Frequently, entire families had to work as a matter of sheer economic necessity. A factory worker testified before a British parliamentary committee in 1831-1832:
At what time in the morning, in the brisk time, did those girls go to the mills? In the brisk time, for about six weeks, they have gone at 3 o’clock in the morning, and ended at 10, or nearly half-past, at night.
What intervals were allowed for rest or refreshment during those nineteen hours of labour? Breakfast a quarter of an hour, and dinner half an hour, and drinking of ale a quarter of an hour.
Was any of that time taken up in cleaning the machinery? They generally had to do what they call dry down; sometimes this took the whole of the time at breakfast or drinking, and they were to get their dinner or breakfast as they could; if not, it was brought home.
Had you not great difficulty in awakening your children to this excessive labour? Yes, in the early time we had them to take up asleep and shake them when we got them on the floor to dress them, before we could get them off to their work; but not so in the common hours.
What was the length of time they could be in bed during those long hours? It was near 11 o’clock before we could get them into bed after getting a little victuals, and then at morning my mistress used to stop all night, for fear that we could not get them ready for the time. . . .
So that they had not above four hours’ sleep at this time? No, they had not…
Were the children excessively fatigued by this labour?
Many times, we have cried often when we have given them the little victualling we had to give them; we had to shake them, and they have fallen to sleep with the victuals in their mouths many a time.
Did this excessive term of labour occasion much cruelty also? Yes, being so very much fatigued the strap was very frequently wed.
What was the wages in the short hours? Three
shillings a week each.
When they wrought those very long hours what did
they get? Three shillings and sevenpence h4enny.