Key dates in the Sociological history and development of Great Britain



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Key dates in Working Conditions, Factory Acts 
Great Britain 1300 - 1899


1349 Statute of Labourers bound a labourer to serve under anyone requiring him, and to do so for wages current two years before the plague; controlled labourers’ movements; and fixed prices of food, etc.; administered by the local justices of peace.


1726 Better Regulation of the Woolen Manufacture Act declared that all disputes and demands relating to work and wages between manufacturers and weavers or other persons employed shall be heard and determined by two or more justices of the peace, and that any person aggrieved by their decision may appeal to the next General Quarter session.

1788 Act for the Better Regulation of Chimney Sweepers and their Apprentices, intended to alleviate “the misery of the said boys”. Apprentices had to be at least 8 years old; each sweeper was limited to six apprentices; and, justices of the peace were to decide complaints. The intentions of the act were largely ignored due to lack of any means of enforcement.


1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act limited the work of children in textile mills to 12 hours per day; prohibited night work; required minimum standards of accommodation; some elementary education to be provided; factories to be periodically lime washed; and infectious diseases attended to and reported.

The act attempted to enforce on all employers the conditions provided by the more humane mill-owners. Enforcement was in the hands of the local justices of peace who varied in the rigour with which they carried out these duties.

1819 Cotton Mills and Factories Act prohibited children under the age of nine years from working in cotton mills, and restricted those over the age of nine to a 12 hour day. Enforcement was in the hands of local magistrates. The act owed much to the efforts of Robert Owen.

1825 Cotton Mills and Factories Act limited the hours of work of children under the age of 16 years to 12 per day between 5.0 am and 8 pm with ½ hour off for breakfast and 1 hour off for lunch; and forbade any justice of the peace who was a proprietor or master of a mill or factory to act as a magistrate in matters connected with this act.

1831 An Act prohibited in certain trades the payment of wages in goods, tokens or otherwise than in the current coin of the realm, became known as the Truck Act.

Cotton Factories and Mills Act limited the working day of people under the age of 18 years to 12 hours per day, and not more than 9 hours on a Saturday.

1832 Report of the Select Committee on the Bill for the Regulation of Factories (chairman, Sir Michael Sadler) described appalling conditions, excessive hours of work and cruelty to children in factories.

1833 Mills and Factories Act (Althorp’s Act) repeated and extended the act of 1831. Younger children were to attend school for at least two hours on six days a week, and holidays for the children and young persons to be all day on Christmas Day and Good Friday, and eight half days. The Act gave powers for the appointment of inspectors, because provisions of previous acts “were not duly carried into execution , and the Laws for the Regulation of the Labour of Children in Factories have been evaded”. The inspectors were empowered to enter any factory at any time and to examine therein the children and other young persons and to enquire about their condition, employment and education. Children under the age of 13 years had to be certified by a physician or surgeon as being “of the ordinary strength and appearance” of a child of his/her stated age.

1834 Chimney Sweeps Act forbade the apprenticing of any boy under the age of 10 years, and the employment of children under 14 in chimney sweeping unless they were apprenticed or on trial. The apprentices were not to be “evil treated” by their employers, and any complaints of the children were to be heard by justices of the peace. The act was largely ineffective as there were no means of enforcement.

1840 Chimney Sweeps Act prohibited any child under the age of 16 years being apprenticed, and any person under 21 being compelled or knowingly allowed to ascend or descend a chimney or flue for sweeping, cleaning or coring.

1842 Mines and Collieries Act was introduced after a Royal Commission had revealed the terrible conditions in which women and children worked underground. It prohibited the employment underground of women and children under ten in mines and collieries, and provided for the appointment of inspectors of mines.

1844 Labour in Factories Act amended the regulations concerning factory inspectors and certifying surgeons; for the first time machinery was required to be guarded; the
age at which children may be employed was reduced from nine to eight years; and the
maximum hours of work for children and women was prescribed.

1847 Hours of Labour of Young Persons and Females in Factories Act, the Ten Hours Act, reduced the permitted maximum hours of work for women and children to 10
hours per day and 58 hours in any one week.

1850 Factories Act amended the act of 1847 by stating the times between which young people and women could be employed in factories; and increased the total hours which could be worked by them to 60 per week.

Coal Mines Inspection Act introduced the appointment of inspectors of coal mines and set out their powers and duties.

