London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3Mayhew, Henry
Characteristics of the Various Classes of Vagrants.
I NOW come to the characteristics of vagrant life, as seen in the casual wards of the metropolitan unions. The subject is of the most important with which I have yet had to deal, and the facts I have collected are sufficiently startling to give the public an idea of the great social bearings of the question; for the young vagrant is the budding criminal.
Previously to entering upon my inquiry into this subject, I consulted with a gentleman who had long paid considerable attention to the question, and who was, moreover, in a position peculiarly fitted for gaining the greatest experience, and arriving at the correctest notions upon the matter. I consulted, I say, with the gentleman referred to, as to the Poorlaw officers, from whom I should be likely to obtain the best information; and I was referred by him to Mr. Knapp, the master of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union, as of the most intelligent and best-informed upon the subject of vagrancy. I found that gentleman all that he had been represented to me
|as being, and obtained from him the following statement, which, as an analysis of the vagrant character, and a description of the habits and propensities of the young vagabond, has, perhaps, never been surpassed.|
He had filled the office of master of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union for years, and immediately before that he was the relieving officer for the same union for upwards of years. He was guardian of Clapham parish for years previously to his being elected relieving officer. He was a member of the board of guardians that was formed under the new Poor-law Act, and he has long given much attention to the habits of the vagrants that have come under his notice or care. He told me that he considered a casual ward necessary in every union, because there is always a migratory population, consisting of labourers seeking employment in other localities, and destitute women travelling to their husbands or friends. He thinks a casual ward is necessary for the shelter and relief of such parties, since the law will not permit them to beg. These, however, are by far the smaller proportion of those who demand admittance into the casual ward. Formerly, they were not per cent of the total number of casuals. The remainder consisted of youths, prostitutes, Irish families, and a few professional beggars. The youths formed more than -half of the entire number, and their ages were from to . The largest number were years old—indeed, he adds, just that age when youth becomes disengaged from parental control. These lads had generally run away, either from their parents or masters, and many had been reared to a life of vagrancy. They were mostly shrewd and acute youths; some had been very well educated. Ignorance, to use the gentleman"s own words, is certainly not the prevailing characteristic of the class; indeed, with a few exceptions, he would say it is the reverse. These lads are mostly distinguished by their aversion to continuous labour of any kind. He never knew them to work—they are, indeed, essentially the idle and the vagabond. Their great inclination is to be on the move, and wandering from place to place; and they appear, he says, to receive a great deal of pleasure from the assembly and conversation of the casual ward. They are physically stout, healthy lads, and certainly not emaciated or sickly. They belong especially to the able-bodied class, being, as he says, full of health and mischief. When in London, they live in the day-time by holding horses, and carrying parcels from the steampiers and railway termini. Some loiter about the markets in the hope of a job, and others may be seen in the streets picking up bones and rags, or along the water-side searching for pieces of old metal, or anything that may be sold at the marine-store shops. They have nearly all been in prison more than once, and several a greater number of times than they are years old. They are the most dishonest of all thieves, having not the least respect for the property of even the members of their own class. He tells me he has frequently known them to rob another. They are very stubborn and self-willed. They have often broken every window in the oakumroom, rather than do the required work. They are a most difficult class to govern, and are especially restive under the least restraint; they can ill brook control, and they find great delight in thwarting the authorities of the workhouse. They are particularly fond of amusements of all kinds. My informant has often heard them discuss the merits of the different actors at the minor theatres and saloons. Sometimes they will elect a chairman, and get up a regular debate, and make speeches from end of the ward to the other. Many of them will make very clever comic orations; others delight in singing comic songs, especially those upon the workhouse and gaols. He never knew them love reading. They mostly pass under fictitious names. Some will give the name of "John Russell," or "Robert Peel," or "Richard Cobden." They often come down to the casual wards in large bodies of or , with sticks hidden down the legs of their trousers, and with these they rob and beat those who do not belong to their own gang. The gang will often consist of a lads, all under , - of whom regularly come together in a body; and in the casual ward they generally arrange where to meet again on the following night. In the winter of , the guardians of Wandsworth and Clapham, sympathising with their ragged and wretched appearance, and desirous of affording them the means of obtaining an honest livelihood, gave my informant instructions to offer an asylum to