Tuesday 16 November 2010

A London Boy's Saturday

Here's an unglamorous but informative article about children's lifestyles in 1906:


By T. E. HARVEY, Deputy Warden of Toynbee Hall.
     IN taking the subject of a London Boy's Saturday, I wish, if I may, to lay before the reader a little raw material from the sociological laboratory of the elementary day school, and prepare it to some extent for examination by others, touching upon some of the possibilities of service and of educational reform that open up before one who tries to study it.
     One word of explanation. Saturday is a day of peculiar interest in the child's life. It is a whole holiday, as far as school is concerned, though anything but a holiday to many London children. It is a day in which the child shares the ordinary life of the home, and, to a larger extent than most people realise, the work and cares of his elders.
     Some little time ago the Enquirers' Club, which meets at Toynbee Hall, decided to devote an evening to the consideration of this subject, and a few School Managers got the older children in their schools to take as the subject of their weekly composition class: "What I did last Saturday." This was done in consultation with the teachers, so that there was no need for the children to have any idea of the purpose which their essays would serve, while at the same time it was thus possible to get together many hundreds of essays from different parts of London, all telling of what was done on the same day, and giving a glimpse into a great variety of homes and lives. Of course we must remember that we are getting this glimpse through the coloured glass of a child's memory, and one must not judge altogether of the boy's day by his essay, for we are not dealing with skilled writers. But although the survey these papers afford is necessarily one-sided and imperfect, still one cannot rise from reading them without feeling that one has a wider knowledge of the facts of life in a London child's school-days, and, indeed, of something more even than this.
     The Saturday chosen was a fine day in May, and essays were obtained from schools in Limehouse, Ratcliff, Whitechapel and St. Luke's, as well as from North St. Pancras, and elsewhere. The group of schools of which I am a manager all sent essays, but I wish more especially to deal with those which were written by the boys of the one which I know best. This school is quite a small one, in comparison with most of those built by the London School Board, but it has accommodation for 240 boys, 240 girls, and 320 infants, drawn mostly from the streets close at hand. In the immediate neighbourhood are a number of very poor and over-crowded houses, some in process of demolition in connection with one of the County Council's housing schemes ; over the road the new block dwellings have already replaced a similar insanitary area, while a little further away large blocks of so-called model dwellings are the homes of many of the children. The majority, however, probably still live in the small narrow streets of the district, which is a peculiarly poor one. The great city warehouses extend year by year along the main roads, and back from them ; but a resident middle class, apart from parsons and doctors, is practically non-existent. The teachers almost all come in daily to their work from a distance, and one cannot wonder that they should do so. The only open spaces the neighbourhood affords are disused burial-grounds; it is three-quarter of an hour's walk to the nearest park, though a new tube railway puts another one within easy reach of any wealthier children to whom a return fare of 4d. might be of small account; as yet, however, it would not seem as though very many children had ever made use of this, even for an exceptional holiday. In many schools which are more fortunately placed in the neighbourhood of some park or recreation ground the assistant masters, and sometimes even the head teachers, give up their Saturday mornings to help the boys in their games, but this means a sacrifice of time which we have no right to ask of the staff, especially when the teachers are, most of them, tired men who have been working many years in a difficult neighbourhood, and the nearest cricket field is far enough away. So in too many districts like this the children are largely left to their own devices. For most who have the time for it, the only playgrounds are the streets, or the asphalted courts of the Peabody Buildings.
     As has been noticed already, the children attending this school come, on the whole, from very poor homes; some are the children of costermongers or of the small stall-keepers of the "Petticoat Lane" of the district. On the Saturday in question a number of children were taken by the head teacher to the Crystal Palace on the occasion of a great distribution of prizes and certificates to London school children arranged by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Society which organised the festival would perhaps be interested in one boy's brief account of the ceremony:
     "When I got there I saw prizes given out for Cruelty to Animals."
