Recent Event Highlights: New Poor Law of 1834, Poor Law Commission of 1832, and 8 more...
Created by english1102 on Apr 11, 2011
Last updated: 05/06/11 at 04:19 PM
Because of the great increase in poverty during this time period, many people were living on the streets and often pushed into criminal activity in order to obtain lodging or the their next meal. Some of the criminals eventually came into a “power” of some sort and began creating and leading gangs of criminals. Soon, many criminals were banning together in order to collaborate and commit their crimes more efficiently and tactfully. In 1894, a few gangs known as the “Hooligan” Gangs, were sought after by the London police force for disorderly conduct, assaults, theft, etc. Because of these gangs, a committee was formed in London asking for a Bill to be passed which would give the police force the right to flog as a punishment for any outrages committed by these gangs.
Fagin is a very clear and accurate representation of a gang leader who exploits young boys to do the dirty work he reaps the benefits of. He teaches young Oliver to pick pocket by telling him to, "See if [he] can take [his handkerchief] out, without [him] feeling it" and also tells him to "do everything [the rest of the boys] bid [him], and take their advice in all matters: especially the Dodgers'"(71).
We also see a list of some of the members of Fagin's gang when Oliver asks if the Artful Dodger is a thief and he replies, "I am [...] So's Charley. So's Fagin. So's Sikes. So's Nancy. So's Bet. So we all are, down to the dog" (128).
Murder was also extremely prevalent in Victorian England. Because the police force was not quite as involved, efficient, or equipped with the technology that exists today, murders were carried out easily and often. Because of the sudden population change in England cities, economic conditions worsened, the poor turned to various forms of crime (theft, murder, prostitution) in order to get what they wanted, and sometimes needed, because they often had no other way. One of the most well known murderers of that time period was called “Jack the Ripper.” The man, whose name originated from a letter from someone claiming to be the said killer, was a serial killer that carried out 11 murders from April 3, 1888 to February 13, 1891. He was also linked to several other murders in the Whitechapel area due to the way in which he beat and killed his victims. Jack the Ripper was never officially identified, which again reaffirms the idea of an inadequate police force involved in London crime during the Victorian Era.
In Oliver Twist, a brutal and devastating murder is committed on Nancy. Bill Sikes, after finding that she has conspired with others to help Oliver, comes to Nancy in a fit of rage, grabs his pistol and “beat it twice with all the force he could summon, upon the upturned face that almost touched his won. She staggered and fell: nearly blinded with the blood that rained down from a deep gash in her forehead; but raising herself, with difficulty, on her knees, drew from her bosom a white handkerchief- Rose Maylie’s own- and holding it up, in her folded hands, as high towards Heaven as her feeble strength would allow, breathed one prayer for mercy to her Maker” (317).
Because juvenile crime became so prevalent during this era, Parliament passed acts and appointed committees concerning child offenders. Before these acts were passed, children were thrown into jail, regardless of the crime they committed, until their trial was due. These acts include the following: the Juvenile Offenses Act of 1847, which stated that children under the age of 14 had to be tried in a special court instead of an adult court, the Bill for the Correction and Reformation of Juvenile Offenders (1850), which proposed that the first offense committed by children would result in flogging for boys, reprimanding for girls, and a fine charged on the parents if the parents could be found, and the Reformatory Schools Act (1854), which sent child criminals to special schools designed to teach them and correct their ways instead of sending them to prison.
When Oliver is wrongly accused of pick pocketing and sent to jail, the audience is offered a description of a typical cell and the jail system in London at that time: "The cell was in shape and size, something like an area cellar, only not so light. It was most intolerably dirty; for it was Monday morning and it had been tenanted by drunken people, who had been locked up elsewhere since Saturday night" (76).
