Being a young lad and an apprentice to a trade was nothing short of common. Many boys were locked into contracts of no less than 10 years of "dirty work" to learn the tools of their trade. In the Medeival days, a barber had a double-vocation if you will. He was a surgeon too. As a barber's apprentice, you were not only expected to sweep up the hair on the salon floor, but join the barber during surgeries to mop up the blood of those who were on the table. It was also your duty to hold down folks on the operating table as they screamed in terror (no anesthesia, fun times!) You also wouldn't be paid until you had completed 7 yrs. service to your teacher.
Otherwise known as "Climbing Boys' during the Industrial revolution, these young chaps were sometimes sold by their parents or simply snatched up if they were poor orphans. They were made to clean the tightest, most poisonous spaces in London so the younger and smaller, the better. Kids of age 6 or younger were often send up chimneys barefoot,with another older boy behind him. It was the older boy's job to stick pins in your feet if you were "too slow" or tickle your soles with burning straw to get you moving again. Breathing was difficult as one was inhaling a large amount of soot, making the lungs black. The eyes would be red and ooze. Most went up wearing a tunic. If you were being punished, you had to go naked.
In Europe, it was customary for the entire village you lived in to go on a long walk around their parish once a year to check that no one had stolen their land or moved the stone boundary markers. People in the villages would hit the stones with sticks until they worked up a good sweat. In some places, it was weirder. To drum into the heads of the young boys where the markers were, boys were asked to stand by the rock while the townsfolk would beat him senseless. Some with shovels, others would have their heads whacked against the stones. Some were held by the feet, swung round and slammed head first into trees.
The Royal Whipping Boy
By profession, the Royal Whipping Boy sat next to a prince during hislessons. Everytime the prince gave the wrong answer, the whipping boy got hit. This may seem ridiculously unfair, but people thought the royals were so special that ordinary peoplen weren't allowed to touch them. Whacking a prince would've been as bad as treason. This was a problem for teachers as beating children was part of the job - so instead, they walloped a subsitute. Whipping Boys were actually wealthy children who grew up with the prince and became powerful adults.
The Link Boys/Girls
For Link Boys and Link Girls, earning a few coins could be done by lighting the way for drunk men on their way home. Streetlights not being invented at the time, link boys and girls would stand in alleys waiting for someone to help walk home, thus making them a human headlight. They would hang out in the darkest, most dangerous alleys and wait. Itwas easy for kids to burn their hands, but that wasn't the biggest problem. Walking through the gloomy streets with a rich and very drunk person while carrying a big flaming torch was like holding a huge illuminated arrow with the words "Robbers, please mug us!" on it in flashing lights. Often the gentlemen would puke on the children, have sex with them or beat you.