Search This Blog

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Cheshire salt workers and a special offer

The January issue of BBC Who Do You Think You Are? magazine includes my feature on finding out more about salt worker ancestors in Cheshire. The magazine also has a special reader offer for my latest book Tracing Your Canal Ancestors.

There’s more about the salt industry during the early nineteenth century in Regency Cheshire. The salt industry left an unhappy legacy of subsidence, particularly in the Northwich area. People, horses, salt works and houses were swallowed up by the ground when it suddenly collapsed underneath them.

Image: An interested crowd has gathered where this Northwich house has sunk from subsidence in 1892. Good Words, 1893.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Find My Past Preview: A Royal Scandal

This week's programme is the series finale of Find My Past's series on Yesterday, which airs on Thursday at 9pm.  This episode is devoted to a Victorian royal scandal: the story of Sir Charles Mordaunt and his wife Harriet Sarah Moncrieffe, daughter of a Scottish baronet.  Harriet entertained a string of lovers, one of whom may have been the Prince of Wales: the future Edward VII. The shocking thing to modern eyes about this tragic marriage is the 'double standard' surrounding adultery.  Men were allowed to have their 'little affairs' providing they were discreet, but women like Harriet risked losing everything.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Find My Past Preview: Tay Bridge Disaster

This week's Find My Past episode focuses on the Tay Bridge Disaster of 28 December 1879. In this horrific accident one stormy night, many people lost their lives when the bridge collapsed during a gale.  A passenger train on the bridge (which had opened just the previous year) plunged into the ice-cold waters of the Tay: no-one survived.  As always, the programme, which airs on Yesterday this Thursday at 9pm, looks at the stories of some people whose ancestors were involved in this tragedy.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Queen’s Barge

I was very interested to see the design for the barge which will be used by the Queen to travel down the Thames during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

When Queen Victoria visited north-west England in 1851, she and Prince Albert travelled along the Bridgewater Canal from Patricroft station to Worsley Hall to pay a visit to the earl of Ellesmere. The Earl had two imposing state barges fitted up to carry her Majesty and her retinue during her visit to Worsley. The stern of each boat was decorated with the earl of Ellesmere’s coat of arms. The queen’s boat was painted white with gold mouldings, and was upholstered inside with crimson satin.
There was intense excitement locally, but it was all too much for the canal horses. The Times reported that the horses received special training: ‘…in order that they may not be frightened at the shouts they are destined to hear.’ This was a necessary precaution because: ‘…when the horses were first tried they jumped into the canal.’ (Times, 8 October 1851.)

You can still see the Duke of Bridgewater's Boat House at Worsley today.

Image: The state barges on the Bridgewater Canal used during Queen Victoria’s visit to Worsley. Illustrated London News, 18 October 1851.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Find My Past Preview: The Suffragettes

This week's Find My Past episode explores the Suffragettes' heroic struggle to win votes for women. On 4 June 1913 Emily Davison stepped onto the racecourse at Epsom as a protest to help publicise the suffragette movement.  She died from her injuries shortly afterwards. 
In this week's programme, which airs on Yesterday at 9pm on Thursday, three people - Philippa Bilton, Katy Arnander and Matt Jopling - discover how their ancestors are linked to this famous but tragic incident in the history of women's rights.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Find My Past Preview: Firing Squad

This week’s Find My Past programme, which airs on Yesterday at 9pm on Thursday, traces the desperately sad story of a WW1 soldier shot for desertion, and the stories of the people and their families involved. Over three hundred men were shot for desertion, even though many of them may have suffered from shell shock owing to the horrors of trench warfare. There’s a memorial in Staffordshire dedicated to these soldiers – some of whom were only teenagers.

Images supplied courtesy of Find My Past.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Was your ancestor a child worker in a factory?

In my latest feature for the December issue of Family History Monthly, I investigate nineteenth century child workers and how to research them for your family tree.