any who might choose to remain in the workhouse. Under this arrangement, about were admitted. The majority were under years of age. Some of them remained a few days— others a few weeks—none stopped longer than months; and the generality of them decamped over the wall, taking with them the clothes of the union. The confinement, restraint, and order of the workhouse were especially irksome to them. This is the character of the true vagrant, for whom my informant considers no provision whatsoever should be made at the unions, believing as he does that most of them have settlements in or around London. The casual wards, he tells me, he knows to have been a great encouragement to the increase of these characters. Several of the lads that have come under his care had sought shelter and concealment in the casual wards, after having absconded from their parents. In instance, the father and mother of a lad had unavailingly sought their son in every direction; he discovered that the
|youth had ran away, and he sent him home in the custody of of the inmates; but when the boy got to within or doors of his father"s residence, he turned round and scampered off. The mother afterwards came to the union in a state of frantic grief, and said that he had disappeared years before. My informant believes that the boy has never been heard of by his parents since. Others he has restored to their parents, and some of the young vagrants who have died in the union have, on their death-beds, disclosed the names and particulars of their families, who have been always of a highly respectable character. To these he has sent, and on their visits to their children scenes of indescribable grief and anguish have taken place. He tells me he is convinced that it is the low lodginghouses and the casual wards of the unions that offer a ready means for youths absconding from their homes, immediately on the least disagreement or restraint. In most of the cases that he has investigated, he has found that the boys have left home after some rebuke or quarrel with their parents. On restoring boy to his father, the latter said that, though the lad was not years old, he had been in almost every workhouse in London; and the father bitterly complained of the casual wards for offering shelter to a youth of such tender years. But my informant is convinced that, even if the casual wards throughout the country were entirely closed—the low lodging-houses being allowed to remain in their present condition—the evil would not be remedied, if at all abated. A boy after running away from home, generally seeks shelter in of the cheap lodging-houses, and there he makes acquaintance with the most depraved of both sexes. The boys at the house become his regular companions, and he is soon a confirmed vagrant and thief like the rest. The youths of the vagrant class are particularly distinguished for their libidinous propensities. They frequently come to the gate with a young prostitute, and with her they go off in the morning. With this girl, they will tramp through the whole of the country. They are not remarkable for a love of drink,—indeed, my informant never saw a regular vagrant in a state of intoxication, nor has he known them to exhibit any craving for liquor. He has had many drunkards under his charge, but the vagrant is totally distinct, having propensities not less vicious, but of a very different kind. He considers the young tramps to be generally a class of lads possessing the keenest intellect, and of a highly enterprising character. They seem to have no sense of danger, and to be especially delighted with such acts as involve any peril. They are likewise characterised by their exceeding love of mischief. The property destroyed in the union of which my informant is the master has been of considerable value, consisting of windows broken, sash-frames demolished, beds and bedding torn to pieces, and rags burnt. They will frequently come down in large gangs, on purpose to destroy the property in the union. They generally are of a most restless and volatile disposition. They have great quickness of perception, but little power of continuous attention or perseverance. They have a keen sense of the ridiculous, and are not devoid of deep feeling. He has often known them to be dissolved to tears on his remonstrating with them on the course they were following—and then they promise amendment; but in a few days, and sometimes hours, they would forget all, and return to their old habits. In the summer they make regular tours through the country, visiting all places that they have not seen, so that there is scarcely that is not acquainted with every part within miles of London, and many with all England. They are perfectly organised, so that any regulation affecting their comforts or interests becomes known among the whole body in a remarkably short space of time. As an instance, he informs me that on putting out a notice that no able-bodied man or youth would be received in the casual ward after a certain day, there was not a single application made by any such party, the regular vagrants having doubtless informed each other that it was useless seeking admission at this union. In the winter the young vagrants come to London, and find shelter in the asylums for the houseless poor. At this season of the year, the number of vagrants in the casual wards would generally be diminished -half. The juvenile vagrants constitute of the main sources from which the criminals of the country are continually recruited and augmented. Being repeatedly committed to prison for disorderly conduct and misdemeanour, the gaol soon loses all terrors for them; and, indeed, they will frequently destroy their own clothes, or the property of the union, in order to be sent there. Hence they soon become practised and dexterous thieves, and my informant has detected several burglaries by the property found upon them. The number of this class is stated, in the Poor-law Report on Vagrancy, to have been, in , no less than , and they form of the most restless, discontented, vicious, and dangerous elements of society. At the period of any social commotion, they are sure to be drawn towards the scene of excitement in a vast concourse. During the Chartist agitation, in the June quarter of the year , the number of male casuals admitted into the Wandsworth and Clapham Union rose from to , while the females (their companions) increased from to .|
