To give the reader an idea of the motley assemblage to be found in these places, I subjoin the following table (taken from the Report), by which it will be seen that almost every quarter of the globe contributes its quota of wretchedness:—
These places of shelter for the houseless are only open at certain periods of the year; and at this season a large proportion of the country labourers who are out of employ flock to London, either to seek for work in the wintertime, or to avail themselves of the food and lodging afforded by these charitable institutions. Others, again, who are professional vagrants, tramping through the country, and sleeping at the different unions on their road, come to town as regularly as noblemen every winter, and make their appearance annually in these quarters. Moreover, it is at this season of the year that the sufferings and privations of the really poor and destitute are rendered tenfold more severe than at any other period; and it is at the houses of refuge that the great mass of London, or rather English and Irish, poverty and misery, is to be met with.
The congregation at the Refuges for the Destitute is, indeed, a sort of ragged congress of nations—a convocation of squalor and misery—a synopsis of destitution, degradation, and suffering, to be seen, perhaps, nowhere else.
Nor are the returns of the bodily ailments of the wretched inmates of these abodes less instructive as to their miserable modes of life, their continual exposure to the weather, and their want of proper nutriment. The subjoined medical report of the diseases and bodily afflictions to which these poor creatures are liable, tells a tale of suffering which, to persons with even the smallest amount of pathological knowledge, must need no comment. The catarrh and influenza, the rheumatism, bronchitis, ague, asthma, lumbago— all speak of many long night"s exposure to the wet and cold; whereas the abscesses, ulcers, the diarrhœa, and the excessive debility from starvation, tell, in a manner that precludes all doubt, of the want of proper sustenance and extreme privation of these, the very poorest of all the poor.
The returns of the different callings of the individuals seeking for the shelter of the refuges are equally curious and worthy of study. These, however, I shall reserve for my next letter, as, by comparing the returns for each year since the opening of the institution, now years ago, we shall be enabled to arrive at almost an historical account of the distress of the different trades since the year . These tables I am now preparing from the valuable yearly reports of the Society, of the most deserving among all our charitable institutions, and which, especially at this bitter season, calls for the support of all those who would give a meal and a bed to such as are too poor to have either.
I will now proceed to a description of the Refuge itself.
The only refuge for the houseless now open which is really a home for the homeless, is that in Playhouse-yard, Cripplegate. The doors open into a narrow by-street, and the neighbourhood needs no other announcement that the establishment is open for the reception of the houseless, than the assembly of a crowd of ragged shivering people, certain to be seen on the night of opening, as if they knew by instinct where they might be housed under a warm and comfortable roof. The crowd gathers in Playhouse-yard, and many among them look sad and weary enough. Many of the women carry infants at the breast, and have children by their sides holding by their gowns. The cries of these, and the wrangling of the hungry crowds for their places, is indeed disheartening to hear. The only sounds of merriment come from the errand-boys, as they call themselves, whom even starvation cannot make sorrowful for hours together. The little struggle that there usually is among the applicants is not for a rush when the doors are opened, but for what they call the "front rank." They are made to stand clear of the footpath; and when o"clock—the hour of admission—comes, an officer of the Refuge steps out, and quietly, by a motion of his hand, or a touch on the shoulder, sends in about men and boys, and about women and girls. He knows the great majority of those who have tickets which entitle them to or nights" further lodging (the tickets are generally for nights), and these are commonly in the foremost rank. The number
