Factory Acts(1802-1833)

Poverty, inequality, and negative externalities proliferated in the industrial economy. Child labor, in terms of child participation rates and starting work at very young ages also increased during the classic era of industrialization. The Industrial Revolution expedited the establishments of numerous factories, yet no substantial laws relating to the running of factories and working conditions for labors were issued until the first decades of the 19th century. As a result, factory workers, including child labor, were often exposed to dangers generated by heavy usage of industrial machines and long hours of working.

Against this background, a series of labor Acts were passed by the UK Parliament to regulate the conditions of industrial employment. The early Acts concentrated on regulating the hours of work and moral welfare of young children employed in cotton mills but were effectively unenforced until the Act of 1833 established a professional Factory Inspectorate.

The first pertinent Act was the “Health and Morals of Apprentices Act 1802”, which addressed the concerns about the health and welfare of children employed in cotton mills and set regulations on the construction of factories to ensure the decent working conditions. Then came the “Cotton Mills & Factory Act 1819”, which required that no children under 9 were to be employed and children aged 9-16 years were limited to 12 hours work per day. The legislation of the widely known “Labour of Children in Factories Act (Althorp’s Act)” was introduced in 1833. The Act required the following:

  • No child workers under nine years
  • Reduced hours for children 9-13 years
  • Two hours schooling each day for children
  • Four factory inspectors appointed


– The National Archives, “1833 Factory Act”, A The National  Archives, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/1833-factory-act/

– Wikipedia, “Factory Acts”, Wikipedia, last edited on 8 January 2018, at 16:29


– Jane Humphries, “Childhood and child labor in the British industrial revolution”, Economic History Review, 66, 2(2013), pp. 395-418. 


The Black Act (1723)

Between 1721 and 1723, a series of riots and poaching occurred in and around the Windsor Forest, dubbed the Waltham affair. The first of these affairs occurred in October of 1721 when sixteen poachers raided the park of the Bishop of Winchester out of supposed “private spite” (Rogers, 468). After subsequent raids of the Bishop’s property and similar elite properties such as the Farnham deer-park, where the Waltham Blacks stole eleven deer and killed many more, the Parliament of Great Britain passed legislation which was essentially a collection of punishments for these poaching raids. The Waltham Black Act ended up being an extremely severe legislative decree laying out more than fifty new offenses that would be punishable by death (Cruickshanks and Erskine-Hill, 358). The “ferocious legislation” included laws prohibiting going into any woods using any sort of disguise or blackened face. People charged with this crime could be prosecuted without any connection to a specific act of destruction or larceny (Rogers, 465). The severity of the Act was designed to “ensure the wholesale suppression” of the gangs of poachers, who were known as “Blacks” because of their practice of blackening their faces in order to conceal their identities (Rogers, 478). Some historians have argued that the Waltham Blacks were lined to the Jacobite movement, supporters of the Stuart monarchy who sought to overthrow the Hanoverian king of England, which is perhaps why the English Parliament was very adamant in creating such intense laws. Other reform laws were proposed by John Locke, who thought the poor were to blame for their own situations. For more information on John Locke’s Poor Laws, check out this link.


Rogers, Pat. “The Waltham Blacks and the Black Act.” The Historical Journal 17, no. 03 (1974).

Cruickshanks, Eveline, and Howard Erskine-Hill. “The Waltham Black Act and Jacobitism.” Journal of British Studies 24, no. 3 (1985): 358-65. http://www.jstor.org/stable/175524.

Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith was a prominent 18th century moral philosopher who, along with David Hume, established a “civic morality” that was an insightful alternative to the traditional moral codes adhered to by most people. Specifically, Smith stressed that there is a strong distinction between “empathy” and “sympathy.” The former is a person’s inclination to respond to the pain of others, and the latter is the true commitment that one makes only after they take a step back and reflect first.

Additionally, Smith also emphasized the distinction between “feudal” and “commercial” civilization. The feudal civilization consists of prayers, warriors, and workers, while the commercial civilization consists of landowners, laborers, and capitalists. In commercial civilization, people can voluntarily participate in various clubs and societies thereby having the opportunity to discover what independence and liberty truly is.

