The world has had many great accomplishments but what people often fail to think about are the consequences of these great accomplishments. When the Industrial Revolution came to Britain, there was a high demand for labor to work in the various mills and mines because of the demand for production.
Chimneysweepers also became common during this time. Because of this, families fled from their rural farms to industrialized cities in search of work. Children were often the workers of choice because they were easily controlled, they were small and able to get into smaller places and because they were easily forced to work long and grueling hours.
The Industrial Revolution was responsible for advancements in technology because production was faster using these machines than by hand. All of this should have been a positive experience, however because of child labor it turned into a very negative era. The Industrial Revolution was responsible for damaging children in a lot of ways including their overall health, lack of education and the way they were brutally mistreated and abused.
There is nothing more shameful in British history than the despicable treatment of the nation’s working children during this time. Children were treated as animals, often beaten, starved and overworked. Entire generations of young people lost their precious childhood, because they were forced to work in these conditions. Many pieces of literature show us examples of the mistreatment and abuse, overall health and lack of education these children endured.
There are several examples of authors portraying their lives through their own literature because they too lived as children during this era and often endured the same harsh treatment. The result of their hard work created enormous amounts of suffering and sometimes death due to the greed of mill-owners, the sadistic cruelty of factory overseers and the consent of parents.
Health was one of the major damaging results from the treatment of these children during the Industrial Revolution. Children from the ages of five through eighteen were not physically or mentally matured yet and had no business working in these conditions. While working in the mills and as chimney sweepers children had to carry extremely heavy things, which often resulted in deformities to their bodies.
“One of the most common punishments for being late was to tie a heavy weight to a child’s neck, and have them walk up and down the factory aisles” (Blizzard). The overseers did this to set an example for the rest of the children workers. Knees were another body part often affected by standing so long. “…the knees become so weak that they turn inward producing a deformity called ‘knock knees’” (Smith).
So many children had such an extreme case of this deformity that they lost up to twelve inches off their height. Young girls often had pelvis problems from standing so long. Their pelvises became deformed and later in life when they were trying to have children, the physician would often end up having to take the baby’s life because the young women’s bodies were unable to accommodate the pressure. “Distortion does not prevent procreation, yet it most likely will produce deadly consequences, either to the mother or the child” (Blizzard). Because of this fear, many women chose not to have children.
Children were required to work long hours, often up to nineteen hours per day, which was obviously not good for them. “I am now frequently in the habit of seeing cases in which this arch has given way. Long continued standing has also a very injurious effect upon the ankles” (Smith). Their bones were also very soft because of their young age and the bones would often bend in different directions.
The arch of these children’s feet had to sustain their body weight, which often caused problems. Often the arches would collapse and the bones would not form properly. Repetition was common in these factories and many children had extreme pain in their wrists from the repetitive motion. Many times the wrist had a hollow appearance and there was no bone marrow. The wrists became so swollen and appeared to be skeletons. Surgery was very common and would often result in amputation up to the elbow.
Poetry during the Industrial Revolution often was brutally honest because many of the poets personally experienced the callousness of child labor. The Golf Links is a poem written by Sarah N. Cleghorn in 1917.
The golf links lie so near the mill That almost every day The laboring children can look out And see the men at play.
The poem has a sad ring to it but also tends to be ironic because the working children are watching the adult men play golf. The wording was chosen carefully to add more pronunciation that is more dramatic and emphasize the long, hard and tedious work these children were required to do. This behavior is reversed from the norm because usually it would be the children playing while the men were hard at work.
The food these children ate also affected their health. The owners of the factories were responsible for providing their food, however they would not allow them to take a break to eat. They were expected to work and eat at the same time. “We had to eat our food in the mill. It was frequently covered by flues from the wool; and in that case they had to be blown off with the mouth, and picked off with the fingers, before it could be eaten” (Crabtree).
They were usually fed oatcakes and soup and would have to try to pick the dust off with their hands while still working because they would be beaten and tortured if they stopped. Poor eating habits were inevitable.
To remain healthy, a child between the ages of five and eighteen typically needs between 7 and 12 hours of sleep each night. It was not uncommon for these children to get an average of four hours of sleep per night. They often were responsible for working from 4:00a.m. until 11:00p.m. and would have to get up the next morning and do it all over again. Not only was their sleep affected, but also they were extremely tired and that caused more accidents. Sometimes children would fall asleep and fall into the machinery.
“Living bodies caught in the iron grip of machinery in rapid motion, and whirled in the air, bones crushed and blood cast copiously on the floor because of physical exhaustion” (Reed). The overseers had the task of maintaining production and were the ones who punished the children by causing pain.
