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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Book Launch News

The latest news about my forthcoming title, A Visitor's Guide to Jane Austen's England, is here on my Jane Austen blog . My new book is a follow-up to Michelle Higgs' Visitor's Guide to Victorian England, published by Pen and Sword's history imprint.

Street Sweepers and Shoe-Blacks

In my earlier blog posts I wrote about the poverty suffered by many Georgian and Victorian children and orphans. Many swept streets or cleaned shoes to earn a pittance. The shoe-black brigades were voluntary organizations linked to the ragged school movement. (As I've mentioned previously, child labour was all part of growing up during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries).

This week author Michelle Higgs, whose new book A Visitor's Guide to Victorian England is out now, has very kindly allowed me to write a guest post for her blog, and you can find out more about child street-sweepers and the shoe-black boys here. Michelle gives updates on her work and fun facts about Victorian England on her Twitter feed @MichelleHiggs11.

Image from my collection:   
Homeless street-sweepers sleeping under a railway arch in London in the 1880s. Cassell’s Family Magazine, Cassell & Co. Ltd (London, 1883).

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Child Criminals

Our child ancestors grew up in a violent society. Corporal punishment was widespread at home, in schools, and in the judicial system. Child convicts were flogged, sentenced to hard labour or transported overseas. 

The age of criminal responsibility was seven years; when a child was 14 (later 16), he or she was treated as an adult in the courts. Capital punishment for children under sixteen was not abolished until 1908 (and for under-18s, not until 1932). 
Most children were convicted for petty offences like stealing or picking pockets, although there were some child murderers, like John Bell (14), tried at Maidstone Assizes on 4 May 1831 for the murder of 13-year-old Richard Taylor. John robbed Richard and cut his throat; he was convicted of murder and hanged on 31 May.
Until the late eighteenth century prison sentences for children were uncommon, although they spent months in jail awaiting trial. 
There were no separate detention facilities for children and young people until the late 1830s. Life in prison was harsh: boys and girls performed hard labour such as picking oakum.
Prisons were grossly overcrowded, and to relieve the pressure, former naval vessels – the ‘hulks’ - were pressed into service in the 1770s. Over the years thousands of men and boys were imprisoned in these insanitary, crowded hell-holes, which held convicts awaiting transportation. 

Records for 18th and 19th century young offenders can be found in quarter sessions, assizes and petty sessions files at local record offices - Tracing Your Ancestors' Childhood has more detailed guidance. It wasn't until 1905 that Britain had its first children’s law court - at Birmingham. Then in 1908 the Children’s Act introduced special juvenile courts across Britain.  
Some people questioned the severity of the treatment of child criminals, and I'll be discussing reformatories in my next blog post.  

Images from the author's collection: 
Prisoners including child felons: ‘stopping at the Baptist’s Head in St John’s Lane on the day of removal from the New Prison (Clerkenwell) to Newgate’.  Illustration by Dodd, engraved by T.Smith c.1790. 
The Artful Dodger picks a pocket. Illustration by George Cruikshank, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, (Chapman & Hall Ltd, and Henry Frowde, circa 1905).