Child labour in an industrial town: a study of child workers in Birmingham, 1750 to 1880

Nejedly, Mary (2019). Child labour in an industrial town: a study of child workers in Birmingham, 1750 to 1880. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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There has been extensive historical research into child labour in industries such as textiles and coal mining, but there has been little focus on children employed in Birmingham industries such as pin making and button making. This thesis illuminates the extent and nature of child labour in Birmingham and the significant contribution made by child workers to industrialisation between 1750 and 1880. It draws attention to the importance of children’s earnings for family incomes and suggests that some families migrated to the town in search of paid employment for their children as well as adults. The attitudes of employers, Poor Law officials, parents and children towards early work are explored, finding that child workers were regarded as an integral part of the Birmingham economy.

This thesis provides a case study of child labour and child workers in an industrial town. It uses a wide range of primary sources to highlight the experiences of thousands of child workers who were not bound as apprentices to employers, but engaged on a daily or weekly basis. It challenges the view that the employment of children in manufacturing was a relatively short-lived phenomenon during the early stages of industrialisation, arguing that child workers were widely employed in Birmingham’s factories and workshops until the 1870s. It highlights the strategies adopted by labouring families to provide their children with access to basic schooling, and identifies the specific threats to children’s health from industrial employment. Finally, this thesis argues that nineteenth-century migration schemes which sent poor children to work on Canadian farms represented a global dimension in the history of child labour.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain


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