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The Peel Committee reported on factory children around Britain

Joseph Sefton, 1806

The mule was only ever stopped for doffing, when all 3 operatives would lift the full cops from the spindles...
You carried the bobbins on your arms ...


















  Oiling the machinery was commonly done by children









Keeping the mill floors damp was a common job for children




Jobs in the Mills

DID YOU KNOW?There were lots of different types of jobs undertaken at a cotton mill. In the mills, most jobs revolved around the machines. There were skilled and unskilled jobs. Skilled jobs included mechanics and engineers who were employed to maintain the machinery. 

Old carding machines from New LanarkMost millworkers were employed to carry out specific unskilled tasks or processes. What job you did also depended on your age and your gender. Some jobs needed physical strength, like bale-breaking or sorting the raw cotton; hauling boxes in warehouses or stoking boilers and so were largely done by men. Both men and women were often in charge of machines though. They might be mule spinners, or winders or carders. These processes all required different machines.

Child workers in the mills did the most unskilled work. This was often the most boring, repetitive and tiring work. A child could spend all day tying ends of cotton or cleaning fluff from the machines. Children as young as five were put to work in some mills. The welfare of children in factories and workshops depended to a large extent on the employer or mill owner.

Do you know how many children worked in mills in Glasgow in 1819?A Mr Henry Houldsworth who owned mills in the city of Glasgow reported at the time there were: 

" 10,000 persons employed in the cotton factories of the district, excluding New Lanark."  He had a table of numbers and ages in support of his statement from which it appeared that 41 mills employed 3,146 males and 6,854 females, largely children of course.

This information was provided for a special report by a government committee who were gathering information in 1819 about children working in factories around Britain. It was called the Peel Committee.

Many of the different machines in the cotton mill needed to be doffed. What was doffing? Read these accounts of what the job involved. Imagine how quickly you would have to work to keep the machine going! 

Elizabeth Bentley Mill Girl 1832

"We usually worked on 4 frames and we doffed every 2 hours..."


Repairing the broken threads on spinning machines was another common job done by children because you needed nimble fingers. Many employers believed that only children who began to learn these skills before they were 12 years old would become first-class piecers. Read these accounts from millworkers to find out what you had to do:

 Thomas Priestly, 1806"It was hard work as a piecer ..."


"I went winding cotton - little cops which went through rollers and they made yarn and so many of those yarns together went into the rope lap to make the ropes." Unknown millworker


"You have to do the cleaning ..."

Even though it was against the law that women or young people should clean machinery in motion, this duty stilll took place. Up to 3 hours of cleaning was needed on the spinning mules each week. Often they weren't stopped long enough to allow this work to be done, so accidents could easily happen. Everyone knew the rules but turned a blind eye. The smallest children were the best suited for this job. Read these accounts of scavenging. Keeping the machines working and clear of fluff was a demanding job: 

First of all in the mill you started oiling [the machinery] as soon as the mules started up. On Friday the machines were supposed to stop for an hour to clean the headstocks...the little piecers would do the carriage wheels and the minder and the big piecer'do the headstocks but they tried to get it done in the dinner hour and then it could run all afternoon without stopping because when the machines were stopped, your wage was stopped."

Children were used in the mills for many tasks. As well as the key jobs like piecing, they also helped the blenders to mix the cotton from the bales. They were used to fetch and carry baskets of cotton or bobbins from room to room. They had to carry pails of water from the well to the spinning rooms, to keep the floors damp to prevent the threads from breaking.

Many millworkers were lucky if they had more than one change of clothing. This would be their Sunday Best which was kept good and not worn at work.

  Sunday Best

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