Child rearing 2: The North of England

In the north a child was given his first hammer at the age of three. Richer parents might also provide him with materials for breaking, say a lump of coal or a cat, but most had to send their young ones immediately out into the tightly packed streets in search of prey.

If the child was brought back by the local policemen, who traditionally left him with broken limbs and a gruff but friendly admonition, then he was allowed to remain a part of the family, otherwise he was sent down the local mine where he was used as a prop in one of the shafts.

At the age of 8 the child would leave school and arrive home to find his parents sitting at the kitchen table with a parcel wrapped in fresh cod skin, and told: "There's a coat and a new pair of boots: nah fuck off out and mek summats o theesen" Tears were banned by Municipal employment regulations, though the mother was occasionally allowed to throw herself from the factory roof in despair, if local unemployment was below 73%.

In the schools most of the syllabus was devoted to servility and hammer sharpening: the two skills required of the working class by the enlightened governments of the period. There were occasional teachers who, inspired by the writings of Matthew Arnold or Jesus Christ, attempted to teach the children language or counting, but such demagogues were swiftly hung or placed in asylums for the criminally insane.

Smoking was mandatory from the first years of school, the cigarettes being made up of equal parts tobacco, sulphur and cardboard. Any child who succeeded in coughing up his own skeleton before leaving the education system and the ripe old age of 7 could expect to be honoured with a plaque carved from lard and then placed on top of his tiny coffin, for as the well known proverb has it: “It’s not the coffin that carries you off, but the coffin they carry you off in. If, as sometimes happened, the child lived beyond school age he proudly entered the world of gainful employment