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Working Children


If you were a child from a poor family at the beginning of the Victorian times, you worked and worked and worked .......

Children were often forced to work almost as soon as they could walk. This was not something new to the Victorian period as children had always been been expected to work for hundreds of years. Many were used as cheap labour.

What was wrong with the working conditions for children during the Victorian times?

  • Children worked very long hours with little breaks and no fresh air.
  • They often worked in very dangerous conditions resulting in injuries or even death.
  • Very young children were expected to work
  • There was no education for the poor, so it was very unlikely they could get better paid jobs when they were older.
  • Children were paid very little because they were younger

Why didn't children refuse to work?

Most children had no choice - they needed to work to help their families earn enough money to live.

What kind of jobs did children do?

The lucky children got apprenticed in a trade, the less lucky ones worked on farms or helped with the spinning. When new types of work appeared with the development of industries and factories, it seemed perfectly natural to use children for work that adults couldn't do; Crawling underneath machinery or sitting in coal mines to open and close the ventilation doors.

Chimney Sweeps | Factories | Street sellers | Coal mines

Chimney Sweeps

Chimney sweeping was a job children could do better than adults. Small boys (starting at the age of 5 or 6 years) would be sent scrambling up inside the chimney to scrape and brush soot away. They came down covered in soot, and with bleeding elbows and knees.

"I have two boys working for me. after work their arms and legs are bleeding so I rub them with salt-water before sending them up another chimney" Sweep Master

A Victorian boyThe chimneys were usually very narrow (in some cases as small as 30cm) and twisted. Children often got stuck or froze with terror in the cramped darkness - in these cases the Master Chimney Sweeper, would simply light the fire underneath to 'encourage' them to get on with their work.

The work was dangerous and painful. Some boys got stuck and died of suffocation.

"I never got stuck myself but some of my friends have and were taken out dead." boy aged 8

In 1832 the use of boys for sweeping chimneys was forbidden by law, however, boys continued to be forced through the narrow winding passages of chimneys in large houses.

'The Water Babies' by Charles Kingsley, tells the tale of a young sweep, Tom. who drowns while trying to escape from his evil master and comes back to life underwater as a 'water baby'.


factoryChildren worked long hours and sometimes had to carry out some dangerous jobs working in factories.

"I start work promptly at 5:00 in the morning and work all day till 9:00 at night. That’s 16 hours! We are not allowed to talk, sit or look out of the window whilst we work. The only day off from work I get is on Sundays, when we have to go to church." Girl aged 9

In textile mills children were made to clean machines while the machines were kept running, and there were many accidents. Many children lost fingers in the machinery and some were killed, crushed by the huge machines.

Young children working in a textile mill

A Victorian girlIn match factories children were employed to dip matches into a dangerous chemical called phosphorous. The phosphorous could cause their teeth to rot and some died from the effect of breathing it into their lungs.

Why were children employed to work in factories?

  • Children were much cheaper than adults as a factory owner did not have to pay them as much.
  • There were plenty of children in orphanages, so they could be replaced easily if accidents did occur.
  • Children were small enough to crawl under machinery to tie up broken threads.

When did young children stop working in textile factories?

1833 the Factory Act was made law. It was now illegal for children under 9 to be employed in textile factories


Chimney Sweeps | Factories | Street sellers | Coal mines


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