Factory Act 1850

This entry is part 16 of 9 in the series Statutes of Law

Factory Act 1850, redefined the working day for factory workers.

The factory Act 1850 put right some of the wrongs of the 1844 act. Both acts covered work in textile factories but the 1884 act, although it controlled the hours worked by woman and children, restricting them to ten hours, the expectation that this would also restrict the working hours of the adult males in the factories did not happen and employers still operated a relay system for workers that meant they could make their adult male workers complete a full fifteen hour shift.

Life was very hard for families, who were often all occupied in some capacity in a textile factory.

Further discontent amongst workers led Sir George Grey, then Home Secretary, to propose legislation to fix the period of employment for protected persons. This resulted in a seasonal ‘shift’ system, the workers would be employed either from 6am to 6pm in Summer and 7am to 7pm in Winter.

What is very interesting is that this act actually increased the working week by two hours to sixty hours a week.

The benefit was that the hours were set within a defined time period making family life much more manageable. The half day on a Saturday meant there was time for recreation and football became the new national sport as working men flocked to support their local teams. Society changed as a result of this law. Explore a timeline of Parliamentary Acts to discover more acts that changed and reformed society.

Factory Act 1850

Whole Families were Employed in the Textile Factories

The Factory Act 1850 reflects the development of formalized workers rights

The plight of the common man during this period of intense industrialization was intense. Exploitation in dirty and often unsavory factory environments replaced exploitation as he had tilled in the fields.

For the most part, those employed in mills and factories worked incredibly long hours, twelve hour shifts, six days a week were common. There was little time for any relaxation and the hard work took it’s toll on the health of those working, especially women and children. The Factory Act 1850 signals the law enshrining some rights for the oppressed employee.

    • The newly defined working week was extended from 58 hours to 60 hours a week.
    • Women and children could only work between the hours of 6a.m – 6p.m in summer and 7a.m – 7p.m in the winter.
    • All work must stop at 2p.m on a Saturday and 9 – 18 year olds could only work 10.5 hours night and day.

For the first time, those families working in factories had ‘free time’, a Saturday afternoon to enjoy different activities.

Keep connected with historical events that made an impact in your ancestor’s lives. Follow our law and history collection or social reform to find out more about how workers rights would evolve and protect the lives of those who had no means otherwise to do so for themselves.



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