Wow! Today’s Victorian London tour was excellent and extremely informative! Our tour guide did a wonderful job at painting the landscape of the underbelly of London, and told us plenty of stories that really reinforced how awful conditions were for women and children during that time period. I got to hear stories about Victorians that I haven’t ever heard before—stories that are too gruesome to make it into our history books. It made our readings come to life and showed how gruesome the time period really was.
The Unsanitary & Dangerous Jobs of Children Workers
In Oliver Twist and A Child of the Jago, both Fagin’s boys and Dicky Perrott (respectively) made the decision to be pickpockets. After today’s tour, it was easy to understand why. I most certainly would rather be a pickpocket than any of the other occupations I have learned about. The unfortunate thing about child labor is that children oftentimes did not have the choice, and some children wanted to work. This happened a lot as a result parental injuries or death, and sometimes children were the only providers for their families (or they were orphans). Before this tour, I certainly heard about children laborers being utilized during the industrial revolution in London. The child jobs I have learned about before included:
This was even mentioned in Oliver Twist, when a suspicious man named Mr. Gamfield wanders into the parish wanting to “hire” Oliver as an apprentice for his chimney sweep business.
Mr. Gamfield, knowing what the dietary of the workhouse was, well knew he would be a nice small pattern, just the very thing for register stoves.
Luckily enough for Oliver, the men at the parish decided against letting Oliver leave with Mr. Gamfield. Chimney Sweeping was a dirty and dangerous business, as one would have to constantly breathe in soot from the chimneys. Another risk for the children that worked as chimney sweeps was falling, which (since they were often poor and frail) would oftentimes lead to death.
A lot of people during this time valued the small and short stature of a child, and that is what made them so valuable as workers—children also cost less money. Another “suitable” job for children was to work in the coal mines. This did not go unnoticed as a problem by all Victorians; Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem about this issue.
(If you liked this video, the other ones are as exceptionally informative! There are two other parts)
Again, children were convenient due to their stature. This was helpful in the textile mills because it allowed them to move in between (or beneath) the machines and clean them throughout the day. If you watch the video, you will see that this job was not exempt from danger either. Inhaling textile fibers isn’t too good for the lungs either.
This was something I learned from today. “Mudlark” is a term used to describe a child that goes sifting around in the mud during the low-tide of the River Thames. Our tour guide detailed why this sort of job was dangerous like the occupations above. For one, the river was beyond disgusting during these times. London did not have a developed sewage system, and as a result, all the waste and pollution would return to the river. This means that these children were wading in filth and excrement on a daily basis. It also means that these children were constantly being exposed to water-borne diseases. This would include infectious diseases like cholera and typhoid, both of which rapidly spread through the fecal-oral route as well. Children that got these diseases could potentially (and probably did) spread them to their family when they went back home. Mudlarks also ran the risk of drowning, as there probably weren’t any formal swimming classes available for such a member of the lower class.
Poo-collectors, or Locally Known as “Pure Collectors”
This was another job that I learned about during our tour today. This probably has to be the most disgusting job when compared to all others. Children would go around and pick up animal excrement with their bare hands (because it was easier to pick up). Even more unsettling, these children would sometimes use these excrement bags as pillowcases. Handling any sort of excrement with your bare hands is definitely not recommended today, and in those times they did not have proper sanitation or any real knowledge of how infectious diseases were transmitted.
The Forgotten Class
Unlike the grandiose tombs, enclosures, and monuments we got to see at the Westminster Abbey, today we saw the Crossbones Graveyard, or an example of an unconsecrated burial site. This graveyard represents one of (probably) many sites where the poor, the prostitutes, and unbaptized infants would be buried. I have never seen anything like this before, or even considered the logistics of lower-class Victorian death. It was touching that the people in this community had spent time researching into the history of the people that were buried there. The ribbons placed on the railing commemorate the people that were once forgotten by the church (and every one else).
The Hypocrisy of the Church
In the works by Dickens that we read, it was obvious to see that he was craftily using satire to call out how hypocritical the church, or parish workers truly were. That really came to life after seeing the Crossbones Graveyard. As we looked at the graveyard, our tour guide told us how the church on the block was the rent collector (that was charging women ridiculously high rents), and the people that worked there knew what women had to do to make ends meet (so they would have know they were prostituting themselves). Even though they knew this, they kept collecting their money … and when the women died they weren’t able to be buried with all the other people that went to the church … because they were prostitutes.
Another way this sort of disparity was presented during the tour was when our guide was telling us about the public service/charitable organizations throughout the area. It was apparent that the people in these organizations did not really try that hard to help out the lower classes.
More on Death & Disease
A lot of death was mentioned during today’s tour, and a lot of death happened within the books that we read. Our guide told us that there was a 50% mortality rate among children less than five. In the readings, there are a couple of death scenes that stick out for me.
Mrs. Perrott had begun to think Looey was ailing for something; thought it might be meases or whooping-cough coming [.]
Children were often frail as a result of poor nourishment, and Looey in Jago was no exception. It was sad to read her die as an infant because her death was largely meaningless to all of her family members except Dicky; however, her death was not meaningless in the story. Morrison illustrated that death was a common occurrence during infancy because the adults in the novel were not too taken aback by the death.
Phyllis Lorimer also met died from infectious disease. Although the Lorimers were no where near as poor as the Perrotts, they were not exempt from acquiring disease. Arguably, Phyllis got the beautiful disease when compared to what Looey had. Many artists were known as having (and dying from) consumption at a young age, John Keats being an example. (Hey, being pale and thin was desirable at that time.) The disease also parallels her fallen innocence, as she becomes most afflicted (and soon after dies) after Gertrude removes her from Darrell’s house.
The Royal Albert Hall
I am SO glad that I got to visit the Royal Albert Hall during this trip. It was phenomenal. I ended up doing a one-hour tour of the hall. I got to walk through the “royal rooms” where the Queen or Royal family comes through whenever they watch a performance. Additionally, I got to see “the Queen’s box” which is where the Queen sits whenever she watches a show. The best part about the tour was being able to sit in the boxes and the rausing circle (which holds the second highest level of seats in the hall). During these parts, I got to hear a rehearsal going on for “Classical Spectacular.” It was amazing! When we walked into the rausing circle, the orchestra was starting to play Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (or what plays at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey) and that part was surreal. During that song, I got to hear the hall’s 9,999 pipe organ (known as “the voice of Jupiter”) which might have been the loudest and most impressive thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
This memorial definitely cost more money than the Royal Albert Hall, and it is plated with real gold.