Parish Overseers were replaced by local Boards of Guardians (the ‘Guardians of the Poor’) that later also became Rural Sanitary Authorities under the Public Health Act of 1875.
The narrative that follows has been based largely on Inspectors’ reports, in particular the Annual Report of HM Chief Inspector of Factories for the year 1932 which commemorated the first 100 years of the work of HM Inspectors, and information available on the web site of the Health and Safety Executive and other sources (listed), including the author’s and colleagues’ memories of their years in the Inspectorate.The seeds of state intervention to correct social ills were sown during the reign of Elizabeth 1 by the Poor Laws, which originated in attempts to alleviate hardship arising from widespread poverty.They were put to work for excessively long spells, at high risk to their safety, health and welfare, and they received little or no education.Responding to calls for remedial action from philanthropists and some of the more enlightened employers, in 1802 Sir Robert Peel, himself a mill owner, introduced a Bill to Parliament with the worthy aim of improving their conditions.It required employers to keep mill premises clean and healthy by twice yearly washings with quicklime, to ensure there were sufficient windows to admit fresh air, and to supply ‘apprentices’ (the aforementioned paupers and orphans) with ‘sufficient and suitable’ clothing and accommodation for sleeping. Their work was to be limited to twelve hours per day and night work was forbidden.
They were to be taught reading, writing and arithmetic and receive religious instruction.
The story of the United Kingdom’s industrial development is closely entwined with the story of HM Factory Inspectorate and the development of Factory Law.
Often it seems to have been a tale of ‘two steps forward, one step back’.
In 1572 a tax was laid on local communities to pay for the relief of the ‘deserving’, workhouses were established in 1576 and Parish Overseers of the Poor were appointed in 1597.
Those laws were consolidated by the Poor Law of 1601 and were not reformed until 1834, when the Poor Law Commission’s recommendations were implemented by the Poor Law Amendment Act.
Its origins lie in political responses to social problems arising from the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution and the inadequacies of earlier Elizabethan Poor Laws.