Factories Act 1847

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The Factory Act of 1847, also known as the Ten Hours Act was an United Kingdom Act of Parliament which restricted the working hours of women and young persons (13-18) in textile mills to 10 hours per day. The practicalities of running a textile mill were such that the Act should have effectively set the same limit on the working hours of adult male millworkers, but defective drafting meant that a subsequent Factory Act in 1850 imposing tighter restrictions on the hours within which women and young persons could work was needed to bring this about. With this slight qualification, the Act of 1847 was the culmination of a campaign lasting almost fifteen years to bring in a 'Ten Hours Bill'; a great Radical cause of the period . Richard Oastler was a prominent and early advocate; the most famous Parliamentarian involved was Lord Ashley who campaigned long and tirelessly on the issue (although he was not an MP in the session when the Act was passed), but the eventual success owed much to the mobilisation of support amongst the millworkers by organisers such as John Doherty and sympathetic millowners such as John Fielden, MP who piloted the Act through the Commons. The 1847 Act was passed soon after the fall from power of Sir Robert Peel's Conservative government, but the fiercest opponents of all ten-hour bills were the 'free trade' Liberals such as John Bright; the economic doctrines that led them to object to artificial tariff barriers also led them to object to government restricting the terms on which a man might sell his labour, and to extend that objection to women and young persons.


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.[1]

Struggle in Parliament[edit]

1844 - inconsistent votes on the ten-hour day; a twelve-hour Act is passed[edit]

In 1844 Sir James Graham, the Home Secretary in the Peel administration had introduced a Bill to bring in a new Factory Act and repeal the 1833 Factory Act. The Bill limited the hours of work for women and young people to twelve and night working for them was banned. Voting on this Bill was not on party lines, the issue revealing both parties to be split into various factions.

I never remember.. a more curious political state of things, such intermingling of parties, such a confusion of opposition, a question so much more open than any question ever was before, and yet not made so or acknowledged to be so with the Government ; so much zeal, asperity, and animosity, so many reproaches hurled backwards and forwards. The Government have brought forward their measure in a very positive way, and have clung to it with great tenacity ; rejecting all compromise, they have been abandoned by nearly half their supporters, and nothing can exceed their chagrin and soreness at being so forsaken. . . . John Russell, voting for ' ten hours ' after all he professed last year, has filled the world with amazement, and many of his own friends with indignation. . . . The Opposition were divided, Palmerston and Lord John one way. Baring and Labouchere the other. It has been a very queer affair. Some voted, not knowing how they ought to vote, and, following those they are accustomed to follow, many who voted against the Government afterwards said they believed they were wrong. Melbourne is all against Ashley ; all the political economists, of course ; Lord Spencer strong against him.[2]

On night working, where the new Bill specified the forbidden period in the same way as the 1833 Act, Lord Ashley moved an amendment which defined night as 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.-after allowing 90 minutes for mealbreaks only ten-and-a-half hours could be worked; this passed by nine votes. On the clause setting a twelve-hour day the clause as it stood was defeated (by three votes) but Lord Ashey's amendment setting the limit at ten hours was also defeated (by seven votes).[3] Faced with these contradictory votes, Graham withdrew the Bill, substituting a new one which amended, rather than repealed, the 1833 Act. The 1833 definition of night time being unaltered the revised Bill contained no night working clause, and Lord Ashley's amendment to limit the working day for women and young persons to ten hours was defeated heavily (295 against, 198 for),[4] it having been made clear that the Ministers would resign if they lost the vote.[5] As a result the Factory Act of 1844 again set a twelve-hour day.[6]

1846 - a Ten-Hour Bill defeated[edit]

Lord Ashley introduced a Ten-Hour Bill in 1846 but then resigned from the Commons. The Second Reading of Ashley's Bill of 1846 was moved by John Fielden. Ashley was a member of the aristocracy (he became the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury on the death of his father), had sat for an agricultural constituency (Dorsetshire), and had resigned because he could no longer support the Corn Laws. Fielden came from a very different background; he was MP for Oldham a Lancashire 'cotton town' and was described by John Bright, opposing the Bill as the senior partner in the greatest cotton concern in England.[7] He spoke from practical experience; as he explained in his 1836 pamphlet The Curse of The Factory System:

I well remember being set to work in my father's mill when I was little more than ten years old; my associates, too, in the labour and in recreation are fresh in my memory. Only a few of them are now alive; some dying very young, others living to become men and women; but many of those who live have died off before they attained the age of fifty years, having the appearance of being much older, a premature appearance of age which I verily believe was caused by the nature of the employment in which they had been brought up. For several years after I began to work in the mill, the hours of labour in our works did not exceed ten in the day, winter and summer, and even with the labour of those hours, I shall never forget the fatigue I often felt before the day ended, and the anxiety of us all to be relieved from the unvarying and irksome toil we had gone through before we could obtain relief by such play and amusements as we resorted to when liberated from our work.

