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The tough working conditions and practices in the cotton mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire comprised the daily tortuous and all-pervading drone of noisy machinery generated by the looms, carding machines and spinning mules.  The hot air environment was also heavily polluted with dust and fumes that were the cause of respiratory disease.  It was in this atmosphere that women and girls were employed as the dominant workforce in the cotton industry in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

An Act of Parliament passed in 1833 made it illegal for children under the age of 9 to be employed in the mills; those who were aged 9-13 were limited to 48 hours per week (higher than most adults in the UK today), and those aged 13-18 were allowed to work up to 60 hours, but were prohibited from the night shifts until they came of age.

The best paid jobs in the mills for the women were as weavers, followed by winding and ‘drawing in’.  The poorly paid jobs were for in spinning and dyeing; heavy and dirty tasks.

Clogs were worn to and from the mill, but due to the heat and slippery floors, most women and girls worked barefoot.




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