For many centuries, the children of the poor entered the workplace from an early age. It was considered part of growing up. They helped with their parents' work at home, in workshops or on the land. Child workers played a vital role in the nation’s economy. They were employed in textile factories, down the mines, in metal manufactures, potteries, glass manufacture, on canal boats, in domestic service, as chimney sweeps: the list is almost endless.
When news broke about abuses in the early factories, this led to a reform movement in the nineteenth century to limit children’s working hours. Lord Ashley (1801–1885), later the seventh earl of Shaftesbury, helped to push factory legislation through parliament.
Parliament vetoed Lord Ashley’s proposal for a ten hour day, but the government passed the Factory Act of 1833, which children under nine years old from working in textile factories, except silk mills. Children aged nine to thirteen were limited to a eight hour working day; teenagers no more than twelve hours. Night work was banned. Children had to attend school for two hours each day. Factory inspectors were appointed to enforce the law.
The age at which children began full-time work gradually increased, thanks to Lord Shaftesbury and other reformers gradually succeeded in their fight to limit children's working hours in factories, workshops and in agriculture. The Factory Act of 1891 increased the age of beginning full-time work to eleven years.
Your local record office may have registers of children exempted from school under the factory and workshop acts in school attendance records. The factory acts said that firms must keep statutory records of children and young persons, and your ancestor’s name could be listed there.

Images from author’s collection: Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury. Engraving by unknown artist, Rev. Edward Lightwood’s The Good Earl, (London, 1886).

The factory chimneys of cotton town Manchester, 1870s. Nationally, over 43,200 children under thirteen were employed in the cotton industry alone in 1871. Cassell’s Illustrated History of England Vol. 7, (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, c.1873).

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Find My Past Preview: Jack the Ripper

I thought last week's Find My Past programme about the Mutiny on the Bounty was the most interesting of the series so far! This Thursday's programme on Yesterday is about the horrific murders committed in Victorian London by Jack the Ripper, so tune in at 9pm if you want to find out more about the family trees of three people whose ancestors were caught up in these terrible tragedies.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Reviews of Tracing Your Canal Ancestors

'Tracing Your Canal Ancestors was not only a great historical read, but the information and references for tracing your canal ancestors can be applied to other research, making it a great research reference book. It will certainly help my research for my own ideas!' Mr Andrew Bell, Shetland. 

'An excellent practical guide...' Towpath Talk, August 2012.

'This is an extremely useful, interesting and well written book which should be in the collection of anyone interested in workers on Britain's waterways... This is a commercial and social history of the people who lived and worked on the waterways... A thorough and practical guide'. Bristol and Avon FHS.

'Essential reading for those new to the subject'. Railway and Canal Historical Society.

'A practical guide that aims to help ancestors who worked on the canals, or for a canal company, to explore these roots... There is a wealth of rich information about archives, further reading, websites and relevant societies'. Your Family Tree, April 2012.

‘This book is an excellent guide for those who have traced their family back to someone who worked on the boats or for canal companies. The first half is a resumé of canal history, but from the rather different perspective of the individuals involved with them: in their construction, maintenance and operation. It offers the human history of canals… It explains not only how people might have been associated with canals, but also gives ideas for sources of where information about them might be held. Even for those not involved with genealogy, it offers a different approach to canal history…
There is a short general chapter on conventional genealogical research, but it is the specific waterway sources that will be valuable… Even the seasoned canal historian will learn from the extensive catalogue of regional archive holdings… Interspersed with the practical information is a series of case studies… Although obviously of direct interest to genealogists, this is also informative reading for the more general canal historian’. Hugh Potter, Waterways World, February 2012.

‘… A clear, atmospheric history of canals and the people who built and worked them… Tracing Your Canal Ancestors is both an inspiring read and a good starting point for your investigation into your canal-faring forebears.’ BBC Who Do You Think You Are?, January 2012.

‘Social historian Sue Wilkes’ new book, Tracing Your Canal Ancestors, is an authoritative guide for those with connections to Britain’s waterways.  A mixture of socio-industrial history with clear advice on how to find out more about ancestors who played a part in British canal history, Sue Wilkes’ book will be an invaluable addition to many family historians’ bookshelves’. Your Family History, Dec 2011.

‘Canal living as it was in the late 19th century is dissected here in great detail, with regular case studies, illustrations and … colourful anecdotes… Wilkes provides an in-depth practical guide to researching your own boatmen ancestors, with vast amounts of information on archives, websites and societies that could help further your genealogical research. This guide is not just for those with boatmen in their trees – it also provides often overlooked information on people who relied on the canal trade for a living, such as lock-keepers, toll collectors and canal company clerks.
The book is an excellent manual for family historians, and comes with lots of ideas about where to find further details about the personal lives of those that worked the waterways’. Family History Monthly, December 2011.

