority for saying that he is a most benevolent good man.

Report of Leonard Horner, Esq., Inspector of Factories, for the Quarter ending the 31st of December 1839.

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