Suffer The Children

I recently read about a local retired clergyman, Canon Jim Burns, who has written a book about the history of the whit walks in Manchester. He says that the first procession of Church of England members took place in 1801, between St.Ann’s Church and Manchester Cathedral.

In those days children worked for six days a week between 4.00am and 8.00pm. The local Sunday schools did not want the children, on their one day off, to become involved in cockfighting, gambling, or the drinking of gin.


The idea they came up with was for the Sunday schools from around Manchester to have a big assembly for the children to attend, but the place to hold it could not be decided upon. Some argued for St.Ann’s church, which was more fashionable, while others argued in favour of the Cathedral.

In the end a compromise was reached in that the children would all meet together at St.Ann’s and then walk to the Cathedral. Thus was the walk born.


I cannot help but think of my own children today. We ensure that they are nourished, educated, get enough sleep and have enough leisure time . In short, we allow our children to be children. Contrast this with the description we have already heard-of children working between 4.00am and 8.00pm. In a difficult, dangerous environment, children were used as they could fit into places among the machinery, and reach parts with their small hands, that adults couldn’t. Small hands that were often caught in the machinery. Accidents with children being injured or maimed was common. Disease was often present too.This was a time when children were not allowed to be children. In times of poverty, every member of the family had to contribute.

Ancoats has been described as the world’s first industrial suburb. It is now a heritage site. I have walked the streets where my ancestors lived, worked, and died. This is an area where some of the old mills still stand. I have seen a door with a handle positioned low in order for it to be reachable for these young members of the workforce.

A window on childhood. Does this girl look outside, imagining her escape?

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It just doesn’t seem right to think of these two girls as workmates, or colleagues. I have a daughter around the same age as these two.

I like to think that they remained lifelong friends. But we will never know what life held in store for them.

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I am reminded of something an elderly great aunt of mine once said. When thinking of some of the younger generations of the family now starting out on their own, with their own homes in nice gardens, and new cars.

She said “I look at them and think to myself, ‘if you only knew where you have come from, how poor we were and how much of a struggle things were.'”

I feel thankful for my own childhood, and for that of my children. I am still learning where I have come from.

18 thoughts on “Suffer The Children

  1. Jackdaw, I love this post. It is haunting, sad, and beautiful. Did your ancestors actually work at the mills? It is sobering to remember that so few years ago childhood as we know it did not exist.


    • Yes Magpie. Many, many of my ancestors lived in the Ancoats, Collyhurst and Angel Meadow areas of Manchester. Which. In the Industrial Age meant mill work for most of them.


      • I listen to a podcast called “Craftlit”, in which classic books are read out loud and discussed. The book right now is “North and South” by Elizabeth Gaskell. We are not very far into it but a listener wrote in telling about her grandmother who went in the mills at about 10 and never gee another inch. Reminded me of your pictures.


      • I think these types of experiences in that period was universal, except for those lucky enough to be born into the upper classes.


      • One other thing:Elizabeth Gaskell lived at some point in Manchester, so would have witnessed these things first hand. I think Gaskell House may be preserved, maybe, although ?I have not seen it personally.


  2. Wow, that’s so sad. The little girls look just a touch older than my youngest – you just can’t imagine. I am aware that I sound like my mum, but it’s true: kids don’t know how lucky they are (and as their parents, we are lucky, too).


    • That is right. There are a lot of problems today, but I am glad I didn’t live in that era, and I’m thankful for my ancestors struggle, without which I and my children would not be here.


  3. I remember another post you wrote on the awful plight of the people in this area. This is sad and beautiful. Thank you for a reminder that children need to be children.


  4. Reblogged this on City Jackdaw and commented:

    I love these old photographs of these children here, but feel kinda sad for them too. Can’t help but look at them and contrast them with the lives of my own children.


  5. Reblogged this on Dolphin and commented:
    You know what scares me? That we are returning to this. They are already doing this to adults who work for low wages and I may be mistaken, but I believe some idiot in Congress is trying to relax the child labor laws. And don’t think for a second that sweatshops don’t exist in the U.S. They do. And people are starving in the United States, as well. How ’bout instead of promising us jobs that are not coming back, that you give us some land to grow our own food and a cheap home, such as a yurt (there are some well-built ones for 20k)?

    Liked by 1 person

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