His Bill proposed a one-year experiment with an eleven-hour day before moving to a ten-hour day: Fielden did not rule out settling for a permanent reduction to eleven hours if the Bill was amended accordingly in Committee. There was considerable agitation in the country for a Ten-Hour Bill and more petitions were presented to Parliament supporting the 1846 Bill than for repeal of the Corn Laws; however the Bill was defeated at Second Reading 193-203.[7] The London Standard gave an analysis of the vote (including tellers) which summarised the voting of the three parties (Whigs, and the two Conservative factions) as:[8]

Voting Protectionist Peelite Whig Total
For second reading 117 7 71 195
Against (not having voted for ten hours in 1844) 50 66 80 196
Against (having voted for ten hours in 1844) 1 7 1 9
Did not vote (having voted for ten hours in 1844) 15 11 20 46

1847 - the Ten Hour Act is passed[edit]

Within a month, the Corn Laws had been repealed, the Peel administration had fallen and a Whig administration under Lord John Russell had come to power.[a] Russell's Cabinet contained both supporters and opponents of the 1846 Bill, and Russell declared at the earliest opportunity that the government had no collective view on the issue.[9]:c1184 In January 1847, Fielden introduced much the same bill as Ashley's Bill of the previous year.[10] Most of the arguments in the 1847 Second Reading debate[11][12] repeated those made in 1846, but there were three new ones:

  1. the current trade recession was so severe that many mills were on short time and not working as much as ten hours a day [b]- taking the lean years with the fat they had probably not worked more than a 10-hour day on average over the last decade
  2. the working classes in the northern textile districts had been allowed to think that if they supported their masters in seeking the repeal of the Corn Laws their masters would support a Ten Hour Bill; whether or not the masters had made (or intended to keep) that promise, Parliament should see it was kept
  3. that it was now inevitable that sooner or later the ten-hour day would become law (one speaker, referring to the extra-Parliamentary agitation and echoing comments about the Anti-Corn Law League said it hardly mattered what Parliament decided, the matter was already decided out of doors);[11] better that Parliament should give it now with a good grace

To answer two arguments which opponents of the 1846 Bill had made much of, meetings (twenty-one in all) were held in most of the major textile towns of Northern England: all were well attended, and at each motions were passed to declare that

  • what was sought was a ten-hour day (not an eleven-hour one)
  • that a reduction from a twelve-hour day to a ten-hour day was sought, even if there was a corresponding reduction in wages[14]

The 1847 Bill passed its Second Reading by 195 votes to 87[12] and went into Committee stage on a majority of 90 (190 for, 100 against).[15] In Committee, the crucial vote for ten hours, rather than eleven was won 144-66[16] and the Bill subsequently passed its Third Reading by 151 to 88.[17] Lord John Russell voted for the Bill (at Report Stage he had said he thought an eleven-hour bill safer but that would not persuade him to vote against a ten-hour one),[18] Sir Robert Peel against.[17] Lord George Bentinck, the leader of the Protectionist Conservatives in the Commons, did not vote on the Third Reading[17] but at Second Reading[12] and Report Stage[18] he had (as in 1846)[7] voted for the Bill although in 1844 he had voted consistently for 12 hours and against ten. The overall leader of the Protectionist Conservatives Lord Stanley had sat in the Lords since 1844 (and therefore had not voted on the 1846 Bill); in 1844 he sat in the Commons as the MP for North Lancashire and like Bentinck had voted for twelve hours and against ten.

