Scriven's Report on Child Labour in the pottery industry in 1840

The Factory Acts:

The factory reform movement pushed for laws to improve the working conditions in English factories and mills. In 1802 the first act was passed and the  "Health and Morals of Apprentices Act" was introduced to limit the number of hours worked by women and children in cotton and woollen mills. The first series of Factory Acts only applied to the textile industry, further improvements were introduced in subsequent acts.

1840 - First investigation into child labour in the pottery industry:

On the authority of an order issued by the House of Commons, the Commissioners appointed Dr. Samuel Scriven to investigate and report on the "Employment of Children and Young Persons in the District of the North Staffordshire Potteries and on the Actual State, Conditions and Treatment of Such Children and Young Persons."

In December 1840, on Samuel Scriven visited 173 potteries to collect evidence for a study of working conditions in the manufactories and their coal mines. He finished his investigation by late February and submitted his report in March of 1841. The report was published in 1843.

Through questionnaires, site visits, and personal interviews, Scriven and his team investigated working conditions including those in coal mines, cotton and woolen mills, as well as pottery factories.  As a result of the investigation Parliament passed legislation controlling the hours and conditions of work for young people.  Unlike the coal mines and textile mills, the Staffordshire potteries were not named in the acts perhaps because, despite what seemed like a hard life to us, the average pottery factory offered working conditions better than the minimum required by the new law.

next: Conditions in the factories

select from one of the sections below....
Conditions in the factories "I have visited and thoroughly examined no less than 173 of them"
Wages, employment of families and children "The class of children whose physical condition has the strongest claims to consideration is that of the "jiggers" and " mould-runners", who, by the very nature of their work, are rendered pale weak diminutive and unhealthy"
Education and Schools "I feel great pleasure in recording the gratifying fact, that throughout the whole of my visits, whether in the factory or workshop, the cabin at the pit's mouth, or in the humble cottage, I have been received with the utmost respect, kindness, and hospitality"
Doctors Report on Health Conditions "Intemperance in intoxicating drinks is a serious evil among the working class. Many of them allowing their families almost to starve to beg in order that they may indulge in this vice."
Testimony of the Workers (1) "Joseph Bevington, very pale and phthisical: aged 10....  I have been at work 12 months in the handle-room; father works there; I get 2s. a week, father takes it to me; I got 3 brothers and sisters; I come at 7 in the morning and leave at 6 in the evening;"
Testimony of the Workers (2) "I can read but very little, and can write a little. I go to Sunday-school at the Tabernacle, and went to a day- school two or three years. I work by day wage .... I'd rather be a dipper than jigger"
Testimony of the Workers (3) "I come at six in the morning and go home at six and eight o'clock, sometimes at one time, sometimes at the other, all depends ; we work six days in the week. I am always tired when I go home."
Teachers and Clergy Reports "I receive 60 per annum as salary ; the boys contribute towards the amount by payments of 2d. per week; most of them pay up well ; there are a few that are in arrear, resulting likewise from the parents' poverty."

next: Conditions in the factories



1862 - Second investigation into child labour in the pottery industry:

Parliament appointed another Children's Employment Commission in 1862. The report (1863) disclosed that there were 180 earthenware and china factories in North Staffordshire, employing 30,000 operatives, of whom 6,500 were classified as young persons and 4,500 as children under 13 years of age.


1878 - the Factory and Workshop Act:

It was not until 1878 that the Factory and Workshop Act brought together all the previous Acts into one provision and, most importantly to the children in the pottery industry, it now applied to all trades. 


1898 additional regulations applicable to child labour in the pottery industry:

August 1, 1898, marked the day when the pottery manufactories could no longer employ anyone under the age of fourteen.

One year later, they were prohibited in hiring a person under fifteen years of age for work in the following occupations: dipping house or the dippers drying room, china scouring, colour dusting, glaze blowing, glost placing, majolica painting, transfer making and ware cleaning immediately after the dipping process.


also see..

'When I Was a Child' - autobiography of Charles Shaw
a first hand account of life as a child worker in the North Staffordshire
Potteries in the 1840's.

The State of the North Staffordshire Potteries Towns in 1845
the Second Report of The Commissioners for inquiring into the
State of Large Towns and Populous Districts.

Occupations in the pottery industry