Lion and Club

Factory Life

David grew up during the Industrial Revolution. This was a time when inventions in technology helped industries develop - as machines took over jobs which used to be done by hand, meaning they could be done a lot quicker. Thanks to new machines, the cotton industry in Scotland grew during this time.

Enslaved people forced to work on plantations in America and the Caribbean grew and picked raw cotton. This cotton was then shipped to Scotland where it was woven into cloth in factories called cotton mills. The cloth was then sold all around the world.

David was born on 19 March 1813 in the factory worker’s accommodation, Shuttle Row. He lived here with his family in a single room, known as a single-end. At one point, there were seven people in the Livingstone family home – David, his father and mother, and his two brothers and two sisters. It was very cramped!

The Livingstone family were poor, so at the age of 10 David began working in the cotton mill as a piecer. His job involved ducking under the cotton spinning machines to tie together the broken threads. This was a very dangerous job because the machines were moving all the time, so he had to be careful not to get injured.

Life in the mill was difficult, with strict bosses, long working hours, low wages and loud machines that could cause deafness. After a long day at work, working from 6am to 8pm, David went to school in the evening. Through hard work, study and ambition he left the cotton mill to pursue his dream of becoming a missionary doctor.

These resources are designed to link the Curriculum for Excellence objectives with Sustainable Development Goal 8 and Sustainable Development Goal 12 as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Factory Life PDF
Factory Life (PDF)


Activity 1 - The Journey of Cotton

During the early 19th century cotton goods were sought after. Factories, like the Blantyre Cotton Works, shipped their products all over the world, but the cotton trade was far from fair.

Cotton was grown in huge fields and was hand-picked by enslaved people. It was then brought to factories, like the one David Livingstone worked at, to be woven into cloth. Once woven, the cotton would be turned into all sorts of products like clothing, curtains and tablecloths. It would be sold all over the world for lots of money.

Learn more about the connections between the cotton trade and slavery, as well as injustices in today’s cotton industry in the following sections.

White Cotton Threads Spools
The Journey Of Cotton Activity
The Journey Of Cotton Activity (PDF)
SOC 2-04a SOC 2-15a SOC 2-16b

Activity 2 - A Day in David's Life

David’s childhood was very different from yours or mine. He worked as a piecer in the Blantyre Cotton Works, which meant long hours and dangerous work. This is because his parents were poor and needed him to earn money.

In those days, there were fewer laws to protect the rights of children and it was legal to send children to work full time. David used to work a full day at the factory and then go to school in the evening because his education was very important to him.

How much time do you have to yourself at the end of a day at school?

What do you do with that time?

How much time do you think David had, once he was finished with work and school?

Download the activity sheet to find out more.

RME 2-02b SOC 2-19a

Activity 3 - The Rights of the Child

Did you know that all children and young people have rights? These are listed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (or UNCRC for short).

Rights make sure that children and young people can live safe, healthy and happy lives. These rights were only introduced in 1991 in the UK. Even today, many children and young people’s rights are not respected.

When David Livingstone was a child there was no UNCRC. This meant that David and other children were expected to work just as hard as adults and had less time for school and for play.

Look at the rights listed in this activity. Do you think David’s rights were respected when he was growing up? Are your rights respected today?

HWB 2-09a

Activity 4 - What Kind of Mill Owner Would You Be?

When David was growing up, it was legal to send children to work in unsafe conditions for long hours. This had long term effects on some children’s health and could mean that they were unable to work later in life, resulting in lifelong poverty and health problems. Watch this video about the effect of mill work on young children and the terrible conditions they were subject to:

Exploring Horrific Working Conditions 6-Year-Olds Experienced During The Industrial Revolution

Can you imagine being forced to work under these kinds of conditions?

How does this compare to your daily life?

Now think about if you were a mill owner, how would you treat your employees differently from this?

Have a go at building your own mill from recycled materials from around the house, and then draw up a list of rules for your workers and their managers.

How should people in the mill treat one another? What kind of rights do you think the workers in the mill are entitled to? How old should people have to be before they are able to work in your mill?

Use the How To Make Your Own Mill Model from Recycled Materials (PDF) worksheet as inspiration for building the mill, and have another look at the UNCRC as a reminder of what kind of rights you might want to give your workers

Activity 5 - Are You an Inventor?

The Industrial Revolution was in part powered by the innovation of people who invented machines to solve problems.

Watch this video about the Industrial Revolution from the BBC. The presenter Andrew Marr is mostly positive about the effect of industrial growth on society at large, although he does point out that there were also 'casualties' of the process. What do you think?

The Industrial Revolution - Andrew Marr's History of the World

The process of industrialisation, the spread of new inventions and new ideas meant the world changed very quickly during the time.

Our world today looks very different again, and many inventions created since the Victorian period have altered the way we live our lives.

For instance, talking to friends and family before the invention of internet communications was a lot slower and more difficult. We had to write one another letters, or telegrams.

Try writing a list of all the inventions you are most grateful for in your life.

What would your life be like without these things?

Now think of a problem that you would like to solve and invent a machine to solve it for you – it doesn’t have to work or make sense, just be creative.


Activity 6 - Weaving Around the World

The building we are renovating, as part of David Livingstone Birthplace, used to be a cotton mill. This is where David was born and where he worked as a piecer, when he was a child.

Here, raw cotton was spun into threads which were then woven into fabrics in a different factory. There are many different ways to weave fabric but it all starts by spinning raw fibres into threads.

Watch this video of people all over the world weaving fabrics.

Now have a go at weaving your own fabric on a mini loom by downloading our Learning To Weave Worksheet (PDF).

Tunya Investigates - Factory Life

Hello and welcome to another episode of Tunya Investigates.

Today we're talking about David's childhood in Blantyre. What did he get up to every day? What were his interests? What was his family like? When did he start working at the mill? What kind of child would David be if he was growing up today?

For answers to all these questions, listen to this second episode of Tunya Investigates.

Also see our other Learning Resources and Learning sections for more information.

If you have enjoyed these activities please share them with your friends and family.


We would like to acknowledge the support and help of our partners in creating these resources.

WOSDEC - Global Learning Centre

We are very grateful to our key funders the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Government for their support in helping us deliver the Birthplace Project.

National Lottery Heritage Fund
Scottish Government
Historic Environment Scotland
Note: Please note that David Livingstone Birthplace (and the David Livingstone Trust) is no longer part of National Trust Scotland (NTS). NTS members will therefore no longer receive discounted/free entry to the Birthplace Museum.

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