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The reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901 -- the Victorian Age -- was a time of tremendous changes in Great Britain's economy. Factories and machines were built to accommodate the demands of a growing population; along with industrialisation came the practice of child labour in which young children were forced to work due to their family's poor economic conditions. Many jobs were available to these children who were paid very little and often worked in unfavourable conditions.
Chimney sweeping was a common job for boys small enough to fit inside the chimney to sweep and scrape soot. In some cases, the boys would get stuck inside the narrow chimneys and suffocate. The hiring of young boys for chimney sweeping was prohibited in 1832.
Aside from giving cheaper labour than adults, young children -- including girls and often orphans -- worked in factories because they were easy to replace if fatal accidents occurred. In textile mills, children cleaned machines that were still running, resulting in many lost fingers and even death. Some crawled under machines to tie up broken threads. In match factories, children dipped the match sticks in chemical phosphorous, which made their teeth rot and sometimes caused death by intoxication. In 1833, it was illegal to hire children under 9 to work in factories.
The main source of power during this time was coal. Coal mines employed boys and girls as young as 5 to work dangerous jobs. Trappers were children who would sit in darkness operating air doors that provided ventilation for miners. They would sometimes be in darkness in a pit for as long as 12 hours a day. Drawers were children who would pull heavy carts of coal up to the pit's surface; they usually did this by crawling on their hands and knees with chains around their waist attached to the cart. Many accidents and fatalities resulted in these harsh conditions. The Mines Act of 1847 made it illegal to hire women and girls and all boys under age 12 to work in coal mines.
Many orphans and neglected children roamed the streets selling whatever they could so they could buy food. They would often sell firewood, matches, buttons, bootlaces and flowers. They also polished shoes, ran errands and swept crosswalks.
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