Prostitution was a very common way of life for many girls and women living in Victorian England. Once again, because of the extreme level of poverty, many girls and women had no other option to make money and survive. Because of the lack of contraceptives, many women that engaged in prostitution had children out of wedlock and were even more pressed to make money to support their families. Dickens coined the phrase, “the fallen women” in order to describe those living this lifestyle. In 1846, he along with Angel Burdette-Coutts formed a home for these “fallen women” dubbed the Urania Cottage meant for redeeming the women that had fallen into this lifestyle. By 1874, there were reportedly about 8,600 prostitutes known to the police, but in actuality, the number was probably closer to 80,000.
Dicken's actually depicts his image on the "fallen woman" through Nancy in his novel. He provides a description of Nancy and Bet as dressed up, yet "untidy about the shoes and stockings" and looking "quite stout and hearty" with "agreeable manners" (70). He also later speaks of Nancy showing Oliver "some livid bruises on her neck and arms" that probably resulted from the abusive relationship she had with Sikes that most likely formed from her being a prostitute (142).
Lord Ashley, in 1848, referred to the more than thirty thousand children living on the streets as, "naked, filthy, roaming, lawless, and deserted children" (Horn 183). There was a need to get these children off of the streets so another choice for an orphaned child was to be placed in a workhouse.
"...he might have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar...But now that he was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in the same service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place at once -- a parish child -- the orphan of a workhouse -- the humble half-starved drudge -- despised by all, and pitied by none." (19)
Men: rings, cuff links, shirt studs, scarf pins, watches with chains, no fobs. Accessories used were monocles, walking sticks or light canes, white kid gloves, boutonnieres, and cigars. No makeup other than perfumed macassar oil on hair (middle/upper class), tallow by lower.
"As Mr. Bumble spoke, he raised his cane to the bill above him..." (37)
"...taking Mr. Bumble by the gilt-edged lappel of his official coat...what a very elegant button this is, Mr. Bumble! I never noticed it before." (37)
Any women seen in illustrations after 1850 was very likely wearing the colourful gaudy dress of the prostitute and was likely accompanied by middle or upper class gents who could afford their services.
"They wore a great deal of hair: not very neatly turned up behind; and were rather untidy about the shoes and stocking. They were not exactly pretty, perhaps; but they had a great deal of colour in their faces; and looked quite stout and hearty. Being remarkably free and agreeable in their manners, Oliver thought them very nice girls indeed." (70)
Some orphans had no other choice than to live on the streets. Mary Carpenter, a Bristol penal reformer, states in The Victorian Town Child, that there were an "innumerable multitudes of neglected, destitute and criminal children swarming in our large cities and haunting all its by-ways" (qtd. in Horn 180).
"His hat stuck on the top of his head so lightly, that it threatened to fall off every moment...He wore a man's coat, which reached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back, halfway up his arm, to get his hands out of the sleeves: apparently with the ultimate view of thrusting them into the pockets of his corduroy trousers." (62)
"the boy lay stretched on his neasy bed: dwindling away beneath the dry and wasting heat of fever" ( 81 dickens) Oliver was sick for many days and while he was sick the person caring for him, mister Brownlow, hired a doctor to help bring Oliver back to health. A common treatment for sickness during this time was to bleed the person in order to get rid of the bad blood which might be causing them to be sick
Poorer families greatest fear was ending up in the workhouse, where thousands of homeless and penniless families were forced to live. If your family was taken into the workhouse you would be split up dressed in uniform and have your hair cut short. This could happen to a family if father were taken ill and unable to work.
"Noah was a charity-boy, but not a workhouse orphan. No chance-child for he could trace his genealogy all the way back to his parents, who lived hard by; his mother being a washerwoman, and his father a drunken soldier: discharged with a wooden leg, and a diurnal pension of twopence-halfpenny and an unstateable fraction." (44)
Colors: Men wore gray-blue, bright blue, brown, green, or plum-colored coats with black velvet collars, light colors, grays and blacks for eveningwear, black frock coats, gray or light-colored hats.
"Mr. Sowerberry was a tall, gaunt, large-jointed man, attired in a suit of thread-black, with darned cotton stockings of the same colour, and the shoes to answer." (36)
Women wore secondary/tertiary colors, delicate grays, violet, tan, gray, silver-blue, black moire, pink crepe or net over satin, white/colored gloves, green, gold, and yellow.
