The ragged and filthy East End children of just 100 years ago
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Posted 21 July 2011 - 08:08 AM
Ragged and filthy, their feet bare, they wear grave, careworn expressions. For these children, life was nothing but hard work, empty bellies and the constant struggle for survival.
The pictures, taken by photographer Horace Warner 100 years ago in Spitalfields in London’s East End, were later used by social campaigners to illustrate the plight of the poorest children in London.
On these streets and alleys, hordes of urchins eked out a hand-to-mouth existence, fending for themselves while their parents worked 14-hour days in the factories and docks. It was a time when Britain prospered, thanks to the Empire, which brought immense wealth to factory owners and traders.
Yet a stone’s throw from the docks, through which this trade and riches passed, children were dying of starvation and disease. Infant mortality was higher in 1900 than in 1800, as increasing numbers of families sought work in the cities.
In the East End, nearly 20 per cent of children died before their first birthday. Poor families lived ten to a room with no clean water for washing and drinking. Dead animals littered the streets. Excrement and rubbish often blocked the drains. Diseases such as diphtheria, cholera and measles flourished.
A third of households were without a male breadwinner and women were forced to go out to work, leaving children as young as six to look after their younger siblings.
Older children ran errands, swept the streets, cleaned windows or helped to make matchboxes and paintbrushes. It was poorly paid, exhausting work, especially for malnourished children, but their contribution — small as it was — could help buy a little stale bread. According to Erica Davies, director of the Ragged School Museum in East London: ‘These children tried very hard to survive while facing overwhelming odds.’
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