The Industrial Revolution had a profound impact on the lives of children in Britain, and Thomas Horsfall played an integral role in the response to the industrial revolution in order to protect and educate the children of Manchester and Ancoats. Notions of childhood changed and shifted as certain classes of children became a commodity in the labor market. This page delves into different aspects of children’s lives, their daily activities, how poverty and crime affected them, labor policies affecting children, and how education played a role in their development. Thomas Horsfall had a hand in all of these different facets of children’s lives in industrial Manchester and Ancoats. As a philanthropy for the working classes, Horsfall’s Manchester Art Museum in Ancoats was geared to making art accessible to the people, with a particular emphasis on reaching children. In the museum, there was a mother’s room that was eventually converted to a children’s room, along with evenings of entertainment and production that children attended as well. Horsfall wanted to expose children to nature and art since they were not exposed to it due to where they lived. His art museum was one of the first that school children visited partially because of his work on integrating the arts into school curriculums. Horsfall's motivation for making his museum accessible to children was that he felt they were malleable and their environment played a large role in shaping their lives. In the rest of these pages on children, you will learn of the context in which Horsfall lived, and how children’s experiences and development were shaped through the boom of the Industrial Revolution and in the generations of industrialization and urbanization that followed.
In order to show the importance of children to society, Horsfall advocated for the exposure of art and the love of beauty among the children of Manchester. Because of his Romantic belief that there was “an undeveloped good in all people,” he believed that the love of art and nature had to be “sown and not planted”, and regarded young children as the “most promising seed plots” (Harrison, “Art and Philanthropy,”122). Seeing children as they were in this photograph, unhappy and dirty and without any exposure to art and culture, would in Horsfall’s view, be a detriment to society. The fact that he believed that art and nature were critical in creating a better society and that he regarded children as the “most promising seed plots” shows how he was determined to bring art, beauty, and education to the children of Manchester, and he did so with the opening of the Ancoats Museum. He believed that with art and beauty in their lives, children had the potential to make great contributions to British society that did not only involve the labor they provided. By using art to provide recreation as well as instruction for the children of Manchester, he hoped to instill this love of nature and beauty into the children and advocate for the better treatment of children in Britain.
Horsfall firmly believed that the environment children grew up in, greatly influenced how they would be as adults. By bringing elite culture to the working class poor, he sought to improve their “physical, mental and moral health and strength…” (Horsfall, Improvement of the Dwellings and Surroundings of the People, 6). In this image, a group of young children, including infants, presumably lower class, surround Settlement Workers, attached to the Art Museum in Ancoats, as they gather around a piano. Music was a form of art that could allow children to participate in beauty. Horsfall states, “…if the life of the community is to be raised to a higher level, the power of enjoying and taking part in good music is mentioned...this is one of the necessary conditions of health for the inhabitants of such a town as Manchester…” (Horsfall, Annual Report 1897-98, 26). However appreciation for beauty (e.g. art & nature) must be taught at an early age as they have yet to form "vicious habits" such as drinking.
Only in childhood can “the keenest susceptibility to beauty can be acquired” (Horsfall, The Study of Beauty, 31). Many at the time believed that “knowledge and love of beauty can be attained only by persons of exceptional endowment, that the majority cannot possibly acquire great sensitiveness to beauty” (28). The fact that adults “find it impossible to sing correctly or...perceive any pleasantness in music," was used to suppose that many people were born incapable of gaining love of, and skill in, music or other forms of high art (28). Horsfall believed otherwise claiming, it is a question of early training. If taught well in childhood children could form positive habits. By surrounding children, at a young age, with beauty and a nurturing environment, they could develop a taste for high art and form habits that will stay with them into their adult lives allowing them to improve the poor life they were surrounded by.
In the Ancoats museum, Horsfall put these ideas into practice. He curated a room specifically for the purpose of educating children, specifically those who were a part of the working class, and giving them access to “high art.” The gallery held paintings of nature to expose the city children to images of the natural world that would be described in the stories they would learn about in school.
One method that was used to help the children connect to the art and the material that they were learning was that of illustrated story telling. Objects such as Illuminated manuscripts and illustrated fairytales would be shown to the students as a form of visually interesting text. Similarly, stories, like that of Robin Hood, would be told dramatically in front of paintings that visually represented imagery that was being presented in the book. (Whitehouse)
Horsfall also pushed for students to see plays, such as Shakespearean dramas, and musical performances as a way to deepen their understanding of the arts and educational material. Such performances were very popular and increased the ability for stories to grab the attention of the tired, overworked, and poorly educated masses of working class children.
Beyond the mandating of education as development in the industrial revolution there was the development of a multitude of teaching styles and methods. One of particular interest was that of Thomas Horsfall, who placed an emphasis on exposing children to the arts. One way in which he did this was to encourage the decoration of the classroom with beautiful and informative art pieces. He focused his attention on pieces that depicted nature in a realistic, almost scientific manner. He explained that if a child is to have his mind wander, it is better if his eyes fall on an educational and mentally stimulating painting than to a blank wall where he is likely to allow his mind to drift outside of the classroom.
Along with his involvement with the Museum in Ancoats, Horsfall also spent his life pushing for the accessibility of art beyond the classroom for children across Britain. He did so by participating in the legislative system, specifically involving himself in adoption of the 1902 Education Act, along with multiple other education policies, that localized the education system and expanded the opportunities for education.
Working class children who lived in Manchester during the Industrial Revolution were forced to endure lives devoid of many pleasures and experiences that we commonly associate with childhood. Not only were children plunged into a world of hard labor and exploitation, they had minimal opportunity to explore the capacities of their minds through experiencing nature, art, literature and other luxuries that were at that time only afforded to the wealthy. The city was made up nearly entirely of brick factories and housing complexes, as shown in the image provided, thus creating a city that served to enclose its inhabitants in a man made jungle. Thomas Horsfall, however, was dedicated to ensuring that children of every socioeconomic class were given the opportunity to develop their imaginations, get an education, and learn about things that exist beyond the walls of the city. Horsfall successfully disrupted the visual monotony that the children were subjected to by providing them access to art, music and storytelling through his creation of the Ancoats museum as well as working to incorporate the arts into schools.
Written by Annie Castaneda, Nairi Dulgarian, Maddy Korbel, and Jenny Volanti