"...wherein sat a slaternly girl, in shoes down to heel, and blue worsted stockings very much out of repair." (41)
Charles Dickens published Oliver Twist in monthly installments.
"Mr.Giles had not at, at first, been able to bring his mind avowal, that he had only shot a boy"( 196 Dickens) Oliver was shot in his arm while trying to rob the Maylie house he then walked around for a little and collapsed right in front of the house of the people who shot the people who shot him took mercy upon him and called a doctor to treat his wounds. Oliver was very lucky about his treatment from this doctor because it was not uncommon for people who got shot in a limb to have that limb amputated so that they would not get gang green.
Throughout the nineteenth century, men of the rural working class continued to wear the traditional linen smock, and this costume long served to distinguish them sharply from factory workers.
"[He] was a very old shrivelled Jew, whose villanous-looking and repulsive face was a very obscured by a quantity of matted red hair. He was dressed in a greasy flannel gown, with his throat bare..." (65)
The British Medical Journal gives a very interesting account in this video of the unfit conditions in the workhouses for children.
**This Commission served the purpose of reviewing the Poor Laws. Almost 3,000 parishes were visited during the Commission to be investigated. At the time, Britain was divided into 15,000 parishes but there were no record of past trends in the housing capacities, food needs, or labor production, according to www.pbs.org. So, a questionnaire was also sent out, but only 10 percent of the parishes replied. The data collected from the questionnaires was invalidated by poorly phrased questions and the lack of responses. The Commission determined from these results a trend: family allowances led to bigger families (www.pbs.org). The investigations concluded and the Commissioners agreed that the old Poor Law was too expensive and wasteful, thus, resulting in the creation of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. This transferred all power from the local parishioners to elected officials, as well as cut-off all relief that had been given to the poor outside of the government workhouses. These dramatic changes were directed toward the able-bodied poor, but additionally jeopardized the infirm, old and very young even more. **All wording and statistical information above is adapted from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/olivertwist/ei_downandout.html
Theft was not only common in the streets and not only involving children. Many adults were involved in robbing and burglarizing stores and houses, and sent to prison because of it. This was also probably so common due to the rise of poverty in the Victorian Era and the huge social and financial gap between the wealthy classes and poor classes. One example of this life of thievery was demonstrated by John Turner who throughout his life stole everything from hop-poles to chickens and turkeys to money from many places including Castle Hedingham shown in the picture. Eventually, he was executed for his several criminal acts.
This act of robbery is also demonstrated when Oliver blindly goes with Bill Sikes on a planned mission during which Oliver "with mad grief and terror, saw that housebreaking and robbery, if not murder, were the objects of the expedition" (153).
We also see a different form of theft in the act of Monks finding proof of his brother Oliver's existence (meaning that the inheritance he thought was his, had to now be divided) and destroying that proof so that "the only proofs of [Oliver's] identity lie at the bottom of the river" (329).
Stealing and thievery ran rampant in England cities during the Victorian Era. Pick pocketing, the literal act of removing items such as watches, handkerchiefs, and money from the pockets of the wealthy, was one of the most common forms of theft in those days. Children were often forced into pick pocketing, due to the poor conditions that they had been subject to, simply to make money for food and other necessities. Parliament even appointed a committee called the Committee for Investigating the Alarming Increase of Juvenile Crime in the Metropolis in 1816 to find the cause and solutions to the rising cases of child crime in London.
Oliver witnesses the act of pick pocketing firsthand "as he stood a few paces off, looking on with his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand into the old gentleman's pocket; and draw thence a handkerchief!" (73).
During the Victorian Era in London, many blamed the government for the hardships that the city endured. One writer, William Cobbett, spoke out quite loudly as a defender of the people and a critic of the current political climate. One of his articles, in the Political Register, “blame(d) the Swing riots on hunger and the Poor Laws” (www.pbs.org). He criticized Parliament in particular and insisted that it needed a “radical reform” before things could improve (www.pbs.org). http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/olivertwist/ei_downandout.html