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The Factory Acts were a series of Acts passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdommarker to limit the number of hours worked by women and children first in the textile industry, then later in all industries.

The factory reform movement spurred the passage of laws to limit the hours that could be worked in factories and mills. The first aim of the movement was for a "ten hours bill" to limit to ten hours the working day of children. Richard Oastler was one of the movement's most prominent leaders.

Collective titles

The Factory and Workshop Acts 1878 to 1895 is the collective title of the Factory and Workshop Act 1878, the Factory and Workshop Act 1883, the wool Cloth Factories Act 1889, the Factory and Workshop Act 1891 and the Factory and Workshop Act 1856.

Factory Act 1802

The Factories Act 1802 (citation 42 Geo.lll c.73, sometimes also called the "Health and Morals of Apprentices Act") was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which regulated factory conditions, especially in regard to child workers in cotton and woollen mills. It was the culmination of a movement originating in the 1700s, where reformers had tried to push several acts through Parliament to improve the health of the workers and apprentices. The act had the following provisions:

  • Factory owners must obey the law.
  • All factory rooms must be well ventilated and lime-washed twice a year.
  • Children must be supplied with two complete outfits of clothing.
  • Children between the ages of 9 and 13 can work maximum 8 hours.
  • Adolescents between 14 and 18 years old can work maximum 12 hours.
  • Children under 9 years old are not allowed to work but they must be enrolled in the elementary schools that factory owners are required to establish.
  • The work hours of children must begin after 6 a.m., end before 9 p.m., and not exceed 12 hours a day.
  • Children must be instructed in reading, writing and arithmetic for the first four years of work.
  • Male and Female children must be housed in different sleeping quarters.
  • Children may not sleep more than two per bed.
  • On Sundays children are to have an hour's instruction in the Christian Religion.
  • Mill owners are also required to tend to any infectious diseases.

Fines of between £2 and £5 could be imposed on factory owners, but the Act established no inspection regime to enforce conditions. The act failed to provide a clear law of the hours one is permitted to work and failed to include supervision to make sure the law was being followed. The law was largely ignored by the factories but paved the way for more Factory Acts to follow. Richard Oastler in 1804 comments on the act:
This act gives little authority to parliament and less restriction on factories. How can factories not resist to break the law?

Cotton Mills, etc. Act 1819

The 1819 Cotton Mills and Factories Act (59 Geo. III c66) stated that no children under 9 were to be employed and that children aged 9–16 years were limited to 12 hours' work per day.

Labour in Cotton Mills Act 1831

An Act to repeal the Laws relating to Apprentices and other young Persons employed in Cotton Factories and in Cotton Mills, and to make further Provisions in lieu thereof (1 & 2 Will. IV c39)

No night work for persons under the age of 21.

Labour of Children, etc., in Factories Act 1833

The Factory Act 1833 c103 was an attempt to establish a regular working day in the textile industry. The act had the following provisions:

  • Children (ages 14–18) must not work more than 12 hours a day with an hour lunch break. Note that this enabled employers to run two 'shifts' of child labour each working day in order to employ their adult male workers for longer.
  • Children (ages 9–13) must not work more than 8 hours with an hour lunch break.
  • Children (ages 9–13) must have two hours of education per day.
  • Outlawed the employment of children under 9 in the textile industry.
  • Children under 18 must not work at night.
  • provided for routine inspections of factories.

Factories Act 1844

The Factories Act 1844 (citation 7 & 8 Vict c. 15) further reduced hours of work for children and applied the many provisions of the Factory Act of 1833 to women. The act applied to the textile industry and included the following provisions:
  • Children 9–13 years could work for 9 hours a day with a lunch break.
  • Women and young people now worked the same number of hours. They could work for no more than 12 hours a day during the week, including one and a half hours for meals, and 9 hours on Sundays.
  • Factory owners must wash factories with lime every fourteen months.
  • Ages must be verified by surgeons.
  • Accidental death must be reported to a surgeon and investigated.
  • Thorough records must be kept regarding the provisions of the act.
  • Machinery was to be fenced in.

Factory Act 1847

After the Whigs gained power in Parliament, the Ten Hour Bill (also known as the Ten Hour Act) was passed becoming the Factories Act 1847 (citation 10 & 11 Vict c. 29). This law limited the work week in textile mills (and other textile industrys except lace and silk production) for women and children under 18 years of age. Each work week contained 63 hours effective 1 July 1847 and was reduced to 58 hours effective 1 May 1848. In effect, this law limited the workday to 10 hours.

This law was successfully passed due to the contributions of the Ten Hours Movement. This campaign was established during the 1830s and was responsible for voicing demands towards limiting the work week in textile mills. The leaders of the movement were Richard Oastler (who led the campaign outside Parliament), as well as John Fielden and Lord Shaftesburymarker (who led the campaign inside Parliament). Of course, employers found a ten hour limit acceptable as it meant that workers could be run in shifts, keeping the factory open for up to twenty hours a day.

Factory Act 1850

This Act (citation 13 & 14 Vict c. 54) redefined the workday which had been established under the Factory Acts of 1844 and 1847. No longer could employers decide the hours of work. The workday was changed to correspond with the maximum number of hours that women and children could work. The act included the following provisions.
  • Children and Women could only work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the winter.
  • All work would end on Saturday at 2 p.m..
  • The work week was extended from 58 hours to 60 hours.
Hours of work for age 9 to 18 was changed to 10 hours night and day. This was changed in 1850 to 10.5 hours day and night.

Factory Act 1874

Factory Act 1878

The Factory and Workshop Act 1878 (41 & 42 Vict. c. 16) brought all the previous Acts together in one consolidation.
  • Now the Factory Code applied to all trades.
  • No child anywhere under the age of 10 was to be employed.
  • Compulsory education for children up to 10 years old.
  • 10-14 year olds could only be employed for half days.
  • Women were to work no more than 56 hours per week.

Factory Act 1891

The Factory Act 1891 made the requirements for fencing machinery more stringent. Under the heading Conditions of Employment were two considerable additions to previous legislation:the first is the prohibition on employers to employ women within four weeks after confinement; the second the raising the minimum age at which a child can be set to work from ten to eleven.

Factory and Workshop Act 1901

Minimum working age is raised to 12the act also introduced legislation regarding education of children, meal times, and fire escapes

Factories Act 1937

The 1937 Act (1 Edw. 8 & 1 Geo. 6 c.67) consolidated and amended the Factory and Workshop Acts from 1901 to 1929. It was introduced to the House of Commons by the Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, on 29 January 1937 and given Royal Assent on 30 July.

Factories Act 1959

Factories Act 1961

This Act consolidated the 1937 and 1959 Acts. , the 1961 Act is substantially still in force though workplace health and safety is principally governed by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and regulations made under it.

See also


  1. The Factory Movement: topic page
  2. The Short Titles Act 1896, section 2(1) and the second schedule

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