Smith believed that with the proper effort and sympathy, the middle class could become “natural aristocrats.” However, he also believed that most laborers lack the time and desire to be educated, and therefore can’t appreciate that their interests are harmonious with society at large. Smith was most cautious of capitalists because of their inclinations to pervert public interest and demoralize laborers for personal benefits. Much of what Smith believed speaks contrary to John Locke’s belief that the poor are to be blamed for the situations they are in, as Smith seemed to think their unfortunate situations are a product of social dynamics.

Finally, Smith believed that the key in defending society against problems that arise from both types of civilizations is the social and ethical wisdom gathered by those participants who are independent-minded and make decisions about their own lives voluntarily. Ultimately, Smith’s works contributed to the decline of mercantilism and the rise of free trade and laissez-faire economics.


  1. Fideler, Paul A. Social Welfare in Pre-Industrial England. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
  2. Gee, J. M. A. Adam Smith’s Social Welfaire Function. Scottish Journal of Political Economy, 1968.

John Locke publishes his plan to reform the poor laws

John Locke (1632–1704) was a political philosopher known for advocating for human rights [2]. He is famously known for saying that men are by nature free and equal, and that all people have the inherent right to life, liberty, and property, regardless of governments [2]. While these statements portray him as an advocate for human rights, his stance on assisting the poor differs significantly from the sentiments expressed above. Locke’s essay on The Poor Law even seems to contradict some of the aforementioned principals he is so famously known for. In his essay, Locke states that the reason for the increasing poverty rates “can be [caused] by nothing else but the relaxation of discipline and corruption of manners…[such as] vice and idleness” [1]. Locke’s view that the poor are to be blamed for their poverty drives his suggested reforms, most of which are harsh and focused on disciplining the poor and instilling them with positive characteristics like hard work. The first step in Locke’s proposal for poor reform is the “suppressing of superfluous brandy shops and unnecessary alehouses,” which sets the tone for how his poor reform is based upon his beliefs that the poor are to blame for their situations [1]. Locke’s main proposal for poor reform centers around workhouses and his beliefs that for the “effectual restraining of idle vagabonds” the poor should be put to work. Vagrants could be forced into service in the army/navy, hard labor,  severe punishment, and working on plantations [1]. Locke’s proposed reform of the poor laws is based on his view that the purpose of poor reform is to suppress idle vagabonds, superseding providing assistance to the deserving poor, which seems to contradict the very ideals he is known for.

  1. Locke, John, and Mark Goldie. Locke: Political Essays. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  2. Tuckness, Alex. “Locke’s Political Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. November 09, 2005. Accessed January 22, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke-political/.

The Irish Poor Laws (1838)

The Irish Poor Law of 1838 represented a culmination of the pressures of poverty in Ireland and increasing British autonomy over Ireland. Poverty was a major issue in Ireland leading up to the 1830s but it was largely dealt with through private charity. The poverty in Ireland was due to cycles of crop failures and shortages and less economic development than their neighbor, Britain. The Act of Union, which united Ireland and Great Britain in 1800, led to increasing British control over Ireland with decreasing autonomy within Ireland.  In the 1830s, the British government sent George Nicholls, a Commissioner of the English Poor Law, to Ireland to assess the situation and decide on future plans in addressing poverty in Ireland. Nicholls proposed a system similar to that of the English Poor Law in which workhouses would provide relief for the state of destitution. However, as opposed to in England, outdoor relief was not permitted in the Law, meaning that all relief would be provided through workhouses. Despite opposition from Irish government members, the British government passed the new Poor Law in 1838. The ultimate goal of the Irish Poor Law was to stimulate economic development by pressuring Irish landlords to consolidate their holdings, leading to an investment of capital in Ireland. Not only that, but the Irish Poor Laws sought to keep as many people out of the workhouses as possible through deterrence and limited access. British officials also sought to prevent an influx of Irish into Britain during periods of food or labor shortages by removing Irish from workhouses in England and returning them to Ireland.



