Teaching History Online
Number 1: December, 2000
in the 19th Century
still in the Bristol Workhouse. You didn't even tell her where we
had been taken," Sara
at Samuel Greg.
Samuel looked uncomfortable as he shifted
uneasily on his chair. The first part of his speech had gone well.
He had just told the class he had been one of the first people to
Britain to build a textile factory. Samuel then went on to explain
the problems of finding adequate labour in such a remote part of Cheshire.
Imported workers needed cottages, and the ones he built cost nearly
£100 each. He boasted that each family (average of eight people)
had a parlour, a kitchen, two bedrooms, a cistern and a good-sized
garden where they could grow their own vegetables.
Greg proudly told the class how in 1790
he had the brilliant idea of solving his labour problem by obtaining
children from the local workhouse. The Apprentice
House cost £300 and provided living accommodation for over
90 children. He explained how he had shrewdly persuaded the Guardians
of the Macclesfield Workhouse to pay him £4 for each child he
employed. Greg also demanded that the Guardians supplied the children
with "two shifts, two pairs of stockings and two aprons."
"You lied to us" shouted Robert
Blincoe: "You told us we would be fed on roast beef and plum
pudding, have silver watches and plenty of cash." This was not
strictly true, Blincoe had been taken from St. Pancras Workhouse and
sent to Nottingham.
Greg looked confused, he had not heard
this argument before, and while he grappled for an answer, Jedediah
Strutt came to his rescue by pointing out that the children in
his factory were better off than those in the workhouse. He admitted
that there were some bad employers but he looked after his children.
He added that he did not take children under seven whereas some of
his competitors took them "as soon as they were able to crawl".
now joined the debate. He told the class how his investigations for
Mercury had revealed that factory reformers
had been providing a false picture of what it was like to work in
a textile factory. Baines claimed that working in a cotton factory
was less harmful than other forms of employment.
At this point three students raised
their hands to speak. Michael Ward, William
Blizard and Samuel Smith were all doctors
who had terrible tales to tell of crippled children who had been forced
to have limbs amputated and young women unable to give birth because
of their distorted pelvic bones. They explained how these problems
had been caused by young children standing on their feet all day when
bones were still being formed. What they did not know, was that there
were also three doctors in the class prepared to give evidence to
support the claims of Edward
What I have been describing is a Year
8 lesson that took place at Sackville Comprehensive School (East Grinstead)
on Wednesday 17th March, 1998. In the previous lesson they had all
been on the Internet discovering about child labour at the beginning
of the 19th century. Each student was given the name of an individual
that was involved in the debate that was taking place at this time.
This included factory owners, factory reformers, child workers, parents,
journalists, religious leaders and doctors. The children were then
given an instruction sheet with details of the Textile
Industry Encyclopedia Website and what they needed to do. This
included writing an account of their character and a speech on the
subject of child labour.
Each character had an entry in the encyclopedia.
This provided them with a biography and sources that enables the student
to discover his or her views on the issue. The website also includes
information under headings such as factory
pollution, parish apprentices,
factory food, punishments,
working hours, accidents
and physical deformities. There are
also entries in the encyclopedia on the machines the children used
and the type of work they did in the factory.
It is interesting the way they react when they discover who their
character is. Initially, they are much happier about playing the role
of a factory owner. They quickly developed the idea that they are
in some way responsible for the wealth that the character has obtained.
Those who are given the role of a child worker are less happy at first
but the more they investigate their situation, the more involved they
become in the need to find ways of overcoming the problems that they
The exercise helps to explain the complexity
of child labour in the 19th century. The students discover that some
factory owners, such as John Fielden and
John Wood, were actually leaders of the pressure
group trying to bring an end to child labour. At the same time, social
reforming journalists like Edward Baines
were totally opposed to any attempt by Parliament to regulate the
use of labour. Even doctors did not agree that it would damage a child's
health to be standing for twelve hours a day in a factory where windows
were kept closed and the air was thick with the dust from the cotton.
What the children discover from their in-depth studies is why the
individuals felt the way that they did. In
the debate that follows, this is revealed to the rest of the class.
Please email me if you have any ideas on how the simulation could
be improved or if you would like to receive regular updates on the
material being added to the website.
John Simkin email@example.com