Everyday Life in the Industrial Revolution

Food and the Factory

Children working in the factories were given very little time to eat, usually half an hour for breakfast and lunch, so food needed to be quick to eat and nutritious.

'The hours of labour at that mill were from five in a morning till eight at night, with an interval for refreshments of thirty minutes at noon.'

(Evidence given to the Factory Inquiry Commission 1833)

'I have been in the mills at all hours and I have never in my life seen the machinery stopped at meal times in any of the mills…'

(Evidence given to the Factory Inquiry Commission 1833)


Common foods:



Bread and soups

Mutton (cheaper meat from older sheep)



Gruel - a thin soup made from oats or potatoes mixed with milk and water - very cheap and filling (make your own gruel using our recipes sheet)

Apples, pears and berries depending on the season

Beer – even for children

Tea (more expensive than beer, though)


Less common foods:

Water – it was polluted

Tropical fruits – they weren’t available

Milk and dairy products – expensive – but a shortage led to rickets (a disease that makes your bones soft)


The factory worker’s diet was high in carbohydrates which would give them the energy they would need for their long working hours.


There were no supermarkets, fridges or freezers so people had to shop daily and from several different shops – the butchers, the greengrocers or grocers. One good thing – even before the days of Internet shopping food was often delivered to the door by travelling milkmen, grocers or pedlars.


Carbohydrates - source of energy in food

Grocers - shops selling fruit and vegetables

Nutritious - healthy food, contains vitamins and minerals

Pedlars - people who sell goods from door-to-door

Refreshments - food and drink

Tropical - from a hot, humid country 


Download the activity sheets - see links below - and try making oatcakes or gruel, budgeting for a family's shopping and making a fizzy bath bomb!

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