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The following extract describes working conditions in factories in the north of England. The Report followed the enquiry conducted by the Parliamentary Select Committee headed by Michael Sadler. It preceded the 1833 Factory Act that restricted the working hours of women and children.
In England, in the north-eastern district, in a few factories, the regular hours of labour do not exceed eleven. In general, both at Leicester and Nottingham, they are not less than twelve. 'Eleven hours' is called a day at Leeds; but it is seldom that in this district the hours are really less than twelve, while occasionally they are thirteen. In Manchester the regular hours of work are twelve. There are many places in the western district, as at Coventry and Birmingham, in which the regular hours of labour do not exceed ten; while it appears that some of the workpeople labour upon an average not more than nine hours daily. In these towns indeed there is no factory labour properly so called, for the operatives, with few exceptions, work at their own houses. But in some of the factories in the great clothing district the hours of labour are the same; seldom if ever exceeding ten. In general, however, they are somewhat longer; both in the carpet and in the clothing factories they are seldom less than eleven and scarcely ever more than twelve; this is the average; for there is considerable irregularity in both; in the carpet factory, partly on account of the dissipated habits of many of the weavers who remain idle for two or three days and make up their lost time by working extra hours to finish their piece on Saturday, and partly because the weaver has often to wait for material from the master manufacturer where particular shades of colour may have to be died for the carpet he is weaving; while the clothing factories, being for the most part worked by water power, cannot of course be carried on with regularity.
One of the witnesses, a proprietor, states that owing to the want of a due supply of water the workpeople sometimes cannot work more than three hours a day in summer; and that on an average they do not, in the summer season, work more than six hours a day. Another witness, an operative, deposes that his children in the factory in general go away after nine hours work, and that they play so much that he does not think they really work above four or six hours. And a third witness, a proprietor, (chairman of the woollen manufacturers of Gloucestershire,) deposes that in his own factory, in those parts in which children are employed, the regular hours are from nine in the morning until four in the evening, deducting an hour for dinner; and that for the last three years that children have worked only seven hours daily. In all the districts these hours are exclusive of the time allowed for meals, and of time lost from the machinery going wrong, and from holidays.
In some factories, in the several districts, there is no intermission of the work day or night. In such cases two sets of workpeople are employed, each set commonly working twelve hours. Occasionally there are three sets, and then each set works eight hours. . . .
Parliamentary Papers, 1833/xx
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