(Upper & Middle Class Families)
Families were very important to Victorians. They were usually large, in 1870
the average family had five or six children. Most upper and middle class
families lived in big, comfortable houses. Each member of the family had
its own place and children were taught to "know their place".
The father was the head of the household. He was often strict and was
obeyed by all without question. The children were taught to respect their
father and always spoke politely to him calling him "Sir". Very few
children would dare to be cheeky to their father or answer him back.
When he wanted a little peace and quiet he would retire to his study and
the rest of the family were not allowed to enter without his special
The mother would often spend her time planning dinner parties, visiting her
dressmaker or calling on friends, she did not do jobs like washing
clothes or cooking and cleaning. Both "papa and mama saw the
upbringing of their children as an important responsibility. They believed
a child must be taught the difference between right and wrong if he was
to grow into a good and thoughtful adult. If a child did something wrong
he would be punished for his own good. "Spare the rod and spoil the
child" was a saying Victorians firmly believed in.
Most days middle class children saw very little of their parents. The children
in a middle class family would spend most of their time in the nursery
and would be brought up by their nanny. Victorian children were
expected to rise early, because lying in bed was thought to be lazy and
sinful. The nanny would-be paid about £25 a year to wash, dress and
watch over them,amuse them, dose them, take them out and teach them
how to behave. Some would only see their parents once a day. In the
evening, clean and tidy the children were allowed downstairs for an hour
before they went to bed. Some mothers taught their children to read and
write and sometimes fathers taught their sons Latin.
As the children grew older,tutors and governesses were often employed and
boys were sometimes sent away to school
When the children grew up, only the boys were expected to work, the
daughters stayed at home with their mother. They were expected only to
marry as soon as possible.
All households except the very poorest had servants to do their day to day
work. The cook and the butler were the most important. The butler
answered the front door and waited on the family. The cook was
responsible for shopping for food and running the kitchen, she would
often be helped by kitchen and scullery maids. Housemaids cleaned the
rooms and footmen did the heavy work.
People would come from the country to work as servants in the town
houses. These jobs were popular because they gave them somewhere to
live and clothes. On average they earned about £50 a year. Often they
spent their working lives with the same household.
Poor / Working Class Families
For poorer families their greatest fear was ending up in the workhouse,where
thousands of homeless and penniless families were forced to live. If your
family was taken into the workhouse you would be split up dressed
in uniform and have your hair cut short. This could happen to a family if
father were taken ill and unable to work.
Lots of children in poor families died of diseases like scarlet fever, measles,
polio and TB which are curable today. These were spread by foul
drinking water, open drains and lack of proper toilets. In overcrowded
rooms if one person caught a disease it spread quickly through the rest.
Child Labour & The Industrial Revolution
During the 1800s the Industrial Revolution spread throughout Britain. The
use of steam-powered machines, led to a massive increase in the
number of factories (particularly in textile factories or mills).
From Country to Town
As the number of factories grew people from the countryside began to move
into the towns looking for better paid work. The wages of a farm worker
were very low and there were less jobs working on farms because of the
invention and use of new machines such as threshers. Also thousands
of new workers were needed to work machines in mills and foundries
and the factory owners built houses for them.Cities filled to overflowing
and London was particularly bad. At the start of the 19th Century about
1/5 of Britainís population lived there, but by 1851 half the population of
the country had set up home in London. London, like most cities, was
not prepared for this great increase in people. People crowded into
already crowded houses. Rooms were rented to whole families or
perhaps several families. If there was no rooms to rent, people stayed in
The worker's houses were usually near to the factories so that people could
walk to work. They were built really quickly and cheaply. The houses
were cheap, most had between 2-4 rooms - one or two rooms
downstairs, and one or two rooms upstairs. Victorian families were big
with 4 or 5 children. There was no running water or toilet. A whole street
would have to share an outdoor pump and a couple of outside toilets.
Most houses in the North of England were "back to backs" (built in
double rows) with no windows at the front, no backyards and a sewer
down the middle of the street. The houses were built crammed close
together, with very narrow streets between them. Most of the houses
were crowded with five or more people possibly crammed into a single
room. Even the cellars were full. Most of the new towns were dirty and
unhealthy. The household rubbish was thrown out into the streets.
