This year, THE DICKENS PROJECT invites residents to participate in a new way: become an urchin in Dickens' London!
Charles Dickens, ever a champion of children, wrote stories about those who were poor and unprotected, left in the hands of the manipulative and cruel. His child characters are often triumphant, finding ways to build lives of purpose and sometimes even happiness in a difficult time.
Enjoy this story, created at Urchins in Dickens' London just this week.
Kit Becomes an Urchin
By Aoife Lorefield
Kit shivered in the fog. Another hungry morning. She’d slept, sort of, in the empty wagon after supping on a badly bruised apple and a bit of bread she’d grabbed before a dog could. Food all around her and she hadn’t a farthing for it, nor anything else.
Sad thing was, she’d always wanted to see London.
Her brother George, the one who’d gone to sea, came home once with stories about throngs of people, shops full of fancy goods, and ships with masts taller than trees. She’d dreamt of it all in the long nights and longed for that life.
Now Mum and Dad were gone. Her and Henry had been left to the parish and after six months of that, she’d thought she’d rather die. She’d run to London and maybe she would die, here. If she couldn’t find food or a place to stay or something, anyway.
Sounds of laughter made her shrink back against the wagon. It was far too early for market folk and she was certain she didn’t want thieves to find her. She crawled under the wagon and peered through the thick fog.
The laughter came again, closer this time. It sounded like kids. What could they be doing?
The small figures took shape in the fog. A tiny red-haired girl, her thin arms blue with cold, holding a basket with some green stuff in it. A boy, also a carrot top and almost as thin, in a green cap pulled low over his forehead. A blonde boy in a top hat. That looked ace, that did. Wonder where he got that one. A tiny little girl in a red hat.
Kit watched as the children strolled, skipped, and danced through the market stalls. This was not the fancy market where the toffs went, not this one. This was where the mums from Camden Town came for a bit of meat and greens, or the scriveners and clerks scrounged for the coins to pay for another used book, or cabbies might stop for a cup of hot soup.
One of the boys picked up three books and juggled them, making the youngest laugh.
“Put ‘em back, Jo,” an older girl said sternly. “We can’t sell them so there’s no point, eh?”
The boy Jo shrugged but did as she said.
Instead he started juggling apples from the basket right next to her wagon. The youngest gathered around him like they’d seen this before, and it seems they had. Every few passes, he’d toss an apple to one child, who’s catch and bite into it, smiling.
Kit was so entranced, she didn’t notice the other boy until it was too late. There he was, crouched down in front of her wagon, looking right at her.
“Coooo, mates,” he called out. “Lookee what I found.”
He reached in to grab her arm and she shrank back, afraid. The older girl, the one who’d told Jo to put the books back, grabbed Jo’s shoulder and pulled him back.
“You’re scaring her, Jo,” she said, her voice stern again. “Stop it or I’ll box your ears.”
She grabbed his ear and twisted it as she spoke and he howled.
“I wasn’t doin’ anyfing!” he said.
Jo ran off and the girl crouched down instead.
“Look here,” she said, “we’re safe, mostly, and you look all alone. Come out now, let me see you.”
There didn’t seem much choice. She couldn’t stay as she was much longer. Kit slid across the frozen ground, out from under the wagon, and stood up.
“Are you thieves, then?” she asked the girl, trying to sound casual about the question, like she knew all about thieves and London and everything.
The girl looked around the market at the children combing through the stalls and smiled.
“Maybe sometimes,” she said. “We’re the ones the fine ladies and gents call urchins, don’t you know. The kids no one cares about.”
Kit nodded, her eyes wide. In her life, right now, that’s what she was. A kid no one cared about.
The girl put a hand on her shoulder, this time kindly.
“You better come along with us,” she said. “We watch out for each other. We know places to find food and safe places to stay and a few ways to get by.”
The girl turned and started to walk away. The kids were at the far end of the market now, disappearing into the fog.
The girl turned back and waved. “Come along!” she said.
So Kit did. She guessed she was a urchin now. Time to find out how that worked, and whether she could get by too in the big dirty city that was London.
What was it like to be a child in Victoria's England? Become an urchin and find out!
The Urchins in Dickens' London is a game that combines elements of the SL hunt, free form (and optional) role play, and an invitation to create (and share) your story.
Begin by getting a copy of the Urchins hud, available at the Dickens Project landing point. Inside the package, you'll find instructions on how to get started.
You can also find more on the special Urchins Webpages on the Seanchai Library Website. THE DICKENS PROJECT, produced by Seanchai Library, is open on LEA Region 7 through December 30th. with plenty of events, stories, things to explore and engage. Information on all features are available at the landing point.