|thus admitted show themselves more or less at home. Some are quiet and abashed; but some proceed briskly, and in a business-like way, to the process, to wash themselves. This is done in large vessels, in what may be called the hall or vestibule of the building. A man keeps pumping fresh water into the vessels as fast as that used is drained off, and soap and clean towels are supplied when thought necessary; the clean towels, which are long, and attached to rollers, soon becoming, in truth, exceedingly dirty. I noticed some little contention—whether to show an anxiety to conform to the rules of the Refuge, or to hurry through a disagreeable but inevitable task, or really for the comfort of ablution, I will not pretend to determine—but there was some little contention for the turn among the young men at the washing. To look down upon them from the main staircase, as I did, was to survey a very motley scene. There they were—the shirtless, the shoeless, the coatless, the unshaven, the uncouth, ay, and the decent and respectable. There were men from every part of the United Kingdom, with a coloured man or , a few seamen, navigators, agricultural labourers, and artizans. There were no foreigners on the nights that I was there; and in the returns of those admitted there will not be found Jew. It is possible that Jews may be entered under the heads of "Germans" or "Poles"—I mean, foreign Jews; but on my visits I did not see so much as any near approach to the Hebrew physiognomy. To attempt to give an account of anything like a prevailing garb among these men is impossible, unless I described it as rags. As they were washing, or waiting for a wash, there was some stir, and a loud buzz of talk, in which "the brogue" strongly predominated. There was some little fun, too, as there must be where a crowd of many youths is assembled. in a ragged, coarse, striped shirt, exclaimed as he shoved along, "By your leave, gentlemen!" with a significant emphasis of his "gentlemen." Another man said to his neighbour, "The bread"s fine, Joe; but the sleep, isn"t that plummy?" Some few, I say, seemed merry enough, but that is easily accounted for. Their present object was attained, and your real professional vagabond is always happy by that—for a forgetfulness of the past, or an indifference to it, and a recklessness as to the future, are the primary elements of a vagrant"s enjoyment. Those who had tickets were of course subjected to no further examination, unless by the surgeon subsequently; but all the new candidates for admission—and the officers kept admitting fresh batches as they were instructed—were not passed before a rigid examination, when a ticket for nights was given to each fresh applicant. On the right hand, as you enter the building, is the office. The assistant-superintendant sits before a large ledger, in which he enters every name and description. His questions to every fresh candidate are:—"Your name?" "How old are you?" "What trade?" "How do you live (if no trade)?" "Where did you sleep last night?" "To what parish do you belong?" In order to answer these questions, each fresh applicant for admission stands before the door of the office, a portion of the upper division of the door being thrown open. Whilst I was present, there was among a portion of the male applicants but little hesitation in answering the inquiries glibly and promptly. Others answered reluctantly. The answers of some of the boys, especially the Irish boys, were curious. "Where did you sleep last night?" "Well, then, sir, I sleep walking about the streets all night, and very cowld it was, sir." Another lad was asked, after he had stated his name and age, how he lived? "I beg, or do anything," he answered. "What"s your parish?" "Ireland." (Several pronounced their parish to be the "county Corruk.") "Have you a father here?" "He died before we left Ireland." "How did you get here, then?" "I came with my mother." "Well, and where"s she?" "She died after we came to England." So the child had the streets for a stepmother.|
Some of the women were as glib and systematic in their answers as the men and boys. Others were much abashed. Among the glib-tongued women, there seemed no shamefacedness. Some of the women admitted here, however, have acquitted themselves well when provided (through charitable institutions) with situations. The absence of shame which I have remarked upon is the more notable, because these women were questioned by men, with other men standing by. Some of the women were good-looking; and when asked how old they were, they answered at once, and, judging by their appearance, never understated their years. Many I should have pronounced younger than they stated. Vanity, even with silliness and prettiness, does not seem to exist in their utter destitution.
