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     Was the Industrial Revolution a blessing or a curse to the working man?


Document 1

A medical observer's report about the effects of textile work:

Their complexion is sallow and pallid-with a peculiar flatness of feature, caused by the want of a proper quantity of adipose substance to cushion out the cheeks. Their stature low-the average height of four hundred men, measured at different times, and different places, being five feet six inches. Their limbs slender, and playing badly and ungracefully. A very general bowing of the legs. Great numbers of girls and women walking lamely or awkwardly, with raised chests and spinal flexures. Nearly all have flat feet, accompanied with a down-tread, differing very widely from the elasticity of action in the foot and ankle, attendant upon perfect formation….A spiritless and dejected air, a sprawling and side action of the legs, and an appearance, taken as a whole, giving the world but little assurance of a man, or if so, most sadly cheated of his fair proportions.

From P. Gaskell, The Manufacturing Population of England,1833.


Document 2

Evidence given before the Sadler Committee:

Joshua Drake, called in; and Examined.

You say you would prefer moderate labour and lower wages; are you pretty comfortable upon your present wages?
--I have no wages, but two days a week at present; but when I am working at some jobs we can make a little, and at others we do very poorly.

Why do you allow your children to go to work at those places where they are ill-treated or over-worked?
--Necessity compels a man that has children to let them work.

Then you would not allow your children to go to those factories under the present system if it was not from necessity?

Supposing there was a law passed to limit the hours of labour to eight hours a day, or something of that sort, of course you are aware that a manufacturer could not afford to pay them the same wages?
--No, I do not suppose that they would, but at the same time I would rather have it, and I believer that it would bring men into employ; and if I lost 5d a day form my children's work, and I got half-a-crown myself, it would be better.

How would it get you into employ?
--By finding more employment at the machines, and work being more regularly spread abroad, and divided amongst the people at large. One man is now regularly turned off in the street, whilst another man is running day and night.

From Parliamentary Papers, 1831-1832.


Document 3

Report on protective legislation for the cotton worker.

"Here, then, if the 'curse' of our factory-system; as improvements in machinery have gone on, the 'avarice of masters' has prompted many to exact more labour form their hands than they were fitted by nature to perform, and those who have wished for the hours of labour to be less for all ages than the legislature would even yet sanction, have had no alternative but to conform more or less the prevailing practice, or abandon the trade altogether….But the overworking does not apply to children only; the adults are also overworked. The increased speed given to machinery within the last thirty years, has, in very many instances, doubled the labour of both."

From John Fielden, The Curse of the Factory System, 1836.


Document 4

Testimony gathered by Ashley's Mines Commission:

No. 116-Sarah Gooder, aged 8 years.
I'm a trapper in the Gawber pit. It does not tire me, but I have to trap without a light and I'm scared. I go at four and sometimes half past three in the morning, and come out at five and half past. I never go to sleep.

No. 134-Isabel Wilson, 38 years old, coal putter.
Once met with an accident; a coal brake my cheek-bone, which kept me idle some weeks….None of the children read, as the work is no regular. I did read once, but no able to attend to it now.

From the Parliamentary Papers, 1842


Document 5

Chadwick's Report on Sanitary Conditions:

Secondly, As to the means by which the present sanitary condition of the labouring classes may be improved:--

The primary and most important measures, and at the same time the most practicable, and within the recognized province of public administration are drainage, the removal of all refuse of habitations, streets, and roads, and the improvement of the supplies of water.

That for all these purposes, as well as for domestic use, better supplies of water are absolutely necessary.
That for the prevention of the disease occasioned by defective ventilation and other causes of impurity in places of work and other places where large numbers are assembled.

From Report…from the Poor Law Commissioners on an Inquiry into the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, 1842.


Document 6

An analysis depicting the advantages of the British factory system:

The political and moral advantages of this country, as a seat of manufactures, are not less remarkable than its physical advantages. The arts are the daughters of peace and liberty. In no country have these blessings been enjoyed in so high a degree, or for so long a continuance, as in England. Under the reign of just laws, personal liberty and property have been secure; mercantile enterprise has been allowed to reap its reward; capital has accumulated in safety; the workman has 'gone forth to his work and to his labour until the evening;' and , thus protected and favoured, the manufacturing prosperity of the country has struck its roots deep, and spread forth its branches to the ends of the earth…..When the natural, political, and adventitious causes, thus enumerated, are viewed together, it cannot be a matter of surprise that England has obtained a preeminence over the rest of the world in manufactures.

From Edward Baines, The History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britian, 1835


Document 7

An analysis concerning the division of labor:

The greatest improvement in the productive powers of Labour, and the greater skill, dexterity, and judgement with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the divisions of labour…..This great increase of the quantity of work, which, in consequence of the division of labour, the same number of people are capable of performing, is owing to three different circumstances; first, to the increase of dexterity in every particular workman; secondly, to the saving of the time which is commonly lost in passing from one species of work to another; and lastly, to the invention of great number of machines which facilitate and abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many…

From Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776


Document 8

An examination of factory conditions:

No master would wish to have any wayward children to work within the walls of his factory, who do not mind their bussiness without beating, and he therefore usually fines and turns away any spinners who are known to maltreat their assistants. Hence, ill-usage of any kind is a very rare occurrence. I have visited many factories, both in Manchester and in the surrounding districts, during a period of several months, entering the spinning rooms, unexpectedly, and often alone, at different times of day, and I never saw a single instance of corporal chastisement inflicted on a child, nor indeed did I ever see children in ill-humor….In an establishment for spinning or weaving cotton, all the hard work is performed by the steam-engine, which leaves for the attendant no hard labor at all, and literally nothing to do in general; but at intervals to perform some delicate operation, such as joining the threads that break, taking the cops off the spindles, etc. And it is so far from being true that the work in a factory is incessant, because the motion of the steam engine is incessant, that the labor is not incessant on that very account, because it is performed in conjunction with the steam engine…

From Andrew Ure, The Philosophy of Manufactures, 1835


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