'The book is well written in a lively style; the information is comprehensive and more than enough to give a researcher a good start in their quest for a canal ancestor...The book is in two broadly equal parts. The first 100 pages are a description of the canal network, its history and development, and the lives of the people who lived and worked afloat. The second half is a series of appendices, designed to guide the researcher through the tracing process. The author addresses the basic nuts-and-bolts of family history – general registration, parish registers and censuses, underlining the particular difficulties census enumerators may have had with – literally – a floating population...The book is well indexed and has a comprehensive bibliography. Sources are cited.
The book is well illustrated with photographs, contemporary drawings, maps and copies of relevant documents that the researcher may encounter. The illustrations are a significant strength of the book. The author is an enthusiast without being an anorak; I enjoyed this book and found myself wishing I had canal ancestors, so that I could delve deeper into their long-gone world'. Federation of Family History Societies, December 2011.

‘Fresh on the heels of Sue Wilkes’s recent The Children History Forgot comes an equally superb offering on a completely different theme – the canal heritage of the British Isles. From the first truly artificial waterway in Ireland (the Newry Canal) to the massive network subsequently carved out in Britain, the author details not only the construction of the network, but the careers that depended on it. There were the navvies who built them, the lockkeepers and canal companies who operated the infrastructure, and the companies who depended on the resource to make a living. Amongst that are the classes often overlooked – families who lived their entire lives from birth to death on the waterways.

... The book is in two main parts – the first detailing the history and the second how to uncover it using key resources and archives. Whether you do or do not have a connection to the waterways, this work is an absorbing and enlightening read’. Discover My Past Scotland, January 2012.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty: Find My Past preview

This week's latest offering from Find My Past, which airs on Yesterday on Thursday at 9 pm, looks at the amazing story of the mutiny on the Bounty on 28 April 1789. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian against the commanding officer, William Bligh. According to many accounts, the sailors were attracted to the idyllic life on the Pacific island of Tahiti and repelled by the harsh treatment of their captain. Eighteen mutineers set Lieutenant Bligh and 18 of the 22 crew loyal to him afloat in a small boat. Mutineers then settled on Pitcairn Island or in Tahiti. The Bounty was subsequently burned off Pitcairn Island to avoid detection and to prevent desertion. Descendants of some of the mutineers and Tahitians still live on Pitcairn island. The programme charts the stories of three people whose ancestors were involved in the mutiny.  This could be the most interesting programme yet!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Right Path

During Georgian times, many people in the upper and middle classes regarded ‘the poor’ as a problem that society was lumbered with permanently, as ordained by heaven. The work ethic was all-important; idleness was frowned on. The devil ‘found work for idle hands to do.’  Families who did not use every means to support themselves, for example by making their children work, were considered improvident and a burden on the poor rates.
Educational writers such as Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810) and Hannah More (1745-1833) advocated work for young children as a good way of preventing them falling into lazy habits. Trimmer thought that schools of industry, such as the one at Lewisham (1796) which taught knitting and spinning, were a good way of setting poor children on the right path.  People were more willing to take children on as apprentices if they already had some training.
This idea continued into Victorian times; often workhouses had industrial schools attached to them where children learnt skills to help them earn a living. Many charity schools, such as the ragged schools, like the Westminster Juvenile Refuge and School of Industry gave homeless children food, a safe place to sleep and training in skills such as shoe-making, tailoring, leather-gilding, wood-turning or French-polishing.

Images: Hannah More, who opened several Sunday schools in Somerset. Lady’s Monthly Museum, July 1798.
Sarah Trimmer, a keen supporter of charity and Sunday schools. Lady’s Monthly Museum, November 1798.
The Lambeth Ragged School which opened on 5 March 1851Illustrated London News, 8 March 1851. All images from author's collection.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Desperate (Victorian) housewives - by Jen Newby

I'm very proud to welcome the fabulous Jen Newby, editor of Family History Monthly, to my blog this week! I've often written about how hard life was for working class women, but what was life like if you couldn't earn your own living, and were doomed to a life of cosy domesticity? 

Jen takes up the thread of their lives:

"If I could travel back in time to the 19th century I would rather have been anything but a middle class woman – chimney sweep, scullery maid or even a factory worker. While researching Women’s Lives, my new book on women’s social history during the 19th and early 20th century, I discovered that many relatively well-off women lived lives of quiet desperation, boredom and, frustration.

