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Friday 15 June 2012

“She Seemed to Realize…the Intense Loneliness of her Lot; and, When I Put My Arm Round Her She Clung to Me With Such Sobs That I Could Hardly Help Crying Too. “ Or: More Working Children of the 19th Century:

By far the most popular post I have ever written on this blog is this article, entitled ‘Working Children of the 19th Century’ from November 2010. It has been looked at well over a thousand times more than its closest rival, and so, I thought perhaps I would re-visit the subject of Victorian working children whilst I was reading an article about them in an old magazine.

The Strand Magazine, from which I have taken the article, was a fairly late-comer to the world of Victorian publication, with its first issue being printed in January 1891. As a bit of a collector of Victorian papers and magazines, I must admit that The Strand is an excellent little eye on the world of the late Victorian period, as it combines fiction with factual articles. Many publications from the period can be, I find, a little difficult to read if they are purely news-based. Interesting, of course, but if you don’t have a full grasp on a story, it can be a little dull reading a small portion of it, so, in many ways, since The Strand contains whole articles on various social aspects of the Victorian period, it gives a far broader view on the topics it covers – if not quite as detailed.

The magazine’s biggest claim to fame is that it was the home of the Sherlock Holmes serializations, but it can boast many other famous contributors, such as Agatha Christie, Arthur Morrison, Rudyard Kipling, H.G Wells, and also a lady we have seen a lot of recently on this particular blog; Queen Victoria, who had a sketch published in the magazine.

Before I move onto the article, I’d like to say how much I like the front cover of The Strand, which is a lovely sketch of – predictably – The Strand, in London, looking toward Mary Le Strand. This was designed by the artist George Charles Haitè. The title of the magazine is suspended from telegraph wires, zig-zagging above the thoroughfare.

Enough of the publication, and onto the article:

Child Workers in London

This article does not profess to be an exhaustive account of all the employments in which London children are engaged. The limits of a magazine article do not allow of a full and detailed account of this very comprehensive subject. No individual or body of individuals has any precise information about the hundreds of children engaged as ballet dancers, acrobats, models, and street vendors, to give only a few names in the vast army of child workers.

Nothing can be harder and drearier than the lot of little servants, employed in many cases in lodging-houses. They are on their feet all day long, at everyone’s beck and call, and never expected to be tired or sit down properly for a meal; the food is of the poorest quality; they have heavy weights to drag up and down stairs in the shape of coal-scuttles, and the inevitable strapping baby; their sleeping apartment is as often as not a disgraceful hole, and such requisites to health as are generally considered necessary in the shape of exercise, fresh air, and baths are unknown quantities.

There is a strong prejudice against the “factory girl” in many quarters, and “service” is indiscriminately extolled as far more suitable for a respectable girl of the lower classes. It would be, if there were any chance of the docker’s child or the coster’s child obtaining a decent situation; but, as a matter of fact, the life of the much-pitied match-worker is infinitely easier than that of these little drudges. At eight o’clock the factory girl is at any rate free to get out into the open air for a couple of hours, or to sit down and rest. The little “general” is never free. One child told me – she was the daughter of a docker who was the happy owner of eleven children, and was herself an under-fed, anaemic-looking creature – that she got up at six every morning to
“make the gen’l’m’s breakfast – it was a lodging house; after that there’s the steps, ‘ouse work, peeling potatoes, and sich like, till dinner. I never sits down till we ‘ave a cup o’ tea after the lodgers ‘ave ‘ad their suppers. But the missis – oh, she is a nice, kind laidy, and she works with me, she do.”
“I suppose,” I said “you are able to get out on Sunday’s?”
“Once a month I goes ‘ome, but I nusses the baby on Sunday, as we ain’t so busy. ‘E’s such a beauty; I’ll ask missis if I can bring ‘im down; ‘e can’t walk by ‘isself.”

