What Was Life Like for Mill Workers in Victorian Times?

In Victorian times, agents toured the outlying farms recruiting young girls to work in textile mills. Once there, many of the girls who'd been lured with promises of money to send home soon discovered how hard the life was.


Mid-nineteenth-century textile visionaries had perfected machines that would transform raw cotton into cloth. From untangling raw bales to weaving finished cloth, hundreds of workers, called operatives, were needed. Many came from farms and had to adjust to a work life governed by bells that called them to and from the mills each day.

Working Conditions

Operatives worked twelve hours a day while enduring the heat, the floating dust and lint in the air and the deafening noise from the machines. Working conditions were difficult, with workers often injured or killed by the machinery. Entire families worked there, as wages paid to adults were low, making children's earnings necessary. Unions, insurance or workers' compensation did not exist.

Jobs and Wages

New workers, often children no older than 9 or 10, worked without pay while they learnt their jobs. Most spinning room jobs went to women and girls, while the doffing and sweeping went to boys. Men were loom fixers, weavers, carders or supervisors. Weekly wages ranged from £1.50 for doffers, who replaced filled bobbins with empty ones, to £7 for boss carders, who supervised the first twisting of the fibres off the bale.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Rachel Lovejoy has been writing professionally since 1990 and currently writes a weekly column entitled "From the Urban Wilderness" for the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, Maine, as well as short novellas for Amazon Kindle. Lovejoy graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.