The 1830s was a momentous decade in British politics, when years of struggle started to pay dividends in terms of reform. Most significantly of course 1832 saw the Great Reform Act ; in 1834 slavery was finally abolished; and sandwiched between those two events came the 1833 Factory Act. (The burning of Parliament in 1834 seems a mere bonus).
Other Factory Acts had been steered through Parliament previously – including those of 1802, 1809, 1823, and 1831. But unlike their 1833 successor they failed to include any means of enforcing the legislation. Though only four factory inspectors were appointed after the 1833 act came into force, with more than 1000 textile mills (the act related only to textiles not to wider industry) per man to cover, it was a start. And they had the power to fine offending mill-owners for infringements of the new regulations.
To modern eyes what was still permissible under the act is barely credible: children between nine and 13 were ‘limited’ to an 8-hour day and 48-hour week, and supposed to be given two hours of education a day; those between 14 and 18 were limited to a 12-hour day. Most laudably of all children under the age of 9 were no longer allowed to work in mills at all and children younger than 18 were no longer allowed to work nights.
Tory MP Anthony Ashley-Cooper , the future Earl of Shaftesbury , was the driving force behind the reform in Parliament, backed by men like Richard Oastler outside.
Naturally the four-man inspectorate was not adequate to the task; but the precedent had been set and the system would soon be improved upon.
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