Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Jad Adams is a writer and Fel­low of the Royal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety

1889: the Chil­dren’s Char­ter

Un­til 1889 chil­dren could be abused, forced into work and ne­glected, and had less le­gal pro­tec­tion than an­i­mals. But new leg­is­la­tion this year changed this sad state of af­fairs.

The ‘Preven­tion of Cru­elty to, and Pro­tec­tion of Chil­dren Act’, widely known as the ‘Chil­dren’s Char­ter’, was largely the re­sult of cam­paign­ing by a small num­ber of vig­or­ous in­di­vid­u­als. The Lon­don So­ci­ety for the Preven­tion of Cru­elty to Chil­dren had been in­au­gu­rated in 1884 by veteran so­cial cam­paigner Lord Shaftes­bury along with Rev Ben­jamin Waugh, the writer Sarah Smith (bet­ter known by her pen name, Hesba Stret­ton) and other re­form­ers. It was mod­elled on a so­ci­ety set up in Liver­pool the pre­vi­ous year: this was an idea whose time had come.

Waugh was the ed­i­tor of an evan­gel­i­cal jour­nal called The Sun­day Mag­a­zine. He was a Con­gre­ga­tion­al­ist, but he made sure that his or­gan­i­sa­tion would be ec­u­meni­cal by per­suad­ing an Angli­can bishop, the Catholic Car­di­nal Man­ning and the chief rabbi to sup­port the char­ity.

One hur­dle they faced was con­vinc­ing the pub­lic that child cru­elty was suf­fi­ciently wide­spread to re­quire leg­is­la­tion. So Waugh launched the so­ci­ety’s mag­a­zine the Child’s

Guardian with the aim of spread­ing the mes­sage. He also wrote about the is­sue in publi­ca­tions such as the Con­tem­po­rary Re­view, a fo­rum for in­tel­lec­tual dis­cus­sion of weighty sub­jects, while in a let­ter to The Times Smith lamented, “We see young chil­dren ex­posed to bit­ter weather in the streets for beg­ging pur­poses, or find them cov­ered with sores or eaten up by ver­min, drag­ging out a

mis­er­able life or dy­ing a lin­ger­ing death through cruel ne­glect.”

How­ever, it was not merely the poor or beg­gars who mis­treated chil­dren. One of the in­sights that the re­form­ers passed on was that child cru­elty ex­isted at ev­ery level of so­ci­ety. Lord Shaftes­bury came from a wealthy, ti­tled fam­ily, but was sent at the age of seven to a board­ing school that he said was “bad, wicked, filthy, and the treat­ment was star­va­tion and cru­elty”. So­ci­ety sim­ply did not care enough about the rights of chil­dren – or per­haps didn’t be­lieve that they even had rights; this had to change for leg­is­la­tion to be ef­fec­tive.

Like many cam­paign­ers, Ben­jamin Waugh was some­times an ov­er­en­thu­si­as­tic ad­vo­cate for the cause; for ex­am­ple, he as­sured a House of Lords se­lect com­mit­tee that 1,000 chil­dren were mur­dered ev­ery win­ter for the in­sur­ance poli­cies on their lives – a state­ment with no fac­tual ba­sis.

A boy was de­fined un­der the Act as be­ing un­der 14, and a girl un­der 16. The Act crim­i­nalised any­one who “wil­fully ill-treats, ne­glects, [or] aban­dons” a child, caus­ing “un­nec­es­sary suf­fer­ing, or in­jury to its health”. The pun­ish­ment was a fine of up to £100 (or £200 in the case of death), and up to two years in prison.

The sec­tions about ac­tiv­i­ties that were for­bid­den give an idea of the ways chil­dren had been used. Chil­dren could not now be taken to beg in the street or into li­censed premises “for the pur­pose of singing, play­ing, or per­form­ing for profit, or of­fer­ing any­thing for sale”. This was in part to pre­vent the im­por­ta­tion of Ital­ian chil­dren who were given mu­si­cal in­stru­ments and or­dered to per­form. Chil­dren who were even more wretched fol­lowed passers-by with a sin­gle box of matches or a bunch of laven­der, ask­ing for coins. How­ever, Par­lia­ment was at pains to main­tain what were con­sid­ered ac­cept­able chil­dren’s jobs such as “the re­spectable oc­cu­pa­tion of the shoe­black and the unim­peach­able trade of the milk­man’s boy”, who were al­lowed to con­tinue their labours. This was the first Act where the state claimed a right to in­ter­fere in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween par­ents and their off­spring, and it gave the po­lice per­mis­sion to en­ter a home if they sus­pected a child was be­ing ill-treated. This en­croach­ment into the fam­ily’s pri­vate life disconcerted some leg­is­la­tors, while The Times sniffily noted that the Act was “em­body­ing prin­ci­ples which are novel to the English law, although it must be con­fessed that they are sup­ported by a large body of pub­lic opin­ion”. In 1889 the Lon­don So­ci­ety for the Preven­tion of Cru­elty to Chil­dren be­came the Na­tional So­ci­ety for the Preven­tion of Cru­elty to Chil­dren (NSPCC), with Waugh as its di­rec­tor. The so­ci­ety had royal pa­tron­age but did not use the ti­tle ‘Royal’ in its name, to avoid con­fu­sion with the Royal So­ci­ety for the Preven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals. Waugh also wanted to avoid break­ing up fam­i­lies, if at all pos­si­ble, and saw to it that par­ents re­ceived a warn­ing from one of the NSPCC’s in­spec­tors or ‘cru­elty men’ be­fore be­ing pros­e­cuted. The Chil­dren’s Char­ter was one of a se­ries of mea­sures af­fect­ing chil­dren this decade, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion be­ing made com­pul­sory to the age of 10 in 1880 and a rise in the age of con­sent for girls from 13 to 16 in 1885.

