Wednesday 29 April 2015 - Providing for yourself in Victorian England

Welcome to ‘The Problem of the Poor?’ blog page. This blog aims to keep you, the reader informed on what we, the wonderful volunteers have discovered in our unique heritage project and how we have been getting along.

This blog was written by Farhaan, one of our Heritage Volunteers.

In this session the Wednesday group project went back to the history, building up an understanding of life in Victorian England for people who weren’t in stable work.

This was our first session exploring some of the options available to people in need, looking at alternative and more casual types of income.

We began with a small brainstorming exercise. We split into groups, one looking at the signs of poverty, another at what we need in order to survive, and the last at what makes a good or comfortable life.

My group thought about the signs of poverty, and wondered what life might have been like in the late nineteenth century in areas of Nottingham such as Narrowmarsh.

Afterwards, we looked at some of the legal and illegal work that the Victorian poor did in order to make what they would call a living. Jobs like chimney sweeping and street doctors were common, but often unreliable sources of income which could get you into trouble!

We then moved on to looking at crime amongst the poor. More specifically, sentences that, in today’s time would be seen as not befitting of the crime - young children and teens were sentenced up to 5 years in prison for stealing small items like boots or food. The sentences ranged from harsh prison time to a few months of hard labour, and this didn’t depend on the crime. It was usually the judge who decided, without any sort of regulation, how long and harsh the punishment should be.

It seemed fitting to end on that note, as we are set to visit the Galleries of Justice next week to add to our research of prison and crime in Victorian Nottingham.

Click here to discover Victorian England’s mush-fakers, boardmen and crawlers, plus many other lost street trades, in John Thomson’s Street Life in London (1877).

Last updated: 28 August 2015