The Life of Infants and Children in Victorian London

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The Life of Infants and Children in Victorian LondonHome Life Victorian homes offered children a large network of various caregivers built in to the family structure. Each married couple had an average of six children, but the average household was considerably larger. Rarely would one find the nuclear family living alone. Only thirty-six per cent of families consisted simply of a set of parents and their children. Extended families were also rare. Only 10 per cent of families had three or more generations under one roof. The average household would more likely be a conglomeration of a nuclear family along with any number of random outsiders. The stragglers could include any combination of lodgers, distant relatives, apprentices and/or servants.

The composition of the home constantly changed: older children married or went off to work, while babies were born and died. Babies and young children were extremely susceptible to illness. In the worst and poorest districts, two out of ten babies died in the first year. One fourth of them would die by age five. Life expectancy varied greatly depending upon the quality of the area in which people lived. In industrial towns, like Liverpool, the average life expectancy was twenty-six years. In a better area, like Okehampton in Devon, it was fifty-seven years. The national average of England and Wales was forty years at mid century. Therefore as a child grew older, he was likely to lose one or more siblings as well as one or both parents.

Children usually enjoyed the benefit of their mothers’ presence on a daily basis. The mother’s place was considered to be in the home. Common thought dictated that a woman should be available at all times to care for her husband and children. She would supervise the staff, servants and/or nannies, if her family could afford them. The idea of a working mother was considered highly improper and thought to result in neglect of husband, children and home. Supposedly, illness or even death might arise in the children. An absent wife would also find an unhappy and strained relationship with her husband. Reporting on Birmingham, in Chadwick’s 1842 Report on Sanitary Conditions, The Committee of Physicians and Surgeons declares that:

The habit of a manufacturing life being once established in a woman, she continues it and leaves her home and children to the care of a neighbor, or of a hired child, whose services cost her probably as much as she obtains by her labor.

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