All the regular processes having been observed (and the women have a place for their ablutions after the same fashion as the men), the applicants admitted enter their several wards. The women"s ward is at the top of the building. It supplies accommodation, or berths, for women in an apartment yards in length and in width. At corner of this long chamber, a few steps lead down to what is called "the nursery," which has berths. Most of these berths may be described as double, and are large enough to accommodate a mother and her children. The children, when I saw them, were gambolling about in some of the berths as merry as children elsewhere, or perhaps merrier, for they were experiencing the unwonted luxuries of warmth and food. The matron can supply these women and their
|children with gruel at her discretion; and it appeared to be freely given. Some who had children seemed to be the best of all there in point of physiognomy. They had not, generally, the stolid, stupid, indifferent, or shameless look of many of the other women; it was as though the motherly feeling had somewhat humanized them. Some of the better sort of women spoke so low as to be hardly audible. Among them were, indeed, many decentlook- ing females.|
The men"s wards are the Chapel Ward (for the better sort of persons), containing berths, line being ranged berths deep; the Lower Ward, containing berths; the Boys" Ward, containing berths; and the Straw Loft, . There is a walk alongside the berths in each ward. What is called the Boys" Ward is not confined to boys: it used to be so, but they were found so noisy that they could no longer be allowed a separate apartment. They are now scattered through the several wards with the men, the officers arranging them, and varying the arrangements as they consider best. Before there can be any retirement to rest, each man, woman, and child must be examined by a surgeon. Whilst I was present, a young assistant conducted the investigation in a careful, yet kindly and gentlemanly manner. Indeed, I was much struck with the sympathy and gentleness he displayed; and it was evident from the respect of the people, that kindness and consideration are the very qualities to impress and control the class he has to deal with. All afflicted with cutaneous disorders (and there were but men so afflicted) were lodged apart from the others. Bronchitis and rheumatism are the prevalent disorders, occasioned by their exposure to the weather, and their frequent insufficiency of food. per cent of them, I was told by Mr. Gay, the intelligent surgeon of the establishment, might have coughs at some periods, but of that they thought nothing. Women advanced in pregnancy, and men with any serious (especially any infectious) ailment, are not permitted to sleep in the Refuge; but the institution, if they have been admitted, finds them lodgings elsewhere.
Each person admitted receives in the evening half-a-pound of the best bread. Every child has the same allowance. If a woman be admitted with children, she receives half-pounds of bread—a half-pound for every , no matter if be at the breast, as is not unfrequently the case. The same quantity of bread is given in the mornings. In the night that I was present, were admitted, and consequently (including the evening and morning allowances), lbs. of bread were disposed of. On Sundays, when Divine Service is celebrated by a clergyman of the Church of England, half-pounds of bread and ounces of cheese are distributed to each inmate, children and babies included. I witnessed a number of young men eating the bread administered to them. They took it with a keen appetite; nothing was heard among them but the champing of the teeth, as they chewed large mouthfuls of the food.
The berths, both in the men"s and women"s wards, are on the ground, and divided from another only by a wooden partition about a foot high; a similar partition is at the head and feet; so that in all the wards it looks as if there were a series of coffins arranged in long catacombs. This burial-like aspect is the more striking when the inmates are all asleep, as they were, with the rarest exceptions, when I walked round at o"clock at night. Each sleeper has for covering a large basil (dressed sheep-skin), such as cobblers use for aprons. As they lie in long rows, in the most profound repose, with these dark brown wrappers about them, they present the uniform look and arrangement of a long line of mummies. Each bed in the coffin, or trough--like division, is made of waterproof cloth, stuffed with hay, made so as to be easily cleaned. It is soft and pleasant to the touch. Formerly the beds were plain straw, but the present plan has been in use for years. In this Refuge only men have died since it was established, years ago. fell dead at the sink-stone while washing himself; the other were found dead in their berths during the prevalence of the cholera.
Every part of the building was scrupulously clean. On the night of the opening, the matron selects from the women who have sought an asylum there, , who are engaged for the season to do the household work. This is done during the day when the inmates are absent. All must leave by in the morning, the doors being open for their departure at , in case any wish to quit early —as some do for the chance of a job at Covent-garden, Farringdon, or any of the early markets. The women-helpers receive a-week each, the half of that sum being paid them in money every Saturday, and the other half being retained and given to each of them, in a round sum, at the closing of the Refuge. The premises in which this accommodation to the houseless is now supplied were formerly a hat manufactory on a large scale; but the lath and plaster of the ceilings, and the partitions, have been removed, so that what was a suite of apartments on floor is now a long ward. The rafters of the ceilings are minutely whitewashed, as are the upright beams used in the construction of the several rooms before the place was applied to its present charitable end. Those now are in the nature of pillars, and add to the catacomb-like aspect that I have spoken of. In different parts of each ward are very large grates, in which bright fires are kept glowing and crackling; and as these are lighted some time before
|the hour of opening, the place has a warmth and cosiness which must be very grateful to those who have encountered the cold air all the day, and perhaps all the night before.|
In order to arrive at a correct estimate as to the number of the really poor and houseless who availed themselves of the establishment (to afford nightly shelter to whom the refuge was originally instituted by the benevolent founder, Mr. Hick, the City mace-bearer) I consulted with the superintendent as to the class of persons he found most generally seeking refuge there. These were—among the men—mostly labourers out of work—agricultural, railway, and dock; discharged artisans, chiefly carpenters and painters; sailors, either cast away or without their registry tickets; broken-down tradesmen, clerks, shopmen, and errand-boys, who either through illness or misfortune had been deprived of their situations; and, above all, Irish immigrants, who had been starved out of their own country. These he considered the really deserving portion of the inmates for whom the institution was designed. Among the females, the better and largest class of poor were needlewomen, servants, charwomen, gardenwomen, sellers of laces in the street, and occasionally a beggar-woman. Under his guidance I selected such as appeared the most meritorious among the classes he had enumerated, and now subjoin the statements of a portion of the number.
