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.
The first Factory Inspectors were appointed by King William IV in 1833.
That mills existed in the 16th Century is certain but their safety was not subject to any regulation.
The Chief Inspector’s report for 1936 quoted a report found concerning a fatal accident to a child in 1540: ‘a yonge childe… was by some mishap come within the swepe or compasse of the cogge whele and therewith was torne in peces and killed.
While they were perhaps more to do with a need to contain unrest than morally motivated, they were significant in transferring responsibility for helping the needy from private hands to the state.
They were a political solution for serious social problems caused by rapid expansion of the population between the 14th and 16th Centuries and a burgeoning woollen trade upon which the nation’s wealth had come to depend.
After the Second World War the Welfare State was founded and Poor Laws were a thing of the past.
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.
And, upon inquisition taken, it was founde that the whele was the cause of the childes death, whereupon the myll was forthwith defaced and pulled downe.’ Many people were being forcibly dispossessed of their homes on land needed for sheep farming and many were thrown into poverty.
Widespread crime and growing unrest led to a law being passed in 1563 aimed at easing the condition of the poor, distinguishing between the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’.
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.
In spite of reform, the perceived humiliation of the destitute in the workhouses continued to be hated during the Victorian era.