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. 


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