The of the houseless that I saw was a railway navigator. He was a fine, stoutlybuilt fellow, with a fresh-coloured open countenance, and flaxen hair—indeed, altogether a splendid specimen of the Saxon labourer. He was habited in a short blue smockfrock, yellow in parts with clay, and he wore the heavy high lace--up boots, so characteristic of the tribe. These were burst, and almost soleless with long wear.
The poor fellow told the old story of the labourer compelled to squander the earnings at the public-house of his master:—
The next man to whom I spoke was tall and hale-looking, except that his features were pinched, and his eyes had a dull lack-lustre
|look, common to men suffering from cold and hunger. His dress was a coarse jacket, fustian trousers, and coarse, hard-worn shoes. He spoke without any very provincial accent.|
This man appeared to me to be a very decent character.
The large number of Irish found among the inmates of these establishments is of the peculiar features of the Refuges. By the returns above given, it will be seen that they constitute more than -half of the total applicants. Such being the fact, I selected from the more decent, as types of the better class of immigrants, and subjoin their narratives.
of these men had a half-shrewd, halfstolid look, and was clad in very dirty fustian. His beard was some days old, and he looked ill-fed and wretched. His children—for he had boys with him, and years
|old—were shoeless, their white skins being a contrast to their dirty dress, as the former appeared through the holes in their jackets. They looked on with a sort of vacant wonder, motionless, and without a word. The father said:—|
The younger man, who was tall and gaunt, more intelligent than the other, and less squalid in his appearance, said:— "I have been in England years in August. I came to better my living. I tilled a portion of land in Ireland. It was a-year rent, and acres. That was in the county Cork, parish of Kilmeen. I rented the land of a middleman, and he was very severe. My family and I couldn"t live under him. I had a wife and children. We all came to England, from Cork to Bristol. I kept a little substance back to pay my way to England. The voyage cost From Bristol I went to Cardiff, as I got no work at Bristol. At Cardiff I worked on the railway at a-day. I did well for a couple of months. I would like to continue at that, or at a-day here, better than in Ireland these times. I worked in Cardiff town with a bricklayer, after I"d done on the railway, at a-week. I next year had a twelvemonth"s work, on and off, with a farmer near Bristol, at a-week, and was still plenty comfortable. I made for London at the hay-harvest. I had a little money to start with, but I got no hay-work, only a trifle of work at the Docks. In cornharvest, near Brighton, I worked for weeks, making an acre for cutting wheat by piecework, and for oats, and for any day"s work. I made altogether. I got back to London with I could get no work at all, but days" work at a stone-yard, at a-day. I sold a few things in the streets, oranges and apples; so did my wife. It helped to keep us. All was gone at last, so I got in here with child (a fine boy). My wife"s got with her. She"s in a lodging in Gray"sinn- lane. She"s starving, I"m afraid; but she wished me to come in here with the child, as I could do nothing at night-time. I don"t know how many came over about the time I did. The gentry give poor men money, or did give it to them, to send them over here, to free the land from its expenses."
