The name of Richard Oastler may not mean much to workers of the 21st century, but to the thousands of men, women and children who toiled in the mills and sweatshops of Victorian England, he was known as ‘The Factory King.’ Year 5 found out why at their History workshop on Wednesday afternoon.
Through the eyes of a young orphan, sold from the workhouse to Mr Needham, owner of Litton Mill, we learned of the plight of these so called apprentices, whose miserable childhoods were so different from those of our Blue Coat pupils today.
However, dressed in shawls, caps, aprons and waistcoats, we felt very much a part of the group of factory workers who joined Richard Oastler’s campaign for a 10 hour day with no less pay. We may not have marched in the streets of Manchester, but we did march round the playground, banners held high, protesting against the long working hours and appalling conditions endured by those who suffered to make their employers rich. It took 18 long years before Queen Victoria (yes, she joined us, too!) finally signed the Parliamentary Bill of 1847, known as The Factory Act.
We also learned how the play, The Runaway Apprentice, came to be written, following months of research using original documents and statements from the apprentices themselves.
This was, indeed, an afternoon not to be forgotten, packed with fascinating facts, captivating drama, heart-rending emotion and, of course, enormous enjoyment. The name of Richard Oastler lives on!