While female educational opportunities were gradually improving, and their peers were heading off to become teachers, doctors and political activists, ordinarily young ladies were stuck at home with some needlework or improving reading, waiting for marriage and the chance to escape to a house of their own. The conventional view was that women should aspire to marriage and motherhood. Even as late as 1895, novelist Grant Allen got away with writing, ‘A woman ought to be ashamed to say that she has no desire to become a wife and mother’.
So throughout the long 19th century, thousands of carefully-dressed young ladies vegetated on chaise longue. ‘Women’s business’, as novelist Sarah Stephens described in, Passages From the Life of a Daughter at Home, in 1845, was finding ‘something to pass the time…in drawing or in music or literature or worsted work…reading aloud’. Every Girl’s Book (1860) lists uninspiring entertainments open to young middle-class girls: spillikins, fancy work, embroidery, silk work, making wax flowers. For older women there were card games, bridge and sewing.
Lacking suitors and balls, jaded young women devoured romantic novels of adventure and excitement, like Edwardian bestsellers, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Blue Lagoon. The market for women’s magazines rocketed during the second half of the 19th century, with Isabella Beeton and her husband churning out The Queen and The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.
Not all meekly accepted a life of flower arranging and trips to church. Remembering her youth, Florence Nightingale complained: ‘Oh, weary days – Oh evenings that never seem to end – for how many years have I watched that drawing room clock and thought it would never reach the ten’. Some were pushed by their comfortable, stultifying upbringings to aspire to something more, escaping into the world to make their mark. Their stories are still capable of inspiring women today".

Jen’s wonderful new book, Women’s Lives: researching women’s social history 1800–1939 is published by Pen & Sword. You can find out more about Jen's books here.

All images from Jen Newby's collection.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Find My Past preview: D-Day

I'm very pleased to present another preview for the Find My Past family history programme. This week's episode, which airs on Yesterday this Thursday at 9pm, follows three people who are related to those that piloted an elite glider force that spearheaded the D-Day invasion, capturing and holding Pegasus Bridge in Normandy.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Canal Ancestors

The canals were once the lifeblood of Britain’s trade. Ireland’s Newry Canal, built in 1742, was perhaps the first truly artificial waterway in Britain. Engineer Thomas Steers (1672–1750), a Lancashire man, helped to construct it.

Britain’s canal success story really began when the pioneering Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgwater (1736-1803) proved he could make a profit transporting coal by canal.
The Bridgewater Canal, which opened in 1761, brought immense wealth to the ‘Canal Duke.’‘Canal mania’ gripped the nation, and a great network of canals was cut through the British countryside by the first canal workers: the navvies and engineers like James Brindley who transformed our landscape.
Canal boats were mostly owned by big carrying companies; only a few canal boatmen could afford to own their own boat: the ‘Number Ones’. Speedy ‘fly’ boats carried time-dependent cargoes, and these boats had four-man crews.
The ‘slow’ narrow-boats on the narrow canals of the Midlands were crewed by men or by families. The big ‘scows’ and ‘lighters’ on the Scottish and Irish canals were worked by men.
Writer John Hollingshead said the boatmen wore: ‘short fustian trousers, heavy boots, red plush jackets, waistcoats with pearl buttons and fustian sleeves, and gay silk handkerchiefs … round their necks’ (Odd Journeys In and Out of London, (1860)).
My new book Tracing Your Canal Ancestors for Pen & Sword explores the history of the canals and the boatmen’s way of life, and explains how to trace canal workers, whether they worked on the waterways or on the land.

Images: Canal engineer James Brindley (1716 – 1772). Lives of the Engineers: Brindley and the Early Engineers, (John Murray, 1874.)

A Fellows, Morton and Clayton boat, and a canal boat family in the 1920s: Cassell’s Book of Knowledge (Waverley Book Co., no date, c.1924).
‘Neptune’s Staircase’: Thomas Telford’s impressive series of eight locks at Banavie on the Caledonian Canal. Mountain Moor and Loch Illustrated by Pen and Pencil, (Sir Joseph Causton & Sons, 1894).

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Advent of Sunday Schools

The birth of the Sunday School movement is the subject of my latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World.

Robert Raikes is often considered the ‘founder’ of Sunday schools for working class children, but there are several candidates for the title. Almost a century earlier, the Revd. Joseph Alleine held classes at Taunton, and there are more instances recorded elsewhere: in Pennsylvania (USA) during the 1740s, at Catterick (Yorkshire) in the 1760s, and at Macclesfield in Cheshire in 1778.
Many of the pin-makers of Gloucester were small children. One day in 1780, Raikes was ‘struck with concern at seeing a groupe [sic] of children, wretchedly ragged, at play in the street’. The children worked all week; Sunday was their only day off. Raikes was worried they would turn to crime unless they were taught right from wrong.
In July 1780, Raikes and the Rev. Thomas Stock, headmaster of Gloucester Cathedral school, set up Sunday schools for the children. This initiative was immensely popular, and spread like wildfire in Britain.
You can find out more about the lives of working children, and their schools, in The Children History Forgot.