     Five boys were also taken by one of the managers and a friend to see the Tower of London. This accounts for 24 out of the 84 boys who wrote essays; many of these would have been working, no doubt, under ordinary circumstances, and some of them managed to do a certain amount of work for their mothers before starting. Of the remaining 60 boys, 16 went to the music hall or theatre in the evening, the favourite places of amusement being the King's Theatre, Pitfield Street, Hoxton (where admission can be got for 2d.), and the Sadler's Wells. It is curious to note that while a large number of boys from a school only four minutes' walk away went to the Cinematograph show at a neighbouring Mission that night, none of these boys seem to have been there. Sixteen boys (7 of them in the fourth standard) were at work all day, but half of these were doing work for their parents at home for part of the day. Of these 36 boys of the fourth standard 4 only played all day, 21 running errands or doing work for their mothers during part of the day.
     With regard to household work, apparently cleaning the knives and forks is exclusively the work of Standard IV, while preparing the breakfast is only attempted by their seniors. Similarly with regard to work outside, selling wood seems to be the work of the younger boys, the more lucrative occupation of newspaper selling being sought by those in the higher standards. One boy makes 2/6 in the afternoon in this way.
     Of the upper Standards, one boy only played all day and went to the music hall at night, one paid a visit (after doing a few errands) to an aunt and uncle at Edmonton, and one who should have gone to the Tower was prevented by illness, but recovered sufficiently to go to a music hall at night to see a play called "The Gay Deceiver." The remaining 9 boys of the upper Standards did various odd jobs and ran errands as well as played. It is interesting to note that the boys in the lower Standards give the fullest particulars of their games and amusements.
     Amongst the lads of another neighbouring school, one notes that he began the day with a cold bath, but none of our boys were so lucky: "I dressed and washed myself " was no doubt the natural order to most of them. It will be noticed that a very large number of the boys begin the day by lighting the fire or doing housework at home, some of them making breakfast ready before their mothers get up, though very few have anything like the monotonous round of housework and scrubbing which falls to the lot of the girls, with little variation save a walk or a game in "St. Luke's Park," the one green place near by, which is no park, but an old graveyard showing clearly still its original object.
     The games at which the boys played are not always specified; tip-cat is a favourite; "secrets "—another name for hide and seek—and "release " are played by the younger boys as well as by the girls; one or two go to Victoria Park for a swim; five play cricket or football; and others spend their twopence in the Baths at Pitfield Street. One at least had two baths in the day. One went to the Tower on his own account with a friend; two others to St. Paul's; and two to St. James' Park. Several were fortunate enough to find a halfpenny in the street, one truthfully adds "and I spent it." One lucky boy went to Hampstead Heath and found sixpence, which went where the good sixpences go—in buying sweets and apples. One or two are taken for rides by carmen, while only one goes out with his father and mother—by omnibus from the Angel to Hyde Park and back by Trafalgar Square.
     The essays of the younger boys are naturally less explicit: one plays at "buttons," whatever that may be; another at "knocking down ginger," which would appear to be an exciting game, for he adds, "one of the boys got court by one of the women and got a good hiding off of her." One or two boys go fishing, one by night with his father, apparently on a poaching expedition. The game of "dusters," described by a Whitechapel boy, does not appear to have spread to this district to add to the joys of boy life. It consists of lying in wait, cap in hand, until someone passes with a pipe in his mouth. You then aim at the pipe. The victor's reward is not stated.
     Of the methods of earning money, by far the most important is newspaper selling, by which a great many boys add to the family income; one boy, who began the day by fetching home some wood before breakfast, and then sold the Evening News "until the 4-30 race," tells us that in the evening he "played banker and won 6½d.," on the proceeds of which he went to the King's Theatre. Two boys were chiefly occupied in minding babies—.in one case this was evidently the usual thing, for the boy speaks simply of  "my baby," a phrase that one constantly sees amongst the girls' essays.
