Job Opportunities for Teenagers in Victorian London

Big Ben

Big Ben

During the Victorian era, jobs were scarce and extremely difficult to find – especially for children and teens in the lower class.

Unfortunately, there was a great divide in life opportunities depending on economic status. Wealthy children went to school, while poor children worked. There were a number of ways kids could find jobs. Teenagers who worked in the streets could land jobs running errands, calling cabs drawn by horses, sweeping roads, selling toys or flowers, and helping market porters. In better situations, children could begin working alongside their parents from a young age, doing things such as sewing clothes, sacks, and shoes. Other jobs included chimney sweeps, servants in the homes of richer families, and working in factories with dangerous machinery.

A poor boy who couldn’t afford an education would likely work in factories or underground mines, while someone whose family was more well-off might apprentice with a local blacksmith. Similarly, 1 in 9 females over 10 years of age worked in domestic service in the 1850s. This would include sewing new clothes, running the house, caring for the sick, and growing and processing food for the family. These physical demands of work in the home involved tools such as a treadle sewing machine, a mechanical wringer for the wash, and a cast-iron stove to cook the food. Young women also worked in nursing or home production, selling milk and eggs.

The jobs held by the lower class paid little and the working conditions were not exactly ideal. Due to this fact, there were many parliamentary acts passed throughout the 1800s in an attempt to help working children. Many factory workers were diagnosed with terrible diseases, such as ‘Phossy Jaw’ in which working with phosphorus caused an individual’s lower jaw to be rotted out. As a result, the 1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act was passed, one of several acts in the 1800s that outlined the mandatory conditions of the workplace in order to prevent these diseases. Later in the century, several Factory Acts and Mine Acts were passed, outlining the expected working hours and pay. This helped to prevent child labor, which was a major problem during the Victorian Era. Long hours and little pay were common in many of the fields involving dangerous work.

There were also job opportunities for the children of wealthier people. Instead of apprenticing with blacksmiths, young educated men could try to apprentice with clerks if they knew how to read and write. It was commonly believed that most wealthy girls did not have to work, especially if they were raised in a proper home.

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way in workplace safety, and there are more opportunities for young people to get an education!

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