Lacemaking in 19th-century Britain relied heavily upon child labour. Large numbers of children attended 'lace schools'
from an early age, working long hours
in miserable conditions. An 1860s parliamentary report on child labour describes their world.
Harriet Wheeker of Sidbury describes a local system in which lace manufacturers keep general shops and pay workers in overpriced goods; "I wish that Government could do something to stop this: it is so cruel."
Conditions are unpleasant and crowded: at one lace school, 18 children work in an 8'11" x 6'10" room
; lace finishing requires working in incredibly hot rooms
(with damaging effects upon the moral character of teenaged female workers, apparently). Children often begin work at five and six years old
, and many of them are interviewed for the report. Elizabeth Ann Shawe
, aged 12, is "wretchedly pale and ragged, and seems utterly crushed by her early work, or want, or both." Elizabeth Sanders, aged 8, when asked about Joseph and Jesus Christ, replies "No, Sir; never heard nowt of those folks."
Elizabeth Crofts, aged 14, "Does not know what a mountain is
; whether an eagle is a bird; or whether the sun rises in the north, south, east or west." Lucy Reed, aged 7, "Cannot read.
(When asked if she knows anything in a child's book shown to her with pictures, A, B, C, &c. bursts into tears.)" Ill health is common
; 12-hour days are the norm. An anonymous letter
from a lacemaker describes the business as "worse than slavery in South America"; but Mr Thomas Herbert, manufacturer, believes "things are very well as they are."