And off darted the little maid to the top of the house as if she were not on her thin legs from morn to night, returning presently with a huge and well-fed baby, about three times as fat as herself. I am bound to say this girl seemed contented, and, as lodging-house landladies go, her mistress seemed a fairly good one; but what a life of exhaustive and unremitting labour, even under these conditions, for a child of thirteen; and what a life of horrors if her mistress had been a brutal or cruel woman! The usual payment is 2s. 6d. a week, but I found in a number of cases the girls only receive 1s., or even 9d., their mistresses deducting the rest of their salary for the payment of the clothes which they have been compelled to buy for them on arrival, the little servant being too often in possession of a hat with feathers, a fur boa, and a brass locket, which, with the garments she stands up in, form her entire outfit. A pathetic little story was told me about a bright-faced girl I happened to come across.

“I got to know of her,” said my informant, a lady who does much quiet good, and whose name is unknown to newspaper readers, “last year. A friend of mine whose Sunday-school she attended in Deptford asked me to look her up. I happened quite by chance to call in at the coffee tavern where she was to act as a servant, a few moments after she had arrived, and I was told I might go up to the ‘bedroom.’ Well, I wont go into particulars about that ‘bedroom.’ It was nearly dark, and I found the poor little soul sitting on the only available piece of furniture in the room – her own little tin hat-box. I shall not easily forget that dazed, bewildered look with which she met me. It was all so strange; everyone had been too busy to attend to her, and, though she had come from a wretched home, where the playful father had been in the habit of making her a ratget for his boot shying, still there had been familiar faces round her. She seemed to realize in the sort of way young people do not, as a rule, the intense loneliness of her lot; and, when I put my arm round her she clung to me with such sobs that I could hardly help crying too. “

Fortunately, sensitive child-servants are tolerably rare, and I am bound to say I failed to find any answering to this description. They were generally what one might describe as decidedly “independent!” one girl – she was barely fifteen – told me she had been in six places.
“Are you so fond of change?” I asked.
“’Tain’t that so much,” returned the young lady; “but I cant put up with ‘cheek,’ and some o’ my missises do go on awful. ‘I says: ‘Ave yer jaw, and ‘ave done with it.’”

This certainly was rather an awful specimen; but she could not have been very bad, as her present mistress – who, I presume, has not up to the present “checked” her – assured me that the girl handed over her 2s. 6d. a week regularly to her mother. This seems to be the usual practice with the girls. Their mothers buy their clothes, and give them a shilling on Bank Holidays and a few pence every week to spend on themselves. A large proportion of these little drudges marry dockers and labourers generally, and, as their training has not been exactly of the kind to render them neat, thrifty housewives, it is perhaps not surprising that their cuisine and domestic arrangements altogether leave much to be desired.

There is perhaps no form of entertainment more popular amongst a large class of playgoers than that afforded by the clever acrobat, of whose private life the public has only the vaguest knowledge. The general impression, derived from sensational stories in newspapers and romances, is that the profession of the gymnast is a disreputable one, involving a constant danger of life and limb; and that young acrobats can only be made proficient in the art by the exercise of severity and cruelty on the part of trainers.

The actual facts are that the owners, or, as they are called, “fathers,” of “troupes” are, in a number of cases, respectable house-holders, who, when not travelling over Europe and America, occupy little villas in the neighbourhood of Brixton and Clapham; that the danger is immensely exaggerated, particularly in the case of boys, who are always caught when they fall; and that the training and discipline need not be any severer than that employed by a schoolmaster to enforce authority.
 “Of course,” said a trainer of long experience to me, “I sometimes get an idle boy, just as a schoolmaster gets an idle pupil, and I have my own methods of making him work. But I would lay a heavy wager that even a lazy lad sheds less tears in his training with me than a dull schoolboy at a public school. I have never met with a single boy who didn’t delight in his dexterity and muscle; and you will find acrobats as a whole enjoy a higher average of health than any other class.”

