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It's a hard knock life: Victorian childhood

Key facts

  • Suitable for: Key Stage 2
  • Subjects: English, History
  • Session type: Museum led
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Class size (maximum): 30
  • Venue: Museum of Liverpool
  • Free


This role play session explores Victorian Liverpool's court and merchant housing to compare the very different experiences.  Discover what life was like for Liverpool's child workers through costumes, props and handling objects. 

This session can be booked Monday to Friday at 10.15am, 11.30am and 1.15pm.

Further details

children dressed in Victorian costume

This session begins with visiting our full scale reconstruction of Liverpool court housing in 1870. This court is in the Scotland Road area, one of the most overcrowded and neglected parts of Victorian Liverpool. Pupils discover who lived here and what their lives were like.  Bathing, washing clothing, privies and ashpits are all explored.  The experiences of those living in cellars, which were the worst form of dwelling, are also investigated.

The study of George Melly, a Liverpool merchant and philanthropist is explored and the very different experiences of the wealthy and those living in court housing and cellars contrasted through comparing furnishings, decoration, cleanliness and size.

The work of Victorian child labourers is then explored with character bags to represent real children who lived in Liverpool including John Johnson a rope maker.  Pupils use clues to identify a real or replica object that would have been used in their character’s job and create a short costumed role play of the most important aspects of their character’s story.  Pupils are asked to consider who had the best and worst job and which was the most dangerous?

Curriculum links

Key Stage 2 - History

  • a local history study.
  • a study of an aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils’ chronological knowledge beyond 1066.

Key Stage 2 - English Spoken Language

  • listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers.
  • ask relevant questions to extend their understanding and knowledge.
  • articulate and justify answers, arguments and opinions.
  • give well-structured descriptions, explanations and narratives for different purposes, including for expressing feelings.
  • participate in discussions, presentations, performances, role play, improvisations and debates.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

  • understand  the challenges of Victorian Liverpool’s court residents.
  • recognise the close physical proximity that Liverpool’s poor and wealthy lived in relation to one another.
  • recognise that most poor children had to work to help their families earn enough money to live.
  • understand that most child labourers worked long hours, for little pay.


  • use historical evidence and objects to communicate a child’s experience of work in Victorian Liverpool.


  • grasp the contrasting experiences of court housing residents and merchants in Victorian Liverpool.
  • appreciate the type of work undertaken by child labourers and the associated dangers.


  • appreciate the harshness and difficulties experienced by some people in the past and empathise.
  • consider their views on child labour.
  • appreciate that the Museum of Liverpool is an enjoyable place to visit.