Children At School And Work

It is widely held that Victorian children started to work at a very tender age and that, in factories and mines, they endured dreadful working conditions, at least until effective legislative controls were implemented during the 1830s and 1840s. However, these considerations need to be viewed in context, bearing in mind that children entered a wide range of occupations and that they commonly attended school. In investigating these matters, evidence taken from early Victorian census schedules is highly revealing.

Local Primary Source Material

Children will need familiarising with census enumerators’ schedules and how they were compiled. Details can be found on the BBC History Trails: Victorian Britain website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/victorian_britain/. The essay Working Life and the First Modern Census gives details of how the schedules were used to collect information in 1851. For information about the censuses of England and Wales more generally, see the National Archives web site at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/census/.

This exercise draws on the 1851 census enumerators’ schedules for Tockholes, a rural district to the south of Blackburn in Lancashire. The settlement then comprised scattered farms and short terraces of small houses, most of them built with loomshops for handloom weaving. There was also a cotton factory, in which cotton cloth was woven on powerlooms, and some small-scale coal mining.

Details of three Tockholes families noted in the 1851 census are copied below.

Points for children to note from these entries are:

  • The use of abbreviations such 'do' for 'ditto', so that enumerator could increase the speed at which he copied the householders’ forms into his enumerator's book. (Not all abbreviations used by the enumerator have been noted in the extract.)
  • Some of the occupation’s given are not very precise. Cases in point are the designations 'farmer's son' or 'farmer's daughter', which the enumerators were instructed to use for sons and daughters employed on farms. Some very young children are described in this way, though it is debatable as to how much work they would have been physically capable of doing.
  • All the places of birth noted in the entries are in Lancashire, those outside Tockholes mostly being no more than a few miles away.
Names of people Relation to head of family Condition Age Occupation Birthplace
John Guest head married 56 farmer of 19 acres Livesey
Rachel do wife married 54

farmer's wife

Shuttleworth
James do son unmarried 20 farmer's son Heapey
Jane do daughter unmarried 17 farmer's daughter Wheelton
Rachel do daughter unmarried 15 winder at factory do
Simon do son unmarried 10 scholar do
Isiah do grandson unmarried 2 -  
- - - - - -
Ralph Aspin head married 22 collier Tockholes
Ann do wife married 22 handloom weaver do
- - - - - -
Mary Townley head widow 46 farmer of 28 acres Over Darwen
Michael do son unmarried 23 employed on farm Lower Darwen
Martha do daughter unmarried 20 employed on farm do
Mary do daughter unmarried 16 dress maker Tockholes
Lettice do daughter unmarried 14 powerloom weaver do
Susannah do daughter unmarried 12 employed at home do
Mark do son unmarried 10 scholar do
Elizabeth do daughter unmarried 6 scholar do

The 1851 census enumerators were told that sons and daughters employed at home or on the farm might be returned as 'Farmer's son' or 'Farmer's daughter'. They were instructed to 'distinctly' record the occupations of women, young persons and young persons who were regularly employed from home or at home. Children daily attending school who were above five year's old, or receiving regular tuition at home from a master or mistress were to described as 'Scholar', with ‘at home’ added in the latter case. One problem with these designations is that they do not tell us how fully women and children were occupied as workers, nor children as scholars.

Children's Activities

Several possibilities arise, with much depending on whether or not the children go beyond using the Tockholes material.

1. Initial ideas: the Tockholes census extract

Class discussion using small amounts of census schedule data should enable children to formulate questions or hypotheses as a focus for further investigation. Possibilities are:

  • How old were Tockholes children when the started school?
  • How old were the oldest scholars?
  • What types of jobs did children have?
  • Did boys have different jobs that girls?
  • Did boys stay on longer at school than girls?

2. Using the spreadsheet

The results of the Tockholes investigation are presented in the form of spreadsheet-generated graphs. Accordingly, children may need guidance on inputting the data into a spreadsheet and creating the graphs

(a) Inputting data

The records of 200 children at Tockholes were used, though half the number would probably suffice. As the spreadsheet extract given below reveals, four fields were created, to which filters were added so that the data in each field could be sorted. The inputting task could be lessened by using abbreviations, of course. Entries 30 and 31 are the two youngest children recorded in the Guest household.

