The Age of George III

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The 1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act

With the start of industrialisation, it had become common for factory owners to employ pauper or orphaned children in their mills as "apprentices".  The practice had been started by Sir Robert Peel, MP, a factory owner of Bury in Lancashire and father of Prime Minister Peel.  In his mills, conditions were so bad that an outbreak of "fever" had caused most of the pauper apprentices to die.  Peel (senior) was reluctant to stop employing these children because they did not have to be paid, thus cutting the cost of the finished textiles. His reason was that his competitors had copied him and also were using child labour.  If he stopped, he would affect his profits and would go out of business.

One man who owned and ran a very different type of textile mill was Robert Owen.  He was a philanthropist who looked after his workers, refused to employ children under the age of ten and provided his workforce with decent housing and a school.  Owen thought that his way was the best and persuaded Peel to put through parliament the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act. This piece of legislation was the first attempt at reforming working conditions in factories.  The Act attempted to legislate for "pauper apprentices" and fixed a maximum twelve hour working day for the children.  Other terms of the Act were

Employers breaking these regulations were to be subjected to fines ranging between £2 and £5. Unfortunately, there were no inspectors appointed to enforce the law.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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