Images: Robert Raikes’ house at Gloucester, now a pub.
Memorial statue of Rev. Thomas Charles (1755–1814) at Bala. Charles founded day schools for Welsh children, promoted Sunday Schools in Wales, and was one of the founders of the British and Foreign Bible Society. © Sue Wilkes.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Find My Past preview: Battle of Britain

This week's Find My Past programme is a 'must-see' for viewers with relatives who experienced the Battle of Britain. It looks at the stories of the relatives of musician Jamie Naden, Timothy Parsons, who lives and works in Kingston-upon-Thames, and keen cricketer Alex Sears.  So check it out this Thursday at 9pm on Yesterday if your ancestors were involved in WWII!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

C is for Coal

In the early nineteenth century, children as young as four years old (boys and girls) worked underground in Britain’s coal mines.  The working conditions for children and adults depended on how high (‘thick’) the seam was. In the Northumberland pits, ponies were used to drag along the tubs of coal, but even so, the children worked a fourteen hour day.
In the ‘thin’ seams in Lancashire, the West Riding, Derbyshire and North Wales, children dragged heavy tubs of coal on their hands and knees, using a belt and chain. Perhaps the worst conditions were in Scotland, where children and young women (bearers) carried loads of coal to the surface in baskets on their backs.
It was not until the Mines Act of 1842, thanks to Lord Shaftesbury, that all females, and boys under ten years old were banned from underground work.
Images: Coal mining (1,2) using pit ponies in north-east England. The boy helpers were called ‘foals’. In the Durham and Northumberland pits, females did not work below ground after about 1780. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts, Vol. I, c.1862.
Yorkshire children working in the mines, and Scottish coal bearers: 1842 Report on Mines.

Find My Past: Titanic preview

This week's Find My Past programme looks at the famous story of the ill-fated Titanic. In this week's episode, the relatives of a wireless operator, a passenger and a steward discover what happened to their ancestors on that night to remember in 1912.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Preview of new Findmypast TV series!

I'm extremely proud to present a special preview clip of the new Findmypast TV series! It will air tomorrow on Yesterday at 9pm. The series will feature people whose ancestors were caught up in exciting events in history.

The famous events that will feature in the series are The Battle of Britain, Mutiny on the Bounty, Jack the Ripper, Dunkirk, D Day, The Titanic, The Battle of the Somme, The Tay Bridge Disaster, A Victorian Royal Scandal and Emily Davison - the suffragette who threw herself under the King’s Horse.

It sounds like a real treat for history buffs as well as family historians!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Canal Boatwomen Guest Blog

Many thanks to the lovely Jen Newby for inviting me to write a guest post on canal boatwomen on her blog! Jen's fascinating book on Women's Lives will be published by Pen & Sword very soon.

Lead Miners’ Children

Compared with coal mining, relatively few children worked underground in the lead mines; most worked at washing and processing the ore, which was done outside in all weathers. Most of the ore washers were boys; only a few teenage girls were employed. They earned 4d a day. They got very cold and wet doing this job.

In the Alston Moor district, the 1842 Report on Mines found that 432 of the 5000 people employed in the area were children and ‘young persons’; only 7 child workers were under thirteen. Only 53 of the ‘bigger boys’ worked underground. In the winter months it got too cold to wash the ore. Boys usually went underground when they were fourteen years old; they earned 9d a day. The miners got ‘asthma’ from breathing in lead dust.
The children of lead miners were often far better educated than those of coal miners. Mining companies such as the London Lead Co. set up schools for the children.
I visited the Killhope Lead Mining Museum a couple of years ago, and went on an underground tour. It was a bitterly cold day, even underground, and it was easy to imagine the hardships which the miners and their children endured.
Images: Killhope Lead Mining Museum’s great waterwheel. The author kitted up ready to explore the mine (I’m more nervous than I look!). The mine entrance.

Photos © Nigel Wilkes.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Parish Apprentices’ Stories

For hundreds of years, orphans and poor children whose parents could not afford to feed them were cared for by the parish. They faced an uncertain future.