Tockholes children, 1851

Number Gender Age Occupation
1 f 6 none
2 m 4 none
3 f 11 scholar
4 m 10 scholar
5 m 13 powerloom weaver cotton
6 m 8 scholar
7 f 4 scholar
8 m 2 none
9 f 0 none
10 f 13 farmer's daughter
11 f 11 scholar
12 f 13 handloom weaver cotton
13 f 12 handloom weaver cotton
14 f 10 scholar
14 f 3 none
15 m 8 scholar
16 f 6 scholar
17 f 6 scholar
18 m 4 scholar
19 f 11 farmer's daughter
20 f 9 farmer's daughter
21 m 7 farmer's son
22 m 5 farmer's son
23 m 3 farmer's son
24 f 1 farmer's daughter
25 m 13 farmer's son
26 m 12 farmer's son
27 m 4 farmer's son
28 m 3 farmer's son
29 m 1 farmer's son
30 m 10 scholar
31 m 2 none

The analysis is partly based on standard five-year age groups - 0-4, 5-9 and 10-14, to which the children can be introduced. Only those aged 14 and under are included on the spreadsheet, therefore. They all fall into one of three categories, namely scholars, those working and those with on occupational description.

The 200 Tockholes entries in spreadsheet form are given at the end of this exercise. They can be copied and pasted directly into an excel spreadsheet. The column width with need adjusting and filters added for sorting purposes

(b) Creating the graphs

Sorting the data using the filters enables the following spreadsheet table to be produced. This table can be copied and pasted into an excel spreadsheet and the chart wizard deployed to create the graph below.

  0 to 4 5 to 9 10 to 14
scholars 17 44 22
working 0 5 37
none 82 6 0

 

However, analyzing the results may be more straightforward if the figures in the table are calculated as percentages, as in the chart below, before the chart wizard is deployed.

  0 to 4 5 to 9 10 to 14
scholars 17 80 37
working 0 9 63
none 83 11 0

The graph that results is shown below.

3. Analysing the results

Children might work from the chart above, which captures all the spreadsheet data, but graphs relating to each age group and each occupational group could be created instead. They could analyse each age group in turn, with a view to making, and writing down, the following types of observation:

  1. None of the 0-4 age group were recorded as working, though nearly one in five were described as scholars.
  2. Amongst the 5 to 9 year olds, the great majority - 80 per cent - were scholars, with fewer than 10 per cent being described as working.
  3. All 10 to 14 year olds were either scholars or working, with a clear majority – 63 per cent - working.

The results could be further refined by more detailed sorting of the data. Points that might emerge include:

  1. All 13 and 14 year olds had left school and were working.
  2. Those working in the 5 to 9 age group were at the older end of the range.
  3. The youngest child to work away from home was a 9 year-old collier.
  4. The youngest factory worker was a 9 year-old powerloom weaver tenter (assistant).

Relatively few children under the age of 10 were at work, therefore, and quite a number stayed at school beyond that age.

Further Considerations

  • There are dangers in taking the census evidence too literally, since some inaccuracy on the part of the enumerators may have occurred and part-time work undertaken by the children might not have been recorded. Additionally, children’s attendance at school may have been reduced by part-time work opportunities that arose periodically, as at harvest time, or when domestic demands had to be met (probably by girls) such as caring for sick people.
  • The Tockholes findings mirror those more generally at the time, though clearly the type of jobs children undertook varied between localities. That so few young children found employment reflects their limited strength and ability to concentrate; the effects of the Factory Acts of 1833 and 1844, together with the Mines’ Act of 1842, which constrained child labour in textile factories and coal mines; and the reluctance of some parents to allow their children to go into factory work.
  • The same sort of exercise can be undertaken using census schedule data from the late 19th or early 20th century, so that change over time in relation to child labour and schooling can be assessed.
  • Useful reading on child labour and schooling in the Victorian period can be found in Michael Winstanley (ed), Working Children in Nineteenth-Century Lancashire (Preston, 1995), especially chapter 1 and Geoffrey Timmins, Made in Lancashire (Manchester, 1998), pp.132-6).

