In Topic, we are learning about Famous People. This week we are learning about a famous author called Charles Dickens. He lived in the Victorian times.
One of his most famous stories, Oliver Twist, came out in 1837. It was a grim tale about an orphan boy (Oliver), who is sent to the workhouse. Oliver ends up in the London underworld, in a gang of thieves led by Fagin. The story ends happily for Oliver, but people were shocked. Were poor children really treated so badly?
- Why did children go to work?
Many Victorian children were poor and worked to help their families. Few people thought this strange or cruel. Families got no money unless they worked, and most people thought work was good for children. The Industrial Revolution created new jobs, in factories and mines. Many of these jobs were at first done by children, because children were cheap – a child was paid less than adults (just a few pennies for a week’s work).
· When did children start work?
Many children started work at the age of 5, the same age as children start school today. They went to work as soon as they were big enough. Even a tiny child could feed chickens. Older brothers and sisters took small children to work, perhaps to a factory at the end of the street. Other children worked at home, doing jobs such as washing, sewing, sticking labels on bottles or making brushes.
· What was a Victorian classroom like?
There were maps and perhaps pictures on the wall. There would be a globe for geography lessons, and an abacus to help with sums. Children sat in rows and the teacher sat at a desk facing the class. At the start of the Victorian age, most teachers were men, but later many women trained as teachers.
Children wrote on slates with chalk. They wiped the slate clean, by spitting on it and rubbing with their coat sleeve or their finger! Slates could be used over and over. For writing on paper, children used a pen with a metal nib, dipped into an ink well.
· How were children punished?
Discipline in schools was often strict. Children were beaten for even minor wrongdoings, with a cane, on the hand or bottom. A teacher could also punish a child by making them stand in the corner wearing a ‘dunce’s cap’. Another, very boring, punishment was writing ‘lines’. This meant writing out the same sentence (such as ‘Schooldays are the happiest days of my life’ 100 times or more.
· Toys in poor homes
Most Victorian toys were made of wood, paper or metal. There were no plastic toys. Poor children usually played with home-made toys. A clothes peg might be turned into a doll, and a lump of wood become a toy boat. A piece of rope could be used for skipping, and rags stuffed with sawdust might become a ball or an animal to cuddle. As a treat, families sometimes bought cheap factory-made toys from a ‘penny stall’ in the market.
How is your life different to a Victorian child’s?