Against the strongly held view of most of the Conservative party that the Corn Laws were vital to the prosperity of British agriculture, they had been repealed by Peel as a result of Free Trade agitation led by Northern millowners . The agricultural interest in the Conservative party had therefore repudiated Peel (who had opposed further reduction of the working day) and split the party. A Whig MP alleged that the 1847 Bill was motivated by the landlords seeking their revenge on the millowners,[18] but it will be seen from the above that support for the Ten-Hour Bills was relatively steady throughout; the 1847 one passed because opposition to it collapsed. With very few exceptions, the Conservative supporters of the Ten Hour Bill in 1847 had -like Bentinck and Lord John Manners voted for the 1846 Bill and with slightly more exceptions (including Bentinck)[c] for 10 hours in 1844; although not all claimed - like Manners - to have "the gratifying conviction that they, the Tory Gentlemen of England, had maintained their just and historical position; that, consistently with the character they had ever aspired to, they had fought the fight of the poor against the rich, and had been fellow-soldiers with the weak and defenceless against the mighty and the strong, and to the best of their ability, had wielded the power which the Constitution reposed in them, to protect and defend the working-people of this country.".[11] However the Corn Laws may have had some effect: on the analysis of the Standard fifty-one Protectionist Conservatives had voted with Peel in 1846, but he no longer had any call on their loyalty and the argument that a Ten-Hour Act should be opposed because it would ruin Northern millowners now had less force; many abstained in 1847, only four of the fifty-one named by the Standard voting against the Bill's Second Reading;[12] six against the Bill being considered in Committee.[15]

Popular support[edit]

In Lancashire and Yorkshire 'Short Time Committees' aiming to secure a ten-hour day had been formed by millworkers even before the 1833 Act.[19] They had succeeded in establishing a strong feeling among millworkers for a Ten Hour Act, and in gaining supporters in all classes of society

My Lords, the measures now proposed for your acceptance have originated in far different quarters than in the mind of one so little entitled to your Lordships' attention as myself. They have originated in the crowded receptacles of human labour—they have been elaborated in the factory and the alley, amid the whirl of machinery, and in those long rows of lodging houses which grow up around the giant chimneys of Lancashire and Yorkshire. This Bill has its root in the stern experience of the husband and the father. From this humble, but, I am sure in your Lordships' view, not contemptible seed, the idea has mounted upwards in the shape of such petitions as those which have encumbered your Lordships' Table. Men of higher education—men whose lives are one professional and practical exercise of philanthropy, have assisted the progress of the measure to the ears of the Legislature by their sanction and their advocacy; medical men in every branch of practice, clergymen of every religious persuasion. Springing from such a source, founded on such a basis of feeling and opinion, it has made its way through much difficulty against powerful opposition, till it has obtained the sanction of an influential portion of the Cabinet, of a conclusive majority of the House of Commons, and, so supported and recommended, has reached the Table of your Lordships' House.[20]

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.[21] Many committees were formed in support of the cause and some previously established groups lent their support as well. A paper the "Ten Hours' Advocate and the Journal of Literature and Art"[22] was produced and concentrated almost exclusively on the ten-hour cause. Crucially, a deluge of petitions to Parliament and a series of large public meetings in the manufacturing districts passing resolutions in favour of a Ten-Hour Act were organised.[d] These both nullified arguments that the Bill was against the interests and the wishes of (the better sort of) millworkers and established a strong moral pressure on Parliament:

The people deserved this measure. They had for many years besought Parliament to grant them a Ten Hours Bill; and he thought that the manner in which they had agitated the question entitled them to the most favourable consideration of the Legislature. They had sought to obtain it by the most peaceable means; they had never had recourse to violent agitations, to strikes, or combinations against their employers. They never had committed a breach of the peace at any of the great meetings held upon this question; but their conduct had always been characterized by regularity, and by manifestations of loyalty. It would, therefore, be only an act of justice to those loyal, peaceable, and industrious men to pass this Bill.[23]

Major contributors[edit]

"At a General Meeting of the Lancashire Central Short Time Committee, held at the house of Mr Thomas Wilkinson, Red Lion Inn, Manchester, on Tuesday evening, 8 June 1847, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted.