     The essays of the boys who went to the Crystal Palace are disappointing. The top boy does not seem to have observed much ; he writes neatly, uses long words which he has learned from books and lessons; one seems to hear an echo of some vote of thanks when he tells us that "the Countess of Dudley had undertaken the arduous task of presenting the prizes." However, this is the sort of boy and essay that our system tends to make ; he has been given full marks by his master and no doubt will go on and prosper. Very different are the attempts of two Standard V boys, Ernest and Dan, neither of whom get high marks. One has seen a thief caught, and describes it vividly ; the other makes one realise his day's experiences, in spite of his bad grammar, far better than does the more commonplace top boy, and he probably spent as interesting a day, working for his mother and his master, selling his papers, boxing with his friend, going to the music hall, and eating his ice-cream. He has an observant eye, too, for he notices that he sells most of his evening papers to the telegraph boys of St. Martin's le Grand. On the whole I should like to have given the prize for the best essay to Dan.
     Of the following twelve specimen essays, six are by boys who went to work, two by boys who went for a ride or walk, one by a boy who was house-moving (there were two such cases on that one day), one by "Ernest" (who saw the thief caught), one by "John," the top boy, who went to the Crystal Palace, one by "Dan " (the last). The date of the Saturday the essays refer to is May 13, 1905.
     "On Saturday last I went out selling papers to earn a few pence for my mother. The stand which I sell papers on is Lyons' Restaurant and Company. I go's out selling papers on every winner. Last Saturday I earnt about eightpence or ninepence. My mother was very pleased with what I earnt. The reason why I sell papers, is because my father has no work, and I have to sell papers. On Saturday, May 13, I was stopped by a policeman in the City for selling papers late at night. When I took my earnings home to my mother, she gave me twopence to go to the King's Theatre. I came out at a quarter to twelve and went towards home. As I was walking home I met my sister. I and my sister went home too bed."
     (One notes the effect of recent legislation on the employment of children, and cannot help regretting that the Home Office has not confirmed the bye-laws framed in 1905 by the County Council with the object of further shortening the hours during which school children may be employed.)
     "On Saturday last I arose about 5 o'clock. Then I roused my brother, and told him to light the fire, and while he was doing so, I washed myself, brushed my hair, and got myself ready for work. By this time, the kettle had boiled, and tea made, I went into the bedroom to ask my mother whether she wanted a cup of tea and she said 'yes.' I had my breakfast at six o'clock and went to work at half-past six. I went to the butcher's shop where I work and tore up some paper ready to wrap up the meat for customers. When I had done this I went and got my own butcher's coat, put it on and started work. The first thing I did was to go to certain places and take orders. When I came back I helped to cut a sheep up, and then carry it from one stall to another. I then went to my mother to ask her for a halfpenny to have something to drink. I went and helped to sell the meat and weigh it."
     "Last Saturday I spent my time in selling books, to earn a few pence for my mother. It was about half-past seven when I arose, I dressed, cleaned my boots, made the fire, washed, and made the breakfast. When I had had my breakfast, I started off to buy the books which I was going to sell. It took me about a quarter of an hour to get to the shop, and ten minutes to get to the place where I sell the books. I sold the first lot out and then hastened back to get the next lot. It was about five minutes to two when I arrived at the shop, and they were getting ready to close. I then went back to my 'stand.' I sold them out and hastened for home to have my tea. It was about ten o'clock when I started out and five o'clock p.m. when I arrived home. I gave my mother the money and then I had my tea. When I had finished my tea, I went to the new King's Theatre, which was very grand. I arrived home about half-past nine, when I had my supper and then went to bed."
     "Saturday last I spent in the following way. I arose at half-past seven in the morning. The first thing I did was to light the fire. Then I aroused my mother, and she made our breakfast. I was ready to go out at half-past eight. I proceeded to Spitalfields Market. I was accompanied by my father, brother, and a friend of mine. I remained there, minding a barrow for two hours, when my father bought some cabbages. I then helped to pull them home. When I had my breakfast I proceeded to the newspaper offices. I then got some papers to sell. I sold them all out by twelve o'clock. I then went home to have a little refreshment. I then went to get some more papers. I was finished about half-past five o'clock. I then went home to have some tea. Then I assisted my father to sell out his goods, which he soon did. We returned home and had a hearty supper, and retired to bed about ten o'clock."
