The Brontes-Haworth In The Time Of The Brontes-Part 3

Patrick Bronte was very active in trying to improve water supply and sanitation, but was opposed by the wealthy parish ratepayers who were expected to foot the bill. An 1851 report by an Inspector of the Board of Health, brought in by Patrick, described ‘middensteads’ (heaps of human dung) everywhere in the village, no covered drains or sewers, no water closets, and on average one earth privy for every four houses. And in the slum areas, all now demolished of course, it was even worse: in two cases 24 houses shared one privy. The water supply was almost certainly polluted. The average life expectancy in Haworth village, for those who survived their first year, was 25.8 years, as bad as the worst parts of London or Liverpool. In the mills a 69 hour working week (12 hours a day with a mere 9 hours on Saturday) was the norm, but in good times 16 hours a day was possible, and in bad times the workers were laid off without pay. In theory the Factory Act of 1802 had prohibited the employment of children under nine years old, and required factory owners to provide schools for them. It was ignored. The 1833 Factory Act was better publicised, but the magistrates who should have enforced it were often mill owners themselves, and that Act too was ignored. The 1833 Act had been opposed locally. Harley Merrall, for example, agreed with a Bingley surgeon that the hours were not excessive, and that children did not need recreation. The minister of the West Street Baptist Chapel opposed the Act, and quite probably so did many of the poorest families. After all, if the menfolk were out of work, the family needed income from the children if it was to survive – which is perhaps one reason why the population of Haworth shot up between 1801-1851. There are certainly many working children shown in the 1851 census, including an 8-year-old worsted spinner living two doors from the Parsonage, and several other 8-year-old ‘factory operatives’.

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