Literature: ‘The Song of the Shirt’ - Victorian Poetry and the Working Poor

Ref: C3532422

This session will be hosted by the WEA and presented by visiting Open University tutor: Tina Fox. Thomas Hood’s poem, ‘The Song of the Shirt’, was published in 1843 in the Christmas edition of Punch magazine. It took up the plight of an underpaid, overworked seamstress and appealed to its readership to be aware of the human cost of their goods. It reflected concerns of the time at the appalling living and working conditions of the poor. The poem was a huge success, was reprinted in other publications and influenced other writers and artists of the time. We will read an extract from the poem, then apply some simple close-reading and analysis techniques. We will also consider the importance of wider context to support our understanding of the poem and will briefly look at other texts and sources, including Dickens and Mayhew. Participants will also learn about the transferable and work-related skills that students of the Arts and Humanities develop, which are highly valued by employers

Course aim

This session, rooted in English Literature, is presented by the WEA in collaboration with the Open University. Like other sessions in the series, it offers a perspective on Arts and Humanities at degree level and its relationship to employment.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • You will need your own personal email address so that you’re able to login to the WEA’s digital learning platform: WEA Canvas. You will need to be able to understand how to follow URL links to pages on the internet. If you want to understand more about Canvas please visit:
  • You will need to be able to follow links to join our WEA live video learning platform: WEA Zoom. If you’d like to understand more about our video learning platform, Zoom please visit: and
  • This course is for a group of around 15 students studying in a live video-learning platform conference and an online digital learning environment platform from the comfort of your own home.
  • This is a live lecture delivered by a subject specialist in an online webinar video learning platform. You will need to be able to access the internet on a device with speakers or earphones. There will be opportunities to take part in discussions and chats. If you’d like to know how to use Zoom please visit:
  • No skills or experience needed

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Understand some of the key ideas involved in the study of History at degree level
  • Understand something of the process of applying for a place on a higher education course and where to find further information about this
  • Understand the range of skills that would be developed in the course of the study of Arts and Humanities at degree level

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas will be used to provide resources or to support lessons, enable assessment, provide learner feedback and for other activities for individuals away from the course. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit:
  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • Following this session, you will have access to a range of online resources and telephone contacts that will be of use in making further enquiries about the study of the Arts and Humanities at degree level.

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • Become involved with the WEA in a range of voluntary work and other activities including campaigning as a WEA member
  • Become involved as a volunteer for a WEA partner or another organisation
  • You could progress to Higher Education courses. Follow link to the PEARL website for information

Download full course information sheet

Literature: ‘The Song of the Shirt’ - Victorian Poetry and the Working Poor


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
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  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2020
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
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