The Tockholes' Children Spreadsheet Data

Tockholes Children, 1851

Number Gender Age Occupation
1 f 6 none
2 m 4 none
3 f 11 scholar
4 m 10 scholar
5 m 13 powerloom weaver cotton
6 m 8 scholar
7 f 4 scholar
8 m 2 none
9 f 0 none
10 f 13 farmer's daughter
11 f 11 scholar
12 f 13 handloom weaver cotton
13 f 12 handloom weaver cotton
14 f 10 scholar
14 f 3 none
15 m 8 scholar
16 f 6 scholar
17 f 6 scholar
18 m 4 scholar
19 f 11 farmer's daughter
20 f 9 farmer's daughter
21 m 7 farmer's son
22 m 5 farmer's son
23 m 3 farmer's son
24 f 1 farmer's daughter
25 m 13 farmer's son
26 m 12 farmer's son
27 m 4 farmer's son
28 m 3 farmer's son
29 m 1 farmer's son
30 m 10 scholar
31 m 2 none
32 f 7 employed in house at home
33 f 5 employed in house at home
34 m 4 none
35 m 3 none
36 m 1 none
37 m 14 powerloom weaver cotton
38 f 13 powerloom weaver cotton
39 m 11 scholar
40 m 8 scholar
41 m 6 scholar
42 m 5 none
43 m 14 warehouseman
44 m 12 scholar
45 f 8 scholar
46 f 6 scholar
47 f 4 scholar
48 f 10 scholar
49 f 7 scholar
50 f 3 none
51 m 0 none
52 f 12 scholar
53 f 2 none
54 m 1 grocer's son
55 m 5 scholar
56 m 2 none
57 m 0 none
58 f 12 scholar
59 f 5 scholar
60 f 3 scholar
61 m 0 none
62 m 9 drawer in coal pit
63 m 5 scholar
64 f 1 none
65 f 9 not clear
66 m 11 scholar
67 m 8 scholar
68 f 6 scholar
69 m 4 scholar
70 m 2 none
71 m 14 powerloom weaver cotton
72 f 13 powerloom weaver cotton
73 f 9 scholar
74 m 6 scholar
75 f 4 scholar
76 f 2 none
77 f 12 handloom weaver
78 m 1 none
79 f 5 scholar
80 f 3 scholar
81 m 10 scholar
82 m 10 farmer's son
83 f 7 scholar
84 f 2 none
85 m 4 scholar
86 f 14 powerloom weaver
87 f 10 handloom weaver
88 f 6 scholar
89 f 1 none
90 m 0 none
91 m 12 scholar
92 m 13 powerloom weaver
93 f 4 scholar at home
94 f 1 none
95 f 2 none
96 m 0 none
97 m 4 none
98 f 12 farmer's dau & weaver
99 f 10 farmer's dau & weaver
100 m 6 farmer's dau & weaver
101 m 9 scholar at home
102 m 4 none
103 f 0 none
104 f 2 none
105 f 7 none
106 m 5 scholar
107 f 3 none
108 m 0 none
109 f 4 scholar
110 m 14 collier
111 f 11 employed at home
112 f 6 scholar
113 m 2 none
114 m 10 scholar
115 f 5 scholar
116 f 1 none
117 m 0 none
118 m 9 scholar
119 f 7 scholar
120 f 5 none
121 f 3 none
122 m 4 scholar
123 m 2 none
124 f 10 farmer's daughter
125 f 0 none
126 m 8 farmer's son
127 m 4 farmer's son
128 m 0 none
129 f 13 handloom weaver
130 m 11 handloom weaver
131 f 14 powerloom weaver
132 f 12 employed at home
133 m 10 scholar
134 f 6 scholar
135 m 1 none
136 m 14 farmer's son
137 f 8 employed at home
138 f 2 none
139 m 11 scholar
140 m 9 scholar
141 f 7 scholar
142 m 4 scholar
143 m 1 none
144 f 7 scholar
146 m 0 none
147 m 14 powerloom weaver
148 m 6 scholar
149 f 10 scholar
150 f 7 scholar
151 m 5 scholar
152 m 3 none
153 f 3 none
154 m 1 none
155 f 0 none
156 m 8 none
157 f 3 none
158 m 0 none
159 m 13 powerloom weaver cotton
160 f 11 powerloom weaver cotton tenter
161 m 12 scholar
162 f 5 scholar
163 f 14 winder cotton
164 m 12 collier
165 m 8 scholar
166 m 6 scholar
167 f 1 none
168 m 14 collier
169 f 8 scholar
170 f 6 scholar
171 m 2 none
172 f 9 scholar
173 f 6 scholar
174 f 3 none
175 m 1 none
176 f 14 handloom weaver cotton
177 f 12 scholar
178 m 0 none
179 f 5 scholar
180 m 4 scholar
181 m 2 none
182 f 7 scholar
183 m 4 none
184 f 14 powerloom weaver cotton
185 f 10 scholar
186 m 14 handloom weaver cotton
187 m 9 scholar
188 f 6 scholar
189 f 8 scholar
190 f 7 scholar
191 m 5 none
192 f 0 none
193 f 9 handloom weaver cotton
194 f 4 none
195 m 0 none
196 f 14 powerloom weaver cotton
197 m 12 scholar
198 f 10 scholar
199 m 6 scholar
200 m 1 none