|The Robert Owen Museum. Photo by "Indigo Goat" Some rights reserved|
" Children at this time were admitted into cotton, wool, flax and silk mills, at six and sometimes even five years of age. The time of working, winter and summer were unlimited by law, but usually it was fourteen hours per day - in some fifteen, and even, by the most inhuman and avaricious, sixteen hours."
At New Lanark, Robert Owen had successfully improved both the working and living conditions of all his workers and especially his apprentices. The New Lanark mills remained a rare exception, and Robert Owen was anxious to see similar reforms at other mills. In 1802 Sir Robert Peel (the father of the Prime Minister) had introduced regulations to improve the working conditions for apprentices in cotton mills, but these were generally ignored. Robert Owen managed to convince Peel that the children employed in the textile industry needed protection and that new laws were required.
New regulations were drafted by Robert Owen, raising the age of employment to 10, limiting the working day to 10 hours until the age of 18, providing half-time education until 12 years and introducing a system of factory inspection. Sir Robert Peel persuaded Parliament to set up a committee to enquire into factory conditions, and Robert Owen and many other mill owners were asked to give evidence.
The reforms suggested by Robert Owen were too advanced for his supporters in Parliament. New regulations were introduced in the Factory Act of 1819, but they were restricted to cotton mills. They increased the minimum working age to 9 and working hours were reduced to 12 hours a day, but this only applied to children under 16 and there were no rules for the education of apprentices. It was not until 1833 that a system of factory inspection was introduced to enforce the regulations.
Robert Owen was very disappointed and gave up trying to change the law and decided to appeal directly to public opinion.