Kinealy, Christine. “The Rags and Wretched Cabins of Ireland 1845”. This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine. Roberts Rinehart Publishers: 1995. (18-27)

Early Industrialization and Mechanization

Many of the great feats of manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution in England were made possible by the availability of new technologies that vastly expedited the formerly slow, tedious process of textile manufacturing. Inventions such as John Watt’s steam engine and the Arkwright water frame contributed greatly to the massively increased levels of productivity and general economic expansion of the time period. These inventions were themselves made possible by the evolving economic mindset sparked by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

John Watt, driven by this experimental mindset, took it upon himself to improve upon the preexisting Newcomen engine in order to produce steam power at a greatly increased rate and efficiency. This new steam engine, patented in 1769, reduced operation costs and, as a result, became widespread in factory contexts across England.

In addition, the Arkwright water frame, also patented in 1769, contributed to the expedition of textile manufacturing by improving the speed at which threads could be spun using water power. The frames also did not require skilled laborers, allowing factories to hire larger quantities of cheap, unskilled laborers, further decreasing factory operation costs.

The rapid technological advancements during the Industrial Revolution should, however, not be seen as an instigator of the economic growth of the period. Instead, they should be viewed as a direct effect of a changing economic mindset that provided greater incentives for experimenting with the manufacturing process.



“A History of the World – Object : Arkwright’s Water Frame Spinning Machine.” BBC, BBC, 2014, www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/RyHIgvgsSeCYGZRl4Ep5RQ.
“Industrial Revolution.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2 May 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Industrial-Revolution.
Trinder, Barrie Stuart. Britain’s Industrial Revolution : The Making of a Manufacturing People, 1700-1870. First ed. Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing, 2013.

Passage of The Great Reform Act

The Great Reform Act (Often referred to as the Representative of People Act of 1832), was an legislation which changed the way Britain’s electoral system was managed. The electoral system was notoriously corrupt; several constituencies did not have secret ballots, and furthermore, certain members of Parliament could buy votes in their parish. The Parliament of the time was not representative of the people it was required to cater to. Paupers could not vote in most parishes, and even worse, there were constituencies like Manchester that had not had representation of any kind for 80 years.

There had been internal attempts to reform the system in 1831, but the House of Lords shut it down. This rejection of the people lead to widescale riots in most major English cities. Although all types of Englishmen participated in the rioting, the lower and middle classes were the ones who had the most influence on the passing of the Great Reform Act. Due to the French Revolution, King George IV was concerned that there could possibly be a similar revolt in the country. After several months of unrest with 300,000 pounds of physical damage (around 31 million today) as well as scores of arrests and executions, the Great Reform Act was passed into law in 1832. The law allowed for all men with at least 10 pounds of property to vote in elections, as well as fixed some of the issues surrounding bribery and unrepresented districts, but most paupers were prohibited from voting because of the property requirement.

Coulson, Ian. “The National Archives Learning Curve | Power, Politics and Protest | The Great Reform Act.” The National Archives, The National Archives of England, www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/politics/g6/.

Butler, J.R.M. “The Passing of the Great Reform Bill.” Questia.com, www.questia.com/read/72380627/the-passing-of-the-great-reform-bill.

Jonas Hanway

Jonas Hanway (1712 – 1786) was a merchant and philanthropist. Making his wealth working with the Russia Company, his work as a philantropist made him a central figure regarding public policy on the poor.

Hanway was particularly concerned with expanding the population of Britain. He was elected governor of the Foundling Hospital in 1756 after his £50 donation, which amounts to about £10,000 today. Thanks to the House of Commons’ decision to subsidize the Foundling Hospital, Hanway oversaw the general admission period (1756-1760), when any child who was dropped off was admitted. While this attempt proved too costly to continue for long, Hanway was fully invested in the process, involving himself in a variety of concerns ranging from smallpox vaccines to the weight of coal buckets.

Hanway also heavily advocated for policy change. His advocacy in particular led to the passage of two Acts, both of which would become known as Hanway’s Act. The first one, passed in 1762, which required parishes to keep records regarding the children in their care, formed the foundation for later reform work. The second one, passed in 1767, stemmed from Hanway’s belief that London was deadly to children who lived in the workhouses. The new policy mandated by the Act relocated infants born in London workhouses to rural environments. While the system was later plagued by abuse, the act likely saved thousand of lives.



