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Monday, 20 June 2011

Peckforton in Peril

I was very sorry to hear about the horrific fire at Peckforton Castle yesterday. Mercifully, no-one appears to have been hurt, although one wing of the building appears to have been badly damaged. Peckforton was built by Lord Tollemache in the mid-1840s in the Gothic style; it was designed by Anthony Salvin. In Cheshire, the fad for Gothic architecture began in the early 1800s; Cholmondeley Castle was probably the first Gothic mansion, built by George Cholmondeley, the fourth earl, from 1801-4.

By the 1850s the Gothic revival was still going strong, and Peckforton Castle was featured in the Illustrated London News (26 April 1851). A reporter who explored the castle felt that it 'more than rivals Conway for its size and position'. Its apartments were 'splendid' but decorated 'in accordance with the most pure taste and refinement'. I hope Peckforton can be restored to its former glory.
Image: Peckforton Castle, Illustrated London News (26 April 1851). Author's collection.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Children History Forgot update

Owing to the jacket redesign, unfortunately The Children History Forgot will be launched four weeks later than previously scheduled - it will now be available from 31 August.  A little disappointing, but hopefully worth the wait as the book now has a much more exciting cover! Just to remind readers, the Robert Hale website has a special web price for the book, which will last for the first month after publication.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Health and Safety ‘Gone Mad’?

My latest feature for Discover My Past is on the factory inspectorate - it has tips on finding records relating to the factory acts which can help shed light on your ancestors' lives.
‘Health and safety’ legislation is sometimes satirised today for excessive caution – the ‘nanny state’. But early factories were dirty and ill-ventilated. Unguarded machinery killed and injured thousands of workers, young and old. The first factory inspectors fought mill-owners’ hostility and public apathy to make factories safer and ensure children were not over-worked.
Mill-owners used women and children as cheap labour. Working hours were incredibly long (fourteen hours or more in Yorkshire). Children did not have time to go to day school.
The Factory Act of 1833, an educational measure, set a minimum age of nine years. It limited hours for children and young people in textile mills (with some exceptions). Night work was banned, and children must have two hours’ schooling per day. Inspectors were appointed to enforce the legislation.
But many industries were left unregulated for decades, despite calls for reform by Lord Shaftesbury and other reformers. Children and teenagers endured miserable conditions in brick-making, straw-plaiting, the metals industries, and so on.
Why did it take so long for change to come? These children’s needs were ignored or forgotten by society – the nation’s prosperity was considered too important to trifle with.
You can find out more about the bitter battle for change fought by Lord Shaftesbury, the factory inspectors, and other reformers in The Children History Forgot.

India Mill, Darwen. Cotton spinning factory built in the mid-1860s. © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.
Edward Bryon’s proposed guard (lower diagram) for steam-presses following horrific accidents in the sanitary pipe industry. Steam presses used a steam-powered piston to press out sections of earthenware pipe. Boys fed each machine with clay using a shovel or their hands. Twenty workers were injured at Ruabon between 1870-5; some workers lost a hand, including Thomas Griffiths and John George at Plas Kynaston Tile-works. They were only fourteen years old. Reports of the Inspectors of Factories for the Half-Year ending 31 October 1875 (1876).

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Arkwright’s Derbyshire Mills

We recently braved the uncertain weather to visit some of Sir Richard Arkwright’s mills in Derbyshire, which I’ve wanted to see for a long time. First we went to see the textile museum in the Masson Mills built by Arkwright in 1783. The museum has a very fine collection of textile machines, which was extremely interesting, especially as I hadn't seen some of them before.

Later in the day we explored Arkwright's mills at Cromford. His first mill on this site was built in 1771. When a parliamentary select committee looked into conditions for factory children in 1816, it discovered that this mill (then owned by Arkwright’s son Richard) worked a thirteen hour day, although no children younger than ten years old were employed. Over 260 children under the age of 18 worked in the mill, which ran from six in the morning until seven at night, with an hour for lunch, but no breakfast time.

The Cromford mills did not employ parish apprentices. These child workers were ‘free’ labour, and went home to their parents each night, unlike parish apprentices in mills such as those at Quarry Bank, Styal and Litton mill.

You’ll be able to find out more about the mill children’s stories in The Children History Forgot.

Images: Masson mill, Cromford mill. © Sue Wilkes