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Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Rich Child in His Castle, the Poor Child at His Gate

What was life like for a child growing up in Georgian and Victorian times? While researching The Children History Forgot, I was struck by the vast gulf between rich and poor. Children like this smartly dressed boy and girl, born into a genteel family, were educated at home in their early years. Sons were sent to school, then university. Daughters were often educated at home, although some later went to school to learn accomplishments suitable for their future roles as wives and mothers.
Children born into poverty were expected to earn a living from as early an age as possible, like these ‘mudlarks’ scavenging along the banks of the Thames. They collected and sold bits of coal, scrap metal or rope to try to earn a few pennies. The only schools likely to be available to them were Sunday schools, or missions like this one.

Images: Fashion plates, Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music and Romance, Vol. XII, 1837.
Children mudlarking on the Thames, Old and New London Vol.III, (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, c.1878).


JaneGS said...

Did Sunday Schools teach reading/writing or were they purely focused on religious instruction? From reading about Elizabeth Gaskell's involvement in Sunday School's at her husband's church, I'm thinking they covered basic education.

Sue Wilkes said...

Most taught the children (and adults) to read, so that they could read their Bible. Some schools taught writing as well and even arithmetic, but it all depended on the school. Many did not think it necessary for working class children to learn how to write, though.