Victorian London - Childhood - Children - Children going to work

     Anyone who has any acquaintance with the habits and customs of the labouring classes, must be aware that the “family” system is for the younger branches, as they grow up, to elbow those just above them in age out into the world; not only to make more room at the dinner-table, but to assist in its substantial adornment. The poorer the family, the earlier the boys are turned out, “to cut their own grass,” as the saying is. Take a case—one in ten thousand —to be met with to-morrow or any day in the city of London. Tom is a little lad—one of seven or eight—his father is a labourer, earning, say, a guinea a week; and from the age of seven Tom has been sent to a penny-a-week school; partly for the sake of what learning he may chance to pick up, but chiefly to keep him “out of the streets,” and to effect a simultaneous saving of his morals and of his shoe-leather. As before stated, Tom’s is essentially a working family. It is Tom’s father’s pride to relate how that he was “turned out” at eight, and had to trudge through the snow to work at six o’clock of winter mornings; and, that though on account of coughs and chilblains and other frivolous and childish ailments, he thought it very hard at the time, he rejoices that he was so put to it, since he has no doubt that it tended to harden him and make him the man he is.
    Accordingly, when Tom has reached the ripe age of ten, it is accounted high time that he “got a place,” as did his father before him; and, as there are a hundred ways in London in which a sharp little boy of ten can be made useful, very little difficulty is experi­enced in Tom’s launching. He becomes an “errand boy,” a news­paper or a printing boy, in all probability. The reader curious as to the employment of juvenile labour, may any morning at six or seven o’clock in the morning witness the hurried trudging to work of as many Toms as the pavement of our great highways will con­veniently accommodate, each with his small bundle of food in a little bag, to last him the day through. 

[click here for full text of The Seven Curses of London]

James Greenwood, The Seven Curses of London, 1869

see also James Greenwood in Toilers in London - click here