The Mudlark (from a photograph)
With worn out trousers, their legs and feet covered with chilblains, mudlarks waded through the mud that is left on the shore
by the retiring tide and collected whatever they could find and what they were able to sell.
The children were from very poor families or were orphans and they had little or no education.
Crossing Sweeping and other Odd Work
The Boy-Crossing Sweepers (from a photograph)
Boys and girls were casual sweepers, working on their own or in groups with own rules and a leader. In the group they helped
each other and shared their money.
The sweeps also usually had their own territory they cleaned, fighting away others who wanted to take their crossings.
Children often had more than one way to make money. When it was dry and the streets were not muddy the crossing sweepers,
for instance, would do occasional work like catching and opening cabs for people. In the evening they would go outside
theatres and operas and tumble for money. Girls mixed ballade singing or lace selling.
However, activities like tumbling were considered begging, which was punished with imprisonment.
Boys exercising at Tothill Fields Prison
If the money still wasn't sufficient, some were driven to occasional theft.
On the other hand there were also children who chose to become thieves, since one was often able to gain more money by
stealing from people and from shops than through honest work.
In the 1800s, although penalties were high, crime prevention was very low and the hard life of the children softened the
threat of prisons. Child crime was widespread till compulsory schooling in the 1870s.
Teacher and school boys in monitory school
Children working during the day seldom attended school, many did not at all. Their knowledge would not go beyond the
necessary things they had to know to do their job.
Up to the second half of the 19th century mostly only rich people could afford a proper education. Poor children
went to diverse charity schools with low fees when they had the time.
The Factory Act of 1833 required factory owners to provide schools for their child workers. However, state schools only
developed in the 1870s and in the 1880s education became compulsory up to the age of 10.
Child Labour Regulations Today
In Britain the current school leaving age is 16 and the legal age to start work is 13. Younger children may only work in
entertainment, sports, doing odd jobs or babysitting.
For being issued a performance licence for a child in entertainment one must guarantee acceptable working conditions and
sufficient education. There are diverse regulations of working hours for the different kinds of entertainment for children
of different ages.
Working children need an employment permit issued by the education department of the local council and they are not allowed
to work during school hours. During term time they may work a maximum of 12 hours per week.
During school holidays 13 to 14-year-olds may work 25 hours per week. Children this age can only do "light" work, so they are
not allowed to be employed in factories. 15 to 16-year-olds may work 35 hours per week during school holidays.
This webpage was written by Ivonne Winkler - Student Placement, Summer 2007