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What was life like for pauper apprentices at New Lanark? Meet Aggie
Pauper Apprentices & Half-timers
In the 1790s, there were hundreds of child workers at New Lanark. David Dale built the village and he needed lots of workers for his new mills. At the same time, he knew of pauper children who had little chance in life.
Mr Dale brought these children to live and work at New Lanark. They were called Pauper Apprentices. A pauper was someone who was very, very poor, and an apprentice is a trainee or learner. These child workers were orphans or poor children from the large industrial cities who had no one to look after them. Many of New Lanark's pauper apprentices came from the Town's Hospital in Glasgow or the orphanages of Edinburgh. They did not earn any money, but in return for their work, they were given food, clothes and lodging in the apprentices' dormitories in the attic of Mill Number Four. They were lucky in that they also received a basic education, a very unusual occurrence at this time because there were no state schools and no law had yet been passed that meant children had to go to school like today.
This practice of employing apprentices was very common in mills. It was cheap to feed and clothe them and they were considered to be suited to mill work. By the standards of the day, the apprentices at New Lanark were well-cared for by Mr Dale. What do you think?
Child apprentices would usually work a period of probation and then they would be bound to the mill by signing or marking an X [if they couldn't write] on an apprentice indenture. This was a contract which meant that the children had to work at the mill for a certain number of years [10 years for some!] The mill was then responsible for their welfare. There were no laws to protect these young workers until the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act in 1802. This law set out mill owners' duties, but in reality, the treatment of apprentices depended entirely on the whim of the owner or manager.
In many mills in towns and cities, apprentices were treated very badly and were forced to live in terrible conditions. Read these accounts of what it was like to be an apprentice in different cotton mills:
"We went to our work at 6 in the morning without anything at all to eat or fire to warm us. For about a year after I went we never stopped for breakfast. The breakfast was brought to the mill in tin cans on large trays. It was milk, porridge and oat cake. They brought them into the room and everyone took a tin and ate his breakfast as he could catch it, working away all the while. We stopt at 12 o'clock and had an hour for dinner, but had the cleaning to do during that time. It took some of us half an hour to clean and oil the machinery. We went to dinner which was potato-pie five days in the week." Apprentice, Cressbrook Mill.
Pauper Apprentices & Half-timers
Half-timers were children who worked in the mills but also went to school. They would work up to 6.5 hours and also go to school for up to 3 hours each day. This system started when a law was passed in 1844 which limited the working hours of children under 13 years old to 6.5 hours per day.
Their day was divided between work and school and the hours varied from mill to mill. They would usually work in the mills in the morning from 6am to 12.30pm and then have school lessons in the afternoon for one week, and then they would have an alternative week with school in the morning. According to the law, half-timers weren't supposed to work more than 48 hours per week. This was often ignored!
It wasn't until after the end of the First World War that a law was passed that abolished the system of half-timers. At last, many children went to school full-time.
|New Lanark World Heritage Site
South Lanarkshire, Scotland, ML11 9DB
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