Urchins, Sprogs and Guttersnipes: the Facts

Workhouse Museum in Ripon Workhouse Museum & Garden
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  • Workhouse Museum
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Victorian girl

Here are a few facts taken from our museum displays, which tell the tales of not so lucky children in Victorian Ripon…

  1. An Urchin is a young boy or girl, especially poorly or raggedly dressed.
  2. A Sprog is a youngster, child, a baby, from the word ‘sprag’ meaning a slip or cutting from a plant.
  3. Guttersnipe, is a street urchin, a gatherer of refuse from the street gutters.
  4. Children were put into the Workhouse on their own because they were abandoned, orphans, physically or mentally disabled, illegitimate or left by parents unable to feed the child.
  5. Ripon Workhouse appointed a trained teacher to give 3 hours schooling a day.
  6. Regular excursions to Hackfall, Studley and Harrogate were organised.
  7. Innocent children of convicted women were transported with their mothers to Australia.
  8. Girls sent to prison worked long hours in laundry, picking oakum and plaiting straw for hats.  Punishment for misbehaviour, unlike the boys who were whipped, was to be put in a straitjacket or given a diet of bread and water.
  9. Children of the poor were often organised into criminal gangs and taught to steal such as in Fagin’s gang in the Charles Dickens novel, ‘Oliver Twist’.
  10. The worst punishment for children was to be put in the ‘dark cell’. This was a specially built very small cell with no furniture and totally without light.
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