The Black Country Living Museum has documented many different families and recreated their homes. You can explore the different types of houses, from cottages, to back to backs, a tilted house and even a Toll House.
Of course daily life would be different depending on how rich your family was – children of richer families might be taught at home, and wouldn’t have to work.
Poorer children would have to help their families by doing errands, such as going shopping, looking after younger siblings, preparing meals, or helping to make or sell things from home such as herbal remedies.
Even small children might have to work, helping put together matchboxes or to help in the chain making huts and boys could work in the mine from the age of 10.
School might be a large part of childhood today, but it wasn’t the same for children in Victorian Times. In fact it wasn’t until 1880 that schooling became mandatory (mandatory means you have to do something). All children had to attend a school until they were 10 years old. In 1889, the school leaving age was raised to twelve, and in 1891, the school’s pence fee was abolished and schools became free.
Like the boy in the story, many children from the Black Country would be eager to leave to join their families at work, boys as young as ten working in the mines and girls helping to look after their younger siblings or helping their mothers chain making, or like Li. Schooling was a luxury as families needed every penny, especially as families tended to be larger.
As many as 70 children would have been taught together, using slates to write on because paper was expensive.
St James’s School
A school like the ones the children in the episode talk about is St James’s School which you can visit at the Living Museum.
It was built in 1842, in Salop Street in Dudley, near St James Church and was designed by the architect, William Bourne of Dudley.
It was built to accommodate 300 children, but probably never taught that many.
It was moved to the Museum in 1991 using funds generously provided by the Charles Hayward Trust. Today you can see it as it would have been in 1912.
Originally boys over 7 were taught in one part of the building and the girls and infants in the other. In 1868 the two halves were amalgamated to form a mixed school.
The school building suffered from poor natural lighting and unsuitable heating and by 1904 conditions were so bad that it was recommended that the school be closed. Dudley Education Committee was reluctant to do this and in 1906 moved the mixed school to another school, while St James continued as an infants school only.
Improvements were made in 1912 and it continued as a school right up to 1980.
The Toll House
In the episode we visit the Toll House and meet Lillian Hodgkiss and learn about her family.
The Toll House was built in 1843. It stood at the Littleworth Gate, Woodsetton on the Sedgley to Tividale Turnpike Road.
Turnpike roads were gated roads which travellers had to pay to use. They flourished in Victorian times, The tolls were displayed at each toll gate; they varied according to the type of vehicle or goods passing through and were collected by a keeper – who occupied a specially built toll house.
Like most toll houses, Lillian’s house is a single storey structure with a living room containing a kitchen range, two bedrooms and an outhouse with a wash copper, stone sink and baking oven. Two small side windows in the porch provided a good view of the road.
After the middle of the nineteenth century the powers of many turnpike roads were allowed to lapse and tolls ceased to be collected on public roads in Britain in the 1890s. This toll house probably ceased to be used for collecting tolls in the 1870s.
From 1904 to 1927 Ann Hodgkiss moved to the house with four of her nine children following the death of her husband. At a weekly rent of two shillings and sixpence payable the landlord, the Earl of Dudley, the dwelling offered cheap accommodation. It had no gas or water. An oil lamp was used in the main room and candles in the bedrooms. The family obtained their water from the brook which ran through the garden. The toilet was originally a privy-midden built directly over a cess-pit. The family grew vegetables in the garden and kept a few chickens which were killed when they were past laying.
Fun and Games
Just like today children loved to play, when they weren’t at school (or working) although they didn’t have nearly as many toys as we do today and certainly nothing like mobile phones or the internet! Instead they’d play simple games, often using their imaginations. Some of the games they played are still popular today such as:
- Skipping with a rope
- Tug of War
In the story we hear that Sam Webb’s sisters play with dollies made from old shoes – it was common for poorer families to make do with what they had to hand, as opposed to buying new toys. It was popular to make dollies out of wooden spoons or even pegs.
You might enjoy skipping rhymes and they’ve been popular for centuries. Sometimes the rhymes have a creepy story behind them – like this one from around the time of the First World War.
I had a bird. Her name was Enza.
I opened the window and
This cute little pun may seem harmless now, but it pivots on the name of a virus – namely influenza that, during the 1918 Flu Pandemic, infected a third of the world’s population in a matter of months and killed approximately 50 million people.
Victims died within hours of contracting influenza, often developing a secondary pneumonia that left them unable to draw breath. Their skin often turned a blue/black color as the result of a condition called cyanosis, which occurs when there is a lack of oxygen in skin tissues.
So instead of a song about a cute little bird – it’s actually about a deathly virus!
And what about Ring a Ring of Roses? Seems harmless enough right? Wrong!
Ring a ring of Roses
A pocketful of posies
We all fall down.
This one may well have started as song about the Black Death (though there are other theories, too). One of the signs of the disease was supposedly a red rash — the “roses” — and people would keep herbs — or “posies” — in their pockets to try to ward off sickness. “We all fall down” means people dying.
Many of the games we play today have been around for years!
Find somewhere safe, and why not play Hopscotch?! When you hop and jump try and think about how children from hundreds of years ago would have played the same game!