Housing conditions like these were a perfect breeding grounds for
diseases. More than 31,000 people died during an outbreak of cholera in
1832 and lots more were killed by typhus, smallpox and dysentery.
Chimneys, bridges and factory smoke blocked out most of the light in the
towns. A layer of dirty smoke often covered the streets like a blanket.
This came from the factories that used steam to power their machines.
The steam was made by burning coal to heat water. Burning coal
produces a lot of dirty, black smoke.
Gradually, improvements for the poor were made. In 1848, Parliament passed
laws that allowed city councils to clean up the streets. One of the first
cities to become a healthier place was Birmingham. Proper sewers and
drains were built. Land owners had to build houses to a set standard.
Streets were paved and lighting was put up.
Over time slums were knocked down and new houses built. However, these
changes did not take place overnight. When slums were knocked down
in 1875 the poor people had little choice but to move to another slum,
making that one worse. Few could afford new housing.
Many factory workers were children. They worked long hours and were often
treated badly by the supervisors or overseers. Sometimes the children
started work as young as four or five years old. A young child could not
earn much, but even a few pence would be enough to buy food.
The coal mines were dangerous places where roofs sometimes caved in,
explosions happened and workers got all sorts of injuries. There were
very few safety rules. Cutting and moving coal which machines do
nowadays was done by men, women and children.
The younger children often worked as "trappers" who worked trap doors.
They sat in a hole hollowed out for them and held a string which was
fastened to the door. When they heard the coal wagons coming they had
to open the door by pulling a string. This job was one of the easiest
down the mine but it was very lonely and the place were they sat was
usually damp and draughty.
Older children might be employed as "coal bearers" carrying loads of coal
on their backs in big baskets.
The Mines Act was passed by the Government in 1842 forbidding the
employment of women and girls and all boys under the age of teen down
mines. Later it became illegal for a boy under 12 to work down a mine.
While thousands of children worked down the mine, thousands of others
worked in the cotton mills. The mill owners often took in orphans to their
workhouses, they lived at the mill and were worked as hard as possible.
They spent most of their working hours at the machines with little time
for fresh air or exercise. Even part of Sunday was spent cleaning
machines. There were some serious accidents, some children were
scalped when their hair was caught in the machine, hands were crushed
and some children were killed when they went to sleep and fell into the
Factories and Brick Works
Children often worked long and gruelling hours in factories and had to carry
out some hazhardous jobs. In match factories children were employed to
dip matches into a chemical called phosphorous. This phosphorous
could cause their teeth to rot and some died from the effect of breathing
it into their lungs.
Although in 1832 the use of boys for sweeping chimneys was forbidden by
law, boys continued to be forced through the narrow winding passages
of chimneys in large houses. When they first started at between five and
ten years old, children suffered many cuts, grazes and bruises on their
knees, elbows and thighs however after months of suffering their skin
Hordes of dirty, ragged children roamed the streets with no regular money
and no home to got to. The children of the streets were often orphans
with no-one to care for them. They stole or picked pockets to buy food
and slept in outhouses or doorways. Charles Dickens wrote about these
children in his book "Oliver Twist".
Some street children did jobs to earn money. They could work as
crossing-sweepers, sweeping a way through the mud and horse dung of
the main paths to make way for ladies and gentlemen. Others sold lace,
flowers, matches or muffins etc out in the streets.
Poor families who lived in the countryside were also forced to send their
children out to work. Seven and eight year olds could work as bird
scarers,out in the fields from four in the morning until seven at night.
Older ones worked in gangs as casual labourers.
Changes for the better
It took time for the goverment to decide that working children ought to be
protected by laws as many people did not see anything wrong with the
idea of children earning their keep. They also believed that people should
be left alone to help themselves and not expect others to protect or keep
them. They felt children had a right to send their children out to work.
People such as Lord Shaftesbury and Sir Robert Peel worked hard to
persuade the public that it was wrong for children to suffer health
problems and to miss out on schooling due to work.
This Midi music is used with permission
From (c) Margi Harell.if you want to use her music
please visit her website for permission
CDs are available from Margi Harrell.
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