Parish overseers saved ratepayers’ money by apprenticing children into trades. This saved these children’s upkeep, and in theory, the children could earn a wage when grown up. In practice, the ‘skills’ they learnt were often useless for earning a living after they had served their time.
In general, children were apprenticed from around age ten, although there were reports of younger children being ‘bound’. Boys could be apprenticed until they were twenty-four (twenty-one after 1767); girls were apprenticed until they were twenty-one, or until they got married.
Parish overseers did not need parents’ consent for these apprenticeships. Children apprenticed far away from their home parish, for example, like those sent into the early textile mills, might not see their parents for many years. Families who objected had their parish relief stopped.
Children were apprenticed into many different trades: textiles, coal mining, farm labour, domestic service, the navy, etc. Some masters and mistresses treated the children well. Others treated them very cruelly, even ‘respectable’ members of society such as Mr and Mrs Sloane, who were prosecuted for their horrific treatment of parish apprentice Jane Wilbred.
You can find out more about the lives of parish apprentices and the stories of children and teenagers such as Jane Wilbred, Anne Naylor and Mary Anne Parson in The Children History Forgot. And my feature for this month’s Your Family History magazine has tips on how to use apprenticeship records to research your ancestors.

Images: The Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal. The Styal mill children were parish apprentices. They were treated more humanely at Styal than at many other cotton factories © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.

Police try to hold back an angry mob in Giltspur St, London, as George Sloane (accused of ‘frightful cruelty’ against his servant Jane Wilbred), is taken to appear before the magistrates. Illustrated London News, 4 January 1851. Author’s collection

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Children History Forgot Reviews and Press Comment

 'I read your books The Children History Forgot and Tracing Your Canal Ancestors.  They were fantastic... I loved both books.  I knew poor children had it rough but had no idea just how bad their conditions were, or the appalling way they were treated. It was certainly an eye-opener!' Mr Andrew Bell, Shetland.

‘Sue Wilkes’ latest book is an impressive account, both describing the exploitation of child labour at the very heart of British society, and the struggle for reform over the issue. The book starts with the collapse of the centuries-old apprenticeship system with the rapid developments of the Industrial Revolution, and shows how…children from as young as seven years old were increasingly forced to work as parish apprentices in factories, often on fifteen-hour days. Reformers such as Robert Owen in New Lanark tried to improve conditions… but progress was slow.

Wilkes skilfully describes the battles fought for reform on all fronts, in the mines, the agricultural sector, the factories and even the humble domestic chimney, in an attempt to allow children to right to simply be children once more. A powerful account recalling a forgotten workforce on which an empire was built’. Discover My Past England, September 2011.

'While we may often bemoan current health and safety regulation, just imagine what life would be like were there none... no laws regarding working with dangerous chemicals; no safety equipment... and no education, no hope of a better life but for a fortunate few. Yet this was the draconian reality of life for a silent majority... Wilkes' work is eminently fascinating, and is a necessary and valuable piece of research into an era that may have gone - at least on these shores - but should not be forgotten'. Your Family History, Issue 20.

'Sue Wilkes traces the human cost - in human and economic terms - of Britain's success... Wilkes gives graphic descriptions of the "fearful conditions" in which children worked... This book is meticulously researched with fascinating documentary evidence and excellent illustrations. It can be recommended as an informative and compelling work... it engages and educates from start to finish.' Parson Woodforde Society Quarterly Journal, Autumn 2011.

‘Sue Wilkes’ latest book tells the story of the long fight for… reform during the late Georgian and Victorian eras and takes a fascinating insight into the working lives of our ancestors’. Chester Chronicle, Flintshire Chronicle, 8 September 2011.

'The style is colloquial... this book... will... successfully appeal to its intended readership'.  Book reviews, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol. 160, 2011.

Britain’s tiny chimney sweeps

This CBBC Horrible Histories video graphically illustrates the plight of Britain’s child chimney sweeps or ‘climbing boys’. Girls were used to clean chimneys as well as boys, but most of the child sweeps interviewed by the Children's Employment Commissions of Queen Victoria’s reign were boys.

As early as 1803, machines were invented for sweeping chimneys, and societies were set up to promote their use instead of children. Lord Shaftesbury (the 7th earl) spent many years trying to stamp out the use of child sweeps. But for decades, children died after becoming stuck in chimneys, or were burnt, or became ill from the soot, which was cancerous.
Although the Horrible Histories video mentions that using child chimney sweeps was banned in 1864, in fact this law was a ‘dead letter’ and was widely ignored. Shortly after the 1864 Act, in England there were still 2,000 climbing boys aged between five to ten years. It was not until 1875, when Lord Shaftesbury’s Act was passed, that police were given powers to properly regulate the chimney sweeping trade.
Now, humanitarians such as Jonas Hanway first tried to limit the use of child sweeps in 1788 – almost a century earlier. The Children History Forgot tells the shocking story of why it took so long for society to stop this shameful practice.

