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Victorians: Learning from the Past

To reflect on the past in order to consider our world today

by Kate Fleming

Suitable for Key Stage 2

Aim

To reflect on the past in order to consider our world today. To appreciate that contemporary thinking has been shaped by the people who lived in previous times.

Preparation and materials

  • Three Year 6 children, boys or girls, to rehearse the script for performance.
  • Costumes (optional) and props as necessary. This play script is set in London, but could be changed to fit any locality.

Assembly

  1. Introduce the following scripted drama:

    Scene 1: London, 1833. A cold, dark space where brothers Alfie and Davey, two chimney sweeps, are sleeping. Alfie is six and Davey is nine.

    Davey: Alfie, Alfie, wake up. Mr Ruff wants us there before dawn breaks. (Shakes his brother) We'll have to run all the way to Belgravia at this rate.

    Alfie: My knees hurt, my elbow is still bleeding. Look Davey! It's from when I helped you in that narrow chimney yesterday.

    Davey: Here, look! Rub some salt into the sore bits, that'll harden the skin. You'll soon get used to it.

    (Alfie cries out in pain as the salt goes into his knee) Alfie: I don't want to get used to it. I want to go back to sleep, and I'm hungry.

    Davey: Come on Alfie. If we hurry Mr Ruff might have some of that plum pudding left over for us before we do our first climb. Give me your hand, little brother. Take your scraper, you're going to need that if No. 24 is how I remember it. This could well be your first climb without me Alfie, so don't let me down will you?

    Alfie: I'll try not to, but I'm scared, Davey. It's so dark and the walls are rough and scrape my elbows and knees all the time. Sometimes I'm so frightened I can't breathe.

    Davey: That'll be the fumes, only the fumes. No need to fret about that.

    (Both boys exit)

    Scene 2: Mr Ruff, Master Sweep, is waiting in the drawing room of No. 24 Grosvenor Crescent. He has his watch in his hand. Alfie and Davey run in.

    Mr Ruff: You are late, and lateness is a crime, and crime means punishment. Anyway, as I have twenty chimneys to be swept in Belgravia in the next hour, and twenty more before nine in Knightsbridge, I haven't time to punish you. It will have to wait. Now there's a nine-inch flue in this chimney, Alfie, so as you are the smallest you'll have to go up alone. Time you did a climb without Davey.

    Davey: Oh please Mr Ruff, I don't think he's ready. Let me go up first, or at least let me go up with him. He's only little, and his knees and elbows are bleeding and raw. His breathing was bad this morning, and he is frightened, Sir.

    Mr Ruff: He's been up with you since I bought him, and it's well time he went up on his own. I can't afford to have you both up there, and you are too big now to do nine inches. Up you go, Alfie.

    (Alfie exits. Davey watches him climb from the fireplace)

    Davey: Go on, Alfie, you'll be all right. Keep knocking with your scraper so I know where you are. He's doing well, Mr Ruff. He's not too far away from the flue. Slant your body, Alfie, like I taught you. Bend yourself to fit the flue.

    (Sounds of knocking)

    Mr Ruff: He needs to make haste. Davey, you start on the dining-room chimney. Old misery-guts Grimshaw the housekeeper is waiting, she needs to get breakfast going in there soon for his Lordship.

    Davey: Please let me wait, Mr Ruff, to make sure Alfie is all right. He is my brother and I promised Mother when you bought him that I'd look after him. Alfie! Knock if you're through the nine-incher.

    (Silence)

    Alfie!

    He's trapped in the nine-incher and can't get his breath, Mr Ruff! I'm going after him.

    Mr Ruff: Oh no you're not. I don't want to lose two of you.

    Davey: (desperate shout) ALFIE!

    (End freeze frame as Davey turns to look at Mr Ruff)

  2. Discuss the drama with questions and comments such as: Poor Alfie stuck in the nine-incher. Hopefully Davey can save him. What do you think? What kind of a job were Alfie and Davey doing? Was that a long time ago? How many years ago? Who was Queen of England at that time?

    That time was called the Victorian period. Some children had to do all kinds of work from a really young age. Alfie was six and Davey was nine.

  3. Point out that there were people in Victorian times who thought that it was wrong to make children go up chimneys, down mines, and work in factories. So they worked tirelessly to put a stop to it. They wanted children to go to school, live healthy lives, and enjoy being young. Like you do.

    If we look back, as we have done today, we can see that life is much better for many children in England now than it was in Victorian times. It is important to look back into history and reflect on the past. This helps us to handle the world we live in and not make the same mistakes either now or in the future.

  4. Finish by saying that the children might like to continue the story in their own way, in drama, writing, dance or story-telling.

Time for reflection

History helps us to improve our society and gives us important evidence with which to shape our ideas and attitudes.

Dear God,
Please help us to do what we can for the improvement of our world,
and to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

Amen

Song and music

'Thank you Lord for this fine day' (Junior Praise, 232; Come and Praise, 32)
'Thank you for every new good morning' (Junior Praise, 230)

Curriculum links

English, History, PSHE

Publication date: November 2000   (Vol.2 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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