Until the late-nineteenth century
the British government did not accept responsibility for the hardship that
existed among its citizens. The popular point of view was that poverty was
caused by idleness, drunkenness and other weaknesses on the part of the working
classes. However, attitudes changed when two social surveys, by Charles Booth
and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, identified the causes of persistent poverty as
illness, unemployment and age – both young and old. The ruling Liberal Party,
under Lloyd George, realised the need for change. Between 1906 an 1914 they
introduced groundbreaking welfare legislation, including provision for free school
meals and more protection for children, the very first old age pensions and
health and unemployment insurance.
This scene of Edinburgh street life in 1909 shows children at play in a game of ‘Pitch and Toss’, played by tossing up a coin and calling ‘heads’ or ‘tails’. Such urchin-like children, bare-foot and unkempt, would have been a familiar sight in Edinburgh or Glasgow. The saying ‘to pitch and toss with something’, or to be careless or trust one’s luck, seems to apply to these children who, despite their poor circumstances, display a sense of vigour and self-confidence. The children are skilfully grouped into a composition that is framed by the shop window of a bakery. The advert for Bermaline Bread, above the name of the shopkeeper, is for a type of brown bread made from malted meal flour that was popular in Scotland during the early twentieth century.
Albert Octavus Knoblauch was born in Edinburgh in 1881. He was the eighth child of Hugo Knoblauch, a German immigrant who obtained the British nationality aged 19 and later became German Consul in Leith. In due course Albert joined the Leith timber importing business founded by his father, in Baltic Street, and travelled extensively for business purposes in Germany and the Baltic States. He married Doris Margaret Cunningham of Fife, with whom he had one daughter. Albert Knoblauch was an enthusiastic amateur photographer and also practiced wood-carving, batik work and early radio. He died in Edinburgh of a brain tumour on 8 January 1926.