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The Ten Hours Act and its Supporters

Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.


Despite the setback in 1844 Lord Ashley introduced a Ten Hours bill in January 1846 which was eventually defeated after he had resigned his seat on the issue of the Corn Laws. After the fall of Peel's administration Fielden took charge of a new bill in 1847 which passed with large majorities through both houses (9 and 10 Vic. cap. 29). From May 1848 the daily hours of work for women and young persons in mills and factories were restricted to ten (58 in the week). Although a feature of the campaign from the start had been the support of local Conservatives and Anglicans, the movement had drawn on a wide cross-section of society. Oastler was a Tory Anglican, Sadler a Tory Wesleyan, Bull an Anglican parson, Fielden a Liberal Quaker. Among the manufacturers who lent their aid, Hindley and Brotherton were Liberal MPs, Wood a Tory Anglican. In the House of Lords a large number of bishops attended the debate on the second reading of the bill to give it support. 'This will do very much to win the hearts of the manufacturing people to Bishops and Lords,' wrote Ashley in his diary; 'it has already converted the hard mind of a Chartist Delegate'. Subsequent evasion of the act by the use of 'relays' of operatives to keep mills at work throughout the legally permitted limits of the working day (5.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m.) led in 1849-50 to a renewal of agitation and several judicial test-cases. The issue was settled by a government act of 1850 imposing stricter limits of the working day (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) with 1½ hours for meals but in return allowing a 10½ hour working day with a maximum of 60 hours per week.


From The Ten Hours' Advocate, 12 June 1847

At a General Meeting of the Lancashire Central Short Time Committee, held at the house of Mr Thomas Wilkinson, Red Lion Inn, Manchester, on Tuesday evening, 8 June 1847, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted.

  1. That this Committee feel deeply thankful to the disposer of all good gifts, for the glorious success which has attended their efforts to ameliorate the condition of the women and children employed in factories, and sincerely congratulate their fellow-labourers in the good work on the peaceful and constitutional character of the agitation, as well as the triumphant manner in which the Ten Hours' Bill has passed the British Parliament.
  2. That the hearty thanks of this Committee are due, and are hereby gratefully tendered on behalf of the working people of Lancashire, to the Right Honourable Lord Ashley, for his zealous and efficient services in this sacred cause, during a period of fourteen years of constant, consistent, and exemplary perseverance, to improve the moral, religious, and mental condition of the factory workers by endeavouring to obtain for them leisure hours to be devoted to that purpose; and especially for the zeal and activity he has displayed during the present session of Parliament.
  3. That the best thanks of this Committee are also due to John Fielden, Esq., MP, for the honest, consistent and straightforward conduct which he has ever pursued on behalf of his poorer fellow-countrymen; and especially for his exertions during the present session of Parliament in bringing the agitation for the Ten Hours' Bill to a successful issue.
  4. That this Committee tender their heartfelt thanks to the Right Honourable the Earl of Ellesmere and Lord Faversham, for their zealous exertions in conducting the Ten Hours' Bill safely through the House of Lords.
  5. That this Committee are deeply grateful and tender their best thanks to J. Brotherton, Esq., MP, H. A. Aglionby, Esq., MP., C. Hindley, Esq., MP., and all those members who spoke and voted in favour of this measure during its progress in the House of Commons.
  6. That this Committee are deeply impressed with the gratitude they owe to the Duke of Richmond, the Bishops of Oxford, London, and St. David's, and all the peers who spoke and voted in favour of the Ten Hours' Bill.
  7. That this Committee offer their most hearty congratulations and sincere thanks to John Wood, Richard Oastler, W. Walker, Thomas Fielden, and Joseph Gregory, Esqrs., and to the Rev. G. S. Bull, for their support of this cause in times when it was unpopular to be ranked amongst its advocates; and also to all its friends and supporters out of Parliament.
  8. That this Committee view with extreme satisfaction the past support of the clergy of the Established Church, as well as of those ministers of religion of all denominations who were ever found amongst the supporters of this measure, and sincerely hope that they will live to see realised the happy results which we believe were the aim and object of all their pious labours in this cause.…
PAUL HARGREAVES, Chairman
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Last modified 26 October, 2013

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