Of the other classes of persons admitted into the casual wards, the Irish generally form a large proportion. At the time when juvenile vagrancy prevailed to an alarming extent, the Irish hardly dared to show themselves in the
|casual wards, for the lads would beat them and plunder them of whatever they might have— either the produce of their begging, or the ragged kit they carried with them. Often my informant has had to quell violent disturbances in the night among these characters. The Irish tramp generally makes his appearance with a large family, and frequently with or generations together—grandfather, grandmother, father, and mother, and children—all coming at the same time. In the year ending , the Irish vagrants increased to so great an extent that, of the entire number of casuals relieved, more than - in the quarters, and more than -thirds in the last quarter, were from the sister island. Of the Irish vagrants, the worst class—that is the poorest and most abject—came over to this country by way of Newport, in Wales. The expense of the passage to that port was only ; whereas the cost of the voyage to Liverpool and London was considerably more, and consequently the class brought over by that way were less destitute. The Irish vagrants were far more orderly than the English. Out of the vast number received into the casual ward of this union during the distress in Ireland, it is remarkable that not ever committed an act of insubordination. They were generally very grateful for the relief afforded, and appeared to subsist entirely by begging. Some of them were not particularly fond of work, but they were invariably honest, says my informant—at least so far as his knowledge went. They were exceedingly filthy in their habits, and many diseased.|
These constitute the large and principal classes of vagrants. The remainder generally consist of persons temporarily destitute, whereas the others are habitually so. The temporarily destitute are chiefly railway and agricultural labourers, and a few mechanics travelling in search of employment. These are easily distinguishable from the regular vagrant; indeed, a glance is sufficient to the practised eye. They are the better class of casuals, and those for whom the wards are expressly designed, but they only form a very small proportion of the vagrants applying for shelter. In the height of vagrancy, they formed not per cent of the entire number admitted. Indeed, such was the state of the casual wards, that the destitute mechanics and labourers preferred walking through the night to availing themselves of the accommodation. Lately, the artisans and labourers have increased greatly in proportion, owing to the system adopted for the exclusion of the habitual vagrant, and the consequent decline of their number. The working man travelling in search of employment is now generally admitted into what are called the receiving wards of the workhouse, instead of the tramp-room, and he is usually exceedingly grateful for the accommodation. My informant tells me that persons of this class seldom return to the workhouse after night"s shelter, and this is a conclusive proof that the regular working-man seldom passes into an habitual beggar. They are an entirely distinct class, having different habits, and, indeed, different features, and I am assured that they are strictly honest. During the whole experience of my informant, he never knew who applied for a night"s shelter commit act of dishonesty, and he has seen them in the last stage of destitution. Occasionally they have sold the shirt and waistcoat off their backs before they applied for admittance into the workhouse, while some of them have been so weak from long starvation, that they could scarcely reach the gate. Such persons are always allowed to remain several days to recruit their strength. It is for such as these that my informant considers the casual wards indispensable to every well-conducted union— whereas it is his opinion that the habitual vagrant, as contradistinguished from the casual vagrant or wayfaring poor, should be placed under the management of the police, at the charge of the union.
Let me, however, run over, as briefly as possible, the several classes of vagrants falling under the notice of the parish authorities. The different kinds of vagrants or tramps to be found in the casual wards of the unions throughout the country, may be described as follows:—"The more important class, from its increasing numbers," says Mr. Boase, in the Poor-law Report upon Vagrancy, "is that of the regular young English vagabond, generally the native of a large town. He is either a runaway apprentice, or he has been driven from home by the cruelty of his parents, or allowed by them to go wild in the streets: in some cases he is an orphan, and has lost his father and mother in early life. Having no ties to bind him, he travels about the country, being sure of a meal, and a roof to shelter him at night. The youths of this class are principally of from to years of age. They often travel in parties of or — frequently in large bodies, with young women, as abandoned as themselves, in company."
