London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3
Lives of the Boy Inmates of the Casual Wards of the London Workhouses.
AN intelligent-looking boy, of years of age, whose dress was a series of ragged coats, in number—as if was to obviate the deficiency of another, since would not button, and another was almost sleeveless— gave me the following statement. He had long and rather fair hair, and spoke quietly. He said:—
"I"m a native of Wisbeach, in Cambridgeshire, and am . My father was a shoemaker, and my mother died when I was years old, and my father married again. I was sent to school, and can read and write well. My father and step-mother were kind enough to me. I was apprenticed to a tailor years ago, but I wasn"t long with him; I runned away. I think it was months I was with him when I runned away. It was in August—I got as far as Boston in Lincolnshire, and was away a fortnight. I had of my own money when I started, and that lasted or days. I stopped in lodging-houses until my money was gone, and then I slept anywhere—under the hedges, or anywhere. I didn"t see so much of life then, but I"ve seen plenty of it since. I had to beg my way back from Boston, but was very awkward at . I lived on turnips mainly. My reason for running off was because my master ill-used me so; he beat me, and kept me from my meals, and made me sit up working late at nights for a punishment: but it was more to his good than to punish me. I hated to be confined to a tailor"s shopboard, but I would rather do that sort of work now then hunger about like this. But you see, sir, God punishes you when you don"t think of it. When I went back my father was glad to see me, and he wouldn"t have me go back again to my master, and my indentures were cancelled. I stayed at home months, doing odd jobs, in driving sheep, or any country work, but I always wanted to be off to sea. I liked the thoughts of going to sea far better than tailoring. I determined to go to sea if I could. When a dog"s determined to have a bone, it"s not easy to hinder him. I didn"t read stories about the sea then, not even "Robinson Crusoe,"—indeed I haven"t read that still, but I know very well there is such a book. My father had no books but religious books; they were all of a religious turn, and what people might think dull, but they never made me dull. I read Wesley"s and Watts"s hymns, and religious magazines of different connexions. I had a natural inclination for the sea, and would like to get to it now. I"ve read a good deal about it since—Clark"s "Lives of Pirates," "Tales of Shipwrecks," and other things in penny numbers (Clark"s I got out of a library though). I was what people called a deep boy for a book; and am still. Whenever I had a penny, after I got a bellyful of victuals, it went for a book, but I haven"t bought many lately. I did buy yesterday —the "Family Herald"— I often read when I can get it. There"s good reading in it; it elevates your mind—anybody that has a mind for studying. It has good tales in it. I never
|read "Jack Sheppard,"—that is, I haven"t read the big book that"s written about him; but I"ve often heard the boys and men talk about it at the lodging-houses and other places. When they haven"t their bellies and money to think about they sometimes talk about books; but for such books as them—that"s as "Jack" —I haven"t a partiality. I"ve read "Windsor Castle," and "The Tower,"—they"re by the same man. I liked "Windsor Castle," and all about Henry VIII. and Herne the hunter. It"s a book that"s connected with history, and that"s a good thing in it. I like adventurous tales. I know very little about theatres, as I was never in .
Well, after that months—I was kindly treated all the time—I runned away again to get to sea; and hearing so much talk about this big London, I comed to it. I couldn"t settle down to anything but the sea. I often watched the ships at Wisbeach. I had no particular motive, but a sort of pleasure in it. I was aboard some ships, too; just looking about, as lads will. I started without a farthing, but I couldn"t help it. I felt I must come. I forgot all I suffered before— at least, the impression had died off my mind. I came up by the unions when they would take me in. When I started, I didn"t know where to sleep any more than the dead; I learned it from other travellers on the road, It was winters ago, and very cold weather. Sometimes I slept in barns, and I begged my way as well as I could. I never stole anything then or since, except turnips; but I"ve been often tempted. At last I got to London, and was by myself. I travelled sometimes with others as I came up, but not as mates—not as friends. I came to London for purpose just by myself. I was a week in London before I knew where I was. I didn"t know where to go. I slept on door-steps, or anywhere. I used often to stand on London-bridge, but I didn"t know where to go to get to sea, or anything of that kind. I was sadly hungered, regularly starved; and I saw so many policemen, I durstn"t beg—and I dare not now, in London. I got crusts, but I can hardly tell how I lived. night I was sleeping under a railway-arch, somewhere about , and a policeman came and asked me what I was up to? I told him I had no place to go to, so he said I must go along with him. In the morning he took me and or others to a house in a big street. I don"t know where; and a man—a magistrate, I suppose he was —heard what the policeman had to say, and he said there was always a lot of lads there about the arches, young thieves, that gave him a great deal of trouble, and I was associated with them. I declare I didn"t know any of the other boys, nor any boys in London—not a soul; and I was under the arch by myself, and only that night. I never saw the policeman himself before that, as I know of. I got days of it, and they took me in an omnibus, but I don"t know to what prison. I was committed for being a rogue and something else. I didn"t very well hear what other things I