rimmed with hawthorn hedgerows where
fragrant white flowers bloomed in spring and
dark-red berries enticed birds in autumn.
This postcard serenity may have enticed
with its charm, but the business of Manchester
was the business of cotton. Children played
significant roles, but their working conditions
inevitably attracted official scrutiny.
The Second Commission into Children’s
Employment report, dated 1842, shed light
on child workers in the trades and factories,
which included the cotton mills.
Its revelations were unsettling. Hundreds
of testimonies garnered from employers as
well as children, exposed the incredibly long
days—often as much as 18 hours—and brutal
conditions confronting the juvenile labourers.
Many were as young as 10, with some only
five years old because they could be paid less.
With no access to education and dubbed “scav-
engers” or “piecers”, they bent and crept around
and beneath machinery to retrieve loose and
fallen cotton even while drawing frames and
shafts were operating. Accidents often included
crushing injuries and dismemberments.
Friedrich Engels, in his cogent chronicle
Condition of the Working Class in England,
written between 1844 and 1845, noted that
within Manchester’s population were so
many “limbless” people they reminded him of
1820 engraving depicting child labour in a spinning mill.