This is a sampler that records the sufferings of a child, working in one of the many textile mills in Salford (Greater Manchester). It was sewn by Elizabeth Hodgates who was 12 years old in 1833 and reminds us of the terrible working conditions for children, women and men during the industrial revolution.
Samplers like this were created by girls to practise their sewing skills. They also acted as decorations on the walls of the family home. In the 1800s, embroidery and needlework were regarded as an important part of a girl’s education. Sometimes they learned to sew before they could write. Different forms of needle work involved writing texts or poems, sewing numbers, figures and objects. Some samplers consisted of quotations, passages from religious texts, family trees or written memorial pieces to remember a family member.
The poem stitched in this sampler reads:
The factory child’s trouble
In the dead of the night when you take your sweet sleep
Through the dark dismal street’s to my labours I creep
To the din of the loom till my poor brain seems wild
I return an unfortunate factory child
The bright bloom of health as forsaken my cheek
My spirits are gone and my young limbs grow weak
Oh ye rich and ye mighty let sympathy mild
Appeal to your hearts for the factory child
It begs the reader to consider the plight of children who worked in Salford’s mills and factories, some aged as young as six. The second verse is suggestive of the psychological and physical damage to the child. Harsh working conditions and poor diets left these children prone to diseases such as diphtheria, typhoid and tuberculosis. Most developed lung problems through breathing in dust and cotton fragments.
In 1833, the year this sampler was made, a series of Factory Acts was drawn up to improve conditions in mills. These acts reduced working hours, increased ventilation and, importantly, improved safety for children who had to crawl underneath the working looms.
Did you know..?
‘Factory’ children were made to work in bare feet, in case the nails in their clogs caused sparks which could set light to sawdust and lint on the factory or mill floor.
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Sources & acknowledgements
This object description and its related educational resources were researched and written by our team of historians and education specialists. For further information see the item’s home museum, gallery or archive, listed above.