A Victorian Day at Kent Life

by Karen

Currently, in our home education, we are learning about the Victorians, looking at books, videos and making a Victorian lapbook.  Friday as part of our project, we took a fantastic trip to the wonderful Kent Life Museum, to take part in several Victorian workshops, with a number of other home ed families, which was kindly arranged by our home ed friend, Jenny, at Edspire.

Olivia was very excited about this trip, we bought a Victorian school girls costume for the occasion, which looked great. Many of the children got dressed up for the day, which made it all the more fun.

There were seven workshops, each lasting around 20 minutes, given by amazingly dressed and knowledgeable members of staff, in different rooms and buildings around the farm. The children also had time between workshops to play in the lovely outdoor parks, visit the animals and enjoy food from the tearoom or cafe.

Workshop 1: Victorian Shopping

Grocer Frank Wiffen

A smartly dressed grocer, Frank Wiffen, welcomed us to the room, explaining that he was looking for a new delivery boy. Two children were selected to be interviewed for the job, he asked them if they could get up early every day, were strong and if they were ill often. He then got them to pull his cart around to see if they were strong enough. The children got the job and were informed they were to get up early 6 days a week and walk the cart around the streets in all weathers to sell his food.

Frank explained how there were no supermarkets, but there were different stall holders and small shops such as greengrocers, butchers, dairy, bakers and grocers (selling dry food). Frank told the children how food would have been put into paper bags and one customer would have been served at a time. Most food would have only been handled by the shopkeeper and weighted out in pounds and ounces. There was no security in the shops but as the shopkeeper handled the food and customers queued they kept an eye to make sure no one was stealing.

Frank explained how money was different, that Victorians used Pounds, Shillings and Pence.  There were 240 pennies in a pound, 12 pennies in a shilling. That they had other coins such as farthings, ha’penny, thruppence and crown.

Frank explained how poor people would buy veg scraps, gruel and bread made with flour and sawdust.

Workshop 2: Victorian School

Victorian school teacher Miss Fisher

A stern looking, well-dressed lady came outside and rang the school bell, she introduced herself as Miss Fisher and asked the children to line up, boys in one line and girls in the other.  She explained that the children must refer to her as Miss Fisher, the boys were to sit one side of the class and girls sit the other, there was to be no talking and the children were to stand up when answering a question. The children then had to walk into the classroom and stand at their desk until she had taken their name.

Once sat Miss Fisher told them that if a child was naughty they would be put in the corner with a dunces hat on and if a child continued to be disobedient they would be asked to bend over a desk and be given the cane to the bottom and if they continued, they would get the cane to the hand.

Miss Fisher then proceeded to tell them they would be doing the 3 Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic. She explained and showed them what victorian writing looked liked and that it was curly and joined up. They then had to recite the alphabet together as a class.

Victorian school practicing writing

Miss Fisher then asked them to get their slats out of their desks for writing practice.  She explained how Victorian children wrote on slats until their writing was neat and then they would get ink and pen and paper. The children were then asked to write their names joined up and what they liked about Victorian school. Miss Fisher then walked around inspecting their writing and telling them to do it again if it was not neat enough.

Victorian school, reciting 5 times table

Next was arithmetic, Miss Fisher asked the group to recite the 5 times table. She showed them an abacus and explained how it worked.

She then told the children that in Victorian times boys might have learnt other subjects such as science, further maths, bookkeeping, Latin and Greek. Whereas Girls, who would not go to university, might learn sewing and needle crafts and what it’s like to run a house as it was expected that they would just run a house when older. If the girls family were rich they might have learnt French or to be a lady.

Workshop 3: Children and Work

A well-dressed gentleman welcomed us. He was a factory owner. He explained how life and jobs were different in Victorian times. He explained how the Industrial Revolution was happening, that factories were now being built and factory owners were rich. He explained how before the industrial revolution most jobs would have been in the country working on farms, growing grain and how the Victorians would swap grain for other produce such as clothes or wool. Due to the industrial revolution machines were being made and taking jobs from people in the country, so more people were living in towns and cities and working in factories earning money.

He explained that coal had been found and was easy to dig for, and this meant great steam engines could run machinery. Coal lasts longer than wood, burnt hotter, could be mined easily and burns even if it’s wet.

He explained how children as young as 4/5 would work in factories as they were small and could get in small gaps, they would get hurt but had to work as they needed the money so their families could buy food.

He explained that children did other jobs such as being chimney sweeps but how it was not a nice job as they could get stuck, the soot would cause poor breathing and there was a risk they could fall down and badly injure themselves.

Children would work in the mines, they would have to collect the coal the miners were digging for, they would have to grab any loose coal in between the swings of the pickaxe. This was an extremely dangerous job, as the child could get badly hit by the pickaxe and would breathe in a lot of soot damaging the lungs. The children would also start before the sun came up and finish after the sun had gone down so would see no sunlight and therefore get rickets and die.

Workshop 4: Rag Rug Making

The children met a lady who explained that her brother James Brown had invented a new tool called the bodger to help make rag rugs and wanted help testing the tool.

