“The Street Children of Dickens’s London” by Helen Amy

Published by Amberley Publishing PLC – Reviewed by Michelle Cavanagh.

Despite the doom, gloom and misery in the pages of Helen Amy’s Street Children of Dickens’s London this book does have a bright side, documenting the many individuals and organisations who went out of there way to help the poor and dispossessed.

While many journalists and writers drew the attention of the wider populous to the shame and degradation suffered by the poor children in its midst the popular novels Charles Dickens wrote certainly played an even stronger part in giving air to the plight of the poor.

This is a well researched and very readable book which included much information of which I was unaware; such as the fact that the age of consent was just twelve years of age until 1871 when it was raised to thirteen. Is is any wonder then to discover that these Victorian street children offered their services as prostitutes to anyone willing to pay the meagre amounts of money that would help them to survive. It was reported in 1842 that the streets were full of those offering their bodies both day and night. While this book only mentions girls, the author notes that they were also reported to be “artful and adroit thieves”. It really makes you wonder why the richest metropolis in the world did next to nothing to redress the plight of the street children living in its midst.

This book is helpfully divided into two sections covering both the early – 1837 to 1870 – and the later – 1870 to 1901 – Victorian period. Since the major reforms relating to street children didn’t take place until the later Victorian era sadly Charles Dickens, who died in 1870, never lived to see these reforms put into practice. No doubt, had he lived longer, he would be deservedly proud of what was eventually achieved and the part his novels had played in bringing this about.

At the end of this book we find the biographies of 33 different individuals – including Charles Dickens and Angela Burdett-Coutts – who either worked independently or started organisations to redress the inequities in society and more especially to ease the plight of the street children. Documenting the various Royal Commissions and studies carried out – resulting in the passing of legislation with regards to education, school meals and medical intervention – the author reports how this helped to ease the problem. So the book finishes on a positive note as the Edwardian period saw the dawning of a new era for the children of the poor. Street Children of Dickens’s London is well worth reading and I congratulate Helen Amy on a job well done.

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