The Class Divide In History

a day in history 3

toffs and toughs 

The Toffs And The Toughs

This pic taken July 1937 by Jimmy Sime called the ‘Toffs and Toughs’ came to symbolize the difference in the class divide in pre-war Britain.

It serves as a fascinating insight to our predecessors in the last century. It was taken outside Lord’s cricket ground during an Eton V Harrow match.

(For our international readers, Eton and Harrow are two of the poshest and most expensive private schools in the UK. Our current London mayor and prime minster and quite a few of his cabinet went to Eton.)  The two ‘toffs’ Peter Wagner and Thomas Dyson were from Harrow and were waiting after the match to be picked up by Wagner’s father for a weekend in Surrey.

The other three boys were George Salmon, Jack Catlin, and George Young, 13-year-old pupils at the local Church of England primary school. They had been to the dentist that morning and then decided to skip school and hang around instead outside Lord’s, where the Eton v Harrow match offered money-making opportunities to any boy willing to open taxi doors and carry bags, or to return seat cushions to their hirers and claim the threepenny deposit.

What Happened To The Boys:

Thomas Dyson the ‘toff’ looking toward the camera had a sad end. He was traveling to meet his parents in India for the summer holidays and developed diptheria. He died in India aged 16 in 1938.

Peter Wagner joined the family stockbroking firm, got married, had three daughters and was declared mentally unstable in the 1970’s and died in hospital aged 60 in the 1980’s.

George Young and George Salmon were interviewed in 1988. By this time they were married. Young had four sons in the window cleaning business like their father. Salmon died in 2000.

Jack Catlin, the third ‘tough’ refused to be interviewed for the catch-up article but had been widowed and remarried and was living in Weymouth by 2010.



Clearly the appetite for ‘reality shows’ giving us a glimpse of the daily goings on of the non-famous is not a new thing.

Do you think their lives from this era might be more entertaining to watch than the reality show stars today?


49 thoughts on “The Class Divide In History

  1. I don’t think these lives are any more interesting than modem ones. There are many similarities in a Western civilisation where 1% of the population own 99% of the wealth.

    Thanks for sharing a really fascinating picture, and for the where are they now feature.

    1. Hey now! That might be cool! Lol. I was thinking it just the other day how we don’t have too many ‘watercooler conversation’ stars today, unless you find articles about changing hairstyles riveting.

  2. Classism has divided our world
    Class equality will unite it 😇

    We entered in our ‘birth suite” will exit with it.
    Fact 😴

    Our legacy the changes we have influenced by our words writings and actions.
    Hopefully for a better world.

    Grandmothers quote…
    Better to live in hope than die in despair !
    Que sera

  3. Interesting article. The ‘toffs’ pop their clogs early, while the toughies keep going! It’s a ‘life thang’…yes, would be much better to watch, simply due to the fact that it wouldn’t be the illicit sex and affairs carried on by impossibly wealthy brats, that keep the salivating audience glued, it would be real life sad, mad, and sometimes funny entertainment. It would centre around the honest human spirit. Honesty, in all it’s torn up, yet often glorious madness, and where, when little ragdoll kids found just a penny, they were chuffed to the bone!

    No whining about the £1000 a month pocket money not being enough. That horrible, crass slogan comes to mind round abouts now ‘ keeping up with the Kardashians’….ugh…

      1. LOL x ‘cadoodaling with the toffees’…(I say Peter) and behind his back they call him dick head.

  4. The class struggle is ever present today….India newly elected hindi president MODI democratily elected faces that struggle…born in a class one is more likely to die in that class…..maybe influenced by Victorian imperialism.
    Any film or TV that documents the challenges in moving class in society will be a block buster.
    Reality TV will play an important role in cultural enlightenment.
    Que Sera Sera !

  5. Thanks for giving coverage to the class divide: an issue still prevalent today, yet criminally under-reported.
    It was interesting to learn about their lives too – all people (persons’) matter!

  6. I think it would be an eye opening experience to watch that reality as opposed to the “reality” that we see on TV today that is for sure. Today’s “reality” shows give us a lot to dream about, however, to see the REAL reality like the one pictured here would give a lot more to THINK about…

    1. Which aspirational ones give you things to dream about JG as I don’t really watch them I’m interested. I have watched RHOA and the Beverley Hills one before but then totally lost interest and don’t know why. Maybe I just got too busy.

