Education of Child Workers at the Strutt Owned Mills

Back in November, I wrote about the registers of child workers I came across during the renumbering of our D6948 collection, which relates to W. G. and J. Strutt Ltd. There was little information in them about the children they referenced, besides when they were taken on and possibly their age. Recently I came across other documents relating to the child workers, but this time they were school attendance registers. In that last post, I mentioned that child workers were legally expected to receive a set amount of schooling each day, which was given at schools run in conjunction with the mills. It was great to see these school registers that proved children were being provided with this education. We have many attendance records for child mill workers, relating to Belper, Heage and Milford. For example, the box I was working on had thirty-nine registers in it. The dates of these ranged from 1839-1900.

Belper Mill School girls attendance certificate book, Mar 1896-Jun 1897, D6948/J/7/18

They differ slightly in their format, but this post will focus on the ones which give the number of absences per child and the dates of these absences, as well reasons given for them. Whilst this again may not give a lot of information about the children who attended the schools endorsed by the Strutts, there are some interesting things to take from the attendance records. What we do know is that after the Factory Act of 1833, children were required to be in school for two hours a day on the days they were working. As neither children, or adults for that matter, worked on Sundays or during holidays, these would be the times they were not at school.

It was stated in the rules (as seen below) that if a child did not attend the school for a week without good reason, they would not be allowed to work the following week. As the working families needed all the money they could get, it was thought this would have been a good inducement for parents to send their child to school. However, I have seen in at least one register that this is not always the case. A reason given for a particular child not attending was that they ‘never attended’ anyway or perhaps the best one of ‘no one knows’.

Front page of Belper Mill School girls attendance certificate book, May 1891-Sep 1892, D6948/J/7/17

There were of course genuine reasons for children to be off school. The most common was illness, with measles being the most cited. Other reasons were sometimes given, such as mother ill or a death in the family. I find the death in the family entries perhaps the most interesting. We often think that people in the past did not suffer grief in the same way as we do today because they were much more used to it. The tiny entries specifying ‘death in family’ as a reason for absence goes some way towards explaining that we are wrong in this assumption.

Belper National School attendance certificate book, Feb 1890-Oct 1892, D6948/J/17

Another common reason given for absence of children is ‘full time’ or a variation of that phrase, suggesting the child has reached the age where they are now eligible to work without needing further education, after the age of thirteen. The 1844 Factory Act stipulated that no child under eight years of age should be employed in factories and those between the ages of eight and thirteen should attend an approved school for three hours a day. They had to work six and a half days an hour in the mill between these ages, but once past them, they were allowed to work more hours, hence the use of ‘full time’ as their previous smaller hours were known as the ‘half-time’ system.

While this education system was nowhere near what we would recognise the day, it did afford the children in it some protection within the legal requirements. If these had not been in place, things would surely have been worse for those working in such environments. Still with the schooling and employment regimes available to these children, there is no doubting that the life they led was still a very hard one.


Adam Henry Robson, The Education of Children Engaged in Industry in England, 1833-1876 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd, 1931)

Marjorie Cruickshank, Children and Industry: Child Welfare in North-West Textile Towns During the Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1981)

Pamela Horn, The Victorian and Edwardian Schoolchild (Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989)

2 thoughts on “Education of Child Workers at the Strutt Owned Mills

  1. Pingback: Catalogue Available for Messrs W. G. & J. Strutt and English Sewing Cotton Company Limited Collections | Derbyshire Record Office

  2. I was not aware of this aspect of industrial progress!
    Would love to see more along these lines!
    Kind regards Anthony

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