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Victorian Voices

Children's Employment Commission 1862

The 1862 Commission dealt mainly with the iron, steel and cutlery industries of Sheffield. Other types of industry were included, such as using horsehair to make stuffing for seats and mattresses, which mostly employed women and girls.


J Edward White interviewed men, women, boys and girls to gather evidence about working conditions. This was made into a report that was presented to Parliament.


Women and girls and boys under 10 had been prevented form working underground in coalmines in 1842 and the age limit was raised to 12 in 1860. The factories of Sheffield had few limits on employing children until the late 1860s. Small workshops and home workers (which included most people in the cutlery industry) were not covered by laws until 1878.


At the beginning of the 1860s boys of 7 or 8 regularly worked twelve-hour night shifts in steel works.  Most children didn't go to school regularly.


There were few holidays – half a day on Shrove Tuesday, two days at Easter, two days for Whitsuntide, two half days for the summer fair, two half days for the November fair and between four and eight days for Christmas.


Accidents were quite common in the workshops that used machinery. One slip in a steel rolling mill could result in the loss of limbs or death. Accidents with hot metal piercing the body were all too common, especially when children were tired at the end of a long working day.

Discussion Ideas: 

  • Which people do you think would want the Commission to investigate and report?
  • Who do you think would not want the Commission to investigate and report?
  • If you were on the Commission, what would you want to see happen afterwards?

Document icon Learning article provided by: Sheffield Archives | 

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