Child labour

Chimney sweep's climbing boy“It will do him more good than going to school”:
Child labour in nineteenth-century Oxfordshire

The image commonly evoked by the phrase ‘child labour’ is one of young children toiling in the grimy factories and mines of the Midlands and the North. Yet in rural counties like Oxfordshire, child labour was as much a feature of everyday life in the nineteenth century as in industrialised areas.

This hour-long illustrated talk tells the story of our county’s child workers, many of whom started work part-time at the age of six or seven and, until the compulsory school legislation of the 1870s, left education for good by the age of ten to become permanently employed.

Oxfordshire children worked in agriculture, in domestic service and in lace-making, gloving and in a host of other small-scale occupations. The talk highlights the differences between girls’ and boys’ experiences of work, and the particular fates of pauper apprentices. It also shows that, contrary to popular belief, cottage industry and agricultural work were by no means the ‘soft option’ in comparison with work in the factories and mines of industrialised areas.

“Your excellent talk included so many interesting stories and sources which I can now share with students to help them understand how our area was impacted by the Industrial Revolution.” David Hughes-Jones, Teacher of History, The Cotswold School, Bourton-on-the-Water, March 2021.

“You presented a wealth of fascinating information which you have researched really well, including wonderful old photographs and other records. I don’t think many of us realised the extent of child labour in the rural community and you certainly made us think and reflect on how this has shaped our history.”  Janet Jones, South Stoke Historical Society, May 2018.

“Your careful research, which you made clear in the course of the talk, went down extremely well with the audience. It was intellectually challenging but very accessible to the listener.” Christopher Fance, Oxfordshire Family History Society, January 2017.

“An excellent and informative talk which stimulated discussion and ideas for further possible research into local work and conditions in the village.”  Mary Thompson, Sutton Courtenay Local History Society, March 2014.

Contact me on 01865 242760 or liz@lizwoolley.co.uk to book this talk.

Back to illustrated talks main page