Whitechapel Way Children In The Church Schools

For today’s blog we put ourselves in the able hands of writer for The Graphic, who headed out to the East End of London, and recorded the lives of the children who were being taught in the Church Schools of Brick Lane and Osborn Street.



Osborne Street and Brick Lane are eastern thoroughfares whose attractions to the student of human nature are not to be exhausted in one morning. Life is full of variety therein, and the changes are manifold. There is a different scene, one might say, for every hour of the day and night.

Brick Lane is a poor-enough neighbourhood in itself it has undergone less alteration during the last half century than Osborne Street, which is at the Whitechapel end of Brick Lane, and the greater portion of which was called Brick Lane also, at one time, if our memory serve us correctly.

A view along Osborn Street.
Osborn Street, Whitechapel.


Brick Lane is very much as it was in old days, and the people in the streets and courts which branch from it right and left appear to be fighting just as hard a battle to live.

There are certainly not so many people in tattered raiment as of yore, and men and women and children do not patter up and down the streets bare-footed, as we can remember them in the “forties and fifties,” when times were bad, and “slumming” had not come into fashion, and White chapel was not quite as safe for the explorer as it is at the present time.


But life is still a “horrid grind” as Mr. Mantalini says and Saturday night in Brick Lane when everybody is chaffering in the cheapest market is a life study in its sordid, painful way.

Many of the Brick Lane shopkeepers are extremely well-to-do, however prices are low, and the profits small, but the returns of an over the counter trade are large and there is no credit given.

A baker in Brick Lane has been known to sell his sixty or seventy sacks of flour a week, and as the average is some ninety-two four pound loaves to the sack, here is an output of upwards of twenty thousand pounds of bread passing weekly over the counter of a single shop in this over-populated neighbourhood.


The children appear to be the happiest and lightest hearted in Brick Lane and Osborne Street, thanks in a very great degree to the London School Board and the Church Schools in the vicinity.

They are looked after pretty vigilantly Spitalfields way, but there is no reluctance to go to school amongst the girls and boys. The girls too are, in many instances, neatly dressed and well shod. They evince considerable intelligence in their studies.


Here is an extract from an East-end school board girl’s essay on a late Strike; it is wandering and quaint and crude, but shows powers of observation. It is quoted by Miss Kate Dodd in a clever article on “The Board School Girl” in Home Chimes.

“The dock labourers struck because they wanted sixpence an hour and work less hours. These poor men have to keep a wife and a large family with a sixpence they earn. How can a man keep his wife and family with sixpence? Why, that is not enough to buy bread

It is a very pitiful scene to see the poor half-starved children crying for bread.

Some good people give dinners free of charge. Nice wholesome dinners, with soup, which is easier of digestion than pork or bacon, which takes five and a-half hours.

About a fortnight ago the tailors began to strike. They struck because they wanted more money and only wanted from eight to eight, but the master tailors will not give in.

Last week two thousand people marched through Trafalgar Square with banners in front of them, singing in a most indecent manner.

Houses which have once been happy are now dull and full of misery.

The man who first began the strike for the tailors is by the name of Louis Lyons. He is a Socialist. Several people have been arrested for fighting.

Even a foreigner that only came from Poland a few days, says to the Governors of the master tailors, “Do you want a presser or a baister? I am your man, from eight to eight mind.”

It is disgraceful, but they hears others say it and they takes the advantage.

This is the greatest strike of this century, it will be all wrote in our histories when I am an old woman and our children will have to learn it. Let us earnestly hope the strike will soon be over for the sake of the women and children.”

This girl’s father was an East End tailor, and the juvenile writer had evidently acquired a little knowledge of the situation as it existed at that time in Whitechapel.


The Church schools in Osborne Street receive a great number of children within their gates also. The children are well-housed and well-looked after, and are possibly not quite so heterogeneous a community as at the crowded Board Schools a little further away.

It is an impressive scene to witness the girls at prayers before being dismissed for the day, and M. Paul Renouard in our illustration has very realistically produced the incident.


School over, and Osborne Street is alive with bright-faced, keen-eyed, intelligent children of all ages, from the toddling little waif, who has hardly a home to go to, and who is very likely in charge of some one not much older than herself, to the prim, even smartly-dressed child up in the higher standards, and not a little proud of the knowledge acquired.

Cold as the day is a few stop to patronise the drinking-fountain.

And here circle round the same eager, observant atoms of humanity, with not much to do, and with time to spare to watch carefully any operations which may be going on, and are a little out of the common in Osborne Street.


A man with a barrow heaped high with cheap specimens of crockery is particularly interested; he stops, leaves his barrow, and edges his way to M. Renouard’s elbow to cast a critical eye over his work.

The man has a rough sense of humour in him a good-tempered kind of impertinence which one has to put up with, and to smile at Whitechapel way, if anxious to carry on proceedings amicably all round.

He surveys the group across the way through the handle of an enormous ewer, eye-glass fashion, as one may term it, and shouts out his mock directions in stentorian tones from our side of the pavement:-

“Now, Polly, keep your mug straight, there’s a good girl. Here, Sally, look as nice as you can, will yer. We’re getting you to-rights – fine! We shall put you all in Comic Cuts next Saturday.”