     "On Saturday last I arose from my bed at half-past seven in the morning, to go and get some hot bread. I washed and had my breakfast. Soon afterwards I had a game at football for three quarters of an hour. When the game was over I took the ball into my bedroom and put it under the table. I went to work at a quarter past eight. I had finished my work at half-past ten. I then had another wash and took orders to different coffee-shops. My work consisted of selling fish in Whitecross Street. Before I was done work we did a very good trade. When I had finished I went to bed for the rest of the day."
     "My brother and I arose at half-past eight last Saturday morning. I had to clean my mother's knives and forks, and when I had finished I had to go for some errands for her. I then had a game of knocking buttons out of a ring with a ball. At two o'clock in the afternoon I had to wash and make myself tidy to go to work. I had to stand outside a shop, selling, in High Street, Stoke Newington Road. The man that got me this job was one whom my mother knew. I had to get there at three o'clock in the afternoon and stop till eleven o'clock. I arrived home at a quarter to twelve Saturday night. I then had my supper and went to bed. I was very tired and glad to rest myself."
     "Last Saturday I went for a ride in the country with my brother. I and my brother started away from our home about seven o'clock in the morning and went to Leyton. It was a fine day. When we were there we went for a walk over the fields. I and my brother amused ourselves very much. We arrived home about nine o'clock at night. When I and my brother arrived home we washed and then went to a theatre. We were satisfied with what we saw there. When the performance was over I and my brother returned home. We arrived home about eleven o'clock. We then had supper and went to bed. I and my brother were very tired."
     "Last Saturday, I arose from my bed at exactly half-past six in the morning. I put on my trousers, waistcoat, and my boots and socks, and put the kettle of water on the gas-stove which was already alight. The kettle was not long before it began to boil. After it had boiled a little while I made some tea. I woke my mother up and gave her some tea and toast. She asked me if I would awake the girls, I replied in the affirmative. I went up to the bedroom door which was locked and called them by the names 'Louie, Lena, and Hettie, it is getting late.' They all came down and washed theirselves and then my mother gave them their breakfasts and they put on their hats and coats and wished my mother 'good morning.' I cleaned my boots and washed myself and my two little sisters and I sat down to our breakfast. I went for a few errands for my mother and the landlady, and they both gave me a halfpenny. The landlady's boy and I went to Wood Green where we caught some frogs and tadpoles. Whilst coming home I had the misfortune to drop the jar in which they were, and the jar broke and the poor things were run over by a passing cart. My friend who accompanied me said he would share his with me and he did so. We sat down to a hearty dinner at two o'clock after which I helped my mother to clear away the dinner things. The end."
     "Last Saturday I arose from my bed at about seven o'clock a.m. I prepared the breakfast and was finished by half-past eight a.m. My mother and I were very busy in packing up different articles as we were about to remove to another house. I cleaned the knives and forks and the tea-pot. When my father returned from his work about three o'clock p.m., he helped my mother in taking the bedsteads down. The things were taken down into the ante-room. The cart arrived at our house at seven o'clock p.m. 1 looked after the baby whilst the goods were removed from the house into the cart. It took an hour and a half to do the work. The expenses were only two shillings. Whilst going there, I sat at the back of the cart, so nobody should steal any goods."
    "On Saturday last, May 13th, I enjoyed a trip to the Crystal Palace. I had important business there to attend to, namely, to receive a prize, which was to be awarded to me for an essay, which I had written, on ' Man's duty towards Animals.' I arose from my bed, as is my custom at 6-30 a.m. After preparing the breakfast-table, I myself prepared for my excursion. I arrived at the school-gate at to o'clock, which was the appointed time. Finding that my headmaster did not arrive, two of my companions and I proceeded to Snow Hill Station, where I embarked, with some more of my comrades, for the Crystal Palace. Arrived at our destination we proceeded to the Palace. I then left my companions and entered the orchestra, and sat in my place. After I had received my prize, which was presented by the Countess of Dudley, who had undertaken the arduous task of presenting the prizes, I quitted the orchestra and made my way to the Palace grounds. I had heard so much of the 'Somali Village' that I paid my fee and entered the arena. I was very pleased with the performance, and after it was over, I went to the big clock inside the Palace, where we were to assemble, in order that we might return home together. Mr. J. arrived, and we all went home, I myself feeling happier for my outing. I showed my parents my prize, and they were very pleased, and congratulated me on my success."
