The Commission of 1862.

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The Commission of 1862.

In 1.862 the whole question was raised afresh, and a Commission was appointed. Twenty years had strengthened the hands of the reformers; they had precedent now, and better machinery for collecting evidence. The textile factories were more or less civilized by now, but in the hitherto unregulated industries such as the potteries, hardware, straw-plaiting, and match-making shocking stories of overwork, exploitation, or unnecessary and horrible industrial diseases came to light. From 1864 to 1878 a whole succession of Acts was passed; regulation spread first from the textile factories to the large workshops, then to a number of new industries - blast furnaces, metal works of all kinds, paper and printing works - then, with infinite administrative difficulty, to the small workshops employing less than fifty people, and to home workers. In 873 Samuel Plimsoll, by incessant agitation, induced parliament to pass a temporary Act (made permanent three ears later) to regulate shipping conditions. The most famous of its provisions was the Plimsoll Line, marking on the hull of each ship the point beyond which it must not be loaded. The successive Factory Acts stiffened and elaborated the existing provisions as to safety, sanitation, ventilation and so forth; public opinion had moved a long way since the 1801 Act had first laid down that cotton mills should be whitewashed once a year. They brought women's and children's hours in the newly regulated industries into line with those in textiles. Finally, they raised the age of admission to industry to 10, with half-time provisions till 13. The passage of the 1874 Bill was marked by a small storm when the supporters of the budding feminist movement tried to exclude women from its provisions.


In 1878 the whole cumbersome mass of legislation was consolidated; and there, for the rnonent, we must leave the subject. Two points should be noticed about the history of the Factory Acts. In the first place, it shows the absolute necessity of trained administrators to carry out the law; with the best will in the world, no Government could have effectively imposed in 1801 the laws of 1878. In the second place it illustrates how, from legislating for the very weakest, the pauper apprentices, the predominantly laisser-faire Governments of the nineteenth century found themselves being led on by logical necessity from point to point till they were very largely regulating the working lives of grown men. It is true that outside mining and the Trade Board industries, which we shall study later, men's hours or wages were never legally fixed; but the provisions as to health and safety affected all alike. Gradually Parliament and public were coming to realize that, in the oft-quoted words of The Times, "The ultimate end of factory legislation is to prescribe conditions of existence below which the population shall not decline."

The story of the Factory Acts has taken us a long way ahead of the period with which we began - the heyday of laisser-faire. Now we have to see how another movement of reaction against laisser-faire set in and developed.

Further reading - The UK Economy Is All Greek To Me

The 1844 Factory Act

In 1844 it was followed up by a new Factory Act, introduced again by Lord Ashley and backed up by masses of evidence brought to light by the four hard-worked Inspectors. It was shown that, though hours were shorter and conditions in many ways better, speeding up, high temperature and bad materials were making the workers' lives a misery; that children were more and more taking the place of adult workers, who were "too old at forty"; that factory hands of all ages were ravaged with tuberculosis; that sheer exhaustion often brought about accidents; that babies and young children were literally dying... see: The 1844 Factory Act

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