Sue has very kindly written a post about the child shoe-blacks who were on every busy street in Victorian cities, eager to shine shoes for a fee.
When you’re visiting Victorian England, your shoes will get very mucky because of all the filth in the streets. If you need to cross the street, watch out for a ‘crossing-sweeper’ – a poor boy or girl who will sweep a clear path across the road for you for a penny or two. Road crossing sweepers earned a few extra pennies by holding gentlemen's horses for them. Middle-class reformers were worried that street children like these were a menace to society.
But if your shoes need cleaning in a hurry, perhaps because you are on your way to dine with friends, a shoe-black will shine your shoes for a small fee. The shoe-black brigades, founded in 1851, were an offshoot of the ragged school movement. The brigades helped boys earn money as shoe-blacks so that they could save up enough funds to emigrate and begin a new life abroad. The boys earned up to 8s 6d per week. A proportion of each boy’s wages were paid into a savings account for him; he was given some pennies for pocket-money and a few pence of his earnings repaid the Shoe-Black Society for kitting him out.
Shoe-black boy. Illustrated London News, 24 May 1851. Sue Wilkes’ collection.
Thanks, Sue! So when you're on your visit to Victorian England, look out for the shoe-blacks and child crossing-sweepers, and don't forget to throw them a few coppers.
Sue's book, Tracing Your Ancestors' Childhood is out now. You can find out more about her work by visiting her website http://suewilkes.blogspot.co.uk and her Jane Austen blog:
http://visitjaneaustensengland.blogspot.co.uk You can also follow her on Twitter (@SueWilkesauthor).