A child chimney sweep of the 1860s. John Leech, ‘Pictures of Life and Character’, Punch (Bradbury & Evans, 1863).
Oliver Twist narrowly escapes being apprenticed to a chimneysweep. Illustration by George Cruikshank, Charles Dickens’s The Adventures of Oliver Twist, (Chapman & Hall Ltd, and Henry Frowde, circa 1905).

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Child Lace Workers

Child labour was used in the manufacture of machine-made lace (bobbin-net) as well as hand-made lace. Young children tended the lace-making machinery. Finishing processes such as lace ‘running’, ‘dressing’ and ‘drawing’ were done by hand, mostly by women, young persons and children in large workshops or private houses. ‘Running’ was a type of embroidery which added extra decoration to the lace.
The girls who did this work suffered from increasingly poor eyesight and spinal problems because of the long hours they spent bent over the lace.
In the ‘dressing’ process, the lace was dipped in a starchy paste, then stretched over a frame. When it had dried, it was cut to size and pressed ready for sale.

Machine-made lace came off the machine in sections joined by threads, and ‘drawing’ meant removing these joining threads with a needle. An investigator in the 1840s found one Nottingham mother forcing her two year old child to work at ‘drawing’. This little girl’s older sisters worked at lace-drawing from six in the morning until darkness fell during the summer months. The machine-made lace industry was based in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, the West Country and the Isle of Wight.

Images: Lace running by hand. Lace dressing at Nottingham. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts, Vol. I, c.1862.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Schools Which Weren’t Really Schools

Child labour in the Victorian countryside was not confined to working on farms or in the fields. Families turned to domestic industries and handicrafts to bring in a few more pennies. Children worked for long hours in close, stuffy rooms in the straw-plaiting, shirt-button making, glove-making and pillow-lace industries. (Straw plait was used to decorate bonnets or make hats).

During the nineteenth century, thousands of women and children were employed making pillow-lace (hand-made lace) in Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Devonshire.
Children as young as five years old worked in lace ‘schools’, which were really workshops.
Bedfordshire children worked an eight hour day, for which they earned just a penny or three halfpence. The children became ill and had eye problems after doing such intricate work for long hours. Sometimes the children were taught a little reading and writing, but their parents expected them to perform a minimum amount of work per day.
The ‘schoolmistress’ who supervised the children used a big stick to keep their minds on their work.

Some of the children who worked in straw-plaiting ‘schools’ were very tiny. An investigator for the Children’s Employment Commission in the 1860s found George Tompkins, aged only three and a half years old, making straw plait in a school at Houghton Regis in Bedfordshire.

There are some images of children making pillow lace, and more info on the lace schools, here.
Image: The lace on these morning dresses was almost certainly hand-made. Lady's Monthly Museum, December 1798.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Nails and Screws

Children were widely used as cheap labour in the making of nails and screws. Nails could be made by hand using wrought iron (as in the Wigan area, and Black Country), and all the family joined in the manufacturing process. ‘Cut’ nails were not as strong as wrought-nails, and were made by machine, worked by a child or man.

Screw heads were also made by machines worked by children. Birmingham was the major centre for screw manufacture in the 1860s. At Hawkins’ screw factory on Princip St, thirteen year old Mary Regan worked from 8am until 7pm, with an hour for dinner. Mary first went to work when she was about six years old, in a button factory.

These child workers had little time to go to school. Charles Sidwell (age 11), when shown a picture of a bird’s nest with eggs, said he didn’t ‘know what that picture is’. He was also shown a picture of a cow being milked: ‘ that’s a lion’, he said. (Children’s Employment Commission, 3rd report, 1864, XXII, 3414-I).

