Sunday, 5 December 2010

Working Children in 19th Century Lancashire by M. Winstanley

Mining children

I've just written a review of this book on Good Reads and thought I would copy it here since I'd mentioned the book in a previous post.

This was a very interesting book. The plight (and it was a plight) of working children in Nineteenth-Century Lancashire was a dark one. To read of children who worked from 6.30am until 10pm;
Mill work was dangerous, legislation did try to improve the lot of children, but many mill owners for many years ignored legislation. Children often worked barefoot as it allowed a better grip of the oily floors

to read of children of eight and younger left at home to care for their siblings (of which there were many) and the siblings of family members and neighbours whilst mother went to work;

to read of children who worked for hours sat in the dark of a mine waiting alone for a cart to come along so that they could open the door (see 'trapper' picture below from the 1840s);

to read of children who worked 60 hours a week on top of their school rather disturbing to read. Yet for many, this was the only way to survive, the only way for a family to have enough to eat and a roof over their heads.

The poorhouse or workhouse loomed heavily over the heads of the working classes.

As the author points out, often we idealise the past, "There was, it seems, an uncomplicated golden age not so long ago when children were children, families were united and happy, and moral standards were universally adhered to...[O]ur modern concept of 'childhood' is, to all intents and purposes, a recent construction and not one which would have been recognised by previous generations."


  1. What would happen if the children of today had to live like that even for a week. Could they? Would they?
    This should be made known to all children -not to punish but to help them to understand what is real and what is fluff of no real value. The sad part is there are children NOW living in these conditions and worse in todays world. God Bless

  2. Our children and grandchildren will never ever know one iota of what those children coped with.

  3. you're on goodreads? add me! :) and interesting post, btw

  4. The past was often not a nice place, for children or aduts. Have you ever read The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell? Life in 1920s / 30s (can't remember when he wrote it) was pretty grim too.

  5. Joyce - yes sadly there are children in the world who work in terrible conditions.

    Elizabeth - I'm so glad that my children never had to suffer what these children suffered.

    Cabcree - duly added! :)

    Bookworm - no I've not read that book the only Orwell I've read is Animal Farm. I keep meaning to read more.

  6. How very sad that children had to live like that in order to survive. I'm so thankful that we know longer have to do that...though I know there are still places in the world where children suffer daily. We are so very blessed. Thank you for sharing about this.

  7. my mom is from Lancashire...wonder if she knew that was where her coal came from??

  8. Susan we are so blessed indeed.

    Katey - I watched a programme recently about Victorian 'do-gooders' who improved the lot of children in Victorian times. They spoke about the 'trapper' boys who sat in the mine. It would be pitch dark, lonely and the rats would be running all over the poor child. This is children from the age of 4! So sad and terrible.