Step back in time…
The year is 1841; Queen Victoria is on the throne. The city you live in today is nothing like anything you can imagine.You are only 7, 8 or maybe 9 years of age, you are not sure how old because you can’t remember having a birthday, for what are those you ask?
The day starts like any other a ‘Knocker Upper’ bangs on the door or window to wake the household for work, no alarm clock they are too expensive. Still dark & half a sleep, you clamber out of bed & put on what look like rags – they are your only set of clothes, a pair of shoes that are far too big but are better than none at all. No time to have anything eat, you grab a hat & stumble out of the door.
It’s 6am, dark, cold & foggy; you make this journey 5 or 6 times a week. Walking fast! No time to dawdle got to be at work before the “master” to light the fires, sweep the floors & prepare the clay. There will be trouble if it’s not done. He doesn’t care that you are only a child because it was probably the same for him when he was young.You are just one of many poor youngsters who are expected to go to work instead of school. If work allows & you have a better set of clothes you might go to Sunday school where you would learn how to read, write & count.
There were over 5000 children less than 10 years of age working on the many “pot banks” in the “Potteries” 600 of them were only 5 years old.
After a morning of heavy, hazardous work you go home for dinner, where you have tatees & a bit of meat or bacon, not enough for your needs. To earn a little money Mother takes in washing & looks after the baby. Your Father, Brother & Sister are all at work, they go to another “pot bank” Six of you live in the one small room.
After a break of about an hour you are on your way back. A normal working day consisted of 12 hours, but many children worked longer if the order books were good. You work as a ‘mould runner’ (deemed the hardest job in the factory). Your job consists of running in all weathers from one building to another and placing the newly made ware in rows near a stove for hardening and returning with an empty mould, you had to work fast.
Wearily, you return home, have a wash, eat some dry bread & treacle for supper & go to bed.
There is no playtime (you are too tired & have got to get up early again tomorrow) no TV, no computers, phones & certainly no toys to play with.
This was the reality of life in the six towns of the Potteries without exception where it was all about survival at any cost.
I’m sure, by now, you’re asking yourself how the parents could allow their children to work under these circumstances. – Poverty was everywhere and families needed every penny they and their children could earn, regardless of how dirty or dangerous the work.
But! Things might change; the government of the day has ordered a commission into the state of children employed in the “Potteries”
Printed questionnaires were sent out to all pottery manufacturers to ascertain the number of children employed & the type of work carried out.
Samuel Scriven an Assistant Commissioner visited the area gathering evidence from children, adults, factory owners, clergymen & teachers. Most of the evidence was collected by visiting “pot banks” seeing working conditions for himself & interviewing selected workers.
While numerous employers stated they could see nothing wrong in young children working a 72 hour week at 8 or 10 years of age. The general conclusion was that children went to work too young and that both their health & education suffered.