"in the streets of Liverpool"
by cm

Irish Famine, 1847
Public DomainIrish Famine, 1847 - Credit: James Mahony
While Emily Brontë was writing Wuthering Heights, her brother Branwell spent some time in Liverpool, and witnessed the plight of Irish refugees from the Great Famine (1845-1852).  The "dirty, ragged, black-haired child" could have been a gypsy, but it's equally likely he was one of the many starving Irish children who found themselves adrift in Liverpool.