An illustrated talk by local historian Liz Woolley

Child labour in nineteenth century Oxfordshire

‘It will do him more good than going to school’

The image commonly evoked by the phrase ‘child labour’ is one of young children toiling in the grimy factories and mines of the Midlands and the North. Yet in rural counties like Oxfordshire, child labour was as much a feature of everyday life in the nineteenth century as in industrialised areas.

This illustrated talk told the story of Oxfordshire’s child workers, many of whom started work part-time at the age of six or seven and, until the compulsory school legislation of the 1870s, left education for good by the age of ten to become permanently employed.

Oxfordshire children worked in agriculture, in domestic service and in lace-making, gloving and a host of other small-scale occupations. The talk showed that, contrary to popular belief, cottage industry and agricultural work were by no means the ‘soft option’ in comparison with work in the factories and mines of industrialised areas.

Liz Woolley is a local historian specialising in aspects of the history of Oxford and Oxfordshire. She is a popular speaker, guide, tutor, researcher, and writer.  She has lived in Oxford since 1984 and has a Diploma and MSc in English Local History from the University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education

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