There are no “Schools of Gymnastics” for training acrobats in London, the regular method being that the head of each troupe – which usually consists of five or six persons, including one or more members of the family, the acrobatic instinct being strongly hereditary – trains and exhibits his own little company. The earlier a boy begins, of course, the better; and, as a general rule, the training commences at seven or eight years old. Many of the children are taken from the very lowest dregs of humanity, and are bound over by their parents to the owner of a troupe for a certain number of years. The “father” undertakes to teach, feed and clothe the boy, whilst the parents agree not to claim him for a stipulated number of years. A boy is rarely of any good for the first couple of years, and it takes from five to six years to turn out a finished gymnast.
“Is it true,” I asked of the head of the celebrated “Yokohama Troupe,” “that the bones of the boy are broken whilst young?”
Mr. Edwin Bale, who is himself a fine specimen of the healthy trapezist, smiled pityingly at my question, and asked me to come and watch his troupe practice. All gymnasts practice regularly for two hours or more every day. The “Yokohama Troupe” includes three boys, all well-fed looking and healthy, one of them being Edwin, the fifteen-year-old son of Mr. Bale, a strikingly handsome and finely-developed boy, who has been in the profession since he was two.

The first exercise that young boys learn is “shoulder and legs,” which is practiced assiduously till performed with ease and rapidity. After this comes “splits.” This exercise looks as if it ought to be not only uncomfortable but painful; but a strong proof that it is neither was afforded me involuntarily by one of the little boys. He did it repeatedly for his own benefit when off duty! After this the boy learns “flip flap,” “full spread,” and a number of intricate gymnastics with which the public is familiar. In all these performances boys are very much in request, partly because they are more popular with the public, and partly because in a variety of these gymnastic exhibitions men are disqualified from taking any part in them owing to their weight. In the figure technically known as “full spread” (shown in illustration) it is essential that the topmost boy shall be slightly made and light in weight; but even under these conditions the strain on the principal “supporter” is enormous. As regards danger, so far as I have been able to learn from a good deal of testimony on the point, there is very little of any kind. The only really dangerous gymnastic turn is the “somersault,” which may have serious results, unless done with dexterity and delicacy. There is no doubt that exercise of this kind is beneficial to the boys’ health. Several boys in excellent condition, with well-developed muscles and chests assured me they were often in the “’orspital” before they became acrobats.

Their improved physique is possibly in a great measure due to the capital feeding they get, it being obviously to the advantage of the “father” to have a robust, rosy-faced company. Master Harris, of the “Yokohama Troupe,” informed me that he generally has meat twice a day, a bath every evening (gymnasts are compelled by the nature of their work to keep their skins in good condition by frequent bathing), that Mrs. Bale was as kind to him as his own mother, and that he thought performing “jolly.” He further informed me that he got three shillings a week for pocket money, which was put inton the bank for him.

Another boy in the same troupe told me he had over £9 in the bank. Of course, all companies are not so well looked after as the boys in Mr. Bale’s troupe; but I have failed to discover a single case where the boys seemed ill-used. Where the troupe travelled about Europe, the lads were exceptionally intelligent, and several of them could talk fair French of German. A really well-equipped acrobat is nearly always sure of work, and can often obtain as much as £30 a week, the usual payment being from £20 to £25 a week. As a rule, the boys remain with the master who has given them their training, and who finds it worthwhile, when they are grown up, to pay them a good salary. A troupe gets as much as £70 or £80 a day when hired out for fetes or public entertainments. There is one point which will possibly interest the temperance folk, and which I must not forget. The boys have constantly before them moderation in the persons of their elders.

“Directly an acrobat takes to drinking,” said Mr. Bale, impressively, “he is done for. I rarely take a glass of wine. I can’t afford to have my nerves shaky.” Altogether there are worse methods of earning a livelihood than those of the acrobat; and a propos of this point, an instructive little story was told me which sentimental, fussy people would do well to note. There was a certain little lad belonging to a troupe the owner of which had rescued him from the gutter principally out of charity. The boy was slight and delicate-looking, but good feeding and exercise improved him wonderfully, and he was becoming quite a decent specimen of humanity when some silly people cried out about the cruelty of the late hours, and so on, and insisted that he should be at school all day. The lad, who was well fed, washed, and clothed, was handed back to the care of his parents. He now certainly attends school during the day, but he is running about the gutter every evening, barefooted, selling matches till midnight!

