London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3
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:—
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:—
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.
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:—
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:—
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.