      1. I guess dream about is not the right phrase…. I’ve never watched RHOA so I don’t know what that one is about. I mostly watch Hello Kitchen, Master Chef, and House Hunters International…HI I dream about living overseas…I’ve dreamt about that forever! Unfortunately I don’t have a career that would make that possible….and I gave up cooking when I was done working at a logging camp..hahaha…. I wouldn’t make it in Chef Ramsey’s kitchen.

      2. Lol, I could tell you what RHOA is about fairly quickly. Nothing. It’s mostly women going from one location to another creating scripted havoc, unnecessarily.
        I wouldn’t have called your choices ‘reality’ shows per se. I was thinking more about the so-called aforementioned ‘scripted reality’ shows.
        So what are you going to do about living overseas lady? Or will it remain an unrequited love?

      3. haha… the first thing I have to do is convince my other half that it would be a great adventure to live overseas (somewhere in England, Italy or Germany) and then we would have to find out how to get jobs over there… so for now, it may remain a hopeful dream 🙂

      4. Oh cripes! This is where I sound like pampered fool. I was chaperoned everywhere so the actual towns I stayed in I can’t recall, plus I am craaaaap with retaining names generally. I just remember it being pretty amazing. Super clean, quiet, quaint – at least the parts I went to – actually very like the Sound Of Music 🙂

        I’ll be back if it comes to me!

  7. It’s an interesting premise. I think just the difference in lifestyles and social customs between then and now would be interesting. But where’s the reality TV show, the editorial, the feature article, about poor kids who skip school to earn money now? We all know that it happens, but it’s not something that gets talked about much. We worry about the minimum wage, and health care costs, and the societal costs of welfare, but the human aspect of all these issues tends to get brought up mostly in academic texts.
    As for the private school kids, I can leave them. Do we really need another look at the first world problems of the over privileged?

    1. Are there a load of kids skipping school to earn money these days? I wasn’t aware. Skipping school I can believe, but if only kids today were that industrious! Are they? Where are the links to this? Unless you are referring to so called poorer countries, but even they still attend school AND work at the same time if they can afford to.
      Do tell.

      1. It did, but that wasn’t quite what I was getting it, simply because of my the original photo and my own cultural bias. The photo that sparked the conversation was British, and me being Australian, and living in the US, made me think about having this conversation in first world countries. I don’t know very much about India, but I do know that there have been times that we’ve looked loftily down from our ivory tower and thought what a shame it is that children in other parts of the world need to work in order to support their families. Now we just have a bunch of “sponsor a child” programs running in other Africa and Asia, but very little being done here.

        On a recent trip home I noticed a few organizations that had sprung up to help disadvantaged (particularly foster children) in a similar “make a monthly donation and be attached to one child” way. That’s definitely progress, but the message doesn’t get out there in the same way it does for organizations working overseas.

  8. What a great photo– think I could easily write a screenplay or novel with that one scene as inspiration. Re: reality shows: I’ve often thought that what we want, as the audience, is not the painfully real reality of today’s shows, but something more like the illusion of reality…

    1. That would be great! It would be a great spark of inspiration, even as a short story.

      I can’t say as I don’t watch them, but I like seeing people of substance myself, famous or non famous, not just any old person a production house picked up for 2 ha’pennies and put words in their mouth. I do not have the patience to sit through it.
      Do you think it’s real? Which shows are you referring to?

      1. Haha! Our toughs nowadays are with loose baggy jeans with tank tops. These boys in the photo are our suburban preppy kids in private schools.

  9. I think I’ve seen this photo before. But I wasn’t aware of the follow up. Fascinating. Seems to me the Poor Boys might have had the better, happier lives. I wonder most about the one who wouldn’t comment. Did he have a more troubled life he didn’t want to share, or did he just want his privacy, like the bloke from One Direction??

    1. Consider it is an “infringement” of privacy.
      British bull dog “dogmaticism” in american “slang”…🗽

      In academia B formers are more successful in life than A formers.
      Why….anti establishment indoctrination.😈

  10. Satire and comedy is what makes Britain GREAT ! It is part of the British culture..
    Here is a working class quote in Guyanese twang…..

    ME GAT DE FOREMAN JOB AT LAST…..Trade union song of bygone days.

    Bull dog brits will
    Walk the talk !

    Sir kamtan lord of cherin by appointment of HRH QE2 UKPLC

  11. Hope a movie of “classical” Britain during Victorian is made with update of the class
    struggles of 21st century. Guaranteed to be box office hit.

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