Young love

The story of Edna, one of Ben­jamin Waugh’s eight off­spring, il­lu­mi­nates the way your an­ces­tors saw chil­dren, and par­tic­u­larly girls. A young bar­ris­ter called Wil­liam Clarke Hall who elected to work with the NSPCC be­came its lead­ing coun­sel and the na­tional ex­pert on the law re­lat­ing to chil­dren. He was 26 when he first vis­ited Waugh’s home in St Al­bans and then came many times, at­tracted by his love for Edna, who was 13. He would sit her on his knee, “lov­ingly tease and talk to her,


lis­ten to her also” ac­cord­ing to Edna’s own ac­count, in which she re­ferred to her­self in the third per­son. She used to sign her let­ters to him “ever your lov­ing child”.

Hall’s be­hav­iour might fit the mod­ern def­i­ni­tion of groom­ing, but to the Vic­to­ri­ans this was a per­fectly rea­son­able in­tro­duc­tion to mar­ried life. A mid­dle-class bride was ex­pected to be in­no­cent and have no knowl­edge ex­cept that of house­hold mat­ters; a man was not sup­posed to marry un­til he was able to pro­vide a home for a wife and chil­dren. It was there­fore usual for a groom to be es­tab­lished in busi­ness, and older than his bride.

Wil­liam and Edna mar­ried when she was 19 and he 33. He was later knighted for his work with chil­dren, while Edna be­came a suc­cess­ful artist.

The Vic­to­rian ideal of mar­riage was to face as­sault for the rest of the cen­tury. Ar­gu­ments about the po­si­tion of women were stim­u­lated by a Lon­don pro­duc­tion this year of a translation of A Doll’s House by Nor­we­gian play­wright Hen­rik Ib­sen. In the play the wife, Nora, walks out on her hus­band and chil­dren. She has been con­de­scended to and in­fan­tilised by her hus­band, who has treated her as a “doll wife”. Au­di­ences at the Nov­elty Theatre gasped or hissed at Nora’s ac­tions, and ar­gu­ments broke out be­tween cou­ples. Other play­go­ers were in­vig­o­rated – one woman wrote, “A few of us col­lected out­side the theatre breath­less with ex­cite­ment… We were restive and al­most sav­age in our ar­gu­ments. What did it mean? Was it life or death for women? Was it joy or sor­row for men?”

In a lighter vein, a book was pub­lished this

year that was des­tined to be known as one of the fun­ni­est ever writ­ten. Three Men in a

Boat (To Say Noth­ing of the Dog) is a fic­tional ac­count of a two-week boat­ing hol­i­day on the Thames, un­der­taken by Jerome K Jerome and two friends, to­gether with the in­de­pen­dently minded fox ter­rier Mont­morency. It was in­tended to be a se­ri­ous travel guide, but Jerome’s hu­mour got the bet­ter of him.

The novel was deemed vul­gar by crit­ics, but the pub­lic loved it. The book’s suc­cess was re­spon­si­ble for in­creas­ing the num­ber of boats on the Thames by 50 per cent in the year fol­low­ing its pub­li­ca­tion, con­tribut­ing to the river be­com­ing a tourist at­trac­tion.

In 1889 foot­ball was be­com­ing firmly en­trenched as the na­tional game with the in­au­gu­ral sea­son of the Foot­ball League. Pre­ston North End were the first league cham­pi­ons, also win­ning the FA Cup this year. An­other sport­ing mile­stone came with the ar­rival of the first pro­fes­sional black foot­ball player on the field in 1889: Arthur Whar­ton, signed to Rother­ham Town. Born in Jamestown on what was then the Gold Coast (now Ghana), he ar­rived in Bri­tain to train as a mis­sion­ary, but aban­doned that in favour of ath­let­ics. A true all-rounder, he was a sprinter, cy­clist and crick­eter as well as a foot­baller.

A girl in rags sells wa­ter­cress on a street cor­ner watched by a man warm and dry in­doors, c1880

Lord Shaftes­bury ( in­set) cam­paigned against the mis­treat­ment of chil­dren, such as the flog­ging of these two boys who were ac­cused of steal­ing pi­geons Rev Ben­jamin Waugh (1839–1908) co-founded the NSPCC Ib­sen rewrote A Doll’s House for a Ger­man...

‘J’, Ge­orge and Har­ris take a wel­come break from the tri­als of boat­ing – and Mont­morency

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