Our Thursday morning walking tour was by far the most informative. Our tour guide was able to paint a vivid image of what it was like to live on the Southside of London during the Victorian Era, while still being able to keep the novels that we read relevant. People living during this era were barely living at all so to speak. Little to no wages, horrific living conditions, diseases spreading at an alarming rate, massive control of jobs and housing, the list goes on.
What really struck me as the most shocking fact was that children had a 50% mortality rate up until the age of 5. Children also were depended upon for somehow bringing in food or anything worth money. The were the basis of their family’s survival. Some children were mudlarks which were people who would scavenge the River of Thames for anything that could possibly be worth money. Many would also wait until the night to go to the market (Boroughs) to search for food that may have been left behind after the market closed, being negligent to sanitariness. Also, even back then the market was gentrified, where the rich would come to pick up the best food. In addition to what was previously mentioned, many of the children had jobs such as chimney sweeps and working in coal mines, where conditions were terrible and work days were long. This building speaks volumes as I feel it pays homage to the many courageous children who made a way for their families.
Finding housing during this time was definitely an uphill battle and when people found housing, they would likely be living in one room with about 15 other people. Just imagine how unsanitary it was to have all of those people living in the same room, with only cold water. The people living in this area were caught in a cycle of trying to make things better for themselves, but they never could make enough money to do so. They were stuck. There was better housing available. For example, across the street from one of the largest breweries at the time in London, there were better cottages available for let. Of course, there were stipulations for living in the luxurious cottages, such as: an individual had to be an employee of the brewery being that the brewery owned the cottages, an individual must attend church, an individual must be put to bed when told to by the supervisor of the building. The rules go on and on. If one of the rules were broken, said individual would be removed from the cottage.
The only answer to this extreme poverty was education. How could you teach as many children as possible for the cheapest amount of money? Have teachers volunteer. Children would be responsible to work during the day and go to school at night. At school they would receive a warm meal and would not be turned away if they wanted to stay through the night. The were taught how to read literature and basic arithmetic. Those who became too old, would either go on to become teachers to the younger children or their teachers would personally give them more books, so that individual could further his or her studies. Soon after the implementation of these school, William Forster implemented the an education act where it was forced that children 5-13 were to be in school.
Tying it all together
Charles Dickens perfectly captured the idea of what seemed to be the “eternal struggle” that many didn’t acknowledge or didn’t even know existed. Oliver Twist and Pip stood as a symbol for many young children of the Victorian Era. His descriptions of the thieves, the markets, the houses, the streets, all came alive when I roamed the streets on the tour. Dickens wanted the entire city of London know what was taking place and it needed to be fixed as soon as possible. Once he received recognition for his works, Dickens spent his time advocating for the poor, donating to charities, to see a better London. This tour was the most impactful. I was able to envision myself living during those times. Walking through those streets just did something to me. London has come a long way since then. I know Dickens would be proud of his city.