Approaching these in character are the young countrymen who have absconded—perhaps for come petty poaching offence—and to whom the facility for leading an idle vagabond life has proved too great a temptation.
The next class of vagrants is the sturdy English mendicant. He, though not a constant occupant of the tramp-ward in the workhouse, frequently makes his appearance there to partake of the shelter, when he has spent his last shilling in dissipation.
Besides these, there are a few calling themselves agricultural labourers, who are really such, and who are to be readily distinguished. There are also a few mechanics—chiefly tailors, shoemakers, and masons, who are occasionally destitute. The amount of those really destitute, however, is very small in proportion to the numbers relieved.
Of the age and sex of tramps, the general proportion seems to be -fifths male and - female.
Of the female English tramps, little can be said, but that they are in great part prostitutes of the lowest class. The proportion of really destitute women in the tramp-wards (generally widows with young children) is greater than that of men—probably from the ability to brave the cold night wind being less in the female, and the love of the children getting the shelter, above dread of vile association. Girls of or years old, who run away from masters or factory employment, often find shelter in the tramp-ward.
The Irish, who, till very recently, formed the majority of the applicants for casual relief, remain to be described. These can scarcely be classified in any other way than as those who come to England to labour, and those who come to beg. The former class, however, yield readily to their disposition to idleness—the difficulties of providing supper, breakfast, and lodging for themselves being removed by the workhouse. This class are physically superior to the mass of Irish vagrants. It appears that for very many years considerable numbers of these have annually come to England in the spring to work at hay-harvest, remaining for corn-harvest and hop-picking, and then have carried home their earnings in the autumn, seldom resorting to begging. Since the failure of the potato crop greater numbers have come to England, and the tramp-ward has been their principal refuge, and an inducement to many to remain in the country. A great many harvest men land at Newport and the Welsh ports; but by far the greater proportion of the Irish in Wales are, or were, women with small children, old men apparently feeble, pregnant women, and boys about years old. They are brought over by coal-vessels as a return cargo (living ballast) at very low fares, ( is the highest sum), huddled together like pigs, and communicating disease and vermin on their passage.
Harriet Huxtable, the manager of the tramphouse at Newport, says:—"There is hardly an Irish family that came over and applied to me, but we have found a member or of it ill, some in a shocking filthy state. They don"t live long, diseased as they are. They are very remarkable; they will eat salt by basins" full, and drink a great quantity of water after. I have frequently known those who could not have been hungry, eat cabbageleaves and other refuse from the ash-heap. I really believe they would eat almost anything."
"A remarkable fact is, that all the Irish whom I met on my route between Wales and London," says Mr. Boase, "said they came from Cork county. Mr. John, the relieving officer at Cardiff, on his examination, says, "that not out of every of the Irish come from any other county than Cork.""
In the township of Warrington, the number of tramps relieved between the , and the , was:—
Of the original occupations or trades of the vagrants applying for relief at the different unions throughout the country, there are no returns. As, however, a considerable portion of these were attracted to London on the opening of the Metropolitan Asylums for the Houseless Poor, we may, by consulting the Society"s yearly Reports, where an account of the callings of those receiving shelter in such establishments is always given, be enabled to arrive at some rough estimate as to the state of destitution and vagrancy existing among the several classes of labourers and artisans for several years.
The following table, being an average drawn from the returns for years of the occupation of the persons admitted into the Asylums for the Houseless Poor, which I have been at considerable trouble in forming, exhibits the only available information upon this subject, synoptically arranged:—
Of the disease and fever which mark the course of the vagrants wheresoever they go, I have before spoken. The "tramp-fever," as the most dangerous infection of the casual wards is significantly termed, is of a typhoid character, and seems to be communicated particularly to those who wash the clothes of the parties suffering from it. This was likewise of the characteristics of cholera. That the habitual vagrants should be the means of spreading a pestilence over the country in their wanderings will not be wondered at, when we find it stated in the Poor-law Report on Vagrancy, that "in very few workhouses do means exist of drying the clothes of these paupers when they come in wet, and it often happens that a considerable number are, of necessity, placed together wet, filthy, infested with vermin, and diseased, in a small, unventilated space." "The majority of tramps, again," we are told, "have a great aversion to being washed and cleaned. A regular tramper cannot bear it; but a distressed man would be thankful for it."