  • That this Committee feel deeply thankful to the disposer of all good gifts, for the glorious success which has attended their efforts to ameliorate the condition of the women and children employed in factories, and sincerely congratulate their fellow-labourers in the good work on the peaceful and constitutional character of the agitation, as well as the triumphant manner in which the Ten Hours' Bill has passed the British Parliament.
  • That the hearty thanks of this Committee are due, and are hereby gratefully tendered on behalf of the working people of Lancashire, to the Right Honourable Lord Ashley, for his zealous and efficient services in this sacred cause, during a period of fourteen years of constant, consistent, and exemplary perseverance, to improve the moral, religious, and mental condition of the factory workers by endeavouring to obtain for them leisure hours to be devoted to that purpose; and especially for the zeal and activity he has displayed during the present session of Parliament.
  • That the best thanks of this Committee are also due to John Fielden, Esq., MP, for the honest, consistent and straightforward conduct which he has ever pursued on behalf of his poorer fellow-countrymen; and especially for his exertions during the present session of Parliament in bringing the agitation for the Ten Hours' Bill to a successful issue.
  • That this Committee tender their heartfelt thanks to the Right Honourable the Earl of Ellesmere and Lord Faversham, for their zealous exertions in conducting the Ten Hours' Bill safely through the House of Lords.
  • That this Committee are deeply grateful and tender their best thanks to J. Brotherton, Esq., MP,[e] H. A. Aglionby, Esq., MP., C. Hindley, Esq., MP., and all those members who spoke and voted in favour of this measure during its progress in the House of Commons.
  • That this Committee are deeply impressed with the gratitude they owe to the Duke of Richmond, the Bishops of Oxford, London, and St. David's, and all the peers who spoke and voted in favour of the Ten Hours' Bill.
  • That this Committee offer their most hearty congratulations and sincere thanks to John Wood, Richard Oastler, W. Walker, Thomas Fielden, and Joseph Gregory, Esqrs., and to the Rev. G. S. Bull, for their support of this cause in times when it was unpopular to be ranked amongst its advocates; and also to all its friends and supporters out of Parliament.
  • That this Committee view with extreme satisfaction the past support of the clergy of the Established Church, as well as of those ministers of religion of all denominations who were ever found amongst the supporters of this measure, and sincerely hope that they will live to see realised the happy results which we believe were the aim and object of all their pious labours in this cause.…"[25]

Lord Shaftesbury[edit]

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.[26]

Richard Oastler[edit]

Richard Oastler was a staunch Christian, son of a leading Methodist but subsequently a Churchman. He lent his exuberant oratorical and writing skills to the cause of factory reform, focusing especially on the ten hour movement. Sometimes called the "Danton of the factory movement," Oastler was the leading voice for reform outside Parliament.[27] Oastler was known for dramatic rhetoric and for hinting at future violence should things get worse. 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 had 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".[28] Oastler had been convinced that reform must come either by legislation or by force.[27] By the time a Ten-Hour Act was passed, however, Oastler had greatly moderated his rhetoric;[29] on the political level the evils he had campaigned against were greatly reduced by the existing Factory Act and increasing compliance with it; on the personal level he was deeply touched by the knowledge that his release from debtors' prison had been assisted by donations from those who differed greatly from his politics and his views on factory reform. After his release he treated opposing millowners as a misguided and unrepresentative minority, rather than wicked.

John Fielden[edit]

John Fielden was born a Quaker but had become a Unitarian and was a cotton mill owner from Todmorden 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 than John Fielden.[30]


  1. ^ Hutchins and Harrison have Parliament dissolved on the fall of the Peel administration and the Ten-hour movement exerting itself for the return of members favourable to the Bill regardless of Party label. This is wrong (always check your references, however reputable!). The Central Committee did advise its members to work for the return of pro-Ten Hour MPs should there be a General Election before a Ten-Hour Bill was again brought forward, but there was no dissolution (or General Election) in 1846: since MPs accepting office under the Crown had to seek re-election there was a cluster of by-elections in the seats of the new Whig ministers.
  2. ^ In March, 1847, out of a total of 179 mills in Manchester only 92 were working full time, 68 short time, and 17 were closed. Out of a total of 41,000 hands employed in these mills, 22,000, or about 50 per cent., were working full time, 13,500 were working short time, and 5,500 were stopped. The average number of working hours per day in Manchester was reduced to seven, and in the surrounding districts to eight hours - [13]
  3. ^ "I have a right to say for a majority of my friends, though not for myself, that so far from this being a mere party move on their part, they were, almost to a man, supporters of the very same view of this question two years ago." LGB in 1846 Second Reading debate[12]
  4. ^ For example the London Standard of 4 March 1846 reported

    “A numerous meeting of the factory operatives and other inhabitants of” Manchester “ was held in the large room of the Town Hall, for the purpose of petitioning parliament in favour of the Ten Hours Bill. The meeting was called for eight o’clock, but long before that hour the room was crowded, and the whole street in front of the hall was also filled with people, anxious to gain admission. …(O)n the platform there were a very large number of the clergy of the Established Church, several surgeons of the town, and dissenting ministers “

