Rhyme and Reform

Victorian Working-Class Poets Elizabeth Barrett Brownings "The Cry of the Children"


Strathclyde/Manchester Exhibit


Working-Class Poets and “The Cry of the Children”


For this part of the exhibition, we have selected some poems from our “Piston, Pen & Press” project, which investigates miners, factory workers and railway workers in Scotland and the North of England as readers and writers. Many of these workers wrote about their own childhood experiences in factories and mines, or produced poems about suffering young workers in these industries. Comparing these to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s (EBB) “Cry” lets us consider important questions about the relationship between Northern/Scottish working-class poets and a very well-known, highly educated London-based poet. Questions to consider as you read our selection include:


  1. Do these writers discuss labour in factories and mines differently to EBB?
  2. Do these poems use realism in describing their work. In what ways?
  3. How are children and childhood shown here?
  4. How does the language of these poems, often using Scots or English dialect, differ from the language in “The Cry of the Children”?
  5. What were these poems or these poets trying to achieve, and were their aims the same as EBB’s aim in publishing her poem?


Our research shows that EBB’s political poems, especially “The Cry of the Human” and “The Cry of the Children”, were reprinted in the popular newspaper press, so working-class writers and readers may have known them.  “The Cry of the Children” was reprinted anonymously in the Northern Star on 14 October 1843. This was the leading newspaper of the Chartist movement (a very important movement of the 1830s and 1840s, dedicated to seeking political reform). The reprint shows how EBB’s poem circulated in the radical press and was viewed as supportive of working-class efforts for social and political change. The poem can be viewed by clicking this link.

The materials for this exhibit were provided by the “Piston, Pin & Press: Literary Cultures in the Industrial Workplace from the Factory Acts to the First World War” project. This project was created by the University of Strathclyde, University of Manchester, and the National Railway Museum.

Post created by Kirstie Blair (University of Strathclyde) and Mike Sanders (University of Manchester)