was, but "rogue" I know was . They were very strict in prison, and I wasn"t allowed to speak. I was put to oakum some days, and others on a wheel. That"s the only time I was ever in prison, and I hope it will always be the only time. Something may turn up— there"s nobody knows. When I was turned out I hadn"t a farthing given to me. And so I was again in the streets, without knowing a creature, and without a farthing in my pocket, and nothing to get with but my tongue. I set off that day for the country. I didn"t try to get a ship, because I didn"t know where to go to ask, and I had got ragged, and they wouldn"t hear me out if I asked any people about the bridges. I took the road that offered, and got to Greenwich. I couldn"t still think of going back home. I would if I had had clothes, but they were rags, and I had no shoes but a pair of old slippers. I was sometimes sorry I left home, but then I began to get used to travelling, and to beg a bit in the villages. I had no regular mate to travel with, and no sweetheart. I slept in the unions whenever I could get in—that"s in the country. I didn"t never sleep in the London workhouses till afterwards. In some country places there were as many as in the casual wards, men, women, and children; in some, only or . There used to be part boys, like myself, but far more bigger than I was; they were generally from eighteen to : London chaps, chiefly, I believe. They were a regularly jolly set. They used to sing and dance a part of the nights and mornings in the wards, and I got to sing and dance with them. We were all in a mess; there was no better or no worse among us. We used to sing comic and sentimental songs, both. I used to sing "Tom Elliott," that"s a sea song, for I hankered about the sea, and "I"m Afloat." I hardly know any but sea-songs. Many used to sing indecent songs; they"re impudent blackguards. They used to sell these songs among the others, but I never sold any of them, and I never had any, though I know some, from hearing them often. We told stories sometimes; romantic tales, some; others blackguard kind of tales, about bad women; and others about thieving and roguery; not so much about what they"d done themselves, as about some big thief that was very clever at stealing, and could trick anybody. Not stories such as Dick Turpin or Jack Sheppard, or things that"s in history, but inventions. I used to say when I was telling a story—for I"ve told story that I invented till I learnt it,—
[I give this story to show what are the objects of admiration with these vagrants.]
The next was a boy with a quiet look, rather better dressed than most of the vagrant boys, and far more clean in his dress. He made the following statement:—
At my request, this youth told me a long story, and told it very readily, as if by rote. I give it for its peculiarity, as it is extravagant enough, without humour.
"A farmer hired Jack, and instructed him over-night. Jack was to do what he was required, or lose his head. "Now, Jack," said the farmer, [I give the conclusion in the boy"s words,] "what"s my name?" "Master, to be sure," says Jack. "No," said he, "you must call me Tom Per Cent." He showed his bed next, and asked, "What"s this, Jack?" "Why, the bed," said Jack. "No, you must call that, He"s of Degree." And so he bid Jack call his leather breeches " cracks;" the cat, "white-faced Simeon;" the fire, "hot coleman;" the pump, the "resurrection;" and the haystack, the "little cock-a-mountain." Jack was to remember these names or lose his head. At night the cat got under the grate, and burned herself, and a hot cinder struck her fur, and she ran under the haystack and set it on fire. Jack ran up-stairs to his master, and said:—
So Jack remembered his lesson, and saved his head. That"s the end. Blackguard stories were often told about women. There was plenty told, too, about Dick Turpin, Sixteenstring Jack, Oxford Blue, and such as them; as well as about Jack Sheppard; about Bamfylde Moore Carew, too, and his disguises. We very often had fighting and quarrelling among ourselves. Once, at Birmingham, we smashed all the windows, and did all the damage we could. I can"t tell exactly why it was done, but we must all take part in it, or we should be marked. I believe some did it to get into prison, they were so badly off. They piled up the rugs; there was no straw; and some put their clothes on the rugs, and then the heap was set fire to. There was no fire, and no light, but somebody had a box of lucifers. We were all nearly suffocated before the people of the place could get to us. of us had a month a-piece for it: I was . The rugs were dirty and filthy, and not fit for any Christian to sleep under, and so I took part in the burning, as I thought it would cause something better. I"ve known wild Irishmen get into the wards with knives and sticks hidden about their persons, to be ready for a fight. I met young men in Essex who had been well off—very well,—but they liked a tramper"s life. Each had his young woman with him, living as man and wife. They often change their young women; but I never did travel with , or keep company with any more than hours or so. There used to be great numbers of girls in the casual wards in London. Any young man travelling the country could get a mate among them, and can get mates—partners they"re often called,—still. Some of them are very pretty indeed; but among them are some horrid ugly—the most are ugly; bad expressions and coarse faces, and lame, and disgusting to the eye. It was disgusting too, to hear them in their own company; that is, among such as themselves;—beggars, you know. Almost every word was an oath, and every blackguard word was said plain out. I think the pretty ones were worst. Very few have children. I knew who had. was , and her child was months old; the other was , and her child was eighteen months. They were very good to their children. I"ve heard of some having children, and saying they couldn"t guess at the fathers of