The cost incurred for the cure of the vagrant sick in , was considerably more than the expense of the food dispensed to them. Out of vagrants relieved at the Wandsworth and Clapham Union in , there were diseased, or ill with the fever.
The number of vagrants relieved throughout England and Wales in the same year was ; and supposing that the sickness among these prevailed to the same extent as it did among the casuals at Wandsworth (according to the Vagrancy Report, it appears to have been much more severe in many places), there would have been as many as sick in the several unions throughout the country in . The cost of relieving the sick at Wandsworth was ; at the same rate, the expense of the sick throughout the country unions would amount to According to the above proportion, the number of sick relieved in the metropolitan unions would have been , and the cost for their relief would amount to
Of the tide of crime which, like that of pestilence, accompanies the stream of vagrants, there are equally strong and conclusive proofs. "The most prominent body of delinquents in the rural districts," says the Report of the Constabulary Commissioners, "are vagrants, and these vagrants appear to consist of classes: , the habitual depredators, housebreakers, horse-stealers, and common thieves; secondly, of vagrants, properly so called, who seek alms as mendicants. Besides those classes who travel from fair to fair, and from town to town, in quest of dishonest gains, there are numerous classes who make incursions from the provincial towns upon the adjacent rural districts."
"The classes of depredators who perambulate the country (says the same Report) are the vagrants, properly so called. Upwards of commitments per annum of persons for the offence of vagrancy, mark the extent of the body from which they are taken.
"It will be seen that vagrancy, or the habit of wandering abroad, under colour either of distress, or of some ostensible, though illegal occupation, having claims on the sympathies of the uninformed, constitutes great source of delinquency, and especially of juvenile delinquency. The returns show that the vagrant classes pervade every part of the country, rendering property insecure, propagating pernicious habits, and afflicting the minds of the sensitive with false pictures of suffering, and levying upon them an offensive impost for the relief of that destitution for which a heavy tax is legally levied in the shape of poor"s rates.
Mr. Thomas Narrill, a sergeant of the
|Bristol police, was asked—"What proportion of the vagrants do you think are thieves, that make it a point to take anything for which they find a convenient opportunity?" "We have found it so invariably." "Have you ever seen the children who go about as vagrants turn afterwards from vagrancy to common thieving,—thieving wholly or chiefly?" "We have found it several times." "Therefore the suppression of vagrancy or mendicity would be to that extent the suppression of juvenile delinquency?" "Yes, of course."|
Mr. J. Perry, another witness, states:—"I believe vagrancy to be the step towards the committal of felony, and I am supported in that belief by the number of juvenile vagrants who are brought before the magistrates as thieves."
An officer, appointed specially to take measures against vagrancy in Manchester, was asked,—"Does your experience enable you to state that the large proportion of vagrants are thieves too, whenever they come in the way of thieving?" "Yes, and I should call the larger proportion there thieves." "Then, from what you have observed of them, would you say that the suppression of vagrancy would go a great way to the suppression of a great quantity of depredation?" "I am sure of it."
The same valuable Report furnishes us with a table of the numbers and character of the known depredators and suspected persons frequenting of the principal towns; from which it appears that in these towns alone there are persons of known bad character. According to the average proportion of these to the population, there will be in the other large towns nearly persons of a similar character, and upwards of of such persons dispersed throughout the rest of the country. Adding these together, we shall have as many as persons of known bad character living in England and Wales, without the walls of the prisons. To form an accurate notion of the total number of the criminal population, we must add to the above amount the number of persons resident within the walls of the prisons. These, according to the last census, are , which, added to the above enumerated, gives within a fraction of individuals for the entire criminal population of the country.