On the subject of ballet children there is also a great deal of wasted sentiment. All sorts and descriptions of children are employed in theatres, from the respectable tradesman’s child to the coster’s child in Drury Lane; but the larger proportion are certainly of the very poorest class, and it must be remembered that these children would not be tucked up safely in their little beds, if they were not earning a few badly-wanted shillings; they would be running about he London streets.

Mr. D’Auban – who has turned out a number of our best dancers, such as Sylvia Grey, Letty Lind, and others, - was kind enough to call a rehearsal of his children, who are now performing at the Lyric, Prince of Wales, Drury Lane, and other theatres, so that I was enabled to see a very representative gathering of these useful little breadwinners. Whatever else may be urged against the employment of children in theatres, there is not the least doubt that dancing is a pure pleasure to them. Out of all the little girls I questioned, not a single one would admit that she ever felt “tired.” A good many of the children belong to theatrical families, and have been on the stage since they were babies; they were distinguished by a calmness and self-possession which the other little ones lacked; but in the matter of dancing there was very little difference, and it was difficult to believe that a large proportion of the children now playing in “La Cigale,” knew nothing about dancing six months ago. Mr. D’Auban has no apprentices, no agreements, and no charges, and he says he can make any child of fair intelligence a good dancer in six months.

The classes begin in May, and, as soon as it is known that Mr. D’Auban wants children, he is besieged by parents with little maids of all sizes. The School Board only allows them to attend two days a week; but Mr. D’Auban says: “Everything I teach them once is practiced at home and brought back perfect to me.” The children wear their ordinary dress, and practicing shoes of any kind are allowed. First the positions are mastered, then chasses, pirouettes, and all the rest of the rhythmic and delicate movements of which ballets consist.

Many of these graceful little dancers are the real bread winners of the family. Little Minnie Burley, whose charming dance in “The Rose and the Ring” will be remembered, though only eleven years old, has for more than a year practically supported herself and her mother by her earnings. The mother suffers from an incurable spinal complaint, and, beyond a little help which she gets from another daughter who is in service, has nothing to live upon but the little one’s earnings. During the double performance of the “Rose and the Ring,” Minnie earned £1 5s. a week; now she is earning as a Maypole dancer in “Maid Marian” 12s. a week: but her engagement will soon end, and the poor little maiden, who has the sense and foresight of a woman of thirty, is getting rather anxious.

She is a serious-faced, dark-eyed child, very sensible, very self-possessed, and passionately fond of dancing. Her mother is devoted to her, and keeps her exquisitely neat. I asked her whether she did not feel a little nervous about the child coming home alone every night from the Strand.
“No,” said Mrs. Burley, “you see, she comes by ‘bus, and she knows how to take care of herself – she knows she is not to let anyone talk to her.”

Minnie is a type of dozens of other hard working, modest little girls who are supporting themselves, and very often their families, by dancing. As a rule, the mothers fetch the children, or make arrangements for several to come home together. Many of them, whose husbands have been out of work, or who are widows, or deserted, have assured me they could not possibly have got through the winter without the children’s earnings, whilst the children themselves are immensely proud of “helping” mother. The pride they take in their parts is also very amusing. One small girl ran after me the whole length of a street. She reached me breathless, saying, “Don’t forget I’m principal butterfly.” Another small mite gave me a most crushing reply. She made some allusion to her mother, and I said innocently, “I suppose your mother is a dresser?” She looked daggers at me, and said indignantly, “My mother’s a lady wots in the ballet.”

The wages of the children range from 6s. to 16s. a week, and, as their engagements often last for four months at a time, it will be seen that their money is a valuable, and in may instances an essential, addition to the mother’s purse.
Child models, being required almost exclusively in the daytime, are, thanks to the vigilance of the School Board authorities, becoming more and more scarce. The larger number of them comes from “model families,” the mother having sat herself, and having from an early age accustomed their children to “sitting.” The children of these families have no difficulty in obtaining regular work; they get a reputation in the painting world, and one artist recommends them to another. In the neighbourhood of Fitzroy Square, Holland Park, and St. John’s Wood these families abound, and are mostly in respectable circumstances. A pretty little girl, whose mother is a well-known model, and who has herself figured in several of Millais’ pictures, told me with condescension that she had so many engagements she didn’t know which artist to go to first.