them, but I never met with any such myself. I didn"t often hear them quarrel,—I mean the young men and young women that went out as partners,—in the lodging-houses. Some boys of have their young women as partners, but with young boys older women are generally partners—women about . They always pass as man and wife. All beggar-girls are bad, I believe. I never heard but of that was considered virtuous, and she was always reading a prayer-book and a testament in her lodging-house. The last time I saw her was at Cambridge. She is about , and has traces of beauty left. The boys used to laugh at her, and say, "Oh! how virtuous and righteous we are! but you get your living by it." I never knew her to get anything by it. I don"t see how she could, for she said nothing about her being righteous when she was begging about, I believe. If is wasn"t for the casual wards, I couldn"t get about. If partners goes to the same union, they have to be parted at night, and join again the morning. Some of the young women are very dirty, but some"s as clean. A few, I think, can read and write. Some boasts of their wickedness, and others tell them in
|derision it"s wrong to do that, and then a quarrel rages in the lodging-house. I liked a roving life, at , being my own master. I was fond of going to plays, and such-like, when I got money; but now I"m getting tired of it, and wish for something else. I have tried for work at cotton factories in Lancashire and Yorkshire, but never could get any. I"ve been all over the country. I"m sure I could settle now. I couldn"t have done that years ago, the roving spirit was so strong upon me, and the company I kept got a strong hold on me. winters back, there was a regular gang of us boys in London. After sleeping at a union, we would fix where to meet at night to get into another union to sleep. There were of us that way, all boys; besides young men, and young women. Sometimes we walked the streets all night. We didn"t rob, at least I never saw any robbing. We had pleasure in chaffing the policemen, and some of us got taken up. I always escaped. We got broken up in time, —some"s dead, some"s gone to sea, some into the country, some home, and some lagged. Among them were many lads very expert in reading, writing, and arithmetic. young man—he was only ,—could speak several languages: he had been to sea. He was then begging, though a strong young man. I suppose he liked that life. some soon got tired of it. I often have suffered from cold and hunger. I never made more than a-day in money, take the year round, by begging; some make more than : but then, I"ve had meat and bread given besides. I say nothing when I beg, but that I am a poor boy out of work and starving. I never stole anything in my life. I"ve often been asked to do so by my mates. I never would. The young women steal the most. I know, least, I did know, that kept young men, their partners, going about the country with them, chiefly by their stealing. Some do so by their prostitution. Those that go as partners are all prostitutes. There is a great deal of sickness among the young men and women, but I never was ill these last years. Fevers, colds, and venereal diseases, are very common."
The last statement I took was that of a boy of . I can hardly say that he was clothed at all. He had no shirt, and no waistcoat; all his neck and a great part of his chest being bare. A ragged cloth jacket hung about him, and was tied, so as to keep it together, with bits of tape. What he had wrapped round for trousers did not cover of his legs, while of his thighs was bare. He wore old shoes; tied to his foot with an old ribbon, the other a woman"s old boot. He had an old cloth cap. His features were distorted somewhat, through being swollen with the cold. "I was born," he said, "at a place called Hadley, in Kent. My father died when I was days old, I"ve heard my mo- ther say. He was married to her, I believe, but I don"t know what he was. She had only me. My mother went about begging, sometimes taking me with her; at other times she left me at the lodging-house in Hadley. She went in the country, round about Tunbridge and there, begging. Sometimes she had a day"s work. We had plenty to eat then, but I haven"t had much lately. My mother died at Hadley a year ago. I didn"t know how she was buried. She was ill a long time, and I was out begging; for she sent me out to beg for myself a good while before that, and when I got back to the lodging-house they told me she was dead. I had sixpence in my pocket, but I couldn"t help crying to think I"d lost my mother. I cry about it still. I didn"t wait to see her buried, but I started on my own account. I met navvies in , and they paid my night"s lodging; and there was a man passing, going to London with potatoes, and the navvies gave the man a pot of beer to take me up to London in the van, and they went that way with me. I came to London to beg, thinking I could get more there than anywhere else, hearing that London was such a good place. I begged; but sometimes wouldn"t get a farthing in a day; often walking about the streets all night. I have been begging about all the time till now. I am very weak—starving to death. I never stole anything: I always kept my hands to myself. A boy wanted me to go with him to pick a gentleman"s pocket. We was mates for days, and then he asked me to go picking pockets; but I wouldn"t. I know it"s wrong, though I can neither read nor write. The boy asked me to do it to get into prison, as that would be better than the streets. He picked pockets to get into prison. He was starving about the streets like me. I never slept in a bed since I"ve been in London: I am sure I haven"t: I generally slept under the dry arches in Weststreet, where they"re building houses—I mean the arches for the cellars. I begged chiefly from the Jews about , for they all give away bread that their children leave— pieces of crust, and such-like. I would do anything to be out of this misery."