1862 John Simon in his fourth annual report to the Privy Council drew attention to the ill effects of much factory work and concluded that "to be able to redress that wrong is perhaps among the greatest opportunities for good which human institutions can afford".

1864 Factory Acts (Extension) Act incorporated previous factory acts and extended their coverage of industries.

Chimney Sweeps (Regulation) Act amended the 1840 act and permitted chimney sweeps to employ children under 10 years on their own premises.

1867 Factory Acts Extension Act brought all factories employing more than 50 people under the terms of all existing factory acts; forbade the employment of children, young people and women on Sundays; and amended some regulations of previous acts.

Workshop Regulation Act widened the definition of workshop; prohibited the employment of children under the age of 8 years in any handicraft; and made other regulations.

Agricultural Gangs Act prohibited the employment of children under the age of 8 in public agricultural gangs; prohibited gangs of mixed sex; and required all gangmasters to be licensed by the local magistrates.


1868 First report of the Royal Commission on the Employment of Children, Young Persons and Women in Agriculture published.

1871 Factory and Workshop Act transferred some duties regarding inspections from the local authorities to the factory inspectors, and modified some other provisions.

Criminal Law Amendment Act made illegal intimidation, violence, obstruction and picketing against an employer or other employees.

Bank Holidays Act laid down that Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and 26th of December (if a weekday) should be official holidays.

1872 Metalliferous Mines Regulation Act prohibited the employment in the mines of all girls, women and boys under the age of 12 years; introduced powers to appoint inspectors of mines; and set out rules regarding ventilation, blasting and machinery.

1873 Agricultural Children’s Act stated that children between the ages of 8 and 10 years could be employed in agriculture only if the parent signed a certificate stating that the child had completed 250 school attendances, and if the child was over ten 150 attendances in the preceding 12 months. The act lacked any means of enforcement.

1874 Factory Act raised the minimum working age to nine; limited the working day for women and young people to 10 hours in the textile industry, to be between 6 am and 6 pm; and reduced the working week to 56½ hours.

Alkali Act (1863) Amendment Act set a volumetric standard of permitted pollution from hydrochloric acid; and extended inspections.

1875 Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act amended the law in regard to conspiracy in trade disputes; made peaceful picketing lawful; and stated that anything that could be legally done by an individual could be legally done by a union.

Employers and Workmen Act enlarged the powers of the county courts in respect of disputes between employers and their workmen, and gave the courts limited civil jurisdiction in respect of such disputes.

Chimney Sweepers Act required chimney sweepers to be authorised by the police to carry on their businesses in the district, and so provided some means of enforcement of previous acts.

1878 Factories and Workshops Act consolidated and extended factory provisions to workshops; banned children from work involving white lead; and, set up a central inspectorate.

Phillipa Flowerday appointed as nurse to the J & J Colman (Norwich) to work among the factory people, and to visit them at home when they were ill. She is believed to be the first trained nurse to be appointed to work as a nurse within an industrial organisation.

1880 Employers Liability Act extended the law regarding injuries to employees.

1881 Alkali, Etc. Works Regulation Act consolidated and extended the provisions of the 1863 and 1874 acts.

1883 Factory and Workshop Act set standards for all white lead factories.

1886 Shop Hours Regulation Act attempted to regulate the hours of work of children and young persons in shops; the hours of work were not to exceed 74 per week, including meal times.

1891 Factory and Workshop Act consolidated and extended safety and sanitary regulations; transferred enforcement in regard to some workshops from the factory inspectors to the local authorities; raised the minimum age for employment in factories to 11 years; prohibited the owner of a factory from knowingly employing a woman within four weeks of giving birth; and introduced some measures to control conditions of “outworkers”.

1892 Shop Hours Act repeated and strengthened the requirements of the 1886 act about the employment of young persons in shops; and placed the responsibility for inspection on the councils of the counties and county boroughs.

1893 Women factory inspectors introduced.

1895 Factory and Workshop Act amended and extended previous acts regarding sanitary provisions, safety, employment of children, holidays and accidents; and made certain industrial diseases (lead, phosphorus, arsenic and anthrax) notifiable for the first time.

1897 Workmen’s Compensation Act established the principle that persons injured at work should be compensated.1898 Thomas M Legge (later Sir, 1863-1932), appointed as the first medical inspector of factories.

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