Mary M–––, whose face is familiar to admirers of Miss Kate Greenaway’s pictures, is, except for a couple of months in the summer, never out of work. She is a beautiful child of fourteen, the daughter of a cab-driver, who is not always in regular employment; and, as Mary has a tribe of little brothers, her earnings are of the utmost usefulness. For several months she has been sitting to three artists, and making the very respectable sum of £1. 10s. a week.
In her spare moments Mary takes music lessons, and her great ambition is to become an illustrator in black and white. All her earnings are cheerfully handed over to her mother, who is careful of her little daughter’s welfare as can be.
“I don’t sit as a nude model,” Mary said, “but only for my head, and mother doesn’t let me go into any studio.”

As a matter of fact, children are not used as nude models to any great extent; they do not sit still enough, and their limbs are too thin and unformed to be of much use. Besides the regular professional models, who get 5s. a day, and are pretty sure of engagements, except in the summer, there is a fairly large class of street children who call at the different artists’ studios, and are taken on occasionally.
“I get any number,” said a well-known artist. “They come down to me, and are kind enough to suggest ideas. One small girl said to me the other day. ‘could you do me in a blue dress, sir; mother says it would go well with my golden ‘air.’”

Many artists prefer these children to the regular model, who get a stereotyped expression and artificial poses from long habit. Mr. T.B. Kennington, whose pictures of poor London children are familiar to the public, told me that he always actually paints from the class of children that he depicts on his canvas. The boy whop figured in that painful and powerful picture of his, “Widowed and Fatherless,” is a real little London waif.

"Widowed and Fatherless" T.B. Kennington, 1888
 His mother is said to have been pitched out of window by her husband, and the boy, whose sad face arrests the attention of the most careless observer, lives with his grandmother, who does washing.
“Do you make the children ‘put on’ this sad expression?” I asked Mr. Kennington.
“No, indeed; my great difficulty is to make them smile, except momentarily. Haven’t you ever noticed how melancholy children look in repose?”
This may be true about children who are constantly half-starved and ill-treated, but surely it is not true of children in general, or even of the majority of children of the lower classes, who contrive to wear an air of marvelous brightness, in spite of cold, hunger, and even blows. “Sitting” does not seem to be an occupation that commends itself to children, who naturally dislike keeping perfectly still in one position. Nearly all the little models prefer ladies, who keep them quiet by telling them stories, and bestowing sweets and cakes on them; whereas male painters have less persuasive methods of making them do what they want. These latter, however, make many attempts to reform the manners and morals of their small models, many of whom, they say, evince an appalling amount of depravity.

Mr. F.W. Lawson, who painted some veritable little slum waifs, in his series of pictures called “Children of the Great Cities,” told a good little story of one of his attempts in this direction. His model was a small, bright-faced, black-eyed street boy.
“Well, Fred, what have you been doing today?” asks Mr. Lawson.
“Playing on Battersea Bridge, sir, and chucking stones at mad old Jimmy,” was the reply of the urchin, who then proceeded with much gusto to describe the details of this sport.
Mr. Lawson, on learning that mad old Jimmy added blindness to his other infirmities, spoke strongly about the cruelty and cowardice of such an entertainment; and ended up by telling a story of a heroic deed by a blind man.
“When I looked up,” said Mr. Lawson, “I saw the boys eyes were full of tears, and I thought to improve the occasion by asking, ‘And now, Freddy, what will you do if you meet mad old Jimmy again?’ The little scamp looked up with a wink and said, chuckling, ‘Chuck stones at ‘im, sir.’”

