Children at Work

What was it like to work in the mills?

Children started working in mills from the age of 5 or 6, usually beginning as a 'scavenger' or 'piecer'.


Working as a Scavenger

The job of scavenger involved crawling under machinery to pick up loose scraps of cotton or wool. It was a very dangerous job as the children had to crawl under the machinery while it was working. Children got crushed by machinery, lost fingers or limbs, or lost their hair after getting it tangled in the machinery.


Working as a Piecer

A piecer had to watch over power looms and tie any loose threads that got broken by the machinery.


Children were rarely allowed to take a break, and they were expected to work a whole shift without sitting down once. Shifts often lasted over 12 hours, and standing up for that length of time left children with rickets (bowed legs), fallen arches (flat feet) and bad backs, which made standing and walking painful.


Flat feet - when  someone has no or a low arch in their foot

Power loom - machine that weaves cloth

Rickets - illness caused by lack of Vitamin D and sunlight

Scavenger - someone who picks up scraps

Shift - hours of work


Download an Activity Sheet comparing historic and contemporary material about Child Labour (click on the Worksheets link below).

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