British Values in Action: Protest and Punishment

Protesting in Preston and beyond

In Victorian times, most people in Preston worked in cotton mills. These were huge factories that made raw cotton fibres into cotton cloths. 

The cotton mills were dangerous places, where nasty accidents were common. Children as young as nine years old worked in the mills and did dangerous jobs like ‘scavenging’ (crawling under the fast-moving machinery to pick up scraps of cotton). 

Diseases were spread easily by unclean habits such as ‘kissing the shuttle’. This is when workers used their mouths to suck cotton thread through the eye of a shuttle like this one pictured right. If you did this on a shuttle that had been used by someone with a nasty disease like tuberculosis, you could catch the disease as well. 

Factory rules and regulations:

As well as being very dangerous, cotton mills often had lots of rules that seem very strict today. Have a look at the list of rules (pictured right) from Thomas Ainsworth and Sons Cotton Mill in Preston, Lancashire. Do they seem fair? Have a look at number 18. What do you know about Trade Unions?

The 'Hungry 40s'

In the 1840s, things became even harder for the mill workers of Preston. Their wages went down by over 25% but food was still expensive. Things were the same all over the country, and half a million people across Britain went ‘on strike’ in August 1842 to protest against the wage cuts. Going on strike means you stop working until you get what you want. 

3000 mill workers in Preston voted to join the strike on 12 August 1842, hoping to force the mill owners to increase their wages. 


Fibres - Thin threads that can be spun into cloth or material
Protest - To show that you disagree with something
Shuttle - A weaving tool that holds thread passing on one direction and is used to pass it between threads running in the other direction
Scavenge - To look for something useful among rubbish
Strike - To stop working suddenly, usually as a group to protest against an employer
Tuberculosis - Infectious disease that affects the lungs

View other relevant My Learning resources or see the  teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas. 

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