Life for children in the 18th and 19th centuries could be very hard. Families were often large and all members of the family were expected to contribute to the household. Many of the small villages and towns that made up the areas we now know as East Renfrewshire depended on the growth of the textile industry for work.

Children in the Mills

Children were often expected to work in the mills, it was not unusual for them to work from the age of 7. In the early 1800s children even outnumbered adult workers in the mills.

Conditions would have been very unpleasant for the children in the mills - noisy, hot and damp. As a result of the hot, damp atmosphere and millions of fibre particles in the air, many children and adults suffered from illness such as bronchitis, pneumonia and tuberculosis. The hours of work were the same for children as adults: at least 12 hours a day but usually 14; 6 day weeks; 2 days holiday a year.

The statistical accounts of 1792 for Busby shows that at this time 360 people were employed in the Upper Mill. It also confirms that the majority of people working in the mill were children under 15, i.e. 210 were children and 130 were adults.

Males under 15100                                                                                                             
Females under 15110
Males over 1560
Females over 1590

Changes for the better

Eventually the government intervened to help the plight of children and protect them from the harsh conditions. In 1805 an act was passed which said that their working hours could not be longer than 12 hours a day and that the last 2 hours had to be spent in reading writing and arithmetic. Still a very hard life compared to the conditions of most children today.

Things continued to improve very slowly and another government act passed in 1872 said that all children had to go to school until they were at least 13. In 1873, it had been discovered that of the 576 school age children in Mearns, 180 did not go to school at all. As a result of that and the new act it was decided that a new school would be built and Mearns Primary was opened in 1876.