Revealed: Industrial Revolution was powered by child slaves





Child labour was the crucial ingredient which allowed Britain's Industrial Revolution to succeed, new research by a leading economic historian has concluded.

After carrying out one of the most detailed statistical analyses of the period, Oxford's Professor Jane Humphries found that child labour was much more common and economically important than previously realised. Her estimates suggest that, by the early 19th century, England had more than a million child workers (including around 350,000 seven- to 10-year-olds) – accounting for 15 per cent of the total labour force. The work is likely to transform the academic world's understanding of that crucial period of British history which was the launch-pad of the nation's economic and imperial power.

Early factory owners – located in the countryside in order to exploit power from fast-flowing rivers – found that local labour was scarce and that those agricultural workers who were available were unsuitable for industrial production. They therefore opted instead to create a new work force composed of children, tailor-made for their factories.

"Factory owners were looking for cheap, malleable and fast-learning work forces – and found them ready-made among the children of the urban workhouses," said Professor Humphries. Her statistical research shows, for the first time, the precise extent to which the exploitation of children massively increased as newly emerging factories began their operations in the late 18th and early 19th centuries....

comments powered by Disqus
History News Network