Factory Children

James Spens Torrop was a doctor in Heywood during the 19th century. Originally from Edinburgh, where he obtained his medical degree, he moved to Heywood in 1866 and set up a surgery. He was later appointed a Certified Factory Surgeon, and took an interest in the stunted physiques of the young cotton workers. He was also an active figure in local literary circles, delivering many lectures on literature and social questions. Torrop also held several important public offices, and served as a justice of the peace for the borough. He died in February 1902, at Sandon House, at the age of 58 years.

During 1899 he testified to an inquiry into conditions for factory children, which was reported in the Daily News:

‘For many years I have taken notes of the exact physical condition of the children brought before me as a certifying surgeon. I have been in the habit of classifying them under nine heads, according to healthy appearance or otherwise. No. 1 being first-class and No. 9 lowest, No. 5, of course, being the mean or average. I took 2,000 consecutive cases near the year 1891. Since then my lists have been swelled by many thousands more entries, all of which, as far as I have examined them, fully confirm the earlier ones. Want of time has alone prevented me analysing all my figures, but I have not discontinued the laborious task until I have satisfied myself, by the agreement of page after page of them, that I can fully depend on the results.’

‘Will you please give me then your analysis of the 2,000 cases?’

‘Certainly. Here it is. I found that of the average of No. 5 class, there were 1,100. Of rather superior or No. 4 there were 343, and of slightly inferior or No. 6 there were 324. Among the three best classes were 151, the three biggest weighing 130 lb., 126 lb., and 120 lb. respectively, but only 16 of the batch could fairly be described as handsome. The three lowest classes were a feeble folk, amongst whom were some veritable pigmies not scaling 50 lb. apiece.’

‘And had you many cases of disease?’

‘Yes. Among my 2,000 children there were 198 cases of disease and defects. Some defects were, of course, of minor importance, such as stammering. Also 21 cases of internal squint from flat eye, which, however, is indicative of decadence, and I may say that a child, with such or other defects, is rarely a fine child otherwise. Many defects would, of course, escape observation in a necessarily superficial examination. Other defects and diseases were more serious. Among such were 60 cases of insufficient development, 47 of various eye complaints, 14 of anaemia, 13 of neuralgia and chronic headache, 12 of congenital syphilis (and I am sorry to say this number would be considerably increased by more minute examination), eight of akin diseases, six of scrofulous glands, five of consumption, and a few each of hip and spinal disease, heart disease, rickets, bronchitis, &c.’

‘This sounds very grave, Dr. Torrop.'

'Yes, it is a sufficiently grave proportion of infirmity, but its seriousness is much increased when we know that the average of health and strength in Lancashire is much lower than in the rest of the kingdom. The average weight of factory children taken indiscriminately has been found to be 18 lb. below the general English average at the same age. No one coming from other counties, especially agricultural ones, can fail to be struck by the comparatively limp appearance of Lancashire children. The death rate is also higher than in other counties or than the English average.’

‘And what would you say generally of the effect of factory life on the health of the children?’

‘Decidedly injurious. It is evident that a specialized population of factory workers less muscular and more highly strung is being evolved. Were this a mere substitution of one race for another, it would be less serious, for vital and muscular power are not commensurate, but the change is caused and accompanied by a progressive loss of stamina. I, therefore, have no hesitation whatever in reiterating my opinion that, without a shadow of doubt, factory life is injurious to health. As I have put it before, so I'll put it again. The promising children of 10 degenerate into the lean and sallow young persons of 13, and so the process continues as they grow older, until a whole population becomes stunted, and thus the conditions of life in factory become a real source of danger to England's future.’

‘Do you happen to have made any observations regarding the relative health effects of different lengths of service in the mills? That is to say, have you found that the health effects of working all day is worse than working half a day in a factory?’

‘Yes. I have analyzed my recent lists of general appearance of health, comparing short-timers with full-timers.’

‘And how does the comparison work out?’

''Well, still taking my nine divisions of health, the full-timers come out as follows:-

You will, therefore, see that the full-timers are, as a body, below average - that is Lancashire average.’

‘And how do the short-timers rank?’ ‘They come out as follows:-'

‘And how do you express these results?’

‘I have been at some slight loss how to do so in figures. But if I allow 70 - which is about its number of pounds weight - for the health and strength of No. 5, and take off 7 for each descending number, and add 7 for each ascending number, which would about express the difference in their weights, I find that the short-timer is a finer animal by about 11 per cent, than full-timer. This is further corroboration of the evil effects of factory life, for it shows that the longer a child works in a mill the more unhealthy it becomes.’

‘Have you statistically tested the relative health effects of factory life upon children of differing ages?’

‘I am afraid I have not any statistics at this moment which will show that. I have, however, no hesitation in saying from my intimate experience of thousands of factory children, extending over a period of 33 years, that the older the child goes to work the less are the injurious effects, I noticed a certain amelioration in health conditions, after the age was raised to 10, and since it has been raised to 11. In fact, it only stands to reason, that as a child gets older, and more 'set,' injurious conditions of life are likely to have less effect upon it than during its more tender years. I have, therefore, no hesitation whatever in asserting that if the age of child-labour is raised to 12, and then to 13, it will be followed by a visible rise in the health standard of the textile districts.’