Professional models, especially those who have sat to eminent artists, have an exaggerated idea of their comeliness, and they will draw your attention to their good points with much frankness.
“I’ve got beautiful ‘air.” Said one little girl, modestly pointing to her curly, chestnut locks; whilst a small boy, usually called the “Saint,” from having figured in several religious pictures, requested me to observe his “fine froat,” as if he had been a prize beast.

In London, owing to the numerous restrictions imposed on employers, there are only a comparatively small number of children working in factories. Girls of thirteen and upward are employed in confectionary, collar, jam, and match and other factories where skilled labour is not required, whilst small boys are principally found at rope works, foundries, and paper-mills, where their chief business is to attend to the machinery. It is almost impossible to mistake the factory-girl, and even at a glance one notes certain characteristics which distinguish her from her sister workers. Contrast her, for instance, with the theatre child out of Drury Lane. The little actress may be as poor as the Mile End factory girl, but in nine cases out of ten she will be neatly clad, with spotless petticoats and well-made boots and stockings. If you watch her, you will notice she walks gracefully, and instinctively assumes, whenever she can, a picturesque and taking attitude.
The little factory girl is decently enough attired so far as her frock is concerned, but she, or her mother, cares nothing about her boots, which are invariably cheap and untidy, whilst any superfluous coin is devoted to the adornment of her hat, an article of great importance amongst factory-girls – young as well as old. But a still more characteristic feature, which, so far as I know, is peculiar to factory-girls, is their curious method of walking, which is carefully cultivated and imitated by the young ones. It is a sort of side “swing” of the skirts, and has one of the ugliest effects that can be produced, especially when executed by half a dozen young ladies walking abreast on the pavement.

At Messrs. Allen’s chocolate and sweet factories, in Mile End, some two hundred women and girls are employed. Referring to the strike, I asked a highly respectable, intelligent-looking girl, why she joined it:
“Well, I don’t hardly know,” was the candid reply. “It was all done in a rush, and the other girls asked me to come out.”
This girl was earning, by the bye, 17s. a week.

The quite young girls are principally employed in packing chocolate into boxes, covering it with silver paper, which operation they perform with great dexterity, labeling, and other easy work of this nature. The rooms are large and well ventilated, and each department is under the care of a forewoman, who not only keeps a sharp look-out on the work, but exercises what control she can have over behaviour and conversation.

The discipline did not strike me as particularly severe, considering that the girls left their work en masse, as soon as one of their number had announced, referring to the artist, “She’s takin’ Em’ly’s likeness.”
The hours, from 8 to 7, are certainly too long for girls in delicate health; but the work itself is light, and a capital dining-room is provided on the premises, where the girls can cook their dinners and make themselves tea. Nor are the prospects at all bad. Here is Alice C ––, a girl of fourteen, the daughter of a flower carman, not always in work. She is a packer, and gets 6s. a week, which she hands over to her mother. She says she likes doing things with her hands, and would not like to be in service, as then she wouldn’t have her Sundays to herself. If she stays on at Messrs. Allen’s, her wages will be steadily raised to 18s. a week; and, if she ultimately becomes a piece-worker, she may make as much as 24s. or 25s. a week.
Considering that a good many educated women are teaching in High Schools for salaries of £65 per annum, this is surely not bad.

Of course all factories are not as well managed as these chocolate works, and where the hardship comes in is where hands are turned off at certain periods of the year, or when the work itself, like match-making, is injurious to health.

Still more unfortunate is the lot of some of the little girl workers who assist their mothers at home in tailoring, button-holing, and dolls-clothes making. The united work of mother and child yields only a wretched pittance, and, carried on as it is in a room where sleeping, eating, and living goes on, is, of all forms of labour, the saddest and most unhealthy. Meals consist of bread and tea, and work is prolonged till midnight by the light of one candle, with the consequence that the children are prematurely aged and diseased. This is the most painful kind of child-labour that I have come across, and would be unbearable, if it were not ennobled by the touching affection that almost invariably exists between the worn-out mother and her old-woman-wise little daughter.

