Factories Act 1847
The Factory Act of 1847, also known as the Ten Hours Act, restricted the working hours of women and children in British factories to effectively 10 hours per day. Paul Hargreaves was an active advocate.(Portrait held by The National Portrait Gallery)The Bill was introduced unsuccessfully several times before Parliament finally passed it in 1847. Some key contributors to the Bill's passage were Richard Oastler, John Doherty, John Fielden, and the leader of the Factory Reform Movement in the House of Commons Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury.
The Factory Act of 1847 stipulated that as of 1 July 1847, women and children between the ages of 13 and 18 could work only 63 hours per week. The Bill further stipulated that as of 1 May 1848, women and children 13–18 could work only 58 hours per week, the equivalent of 10 hours per day.
Struggle in Parliament
The debate over limiting women and children to working ten hours a day was a rather contentious one in Parliament. Lord Ashley attempted unsuccessfully to insert a ten hour clause into the Factory Act of 1844. A Bill that was nearly identical to the Factory Act of 1847 was presented to Parliament by Lord Ashley in 1846 but was defeated by a coalition of conservatives and free traders. The Bill that would eventually pass as the Factory Act of 1847 was presented to Parliament by John Fielden. The Bill passed by a wide majority after the fall of the Peel administration, which had weakened the power of the conservatives.
In addition to the role that the fall of the conservatives played in the passage of the Factory Act of 1847, popular support also played a key role. The so-called "ten hour movement", led mostly by members of the Anglican Church, rallied public support for the Bill. Many different groups supported the act, including many Quakers, workers, and even some factory owners like John Fielden. Many committees were formed in support of the cause and some previously established groups lent their support as well. One of the most influential groups to spring up was the "Ten Hours' Advocate and the Journal of Literature and Art". The "Ten Hours' Advocate" worked almost exclusively to bring about the passage of the Factory Act of 1847. Just days after the Bill was finally passed, the members of the "Ten Hours' Advocate" passed a resolution thanking specific supporters of the Bill for "their support of this cause in times when it was unpopular to be ranked amongst its advocates".
The 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, known at the time as Lord Ashley, was leader of the Factory Reform Movement in the House of Commons and played an extensive role in the passage of British factory reform in the mid-19th century and was an especially avid supporter of the Factory Act of 1847. Lord Shaftesbury was an evangelical Anglican and Tory MP who worked tirelessly for labour reform in England. He was responsible in some way for the passage of nearly every labour reform bill from when he entered Parliament in 1826 until his resignation in 1847. He later continued reform in the House of Lords.
Richard Oastler was a staunch Christian, raised a Methodist but subsequently a Churchman (although, like many Methodists at the time, he combined the two affiliations in some measure). He lent his eloquent oratory and writing skills to the cause of labour reform, focusing especially on the ten hour movement. Sometimes called the "Danton of the factory movement," Oastler was the leading voice for reform outside of parliament. Oastler was known for being quite dramatic and for instigating violent revolution when necessary. In his "A letter to those millowners who continue to oppose the Ten Hours bill and who impudently dare to break the present Factories act," Oastler addressed factory owners who he described as "murderers". In his usual style he wrote, "If blood must flow, let it be the blood of lawbreakers, tyrants, and murderers ... infanticide shall cease". Oastler was convinced that reform must come either by legislation or by force.
John Fielden was a Quaker and factory owner who fought tirelessly for the passage of the Factory Act of 1847. Fielden took a leading role in the struggle for reform even before his election to the House of Commons in 1832. Upon the resignation of Lord Shaftesbury in 1847 it became the responsibility of John Fielden to see to the successful passage of the Factory Act of 1847. It has been said that no one did more for the cause of the ten hours movement as John Fielden.
Notes and references
- C. W. Cooke-Taylor The Factory System and the Factory Acts pg. 88
- Bloy, Marjorie http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/factmine/factory.htm "The Factory Question" accessed 20 March 2009
- "The Ten Hours' Bill", The Times (19449), 18 January 1847: 7, retrieved 19 August 2011 (subscription required)
- Yale University Library holds full text versions of the Ten Hours' Advocate in its microfilm department
- Bloy, Marjorie http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/factmine/10hract.htm "The Ten Hour Act and its Supporters" Accessed 20 March 2009
- Roberts, A., The Ashley File, retrieved 22 March 2009
- Anon., A Sketch of the Life of Richard Oastler (1838). Oastler's biographer, Cecil Driver, identifies the author as Oastler's friend and follower Joseph Rayner Stephens, but Robert Gray, a more recent historian, makes no judgment as to whom the author is. The piece was reprinted in The People's Magazine, which Stephens edited, but this hardly proves his authorship.
- http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/oastler.html Accessed March 22, 2009
- Oastler, Richard, A letter to those millowners who continue to oppose the Ten Hours bill and who impudently dare to break the present Factories act, retrieved 22 March 2009 (subscription required)
- http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/IRfielden.htm Accessed 21 March 2009
For further reading
For more information on the Factory Act of 1847 and general information on the Factory system in Great Britain in the 19th century:
- The Age of Peel by Norman Gash,
- Speeches of the Earl of Shaftesbury,
- Prelude to Victory of the Ten Hour Movement by Kenneth Carpenter,
- The Humanitarians and the Ten Hour Movement in England by Raymond Cowherd, and
- The Factory System and the Factory Act by R. W. Cooke-Taylor