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What was life like for Victorian children? There were big differences in homes, schools, toys and entertainments. No TV, no computers, no central heating, no cars (until the last few years of Victoria's reign). No air travel - unless you went up in a balloon! Many children went to work, not to school.
In Victorian times, many families had 10 or more children. Sadly, many children died as babies, or from diseases such as smallpox and diphtheria. Child-death struck rich and poor families. In a Victorian town, it was easy to tell who was rich and who was poor. Children from richer homes were well fed, wore warm clothes and had shoes on their feet. They did not work, but went to school or had lessons at home. Poor children looked thin and hungry, wore ragged clothes, and some had no shoes. Poor children had to work. They were lucky if they went to school
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
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.
Coal mines In Victorian times, energy came from water-power (waterwheels), from horses and above all from burning coal. Coal was as important to Victorians as oil is to us today. Coal mines were owned by the person on whose land they were dug. The mine owners sold their coal to the factories. Some mine owners were very rich, but they paid miners low wages. They did not care about health and safety, so at first they let small children and women work underground.
Some children pushed trucks of coal along mine tunnels. They were called 'putters'. 'Trappers' opened and shut wooden doors to let air through the tunnels. A trapper boy sat in the dark, with just a small candle, and no-one to talk to. Some children started work at 2 in the morning and stayed below ground for 18 hours. Children working on the surface, sorting coal, at least saw daylight and breathed fresh air.
Factory owners employed children because they were cheap, did not complain, had nimble fingers, and could crawl about under machines. Small girls worked in mills as 'piecers'. They mended broken threads. 'Scavengers' crawled beneath clattering machines to pick up scraps of cotton. They risked getting caught in the machinery, losing hair or arms. Yet most mill-owners thought factory work was easy. At first, there were no laws to protect working children.
Although many children worked in Victorian times, they still had time to play. Outdoors, most Victorian children played in the street or in the fields and woods. Not many families had gardens big enough to play in, and there were no children's playgrounds. Rich families had playrooms or nurseries, but poorer children played wherever they could find space.
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