"The Children of the Poor" traces the development of ideas of childhood in England over 300 years, from the 17th to the 20th century, and explores the ways in which an ideal of childhood as protected and prolonged came to the thought desirable for all children. In the 17th and 18th centuries the children of the poor were expected to work, and to be inured to it from an early age. It was only when the cruelties inflicted on the climbing boys and factory children were exposed during the Industrial Revolution, that people first began to think that all children, rich and poor, should have common rights. Far from being celebrated, child labour began to be described as "slavery", and children's rights were sketched out. The idleness of children, however, continued to be feared, and children living on the streets were depicted as "savages" who threatened the values of civilization. Yet the "child" came to be seen beneath the rags, and late-Victorian philanthropists sought to rescue the "waifs and strays" for a true childhood. The State supported these efforts; seeing the children of the poor as the key to the future, it embarked on a package of reforms designed to improve their mental, moral and physical well-being. Hugh Cunningham argues that this major change in the conception of childhood has until now been known to us only in the form of a story in which Lord Shaftesbury rescued both children and nation from the hell of the Industrial Revolution. In unravelling the construction of this story, the author provides a fascinating history of the emergence of the idea that all children are entitled to a childhood.