Making cut nails, and making screw heads. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts, Vol. I, c.1862.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Child Gangs of Castle Acre

There were over 73,000 boys aged ten to fourteen at work in the countryside in 1851. Over ten thousand girls worked as 'live-in' farm servants. Boys were not usually considered physically strong enough to do full-time jobs such as ploughing until they were about ten years old (age fifteen for girls). However, they did odd jobs such as scaring birds from the crops, or helping to glean after the harvest.  The Poor Law 'reforms'  of 1834 had resulted in a large increase in child labour in the countryside; children worked in the fields or helped with hedging and ditching at far younger ages than in former times. The restriction of parish relief meant that parents were desperate to find work for their children.
In counties such as Norfolk, a system of ‘gang labour’ grew up. It was a way of getting labour-intensive jobs such as turnip harvesting done as cheaply as possible. A farmer would pay a gang master to do the job at a fixed price. The gang master recruited workers at the lowest page possible to maximise his profit. Children as young as six worked in the gangs. Because they had to travel where the work was, they often walked miles to work, and back home again after their day’s toil. The parish of Castle Acre became notorious for its use of gang child labour.  You can find out more about the gang children and reformers' battle to stop the gangs in The Children History Forgot.
Image: Oxen pulling haycart. Unknown artist, c.1790.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Tobacco Manufacture

In the mid-1860s, children as young as eight worked in tobacco factories in Newcastle-on-Tyne, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Sheffield, Scotland and Ireland. The tobacco was imported from Virginia plantations like this one.

In Britain, children were usually employed ‘spinning’ (making rolled tobacco), packing cut tobacco, and making ‘bunches’ of tobacco (stripping the leaves from the stem so they could be used to make cigars).
At Glasgow (Mitchell & Son’s), the youngest workers earned 1s 6d (7½d) per week; they worked from 6am-6.30pm, with two hours for mealtimes. Both boys and girls worked in the industry.
Image: A boy stripping tobacco leaves for cigar manufacture, and achild spinning a wheel to twist ‘pig-tail’ tobacco. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts, Vol. I, c.1862.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Writers Bureau Blog

Many thanks to Diana Nadin for inviting me to write a guest blog post for the Writers Bureau - you can read 'Voices From the Past' here.  If you are a novice writer, it's well worth checking out the Writers Bureau blog on a regular basis, as there are lots of tips to help you get published.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Rich Child in His Castle, the Poor Child at His Gate

What was life like for a child growing up in Georgian and Victorian times? While researching The Children History Forgot, I was struck by the vast gulf between rich and poor. Children like this smartly dressed boy and girl, born into a genteel family, were educated at home in their early years. Sons were sent to school, then university. Daughters were often educated at home, although some later went to school to learn accomplishments suitable for their future roles as wives and mothers.
Children born into poverty were expected to earn a living from as early an age as possible, like these ‘mudlarks’ scavenging along the banks of the Thames. They collected and sold bits of coal, scrap metal or rope to try to earn a few pennies. The only schools likely to be available to them were Sunday schools, or missions like this one.

Images: Fashion plates, Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music and Romance, Vol. XII, 1837.
Children mudlarking on the Thames, Old and New London Vol.III, (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, c.1878).

Friday, 12 August 2011

Children of the Potteries

The pottery industry was heavily reliant on child labour. In 1816 in Staffordshire, Wedgwood’s Etruria works employed over 100 children aged ten to eighteen (a few children under ten also worked there).

In the 1840s, a children’s employment commission discovered that over 1500 children under thirteen worked in the Staffordshire potteries, plus over 3,700 aged thirteen to twenty-one. They usually started work when they were seven or eight years old.
Children did many different jobs in the Potteries. They worked as ‘jiggers’, ‘mould runners’, ‘oven boys’, ‘dipper’s boys’, apprentice painters and figure makers. The jiggers and mould runners helped the dish, plate and saucer makers, and they worked extremely hard. The jigger turned the potter’s wheel. The mould runners carried pots to and from the stoves. They were on their feet all day. Sometimes boys did both jobs. They walked over several miles in a day.
The children, who were directly employed by the potters, typically worked for up to thirteen or even fifteen hours daily. Plate makers’ boys worked in temperatures of up to 120ºF (48 Celsius).
Some of the pottery processes were very unhealthy because white lead, and sometimes arsenic, was used in the glazing agent. The glaze made the pots look beautiful after they had been fired in the kiln, but was highly poisonous. You can find out more about the pottery children of Staffordshire and other counties in The Children History Forgot.

Images: Pottery manufacture: Placing earthenware in the biscuit kiln, putting pots into saggars, ‘turning’ the pots on a lathe to create rims and other decoration, and transferring prints onto pots. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts Vol. I, (c.1862).
The Wedgwood works at Etruria. Engraving from Staffordshire and Warwickshire Past and Present, Vol. II, (William Mackenzie, London, no date.)
Gladstone Pottery Museum, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.