10. Welfare

Prior to the commencement of the 19th Century little thought had been given to the conditions under which factory workers were employed, whether they were children or adults.

By the early 1820s, several attempts had been made to introduce legislation to improve conditions, by means of Factory Acts, but with only small benefits for the workers.

From his early days as the Oldham MP, Todmorden born 'Honest John' Fielden struggled to bring into force his Ten Hour Act, and succeeded in May 1847.

The Fielden family with their Quaker background were always benevolent employers and from the early 1800s provided a basic education for the children who were employed in their factories, and for whom there were no other chances for education.

By 1919 work hours were reduced to 48.

Gradually there was the introduction of 'Works' committees. Workers were able to voice their views and were listened to. The gulf between employers and employed narrowed.

In Todmorden, there had always been a paternal approach by the mill owners to his workforce, sons following fathers in the mill, boss or worker. During the Second World War, women did men's jobs and firms set up crèches and nurseries, canteens were established in many factories. These were also used by employees as social centres.

Nurses and Personnel Officers were appointed to help the workforce. This service attempted to help with any problem which might be facing an employee at work or at home.


Children were an important part of the labour force. For employers, they were cheaper to employ than adults. Operatives also favoured children working as it meant their sons and daughters could bring in a wage from an early age.

Legislation in the 1830s meant that children working in the cotton mills had to receive some formal education. After the introduction of compulsory state education in the 1870s, children in the cotton towns were permitted to continue working in the mills on proof of having attained an agreed standard of education. They worked half lime in the mills and the other half in school and so were called half timers.

Children usually began as half timers at the age of 12, in one week working until mid-day and attending school in the afternoon, and in the next week reversing this arrangement. What skills they learnt in the poorly paid half time jobs was more than offset by their poor performance at school.

The cotton industry was one of the last major industries to give up employing children. When balloted on the question, all the cotton unions voted to retain the half time system, presumably because of the difference that a child's wages made to a family's income. The half time system was abolished in 1918, and from 1920 children could stay at school until they reached the age of 14.

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