Children of the Labouring Poor

The working lives of children in nineteenth-century Hertfordshire

Eileen Wallace

ISBN 9 781905 313495

In this book Eileen Wallace focuses on the lives of working children in nineteenth-century Hertfordshire, mainly in agriculture, straw­ plaiting, papermaking, brickmaking and chimney-sweeping. In Hertfordshire, as elsewhere, children worked for long hours from a very early age, received little education, and endured poor housing, hunger and dreadful sanitation.


At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Hertfordshire was still predominantly rural. A great many children worked on the land from an early age and boys were expected to plough and drive carts from ten years old. Child brickmakers carried forty pounds of clay on their heads whilst straw-plaiters often started work at the age of five or even younger. Small boys were also much sought after to climb and sweep chimneys, a practice which continued until the last quarter of the century in spite of laws intended to abolish it.


It is a common assumption that, during the Industrial Revolution, factories and mills existed only in the north of England but, as this book documents, there was industry in the south of the country too, including silk-throwing and papermaking. In Hertfordshire the working conditions in these occupations matched those in the northern manufactories.


Drawing on contemporary reports and illustrations, Eileen Wallace shows what children suffered in order to contribute to their families' income. Although there were rare examples of enlightened factory­ owners such as John Dickinson, an innovative papermaker who built good housing for his employees to rent, the overall picture that emerges is of harsh conditions and gruelling labour for Hertfordshire's children during this period.



1 Background to the children's lives

2 Child labourers in agriculture

3 The straw plait trade

4 The silk industry

5 Papermaking

6 Brickmaking 

7 Chimney-sweeping

8 Conclusion


Silk Making Machinery


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