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February 18 , 2010

Child Workers in England, 1780–1820

Parish Apprentices and the Making of the Early Industrial Labour Force


The use of child workers was widespread in textile manufacturing by the late eighteenth century. A particularly vital supply of child workers was via the parish apprenticeship trade, whereby pauper children could move from the 'care' of poor law officialdom to the 'care' of early industrial textile entrepreneurs.

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This study is the first to examine in detail both the process and experience of parish factory apprenticeship, and to illuminate the role played by children in early industrial expansion. It challenges prevailing notions of exploitation which permeate historical discussion of the early labour force and questions both the readiness with which parishes 'offloaded' large numbers of their poor children to distant factories, and the harsh discipline assumed to have been universal among early factory masters. Finally the author explores the way in which parish apprentices were used to construct a gendered labour force.

Dr Honeyman's book is a major contribution to studies in child labour and to the broader social, economic, and business history of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.

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