  5. ^ " ... he had worked in a factory himself till he had reached his sixteenth year. He had worked twelve and fourteen hours a-day, and had undergone all the privations which factory children endured. For these young persons he felt the deepest sympathy; and though he had been raised to the highest honour which man could confer on him — that of sitting in the British House of Commons — he could never forget his former station." J B speaking during Committee stage of the 1833 Factories Act [24]


  1. ^ C. W. Cooke-Taylor The Factory System and the Factory Acts pg. 88
  2. ^ Greville's Memoirs as quoted in Hutchins, B L; Harrison, A (1903). A History of Factory Legislation. Westminster: P King and Sons. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  3. ^ "HOURS OF LABOUR IN FACTORIES.". Hansard House of Commons Debates 73 (cc1482-525). 25 March 1844. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  4. ^ see account given by Sir James Graham in 1846 "THE FACTORIES BILL". HANSARD House of Commons Debates 85 (cc1222-50). 29 April 1846. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Letter Sir Robert Peel to Frederick Peel dated Friday June 1844 printed in Peel, George (1920). The Private Letters of Sir Robert Peel. London: John Murray. pp. 257–8. Retrieved 25 July 2014. 
  6. ^ Hutchins, B L; Harrison, A (1903). A History of Factory Legislation. Westminster: P King and Sons. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c "FACTORIES BILL". Hansard House of Commons Debates 86 (cc997-1080). 22 May 1846. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  8. ^ "Factories Bill - Analysis of the Division on the Factory Bill". London Standard. 25 May 1846.  - the Standard named the Protectionists voting against the Bill, and all those who had failed to vote for the Bill, having voted for ten hours in 1844
  9. ^ "ARRANGEMENT OF PUBLIC BUSINESS". Hansard House of Commons Debates 87: cc1162–95. 16 July 1846. Retrieved 15 July 2015. 
  10. ^ "FACTORIES". Hansard House of Commons Debates 89: cc487–98. 26 January 1846. Retrieved 15 July 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c "Factories Bill". Hansard House of Commons Debates 89 (cc1073-150). 10 February 1847. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c d e "FACTORIES BILL—ADJOURNED DEBATE". Hansard House of Commons Debates 90 (cc127-75). 17 February 1847. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  13. ^ Halifax Guardian of 6 March 1847 quoted on page 97 of Hutchins, B L; Harrison, A (1903). A History of Factory Legislation. Westminster: P King and Sons. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  14. ^ "The Ten Hours' Bill". London Standard. 11 February 1847. 
  15. ^ a b "FACTORIES BILL". Hansard House of Commons Debates 90: cc745–819. 3 March 1847. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  16. ^ "FACTORIES BILL". Hansard House of Commons Debates 91: cc106–46. 17 March 1847. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  17. ^ a b c "Factories Bill". Hansard House of Commons Debates 92 (cc306-12). 3 May 1847. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  18. ^ a b c "Factories Bill". Hansard House of Commons Debates 91 (cc1122-41). 21 April 1847. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  19. ^ Driver, Cecil Herbert (1946). Tory Radical: The Life of Richard Oastler. Oxford University Press. pp. 84–86. OCLC 183797. 
  20. ^ Lord Ellesmere moving the Second Reading of the Bill in the Lords "Factory Bill". Hansard House of Lords Debates 92 (cc891-946). 17 May 1847. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  21. ^ "The Ten Hours' Bill", The Times (19449), 18 January 1847: 7, retrieved 19 August 2011  (subscription required)
  22. ^ Yale University Library holds full text versions of the Ten Hours' Advocate in its microfilm department
  23. ^ Lord Feversham seconding the Second Reading of the Bill in the Lords "Factory Bill". Hansard House of Lords Debates 92 (cc891-946). 17 May 1847. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  24. ^ "FACTORIES REGULATIONS.". Hansard House of Commons Debates 19 (cc219-54). 5 July 1833. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 
  25. ^ Report in "The Ten Hours' Advocate". 12 June 1847. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  26. ^ Roberts, A., The Ashley File, retrieved 22 March 2009 
  27. ^ a b http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/oastler.html Accessed March 22, 2009
  28. ^ 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)
  29. ^ "The Short Time Question - Renewed Agitation for a Diminution of the Hours of Labour in Factories". Morning Post. 12 November 1846. 
  30. ^ http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/IRfielden.htm Accessed 21 March 2009

For further reading[edit]

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