Victorian childhood: rags and riches

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 workshop can be booked at 10.15am, 11.30am and 1.15pm, 10-12 October 2023, 5-7 March 2024 and 11-13 June 2024.

Workshop details

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 will dress as Victorian children and 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 rope makers, chimney sweeps, domesetic servants and more. Pupils use real or replica objects which would have been used in their character’s job and consider who had the best and worst job, and which was the most dangerous.

Practical information for your visit

Visiting the Museum of Liverpool - information for groups (pdf)

Image © Dave Jones

Curriculum links

Key Stage 2 - History

In this session pupils will-

  • continue to develop a chronologically secure knowledge and understanding of British and local history
  • note connections, contrasts and trends over time and develop the appropriate use of historical terms.
  • address historically valid questions about change, cause, similarity and difference, and significance.
  • construct informed responses that involve thoughtful selection and organisation of relevant historical information.
  • understand how our knowledge of the past is constructed from a range of sources.

Key Stage 2 - English Spoken Language

In this session pupils will-

  • 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.

Key Stage 2 - Fundamental British Values


  • Pupils take part in discussion and debate.
  • Pupils learn that the campaigns of reformers have resulted in changes in the law.
  • Pupils work collaboratively to present their information and findings.

Individual liberty

  • Pupils are encouraged to voice opinions appropriately and listen to others.
  • Pupils develop their confidence and self-esteem in presenting their characters.

Rule of law

  • Pupils learn that laws governing child labour and education change over time.
  • Pupils understand the impact of laws on the lives of children in the past and present.

Tolerance and mutual respect

  • Pupils develop empathy with children in the past through role play that is based on real experiences.
  • Pupils are encouraged to reflect on the feelings and opinions of others, considering how opinions and attitudes change over time.

Learning outcomes 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Develop an awareness of some of the daily domestic challenges that the poor faced in Victorian Liverpool.
  • Understand the contrast of experiences between Liverpool’s court residents and merchants.
  • Recognise the close physical proximity that Liverpool’s poor and wealthy lived in relation to one another.
  • Develop an understanding of philanthropists in Victorian society.
  • Recognise that most poor children had to work to help their families earn enough money to live.
  • Understand the type of work undertaken by child labourers and associated hazards.
  • Begin to understand Liverpool’s experience in the context of British social history.
  • Understand that many child labourers worked long hours, for little pay.

Attitudes and values

  • Consider their views on child labour.
  • Understand that social class affected the life experiences of children and adults in Victorian Liverpool.
  • Be encouraged to empathise with the experiences of Liverpool’s poor, court dwellers and child labourers.

Creativity, inspiration and enjoyment

  • Be surprised by the extent of Liverpool’s court housing and the conditions that prevailed within these.
  • Enjoy the retelling of life in 1870s Liverpool as a visitor to the court, merchant’s house and as a child labourer.
  • Feel inspired through role play and hands on activities to experience aspects of life in Victorian Liverpool.

Activity, behaviour and progression

  • Engage with the experience of life as a child in Victorian Liverpool and choose to undertake further research in the topic.
  • Consider the life stories of children in Victorian Liverpool in comparison with their own experiences.

Skills development

  • Ask appropriate questions of a role player in character.
  • Use historical evidence and objects to communicate a child’s experience of work in Victorian Liverpool.
  • Demonstrate knowledge and awareness of what life was like for Victorian children in Liverpool.