‘And to what do you chiefly attribute the unhealthy character of factory life?’

‘Oh, there are, of course, a variety of causes. The same causes that produced the terrible evils observed 100 years ago are, though modified, still in operation, and may in a minor degree be expected to produce the same effects. I have no doubt that the anaemia so often observed in children and also in women, in whom it causes complaints of giddiness, palpitation, and leucorrhoea, is due to the excessive heat, which runs up to 95 degrees, or even 98 degrees, in ring-spinning rooms. No one can undergo this heat for any length of time with impunity. It produces the same effect as in India by impoverishing the blood, not to mention the risks of chills on leaving work, as the operatives are constrained by it to wear too light clothing. Ventilation is better than it was, and I believe that the chief cause of the excessive heat now is the friction of machinery. Another source of mischief is the dust and 'fly,' especially in old mills where ‘'low numbers' are spun, and where ventilation is unknown or applied wrongly. A proper dust collector, such as is used in flour-mills, would obviate much of this, evil, which causes a good deal of the prevalent bronchitis. I do not approve of respirators. It is unnecessary to quote medical opinion: which is practically unanimous among those conversant with factory life, but I am glad to repeal the lion-medical hut highly-skilled opinion of Mr. Osborn (Her Majesty's Inspector), who says:-

‘At present our workpeople are breathing over and over again throughout the day the same air, vitiated with gases, more or less impregnated with dust and other impurities, and every hour appreciably deprived of blood-purifying and life-sustaining properties. The natural consequence is the development of anaemic dyspeptic, and phthisical tendencies, and low states of vitality, predisposing to epidemics of zymotic disease.’

‘Tea-drinking is another fruitful source of hurt to the children. Brewed and stewed over-night, they drink it at all times, and on all days. So much tea is not, of course, conducive to growth, but there is the usual difficulty about teetotal drinks. With regard to the general health of the children, I cannot help saying that the present system regarding the certificates of health, is absurd. Certifying surgeons ought not only to have the power of saying whether a child is fit to start work, but they ought also to be empowered to examine them after they have gone to work, to say whether they are fit to continue or not.

But it is in the heights and weights of the children. (comments the ‘Daily News’ writer) where you get the best test of the effects of premature mill life upon their growth and health. Several of the lads were the veriest pigmies…

But in these matters it is much better to have the evidence of the experts. I therefore make no apology for producing the following table used by Dr. Charles Roberts in an interesting paper he recently compiled on the subject. This chart shows the actual relative height of boys of the age of 11 and 12 years.

Archdeacon Wilson, of Rochdale, who is a keen advocate for raising the age of the half-timer, has carried the work still further. He has caused a number of measurements to be taken in his own school at Rochdale for comparison in the measurements of public school lads and the average of the country. At the age of 8 there is practically no difference between the stature of the Rochdale School children and that of those of the country generally - it is only 2 in. less. At 9 the difference is the same; at 10 and 11 the deficiency is 2 1-10 in.; at 12 it is 2 3-10 in.; and at 13 the discrepancy has risen to more than 3 in. Dr. Torrop asserts that the deficiency of weight of factory children below the average of all England is - At 11 years, 7.5 per cent.; at 12 years, 11.2 per cent.; at 13 years, 15.7 per cent.; at 14 years. 19 per cent.; at 15 years, 20.5 per cent. The difference in average weight at 13 years between the public school boy and the boy who has had two years' grind between the mill and the school is 22lb.

The age of 10 is one year before the halftime system begins. There is then a difference, chiefly as the result of several generations of factory life, but it is not very large. But now let us look at the next picture.

This represents the same lads at the age of 13; that is, after the child, of the factory school has had two years of the half-time system - half-time in the stifling atmosphere of the spinning-room, and half-time poring over his lesson books. What has happened during this time? The public school boy has shot up into the stately form represented by 59 inches, the average English boy has also maintained a similar pace of growth, and has just upon 57 inches registered to his credit. But, alas, the little half-timer has made progress like the poor crab. Instead of following the line upward, he has swerved to the side, and can only show just a fraction over 53 inches, or six inches less than the public school boy, and between three and four less than the average English boy. This has been called the half-time bend.

You thus see the effect is very visible, both upon the scales and in these little figures. Yes, gentle reader, it is. But please realize what is the effect upon those sorrowful little pieces of humanity, who are represented by these very simple figures. Try and conceive, if you can, how much joy, and gladness, and health, and childish delights, and hope have been lost in these mere 22 lb. avoirdupois*, and five or six odd inches. Having done that, you will begin to get the measure of England's continued offence against little ones in these closing months of the nineteenth century.'

*avoirdupois = a system of weights (more properly, mass) based on a pound of 16 ounces.

   Related pages   

  • Evening Journal, 11 February 1899.
  • James Spens Torrop, ‘Factory Children’, Hygiene, May 1891, p.154.