     " Last Saturday I arose from my bed at seven o'clock a.m. I washed myself and then went for an errand. At half-past nine o'clock a.m. I prepared to go to get some wood for my mother's fire. As I was coming home with the wood, I saw a man run away with a parcel. He ran through a street, named Fann Street. He was soon caught by a detective, the man said that he was running in case the shop where he was going to take the parcel was shut. The detective did not let the man go. The man struggled with the detective but it was no use, the man could not get away. The detective blew his whistle and five constables arrived. The man was taken to the police station. When I took my wood home to my mother, one of Pearks' carmen asked me to go with him for a ride to Plaistow. Having not been there before I amused myself very much there. We arrived home at half-past eight p.m., and when I arrived at my house at nine o'clock p.m. I had my supper and then I went to bed at eleven o'clock p.m."
     "Last Saturday I rose at twenty minutes to six, I had my breakfast, and started doing my mother's work. When I had done it, I went out and tried to get some wood. When I had obtained some, I took it home, and I washed myself and went to Sidney Street to see my aunt, over money affairs between her and my mother. When I had arrived home, and told my mother what my aunt said, I went to work. When I had obtained my master's lunch, and a few more errands, I asked him if he wanted me any more that day, and he said he didn't, so I hid him 'good-day' and came away. I then went to some lady and obtained for her some errands, and she gave me a penny. At about half-past two I helped a boy sell his newspapers, and when I had sold nine he gave me a penny. I sold them outside the tube station in Newgate Street, I sold most newspapers to telegram boys. When I had sold out I went up the street where I live, and met one of my play-mates. He asked me if I would have a 'box' with him. I consented, and we had a 'box' in his yard, for about a quarter of an hour. When we had finished I went and washed myself, and at half-past six I went to a music hall, and came out at nine o'clock. As I was coming home I went into an ice-cream vendor's and bought some ice-cream. When I had eaten it I came home, and went to bed."
     The two other schools in the group to which the one we have been dealing with belongs, are much larger, and in one the children come on the whole from more comfortable homes in the surrounding blocks of "model " buildings. A smaller percentage of the boys in this school worked for the whole day than in the case of the boys of whom we have written, but fewer also speak of playing the whole time; almost all are engaged for part of the day in doing work for their parents. Occasionally work done for the family is handsomely rewarded. "I got up at 6 o'clock," one tells us, "so as to wake my uncle, who works at Cassell's, the printers, for this I got sixpence."* [* This boy notes that by the help of some overtime work on Saturday afternoon his week's earnings came to 5/-.]  The work done consists chiefly in minding stalls, delivering milk, selling papers, oranges and vegetables, and going out with vans. One boy got up at 3 a.m. to go to Covent Garden, and did not go to bed till a quarter to eleven at night.
     It is noticeable that these boys from homes which are on the whole more comfortable, mention a larger variety of games played (among them cricket, football, "base-ball," release, egg-cap, swimming, "tibby-cat," bicycling, fishing, ping-pong, "knocking up catches," ludo, and draughts), and several mention the papers and books which they read (The Evening News, Alone in London, True Blue, The Royal Magazine, The Children's Friend, A Christmas at Crag Castle College). A large number help in cleaning the knives and forks and in doing polishing and scrubbing work at home; one goes out with his mother to Highbury Fields and plays " hide and seek " with her, also instructing her in "knocking up catches"; "My mother," he tells us, "did not know how to play, I showed her how, and then she had a longer innin's than I did." But even in this school many have hard and long work to do, and we cannot wonder that one such boy concludes his essay with the words: "Gentlemen, how would you like to do this? not much!"
     Of the three essays subjoined two may be regarded as to some extent typical of the majority, the third of the minority of much poorer boys.