She explained how the poor would use old material, rags, to make rugs to help keep their houses warm. They would use rags as they were free.  

She showed the children how to use the bodger, by folding some hessian in half, pushing the bodger through both pieces of hessian near the top of the fold, squeezing the handle to open some little jaws, in the jaws you needed to place your piece of rag, close the jaws onto the rag and pull through to the middle of the rag so a piece was poking out both sides the hole.  This was then to be repeated over and over again. All the children got to have a go and make their own small rug.

The children were then asked to give possible ideas to improve the bodger.  One suggestion given was to make the bodger thinner so the hole it created was not so big.

Workshop 5: Meet Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale

A wonderfully dressed Florence Nightingale welcomed us to the session. She introduced herself and explained how some people knew her as the Lady of the lamp.  She explained how she always wanted to be a nurse as hospitals were dirty and she wanted to make them cleaner. She explained that she was lucky as she came from a wealthy family and was able to pay to go to Germany to study for 3 months to be a nurse.

Bandage practice

Florence explained how the Crimean War between Britain, France and Turkey was taking place and that there were reports that the conditions in hospitals were so bad that the men were dying.  She took 13 nurses to Turkey to help.  At first, doctors told them to go away but Florence did not give up and eventually, the doctors let them help. How she was disgusted by the conditions, the floors were dirty covered in blood and wee, rats everywhere, there were no toilets and the sick were being given bad bread to eat. She explained how she and the nurses got to work cleaning everything and bought fresh food for the sick. They changed dressings and cleaned injuries and made conditions much better. Florence made the doctors realise cleanliness was important.

Florence was an exceptional nurse with a lovely bedside manner. She was known by many as the lady of the lamp as there was no electricity so she would use a lamp to sit by patients bedsides, cleaning cuts, changing bandages, reading to them and writing letters for them to send home.

Florence showed them how to bandage a hand and wrist, then gave the children bandages and they had a go at bandaging each other’s arms.

Workshop 6: Victorian House

We meet two lovely members of staff by the Victorian house, split into two groups and were taken around different rooms.

To start with we went into a parlour, where we looked at the great big fireplace, the children were told how these would heat the whole house and Victorians would generally have a fire from September to June, only putting it out once or twice to get the chimney cleaned. We were shown a beautiful tea set, embroidered blanket and wonderful windup clock.

Original Victorian rag rug

Next, we went upstairs to the master bedroom, a small room with a 4 poster bed with Victorian clothes laid out. It was explained that the parents and maybe a baby in a cot would sleep in this room. We looked at the lovely rag rugs on the floor and it was explained how they would maybe only bath once a week and would wash using the jug and bowl on the desk.

We then went into the children room, there was one bed and it was explained that up-to ten children would sleep in this room laying across the bed.  The children were told how hot coal would be put into a pan and then the pan placed in the bed to help warm it.  The children saw bed dress that both boys and girls would wear up to the age of 6.

Washing machine

Then we went downstairs where we saw how butter would have been made and that the washing would have been done. How a fire would have been put below the brick washing hole, which would have warmed the water.  They were shown wooden pegs that would have been used to hold the washing.

Then they were taken into the scullery to see where the main fire for the house would have been. Where the toilet was, how it was a wooden box with a hole in, and how after every visit you would cover it with soil and at the end of the week someone would come and empty it. 

The children were then taken into the music room where there was a piano. They were shown a picture of the Victorian house we were standing in, in its original location many years ago.

Workshop 7: Meet the Scullery Maid

Scullery Maid

The children were welcomed by a scullery maid. She explained how she was a servant in a big house. That there would have been lots of servants of different levels and paid different amounts living downstairs in a big house. She asked children one by one to come up and be a different type of servant within the big house,  a steward, a footman, a butler, a housekeeper, a housemaid, a valet, a ladies maid, a cook and a scullery maid.

She explained how as a scullery maid she was left all the worst jobs like cleaning floors, scaling fish, killing the chicken, plucking and gutting it and emptying chamber pots, which were pots used in the night as toilets and left under the bed to be emptied in the morning.

She showed the children how she would do the washing, taking them through the process of washing with cold water and scrubbing board, rinsing in warm water with a dolly, drying and pressing clothes using a mangle and ironing them with a metal iron that would be put in the fire to heat it.

The children then got to have a go at each of the different stages of doing the washing and also got to smell Victorian soap.

Rest of the farm

We were also able to explore and play in the rest of the farm.  The children played in the large outdoor park, the small outdoor park with ride-on tractors, indoor play barn and saw lots of different farm animals.

Guinea Pig cuddles

Olivia and I visited cuddle corner were she got to hold a guinea pig and a rabbit and stroke a chicken.  We then went out to the farmyard where we stroked goats, and pigs, saw various piglets, chickens, rabbits and ferrets.

Olivia also received Kent Childrens University credits for attending the fantastic workshops.


The children loved all the workshops staying focused and engaged throughout. The staff were amazing, very knowledgeable, patient and great actors. I think the children and parents got lots from this wonderful day.

I would highly recommend a trip to this wonderful farm and museum as there is so much to see and do. 

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