Hidden Stories, Slavery and Barnsley

Life as a Vagrant - Peggy Airey

Stereotypes and Discrimination

The images here are very different views of being homeless. In the project we concentrated on Peggy Airey however this image could be used in comparison with the image of the beggar girls by Joseph Cott, a sentimental image of living on the streets that gives a romantic view of life. Then why not find current images and compare them? Images often tell you more about the people painting or taking the picture than the person you see!

Peggy Airey's story

Margarett Maggott known to all as 'Peggy Airey' was a familiar face on the streets of Barnsley in the 19th Century. Although there is little information about her early life, Peggy was a noted figure in the town for many years before her death in 1848. She was a short, stiff woman who invariably wore a red cloak and an old print bonnet and always carried a walking stick. She would walk the streets of Barnsley eyes fixed on the gutter to see what she could find, and was frequently found picking up pieces of coal and sticks for fuel. It is said that no-one knew the way to the doors of Barnsley’s well-to-dos better than Peggy, and she always told the servant girl’s fortune before she left. She was known to the most respectable families in the town and on market days was a conspicuous figure on Market Hill and Church Street. It was her custom to visit these people to wish them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and some believed that good or bad luck in the New Year depended on Peggy’s seasonal visits. Unfortunately, during her latter days she was much tormented by the lads of the town, whose favourite occupation was to cross in front of her as she walked. This invariably caused her to halt and remonstrate with them in no uncertain


Source: Barnsley Chronicle

Discussion and activity ideas:

  • Write down some words to describe Peggy Airey.
  • How do you think she came to live her life in the way described?
  • What would you say to the young men of Barnsley that tormented her?
  • How do you think Peggy Airey felt about her life and the way she was treated?
  • What would you say to her?

See where Market Hill is in Barnsley.»

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