     "I got up in the morning at 8 o'clock. Then after breakfast I did some work up to 11 o'clock a.m. Then I dressed myself and when I was tidy I got some errands. When I got all the errands in I went and had a read because I could not run about or play because I had a bad leg. Not knowing what to do as I could hardly walk, I went for a ride to Homerton to see the Boys' Brigade Cricket Club play. I got home at 8-30 p.m., and had a good tea. After that I went in the Memorial Hall to hear a music class. I came out at [ o p.m. and went in my house. At 11 p.m. I went to bed."
     "Saturday last, I woke at seven o'clock, cleaned my boots, had a good wash, then had my breakfast, wished my mother and father good bye for the day. At eight o'clock I started to go to work at Carwardine and Co., on one of their vans, delivering flour around Bermondsey. At three p.m. we had our dinner, and at four o'clock started on our journey. At eight p.m. I had finished my work, I called at the Leysian Mission and saw Cinematagraph scenes. I returned home at ten p.m. I had a wash, had my supper and thanked God for keeping me safe through the day and then went to sleep."
     "On last Saturday I got out of bed at 6 o'clock and had my breakfast, and washed myself. After that I had to go to Spitalfields Market to buy some onions, cucumbers and radishes, and several other things. When I came back I had to go to another market to get some watercress, then when I came back I had to serve at the stall till 1 o'clock, I then went to have my dinner. When I had my dinner I came back to the stall to sell some more things till 5 o'clock. At 5 o'clock I went to have my tea, and after that I had to go down the meat market to sell some cucumbers and other things on a barrow till 10-30 o'clock, and when I came back I was so tired that I went straight to bed."
     The remaining school is probably intermediate between the other two as regards the poverty of the homes of the children ; in this case the boys make less mention of work done, and we have several fresh games named (French touch, hat touch, rounders, "bogie-man,"  "twopence-tube," and " horse-racing "both the latter being indoor games played on a board by throw of dice). Only one boy mentions spending his time in reading, beginning with Scott's poems, and finishing up with "The Adventures of a Three-guinea Watch."
     In this school more than half of the boys of the three upper standards went to the Crystal Palace, so that it is not so easy to form a judgment of the normal Saturday occupation of the majority. The two essays that follow are perhaps the most interesting. They are by two brothers who were in different classrooms. It is curious to notice that neither mentions the other, though both tell how they took their baby brother out for a walk, and evidently had spent a good part of the day in each other's company. One is reminded of another kind of public school in which it is sometimes counted bad form to have anything to do with one's brother ; or is it mere accident in our case?
      "About 6-30 a.m. I was awakened by the chirping of the house sparrow. I looked out of the window and saw we had the prospects of a fine day. After I had dressed myself the first duty I had to perform was to light the fire. At 7-3o a.m. I had a nice cup of tea made for mother and myself. After breakfast I had a nice wash and brush up for the day. I asked mother if I could take baby out as he was not very good tempered. First I took him round to Old Street to look at the pictures at the committee rooms. Next I took him into St. Luke's Park as I knew he would like to run about. Seeing it was the usual hour for dinner I took him home. There I found the dinner waiting for me. I devoured it with great relish. At 1-30 p.m. I went out and joined my companions in a game of cricket. We got tired of that in an hour, so we picked upon a game of football in the shade. After scoring six goals to none I found it getting too hot. We waited till we got cool and started home for tea. When I had had my tea I joined my companions again. We were in a fix to know where to go. So I said to the biggest of us, 'Let us go to Victoria Park for a swim.' We all agreed upon it. We started about our journey which took three quarters of an hour. After getting up there we found the boys a swimming. So we undressed ourselves and had a swim. We were all refreshed after coming out of the water. It took the same time to get home. We were tired when we got home and I was glad to have my supper, which consisted of bread and butter. I was glad to get to bed, I had no sooner put my head upon the pillow than I went to sleep. When I awoke on Sunday morning my limbs were a bit stiff."
     "It was about 6-30 o'clock when I was awakened by the chirping of the house sparrow. I looked out of the window and knew that it would be a beautiful day. So I lit the fire and made a cup of tea for my mother and myself. It was about 9 o'clock a.m. when I cleaned the cups and saucers I asked my mother if I could take baby, who's name was Harry, in the park I knew he would enjoy looking at the flowers. I kept him out till dinner was ready, then I devoured it with great relish. Then I came to the playground and played cricket and got sick and tired of that, and then played football and found it was too hot. So all of us went home to tea. I soon joined my companions and asked the biggest if he would come to the swimming lake, and he said 'no.'"
