London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Estimate of Numbers and Cost of Vagrants.

LET me endeavour to arrive at some estimate as to the number and cost of the vagrant population.

There were, according to the returns of the Poor-law Commissioners, vagrants relieved in and out of the workhouses of England and Wales, on the . In addition to these, the Occupation Abstract informs us that, on the night of the , when the last census was taken, individuals were living in barns and tents. But in order to arrive at a correct estimate of the total number of vagrants throughout the country, we must add to the above numbers the inmates of the trampers" houses. Now, according to the Report of the Constabulary Commissioners, there were in a nightly average of very nearly vagrants infesting some mendicants" lodging-houses in London and other of the principal towns of England and Wales. (See "London Labour," Vol. I. p. .) Further, it will be seen by the calculations given at the same, that there are in the postal towns throughout the country (averaging trampers" houses to each town, and trampers nightly to each house), and other vagrants distributed throughout England and Wales.

Hence the calculation as to the total number of vagrants would stand thus:—

 In the workhouses . . . 13,547 
 In barns and tents (according to census) . . . . . 20,348 
 In the mendicants" houses of London, and six other principal towns of England and Wales, according to Constabulary Commissioners" Report . . . 4,813 
 Ditto in 3820 other postal towns, averaging each two mendicants" houses, and ten lodgers to each house . . . . . 76,400 
 i -------- 
 Deduct five per cent for characters really destitute and deserving . 5,755 
 Total number of habitual vagrants in England and Wales 109,353 

The cost of relieving these vagrants may be computed as follows:—On the night of the , there were vagrants relieved throughout England and Wales; but I am informed by the best authorities on the subject, that - of this number only can be fairly estimated as receiving relief every night throughout the year at the different unions. Now, the of is , and this, multiplied by , gives as the total number of cases of vagrancy relieved throughout England and Wales during the year . The cost of each of these is estimated at twopence per head per night for food, and this makes the sum expended in their relief amount to

In addition to this, we must estimate the sum given in charity to the mendicants, or carried off surreptitiously by the petty thieves frequenting the tramping-houses. The sums thus abstracted from the public may be said to amount at the lowest to per day for each of the trampers not applying for relief at the workhouses. In the Constabulary Report, p. , the earnings of the petty thieves are estimated at per week, and those of the beggars at per day (p. ). Hence we have the following account of the total cost of the vagrants of England and Wales:—

 Sum given in relief to the vagrants at the workhouses . . . . £ 13,733 7 8 
 Sum abstracted by them, either by begging or pilfering on the road . . 138,888 11 8 
   £ 152,621 19 4 
 As five per cent must be taken off this for the truly deserving . . . 7,631 1 8 
 The total cost will be . £ 144,990 17 8 

By this it appears that the total number of professional vagrants dispersed throughout England and Wales amounts to . These live at the expense of the industrious classes, and cost the country no less than per annum. And if the and odd vagrants relieved in the workhouses constitute merely the dispersed throughout the country, we have in round numbers nearly for the cost of the whole.

There are, then, no less than individuals of the lowest, the filthiest, and most demoralised classes, continually wandering through the country; in other words, there is a stream of vice and disease—a tide of iniquity and fever, continually flowing from town to town, from end of the land to the other.

One of the worst concomitants of vagrant mendicancy," says the Poor-law Report, "is the fever of a dangerous typhoid character, which has universally marked the path of the mendicants. There is scarcely a workhouse in which this pestilence does not prevail in a greater or less degree, and numerous union officers have fallen victims to it." Those who are acquainted with the exceeding filth of the persons frequenting the casual wards, will not wonder at the fever which follows in the wake of the vagrants. "Many have the itch. I have seen," says Mr. Boase, "a party of twenty almost all scratching themselves at once, before settling into their rest in the straw. Lice exist in great numbers upon them.

