Class Division and the Philanthropic Minded

Thursday morning’s Victorian walking tour provided a thorough examination of class division and the philanthropic desires of individuals such as Charles Dickens and Octavia Hill. Our guide, Kim, situated us by the river Thames in order to describe the activities children performed along the mud-banks  in order to survive. The same area was a popular destination for Dickens to take nighttime walks: the steps by the mug house sign were along his path. This was also where Sikes arranged a trade for Oliver Twist and by the bridge where betrayal led to Nancy’s death. The mud-banks were no kind of beach or safe haven for young children; they scavenged for items along the river bank – through rubbish and sewage with no gloves – and often drowned in the toxic water. In Morrison’s Child of the Jago, Dicky Perrott steals gold and jewelry in order to get cake and tea. Morrison mentions the East End Mission where middle class missionaries seek to educate and civilize young children.

While one would expect the church to take a greater role in caring for the poor, they created work houses for the floods of poor people coming from the countryside. The conditions of workhouses were made so bad so people would choose to get other jobs, but the workhouse overflow caused a greater expense on the church and led to many people becoming disabled from various injuries. The conditions for the poor had little to no upside; though they sometimes worked in the Borough Market, they could not afford the expensive vegetables and meats sold there. The 19th century diet included bread, gruel, porridge, and maybe three herrings per week.

If the poor had any chance at survival, it was because sociological studies by Henry Mayhew and Charles Booth shed light on the horrible conditions and child eath rates. The poor seemed to have no where to seek help; the churches worsened conditions (quite ironically) and charities gave funds to families or individuals meeting strict requirements. Though some large companies such as Anchor Brewing offered jobs and housing, they held strict guidelines to get the most from their employees.

It was finally through the founding of board schools by such individual as Dickens and affordable housing, family services, and public libraries by Octavia Hill that began to turn life around for the lowest class of London. Without philanthropic measures such as the Peabody Trust, preservation attempts by the various individuals, the value the London City Council places on history, and the services by tour guides like Kim, valuable history would be lost and never recovered.


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