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Glad ur not... naughty | Life for children in Victorian Britain | Birmingham City Council

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Glad ur not... naughty

Many people living in 19th century Britain would describe themselves as Christians and their strong religious beliefs would have influenced how they expected people to behave. Leading a good, Christian life would involve being honest, obedient, charitable and kind, regularly worshipping in church and doing good deeds. Children would have been well aware that they were expected to obey God, their parents, teachers, betters, elders, as well as being a loyal subject of Queen Victoria!

Wealthy Victorians believed that good breeding and respectability separated those from ‘polite society’ from the awful, lawless poor. People were expected to obey a strict moral code, to know their place and not to question those in authority. The children of the poor were not thought to be a blessing, but often a burden on the family. With no laws to protect children, this meant they had few rights and were badly treated. Seen as simply the property of their parents, many children were abandoned, abused and even bought and sold.

Thought to be born evil, children needed to be corrected, punished and made to become good citizens. In schools, teachers were allowed to hit children if they did not follow the rules or did not do what was expected of them. The first lesson of the school day would be to pray and sing hymns, reminding everyone that God was watching them and to behave.

In children’s books of the time, morality tales were very popular and showed good triumphing over evil and the importance of leading a respectable, Christian life. Happy and hard-working children with perfect manners and best behaviour were rewarded, whilst naughty children were punished or met a grizzly end. As writing for children began to change towards to the mid/end of the 19th century, bizarre morality tales such as the ones found in “Aunt Oddemadodd’s Whispers”, made terrifying yet highly entertaining reading.

The Victorians were deeply moral people who believed in harsh punishments for those who did not behave themselves. A new Police force was created to deal with the growing problem of crime and criminals. The new ‘Bobbies’ or ‘Peelers’ were not trusted by the poor, who thought it was the policeman’s job to spy on them. Regardless of age or their circumstances, children could find themselves being sent to adult prisons for several years for committing relatively minor crimes. In 1854 Reformatory schools were created for young offenders which hoped to change the lives of criminal children through long sentences and tough discipline.