“Inflation.” Bankofengland.co.uk, last modified January 8, 2018. https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy/inflation.

Taylor, James Stephen. “Hanway, Jonas (bap. 1712, d. 1786), merchant and philanthropist.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, last accessed January 21, 2018.  http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb//odnb-9780198614128-e-12230.

Foundling Hospital Established

In 1739, Thomas Coram, a sea captain turned philanthropist, received a royal charter to establish London’s Foundling Hospital addressing the desperate need of housing London’s abandoned infants. Two years later, on March 25, 1741, the hospital received its first children and it soon found its permanent home in modern-day Bloomsbury. At the grand opening alone, “as many Children were already taken in as Cou’d be made room for in the House,” according to the Daily Committee’s minutes. Except during a Parliament-sponsored period of general admission from 1756-1760, the hospital imposed strict criteria about the age and health of each baby. Jonas Hanway, famous for his subsequent reform of the relief system for poor children, served as governor of the Foundling Hospital during this general admission period.

Catholic countries on the continent already had similar institutions, but eighteenth-century England was mostly reliant on parish poor relief. The Foundling Hospital may have increased the practice of abandonment or served an already growing population of illegitimate and poor children. Regardless, it allowed mothers to leave children to an institution rather than abandoning them publicly or resorting to infanticide. As Britain industrialized and underwent a massive demographic transition during the late 18th century, the Foundling Hospital only became more necessary as a source of relief for childhood poverty.

Composer George Friedrich Handel and visual artist William Hogarth helped Coram establish and fundraise for the Foundling Hospital, linking philanthropy with the arts. Handel’s organ and benefit concerts and Hogarth’s public art gallery at the Foundling Hospital disrupt the notion that eighteenth-century institutions were all bleak places with no room for the arts.

The Foundling Hospital released its last child to the foster care system in 1954 but has continued operating as a charitable organization for vulnerable children. The site of the original building now hosts the Foundling Museum.


Levene, Alysa, “Introduction.” In Childcare, health and mortality in the London Foundling Hospital, 1741–1800: Left to the mercy of the world’, 1-15.
 New York: Manchester University Press, 2007. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1vwmdk5.7 .

McClure, Ruth K. Coram’s Children: The London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

“Our History.” The Foundling Museuem. 2017. Accessed 21 January 2018. https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/about/our-history/.

Taylor, James Stephen. “Hanway, Jonas (bap. 1712, d. 1786), merchant and philanthropist.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, last accessed January 21, 2018. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-12230.

“What is a Foundling?” The Foundling Museuem. 2017. Accessed 21 January 2018. https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/about/our-history/what-is-a-foundling/

French and Napoleonic Wars – Impact on Britain

1789 marked the beginning of the French Revolution, and as a result fundamental changes in state and society occurred. During the years leading up to the Napoleonic War, Britain and most of Europe waged war against France. From 1792 to 1814, the French and other European powers were involved in nearly continuous warfare with the exception of a year because of the Treaty of Amiens, 1802. The war against Bonaparte, more commonly known as the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1805), proved to be costly for the British, in terms of capital and other resources. In 1792, Parliament had deployed 75,000 troops in their bid against France. However, during the latter part of the effort against France, Parliament deployed 500,000 troops.

From 1813-1817 the State spent nearly 35 million pounds in defense, compared to 7 million during the earlier years. When considering British exports, historians have observed that the final two decades of the 1700s held high rates of trade because America was importing many British goods. Furthermore, the French, Dutch, Spanish, and others were excluded from international commerce, making Britain the largest supplier of goods in Europe.

Because of prosperity in trade, it may have seemed that the British economy was doing well; however, this was not the case for many English people. The reinforcements for the war came at no small costs. People were left in poverty and misery with high tax rates, high cost of living, and high unemployment rates. The lack of jobs left many men deciding to join the military, also causing a rise in mortality rates. After the war, many were left hopeless and impoverished. In fact, many questioned Britain’s ability to reconstruct their economy.  A notable group, The Female Reform Society of Manchester, questioned the established structures of government and wondered if the only ones benefiting were those of the “corrupt” aristocracy. Although this was just one group, they embodied the thoughts and sentiments of many English people after the war.