In order to arrive at an estimate of the number of known depredators, or suspected persons, continually tramping through the country, we must deduct from the number of persons of bad character without the walls of the prisons, such as are not of migratory habits; and it will be seen on reference to the table above given, that a large proportion of the classes there specified have usually some fixed residence (those with an asterisk set before them may be said to be non-migratory). As many as individuals out of the and odd above given certainly do not belong to the tramping tribe; and we may safely say that there must be as many as more in the country, who, though of known bad character, are not tramps like the rest. Hence, in order to ascertain the number of depredators and suspected persons belonging to the tramping or vagrant class, we must deduct + from , which gives us for the number of known bad characters continually traversing the country.
This sum, though arrived at in a very different manner from the estimate given in my last letter, agrees very nearly with the amount there stated. We may therefore, I think, without fear of erring greatly upon the matter, assert that our criminal population, within and without the walls of the prisons, consists of individuals, of whom nearly - belong to the vagrant class; while, of those without the prison walls, upwards of half are persons who are continually tramping through the country.
The number of commitments for vagrancy throughout the country is stated, in the Constabulary Report, at upwards of per annum. This amount, large as it is, will not surprise when we learn from Mr. Pigott"s Report on Vagrancy to the Poor-law Commissioners, that "it is becoming a system with the vagrants to pass away the cold months by fortnightly halts in different gaols. As soon as their days have expired they make their way to some other union-house, and commit the same depredation there, in order to be sent to gaol again."
"There are some characters," say the officers of the Derby Union, in the same Report, "who come on purpose to be committed, avowedly. These have generally itch, venereal disease, and lice, all together. Then there are some who tear their clothes for the purpose of being committed."
I shall now give as full an account as lies in my power of the character and consequences of vagrancy. That it spreads a moral pestilence through the country, as terrible and as devastating as the physical pest which accompanies it wherever it is found, all the evidence goes to prove. Nevertheless, the facts which I have still to adduce in connexion with that class of vagrancy which does not necessarily come under the notice of the parish authorities, are of so overpowering a character, that I hope and trust they may be the means of rousing every earnest man in the kingdom to a sense of the enormous evils that are daily going on around him.
The number of vagrants taken into custody by the police, according to the Metropolitan Criminal Returns for , was ; they belonged to the trades cited in the subjoined table, where I have calculated the proportionate number of vagrants furnished by each of the occupations, according to the total number of individuals belonging to the class.
The causes and encouragements of vagrancy are -fold,— and The roving disposition to which, as I have shown, vagrancy is ascribable, proceeds (as I have said) partly from a certain physical conformation or temperament, but mainly from a noninculca- tion of industrial habits and moral purposes in youth. The causes from which the vagabondism of the young proceeds are:—
. The neglect or tyranny of parents or masters. (This appears to be a most prolific source.)
. Bad companions.
. Bad books, which act like the bad companions in depraving the taste, and teaching the youth to consider that approvable which to all rightly constituted minds is morally loathsome.
. Bad amusements—as penny-theatres, where the scenes and characters described in the bad books are represented in a still more attractive form. Mr. Ainsworth"s "Rookwood," with Dick Turpin "in his habit as he lived in," is now in the course of being performed nightly at of the East-end saloons.
. Bad institutions—as, for instance, the different refuges scattered throughout the country, and which, enabling persons to live without labour, are the means of attracting large numbers of the most idle and dissolute classes to the several cities where the charities are dispensed. Captain Carroll, C.B., R.N., chief of police, speaking of the Refuges for the Destitute in Bath, and of a kindred institution which distributes bread and soup, says,—"I consider those institutions an attraction to this city for vagrants." At Liverpool, Mr. Henry Simpson said of a Night Asylum, supported by voluntary contributions, and established for several years in this town—"This charity was used by quite a different class of persons from those for whom it was designed. A vast number of abandoned characters, known thieves and prostitutes, found nightly shelter there." "The chief inducement to vagrancy in the town," says another Report, speaking of a certain part of the North Riding of York, "is the relief given by mistaken but benevolent individuals, more particularly by the poorer class. Instances have occurred where the names of such benevolent persons have been found in the possession of vagrants, obtained, no doubt, from their fellow-travellers."
. Vagrancy is largely due to, and, indeed, chiefly maintained by the low lodging-houses.