The lot of the child-vender in the streets would be almost as hard, if it were not, at any rate, healthier. Terrible as are the extremes of weather to which the little flower-girl or newspaper boy is exposed, the life is in the open air, and a hundred times preferable, even if it results in death from exposure, to existence in a foul-smelling garret where consumption works its deadly way slowly. Children find an endless variety of ways of earning a living in the streets. There are the boot-black boys, who form a useful portion of the community; newspaper boys, of whom the better sort are useful little capitalists, with an immense fund of intelligence and commercial instinct; “job chaps,” who hang about railway stations on the chance of earning a few pence in carrying bags; flower-girls, match-girls, crossing sweepers, who can make a fair living, if they are industrious; and lastly, although this enumeration by no means exhausts the list – street prodigies, such as pavement painters and musicians. All Londoners must be familiar with the figure of little Master Sorine, who sits perched upon a high stool diligently painting away at a marine-scape in highly coloured chalks.

This clever little artist of eleven is the principal support of his parents, who do a little in the waste-paper line when there is anything to be done. As a rule, Master Sorine is finishing his marine picture or landscape when I pass by, so that I have not had an opportunity of judging of his real ability; but his mother, who keeps guard over him, assures me that he can draw “anything he has seen” – an assertion which I shall one day test. The little fellow is kept warm by a pan of hot charcoal under his seat, which would seem to suggest rather an unequal distribution of heat. However, he seems to think it is “all right.”

His artistic efforts are so much appreciated by the multitude that on a “good day” he earns no less than 9s. or 10s., which mounts up to a respectable income, as he “draws in public” three days a week. Master Sorine, however, is exceptionally fortunate, and indeed, there is something particularly taking about his little stool, and his little cap, and the business-like air with which he pursues his art studies. Nothing can be said in praise of such “loafing” forms of earning a livelihood as flower-selling, when the unhappy little vender has nothing but a few dead flowers to cover her begging; or of “sweeping,” when the “crossing” of the young gentleman of the broom is often dirtier than the surrounding country.

Now and again one comes across industrious, prosperous sweepers, who evince a remarkable amount of acuteness and intelligence. It may have been chance, but each of the crossing sweepers I questioned were “unattached,” disdained anything in the way of families, and declined to name their residence on the ground that they were “jes’ thinkin’ o’ movin’.” This is a very precarious method of earning a livelihood, and is generally supplemented by running errands and hopping in summer.
In a wealthy neighbourhood, frequented by several members of Parliament, who were regular customers, a very diligent young sweeper told me he made on average in winter 2s. 6d. a week; but he added contemptuously:
“Business ain’t what it used to be. Neighbour’ood’s goin’ down, depend on it. I’m thinkin’ of turnin’ it up.”
This young gentleman supplemented his income by successful racing speculations, obtaining his information about “tips” from his good-natured clients. It seems sad to think how much good material is lost in these smart street boys, whose ability and intelligence could surely be turned to better account. The most satisfactory point – and one which no unprejudiced person can fail to recognize – in connection with the subject of child-labour is that healthy children do not feel it a hardship to work, and that, therefore, considering, in addition, how materially their earnings add to their own comfort, all legislation in the direction of restriction and prohibition ought to be very carefully considered.

I must express my best thanks to Mr. Redgrave, of the Home Office, for his help in obtaining entrance to factories, and to Mr. Didcott, the well-known theatrical agent, for his kind services in the matter of acrobats.
             - Strand Magazine, 1891

The Strand Magazine ran for almost sixty years, before ceasing to be in 1950, however, it was brought back into publication in 1998, and has a website;

Anyone interested in articles of this ilk, or lesser-known works of fiction by popular authors of the past would be well-advised to look on eBay, or search antique book shops for bound editions of this magazine, as they really do contain some interesting work.

Returning to the subject of Victorian children before I close, to offer a little contrast I may return to The Strand for another article on Victorian children in the near future, but on a somewhat brighter note.

Finally, in closing, a picture of the modern-day Strand!


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  2. Thank you, Elizabeth. I certainly owe the two nerdy history girls a debt of gratitude; their blog generates quite a lot of traffic for me!

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