Educating Bradford

Educating Bradford

8. Child Labour and Half-timers

“primary security against overwork; inasmuch as if we secured their presence in school. . . we prevented their presence for that time in the workshop.”

Sir Edwin Chadwick on the half-time system and half-timers

Throughout history, the high cost of education and the need to earn money meant that for poor children, work was a priority over education. From the 19th century, a series of Factory Acts not only limited child labour but enforced childhood education. A ‘half-time system’ allowed children to receive some compulsory education outside of work; Bradford had just over 7,000 half-timers in 1888.

In industrial cities in the 19th century, the employment of children was high as children were cheaper to employ than adults. As a result, poor children, already with limited free or cheap schooling options, worked long hours in factories and mills rather than studying in classrooms.

A series of laws, Factory Acts, slowly increased the age which children could be employed from and enforced some compulsory, but limited, basic education for working children. The 1819 Factory Act banned the employment of under 9s in cotton mills.

The 1833 Factory Act brought the minimum working age to 9 in all textile mills (except silk mills) while children aged 9 to 13 had to receive two hours of education a day. At one stage, only four inspectors tried to enforce this in thousands of mills around the country so many employers were able to break this law. Bradford industrialist Titus Salt was against the 1833 Factory Act as he was in favour of child labour.

This system of work and compulsory education became known as the halftime system. Some working children, or half-timers, attended Factory Schools in workplaces. In 1859, Bradford had 1,505 registered half-timers and 5,700 in 1870.

The half-time system continued until the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act which put an end to it. By then, there were few halftimers as the Factory Acts and Education Acts had increased the school leaving age to 14 and put learning, not work, as a key element of childhood.

Timeline of Child Labour Laws

  • 1819 Factory Act – banned the employment of under 9s and under 16s in cotton mills were limited to working a maximum of 12 hours a day
  • 1833 Factory Act – applied the ban on employment of under 9s to all textile mills (except silk mills) and 9 to 13 year olds had to receive two hours of education each day.
  • 1847 Factory Act – known as the Ten Hours Act, it limited the working week in textile mills (except silk and lace) for under 18s.
  • 1867 Factory Extension Act – extended existing work laws to all manufacturing work places with 50 or more employees; enforced that no child under 8 can be employed and that working 8 to 13 year olds must receive 10 hours of education a week.
  • 1874 Factories (Health of Women, & c.) Act  – raised the minimum working age to 10.
  • 1878 Factory and Workshop Act – enforced  compulsory education for working children up to the age of 10 while 10 to 14 year olds could only be employed for employed for half days.
  • 1891 Factory Act – increased the minimum working age to 11.
  • 1901 Factory Act – increased the minimum working to 12 and children could work fulltime from 13.
  • 1920 Factory Act14 – increased the minimum working age to 14.
  • 1933 Children and Young Persons Act – abolished the half-time system.