     Similar essays were obtained from the girls' department in all three schools, but the girls' essays are naturally somewhat less interesting reading from the fact that all but very few, and those chiefly younger girls, give a larger part of their Saturdays to work at home, preparation and purchase of food also forming part of the task for many. In the largest school, of those who wrote essays only two in the fourth standard played the whole day, about 20 per cent. were able to go to some kind of entertainment in the evening; and minding the baby, although an absorbing task, is often evidently a pleasant one too. Two mention playing the piano, and others such games as swinging, hop-scotch, skipping, egg-cap, dolls, "gobs," "boncer," 11 five-stones," "mothers and fathers," "school," and " higher and higher." A few find time to read (Spare Moments, Home Chat, and Golden Chains are named by some, while one twelve-year-old girl demurely read her Bible in order to please her Sunday School teacher next day). The record of the day for the most part ends with an account of the Saturday evening bath, and plaiting of the hair in preparation for Sunday. The chief contrast to the boys' essays lies in the much greater monotony of the girls' work, and the quieter character of their amusements, which for some consist simply in a walk with a baby or a friend. It is small wonder that many go tired to bed.
     The best summary of such essays as these is hardly to be found in statistics, but lovers of those deceptive symbols may care to have the following table :—
1st School. At work all day. Part of day. Housework for most of day
Standards V,VI and VII (one class) 32% 56% 96%
Standard IV ... 2nd School 12½% 75% 87%
Standards V, VI, and VIII 15% 83% 100%
Standard IV ... 3rd school 5% 85% 95%
Standards V, VI and VII 5% 45% 90%
Standard IV 7% 60% 97%
In all cases children who were taken to the Crystal Palace are not taken into account in these figures, and in the case of the third school, these were so numerous that the figures might have varied considerably had another day been chosen.
     It is interesting, after dealing with poor schools like those of St. Luke's, to pass to a school not very far away from Parliament Fields, where many of the children come from comfortable artizan homes. Perhaps the greatest contrast in this school is seen in the girls' essays. The girls of St. Luke's have almost all of them to tell of a like monotonous round of drudgery ; these children, many of them, get away for a whole day's holiday. One twelve-year-old accompanies her father and mother and two of her sisters to Pinner. Her father goes there to sketch, and she has an eye for the various wild creatures and especially for the flowers—" There were a lot of hyincths growing, and the air about a yard from the ground looked quite blue " ; the flowers she brought home weighed, she tells us, 3 lbs. 8 ozs. Another child goes to St. Margaret's, Westminster, to see a Hindu lady married, and afterwards visits the National Gallery. Several girls went to the British Museum by themselves, and with observant eyes.
     Even when children spend a good portion of the day in work for their parents, there are signs of greater comfort in the home life : references to watering the flower-pots, to " rugs and mats," cleaning the " silver ware," to a music lesson, all point to a very different milieu from St. Luke's. One child tells us : "I then waited for my money which I have every week from mother. Mother had given it two me and I was waiting two give it two father two put it away, for me." Amongst some thousands of essays this appears to be the only instance of juvenile thrift recorded by the writers.
     As one turns from the perusal of some hundreds of these children's essays and the visions they conjure up of the lives behind them, full of work already, many of them, yet varying strangely and not lacking in interest and colour (unless it be indeed those of the poor girls whose day is spent in a weary succession of scrubbing, washing and polishing), many thoughts crowd in upon the mind. One sees how the work into which a boy has drifted or been forced on his Saturdays, may determine his after-life ; how the lad who has been able to earn 1/6 at paper selling in a single day may be tempted to go on earning a high wage for the moment until when two or three years have gone by he is left stranded without a trade, while the boy who spends his day earning 6d. by helping to mind the cart of a friendly carrier, gets to like the carman's life and will go out of school to become a van-boy and perhaps be turned adrift in a few years' time again, when he has grown too old for the work, and there is not room for him in a better post. All this, however, is closely connected with the haphazard way in which the ordinary schoolboy chooses his trade or has it chosen for him by his parents within a few days of his leaving school, and the absence of any organised system of employment bureaux acting in close touch with the school. As it is most boys will leave school the moment they are fourteen, often enough without having had any serious thought at all given to their future work. The first job that comes, if the wage immediately earned is high enough, is taken, even in preference to one with surer future prospects but smaller present earnings. Only now and then is there a committee of managers which will take the trouble to give advice to the parents in such cases.