That vagrancy is the nursery of crime, and that the habitual tramps are the beggars, then the thieves, and, finally, the convicts of the country, the evidence of all parties goes to prove. There is, however, a curious corroboration of the fact to be found, by referring to the period of life at which both crime and vagrancy seem to be in their youth. The ages of the vagrants frequenting the asylums for the houseless poor, are chiefly between and years old; and the tables of the ages of the criminals, given in the Government Returns, show that the majority of persons convicted of crime are equally young.

The total number of vagrants in the metropolis may be calculated as follows:—There were vagrants relieved at the metropolitan unions during the year . (I take the metropolitan returns of , because those for England and Wales published as yet only extend to that year.) As the vagrants never remain days in the same place, we must divide this number by , in order to ascertain the number of vagrants resident at and the same time in London. This gives us for the average number relieved each night in the whole of the metropolitan unions. To this we must add the tramps residing in the metropolitan mendicants" lodginghouses (averaging inmates each); and the sum of these must be further increased by the individuals relieved nightly at the asylums for the houseless poor (including that of , Edgeware-road), for the majority of these seldom or never make their appearance in the casual wards of the metropolis, but are attracted to London solely by the opening of the asylums. Hence the account will stand as follows:—

 Average number of vagrants relieved night in the metropolitan unions . 849 
 Average number of vagrants resident in the mendicants" lodging-houses in London . . . . . . 2431 
 Average number of individuals relieved at the metropolitan asylums for the houseless poor . . . . 750 

Now, as per cent of this amount is said to consist of characters really destitute and deserving, we arrive at the conclusion that there are vagrants in London, living either by mendicancy or theft.

The cost of the vagrants in London in the year may be estimated as follows:—

   £ s. d. 
 310,058 vagrants relieved at the metropolitan unions, at the cost of 2d. per head . 2,584 13 0 
 67,500 nights" lodgings afforded to the houseless poor at the metropolitan asylums, including the West-end Asylum, Market-street, Edgeware road . . . . 3,134 1 4 1/2 
 2,431 inmates of the mendicants" lodging-houses in London, gaining upon an average 1s. per day, or altogether per year . . 44,365 15 0 
   £ 59,084 9 4 1/2 
 Deduct 5 per cent for the cost of the relief of the truly deserving . . . . 2,504 4 5 
 The total will then be . £ 47,580 4 11 1/2 

It appears, then, that there are habitual vagrants in the metropolis, and the cost for their support annually amounts to

The number of metropolitan beggars is considerably increased on the eve of any threatened disturbances, or any large open-air meeting in London. For several days previous to the Chartist display in , there was an influx of tramps over and above the ordinary quantity, each day, at union alone in the suburbs of London; and the master assured me that on the night of the meeting on Common, he overheard the inmates of the casual ward boasting how they had assisted in pillaging the pawnbroker"s house that had been broken into that afternoon.

Well might the master of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union say, therefore, that the vagrants form of the most restless, discontented, vicious, and dangerous elements of society. Of these we have seen that there are about dispersed throughout the country, of whom, in round numbers, are generally located in London. These constitute, in the words of the same gentleman, the main source from which the criminals are continually recruited and augmented.

This object is in collection Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
DCA Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
 Title Page
Chapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin
Our Street Folk - Street Exhibitors
Chapter III: - Street Musicians
Chapter IV: - Street Vocalists
Chapter V: - Street Artists
Chapter VI: - Exhibitors of Trained Animals
Chapter VII: Skilled and Unskilled Labour - Garret-Masters
Chapter VIII: - The Coal-Heavers
Chapter IX: - Ballast-Men
Chapter X: - Lumpers
Chapter XI: Account of the Casual Labourers
 Chapter XII: Cheap Lodging-Houses
Chapter XIII: On the Transit of Great Britain and the Metropolis
Chapter XIV: London Watermen, Lightermen, and Steamboat-Men
Chapter XV: London Omnibus Drivers and Conductors
Chapter XVI: Character of Cabdrivers
Chapter XVII: Carmen and Porters
Chapter XVIII: London Vagrants
 Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men