3rd Prize (12-15 yrs) Story 2021 Competition

The Hidden Brutality of Our ‘Progressing’ World.


Sophie Orledge

St Bede’s R.C. High School, Ormskirk.

What on the BLT19.co.uk website inspired you?

On the BLT19 website I read a story about child labour which inspired me to write this story about a mother of three children and how they all worked. Although fictional it is still an educational story, as it shows the brutality of the working world. It also questions the ethics of work, in a similar way to Charles Dickens’ story ‘A Christmas Carol.’  

“GONE” British Workwoman issue 325, available through BLT19 digitisation of the British Workwoman on Metabotnik

I couldn’t breathe. The world paused around me. Nothing else mattered. Tears began to slowly trickle down my face, as my legs collapsed from underneath me, and I fell into the old, uncomfortable chair. First Eddie, then Agatha, then Archie, now John.  Eddie, my oldest son, was always mischievous. He got himself into all sorts of trouble until his father, John, decided it was enough. He took our son with him to work – down at the mines – to try and get him a job. They refused and said they had enough workers. Then he tried to run off and join a sea captain at work, not succeeding; they wanted the ‘good lads.’

Too many misbehaving boys were sent off by their families to become cabin boys. Finally, despite my implores, he found himself a job at the mills. We all knew how dangerous it was, but now that we’d convinced him to work for an honest life, he wouldn’t give it up. Away he went, looking too cheerful for my liking –   “I’ll be careful!” he said. “I’ll watch out!” he said. All along not knowing the terrible accident that was to come. After only three weeks of work, he lost an eye crawling under the machinery. We never saw him again– they told us he didn’t make it. Since he hasn’t been around, I almost miss him being brought home by the shop owners and neighbours. Often dragged by the ear, because he’d gotten himself into some sort of trouble again. 

Agatha, the middle child and my only daughter, was so precious to me. After what happened to Eddie, I was so upset. Then I was sent to the workhouse, after losing my job as a maid for a rich family (I grew weak from the back-breaking, tiring, dreadful work and couldn’t toil anymore). At this time Archie was only young, so he stayed with John, my husband. Agatha was only fourteen but very responsible; she wanted to help earn the food. She had decided to become a servant for the family I used to work for. She works intensely, day in day out, caring for their children. I was so worried that she would grow weak, like me, from the work, but luckily, she was young and fit. She writes to me, short letters but rarely; she often tries to join the children’s reading and writing lessons if she doesn’t have too much work. Poor Agatha hardly has enough time to eat or sleep, let alone write to me. 

My youngest child and second son was Archie, who was so small and weak for his age we thought he might not make it through his early years. This made me even more upset to be in the workhouse and not with him and John. John told me he finally had found something for Archie to do – however my smile dropped when he said our poor little Archie was to become a ‘climbing boy.’ I knew there was nothing I could do, and my protests couldn’t change the harsh ways of the world. I saw Archie one day when he was allowed to come and visit. The fact dawned on me that he hadn’t changed in the slightest. I thought he would’ve grown slightly, but he was still so small and skinny, coughing constantly because of the soot in his weak lungs. It scared me seeing him like this, it was just how he used to look when we thought he wouldn’t make it. We used to save extra food for him, to nurture him back into health, and now, he was already so badly treated, so soon after starting work,.

When I found out Archie had been  given gin every morning to prevent him growing I was outraged, I shouted until I lost my breath and spluttered into coughs. It wasn’t too long until the soot and ash became too much for his lungs, and he couldn’t breathe. I was so upset to see what work had done to him, yet equally thankful I was able to see him one last time before it happened.  I’m so weak nowadays I hardly do anything anymore. Whereas I used to be upset to be stuck in the workhouse all day every day, now that I’m weaker I don’t mind it as much. I often sit in the lonely hours and wish all my children were still here, and think about the amazing days when they were young and we were all together.

Then one day, I received the news. The horrible news, that something had happened to John! He was all I had left, until that day when he was working in the mines and the roof caved in on him. The brutal world had taken its complete toll on me; I had little left after all the accidents.  I couldn’t breathe. The world paused around me. Nothing else mattered. Tears began to slowly trickle down my face, as my legs collapsed from underneath me, and I fell into that old, uncomfortable chair. First Eddie, then Agatha, then Archie, now John.

 It’s hard to get up in the morning knowing my family are not here anymore. I have lots of time to sit and think, turning questions over repeatedly in my head. It’s a big price to pay for an industrialised country. So is work about money, profit and gain, or is work to improve the conditions for our country, for the poor? Instead of making the rich richer we should be helping the poor, and all advance forward together. Is work solely economic or also social? The country isn’t developing fairly, one half are becoming richer, the other are becoming poorer.