Working Class in Victorian Era

The Victorians liked to have their social classes clearly defined. The working class was divided into three layers, the lowest being 'working men' or labourers, then the ‘intelligent artisan’, and above him the ‘educated working man’. In reality, things were not so tidily demarcated.

A skilled London coach-maker could earn up to 5 guineas (£5, 5 shillings) a week - considerably more than most middle class clerks. This was the top of the working class pyramid. The railways generated employment for porters and cab-drivers. The London omnibuses needed 16,000 drivers and conductors, by 1861. Conductors were allowed to keep 4 shillings a day out of the fares they collected, and drivers could count on 34 shillings a week, for a working day beginning at 7.45 and ending often past midnight. A laborer's average wage was between 20 and 30 shillings a week in London, probably less in the provinces. This would just cover his rent, and a very sparse diet for him and his family.

There were around 30,000 street sellers (known as costermongers) in London, each selling his or her particular wares from a barrow or donkey-cart. The journalist Henry Mayhew recorded the array of goods for sale: oysters, hot-eels, pea soup, fried fish, pies and puddings, sheep’s trotters, pickled whelks, gingerbread, baked potatoes, crumpets, cough-drops, street-ices, ginger beer, cocoa and peppermint water as well as clothes, second-hand musical instruments, books, live birds and even birds nests. Some costermongers specialized in buying waste products such as broken metal, bottles, bones and ‘kitchen stuff’ such as dripping, broken candles and silver spoons.  Most middle class and working class households depended on these street sellers, who had regular predictable beats, and made a fair living.

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