     And then one cannot but be struck by the way in which the free time of the ordinary London boy is mis-spent, simply because he does not know how to use the resources at his disposal and has no one to help him. Many children never get the chance of learning how to play as they might. With the street as their one place of amusement, they grow up with narrow horizons and in an atmosphere very different from that of the child of the village or the country town. In some parts of London something has already been done to teach the children how to spend their leisure by the Children's Play Hour scheme initiated by Mrs. Humphry Ward, and by her admirable experimental Vacation Schools. But something much more than this is needed; an arrangement which will deal with children less in great masses and more as individuals.
     Of course, in many cases, great things are being done in this way by the school teachers themselves. But we have no right to claim this work from them as part of their duty, and if it were done as such it would fail to be what we want. There remain the school managers, and it is not too much to hope that more and more men and women will take up this office with the special object of caring for the children out of school hours and providing healthy recreation for them This can be done both by arranging for organised games for larger numbers, and by taking, week by week, little groups of two, four or six children to places of interest within easy reach. This is an entirely different thing in every way from the annual visit of a class to the Zoo, or the more occasional visits paid, under the charge of a teacher, to St. Paul's or The Tower, when the children are marched round in a squad, told what to see, and feel that they are still, to some extent, in school. When you can get them in twos and threes, they look at the same sights with other eyes, they are with you as your friends, not as units in a big class, and in this way a confidential relationship arises between the manager and children, which is of the utmost value to him in his work, and a real help to many of the boys and girls.
     It is too much to expect of many of the existing boards of managers that they will give the time and thought to this work, which such a task calls for; many of their members are local councillors or aldermen, who may come to the managers' meetings, but rarely visit the schools. But almost every body of managers contains at least one or two men and women who are really anxious to promote the interests of the school, and it should surely be possible to form, in connection with them, a committee for every school which should concern itself with the life of the children out of school, including not only the organisation of walks and games, but advice as to what trade a lad should enter, and help in times of sickness. A nucleus for such committees already perhaps exists in the shape of the sub-committees to deal with underfed children, which it is the managers' duty to appoint in all necessitous schools, and in the unofficial local committees of the Children's Country Holiday Fund, which meet in the spring and summer in most parts of London.
     Is it too much to think that by some such means it may be possible to introduce a system which may do for the towns of England what is being done by a very different organisation in Elberfeld? Imagine, for a moment, that we had at least one such committee for every elementary school in the country. This would mean that the whole of the child population would be under the oversight of a band of workers whose sole object would be to encourage everything which made for a wider and deeper life amongst their boys and girls, and who by this means would have the entree into the poorest homes, not as suspected inquisitors, as the best workers of the Charity Organisation Society are so often treated, but as the children's friends, advisers who would be trusted and respected, even if they were not always listened to.
     And for the present those of us who live in towns can do something towards bringing about this ideal by doing what we can to get good men and women to take up the work of school managers, and inducing our friends to join us in giving up, now and then, and if possible, regularly, a few hours on Saturday or Sunday to help in that pleasantest side of the work which is involved in taking a few children for a walk or helping a larger number to play a good game. Such a walk is a wholly different thing to the child from the annual Sunday School treat, when he is one of an excited crowd, and games that he has never learned to play he may learn to enjoy keenly by the help of the simplest organisation and supervision. Above all, the friendly intercourse between the children and their grown up friends will widen limited horizons and form ties of attachment which may make life richer and fuller of meaning and helpfulness, and that not to the child alone.
Saint George, 1906

No comments:

Post a Comment