“Children were beaten simply to keep them awake towards the end of their fourteen to fifteen hour days” (Peacock). Over and above the horrible health conditions created by working in the factory, there was also extreme mistreatment and abuse. Many children were beaten so badly they would die. It was extremely dangerous in the factories for these children and was very common for small children to use or be near large, heavy and dangerous equipment.
“Children were scalped when their hair was caught in the machine, hands were crushed and many children were killed” (Castella). These working conditions created many accidents involving injuries and even death. Both the boys and girls were subject to beatings and other harsh forms of pain infliction. Children that were too young to run machinery were ordered to collect the scraps underneath the machinery while it was still running which also resulted in injuries.
“Girls doing this job would often get their hair caught in the machines and rudely torn from their heads” (Rowland). Children who worked in these mills also lived in the mills and worked as hard as possible. They had little time for fresh air, sometimes not even at all. They were not allowed to have watches because the manufacturer would cut their hours down so they would not have to pay them as much. If the children wore a watch they were beaten and their pay reduced.
Charles Dickens was one of the most famous authors during this time who had a less than perfect life and because of the poverty his family endured, he was forced to work in the factory as a young child. Because of the pain and suffering he endured during these young working years, his writings come to life as he depicts the horrible lives that some of these children were forced to lead. Dickens tells the story of a young boy in the book Oliver Twist who was born into an underprivileged family, and suffered severe hardships during his life.
Oliver was orphaned at a young age and sent to a workhouse where he was forced to work hard all day with little or no food to eat because the caretakers ate most of it themselves. One day, being so hungry, he asked the overweight cook for additional food and was beaten several times over the head with a ladle, “Oliver remained a close prisoner in the dark and solitary room to which he had been consigned by the wisdom and mercy of the board” (Dickens 14).
Oliver was then sold to an undertaker and it did not take long for him to realize living in the workhouses was no worse than living with this man. “Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together, prayed that they would order him back to the dark room-that they would starve him-beat him-kill him if they pleased-rather than send him away with that dreadful man” (Dickens 21). Oliver Twist was a great example of a mistreated, malnourished, undereducated young boy.
Chimneysweepers were very common during this time. The children were forced to climb inside of filthy chimneys and clean them out. William Blake who authored The Chimney Sweeper also wrote very dramatically. This poem illustrates the horrific job these young children had to do. The child in the poem lost his mother at a young age and his father put him to work.
The child had a dream that several of the young boys died while working, and an Angel came and took each of them to heaven where God would be their father and their entire world would be surrounded by joy. When he awoke, he realized that if each of them does their job, there is no need to fear harm. “London,” written by William Blake in 1794 also speaks of chimneysweepers and the affects of child labor not only on the children, but also on the churches that hired these children. I wander through each chartered street, Near where the chartered Thames does flow, And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe. In every cry of every man, In every infant’s cry of fear, In every voice, in every ban, The mind-forged manacles I hear. How the chimney-sweeper’s cry Every black’ning church appalls And the hapless soldier’s sigh Runs in blood down palace walls. But most through midnight streets I hear How the youthful harlot’s curse Blasts the new born infant’s tear And blights with plagues the marriage hearse.
According to Blake, who at one time was a chimney sweeper, not only did the church physically turn black from the soot but the church also ruined it’s holiness because they used these chimney sweeper children to save themselves money. As you can see through these examples of literature, lives of many children were affected in so many horrifying ways. The children tend to reach out to God for comfort in many of these stories.
There was no time for education and were no enforced laws about a child’s education, which made it difficult for them. “The government provided no support, and volunteer efforts were ineffective at best” (Gray). If children wanted to go to school they had to pay, and it was very expensive. Parents needed all the money they could get and most could not afford to spend it on education.
Author Robert Hessen wrote, The Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Women and Children, a story about children in the apprentice and is quoted as saying, “…they were deserted or orphaned pauper children who were legally under the custody of the poor-law officials in the parish, and who were bound by these officials into long terms of unpaid apprenticeship in return for a bare subsistence” (Reed).
The Industrial Revolution brought with it a high demand for labor, which could have resulted in great accomplishments, however because of the child labor in this era, children were changed in several detrimental ways including their health, education and the way they were brutally mistreated and abused. Entire generations of young people lost their precious childhood, because they were forced to work in mills and as chimneysweepers.
Literature during this time had an emotional impact on society because most of the authors worked in such ruthless factories during their childhood. Working as they did created enormous amounts of suffering and death because of the greedy factory owners and parents. There is nothing more shameful in British history than child labor during the Industrial Revolution.