A NEW exhibition is offering an eye-opening insight on children in the world of work.

Child Labour: Hidden Stories of Cumbria - which is on show at Kendal's Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry - begins in the 1700s when youngsters worked in the home or on family farms. It looks at the Industrial Revolution when more than a quarter of the workforce were thought to be children.

Youngsters represented an almost unlimited source of cheap unskilled labour. At one point Cumbria had more than 100 bobbin mills and children were put to task in dangerous conditions for long hours.

The exhibition considers other industries such as mining when very young children were sent down the pit. Children were considered ideal in certain mining jobs being physically smaller than adults and able to work in confined spaces. But these were environments of extreme danger. During the 1910 Wellington Pit disaster 136 miners were killed, including children as young as 15.

Nikki Foster, MOLLI's assistant curator heritage, said that across Cumbria, children as young as five were employed in factories, mines, workhouses and private homes: “Without laws to protect them, they were likely to be fired if they became ill and could be subject to violence if a job was not done satisfactorily.

“However, as the 19th century progressed, new laws and a drop in the demand for labour meant that more children were able to stop work and attend school.”

The exhibition also looks at Cumbrian schooling and pupils from Dean Gibson Primary School at Kendal have helped with the exhibition. Executive headteacher Sarah Tansey explained that the exhibition was a great opportunity for the children to study in depth the lives of Kendal children in Victorian times.

“They gained a real understanding of how their lives differ from those of Victorian children and developed their skills of inference when exploring local artefacts from the period.

“All that, and the chance to be creative in writing as curators, this was a fantastic learning experience shared with our families.”

Artefacts on display in the exhibition, which runs until September 28, include a ‘tawse’ - a kind of whip used in Victorian classrooms to punish children.

Child Labour: Hidden Stories of Cumbria also considers child labour globally in 2019 and the roles young people play in creating everyday items such as mobile phones and coffee.

For further information telephone MOLLI on 01539-722464.