To complete the picture of this Irish destitution, I add the following.
wretched creature had come to the Refuge with her children. She herself was habited in a large blue cloth cloak, her toes were through the end of her shoes, and her gown clung tight to her limbs, telling that she was utterly destitute of under-clothing. In her arms she carried an infant, round which were wound some old woollen rags. As the little thing sucked at its mother"s breast, it breathed so hard that it needed no words to tell of its long exposure to the cold. Though the mother was half-clad, still there was the little bit of clean net inside the old rusty straw bonnet. The children were respectively , , and years old. The eldest (a goodlooking grey-eyed girl, who stood with her forefinger in her mouth, half simple) was covered with a tattered plaid shawl. This, at her mother"s bidding, she drew from her shoulder with an ostentation of poverty, to show that what had before appeared a gown beneath was nothing more than a bombazine petticoat. On her feet were a pair of women"s
|old fashionable shoes, tied on with string. These had been given in charity to her by a servant a week back. The next child—a boy —laughed as I looked at him, and seemed, though only years old, to have been made prematurely "knowing" by his early street education. He put out his foot as he saw my eye glance downward to his shoes, to show me that he had boot and shoe on. He was clad in all kinds of rags, and held in his hand a faded velvet cap. The youngest boy was almost a dwarf. He was years old, but so stunted that he seemed scarce half that age.|
She persisted in asseverating this, being apparently totally incapable of perceiving the inhumanity of her husband"s conduct.
The next was a rather tall and well-spoken woman of .
The poor woman whom I next accosted was a widow (her husband having died only a few months before). She had altogether what I may call a faded look; even her widow"s cap was limp and flat, and her look was miserably subdued. She said:—
A pretty, pleasant-spoken young woman, very tidy in her poor attire, which was an old cloak wrapped close round her, to cover her scanty dress, gave me the following statement very modestly:—
This girl wished to get into the parish, in order to be sent out as an emigrant, or anything of that kind; but her illegitimacy was a bar, as no settlement could be proved.
It was not difficult to see, by the looks of the poor woman whom I next addressed, the distress and privation she had endured. Her eyes were full of tears, and there was a plaintiveness in her voice that was most touching. She was clad in rusty black, and had on a black straw bonnet with a few old crape flowers in it; but still, in all her poverty, there was a neatness in her appearance that told she was much unused to such abject misery as had now come upon her. Hers was, indeed, a wretched story—the victim of her husband"s ill treatment and neglect:—"I have been working at needlework ever since the end of August. My husband is living; but he has deserted me, and I don"t know where he is at present. He had been a gentleman"s servant, but he could attend to a garden, and of late years he had done so. I have been married years next April. I never did live happily with him. He drank a very great deal, and when tipsy he used to beat me sorely. He had been out of work for a long time before he got his last situation, and there he had a-week. He lost his place before that through drink. Oh, sir, perhaps he"d give me all his money at the end of the week within ; but then he"d have more than half of it back again—not every week alike, of course, but that was mostly the case—and in particular, for the last year and a half, for since then he had been worse. While he was with me I have gone out for a day"s charing occasionally, but then I found I was no for"arder at the week"s end, and so I didn"t strive so much as I might have done, for if I earned he"d be sure to have it from me. I was a servant, before he married me, in a respectable tradesman"s family. I lived years and a half at my master"s house out of town, and that was where I fell in with my husband. He was a shopman then. I lived with him more than years, and always acted a wife"s part to him. I never drank myself, and was never untrue to him; but he has been too untrue to me, and I have had to suffer for it. I bore all his unkindness until August last, when he treated me so badly. I cannot mention to you how—but he deceived me and injured me in the worst possible manner. I have child, a boy, years old last September; but this boy is with him, and I don"t know where. I have striven to find him out, but cannot. When I found out how he had deceived me we had words, and he then swore he wouldn"t come home any more to me, and he has kept to his oath, for I haven"t set eyes on him since. My boy was down at a friend"s house at Cambridge, and they gave him up to the father without my knowledge. When he went away I had no money in the house. Nothing but a few things—tables, and chairs, and a bed in a room. I kept them as long as I could, but at last they went to find me in food. After he had gone I got a bit of needle-work. I worked at the dress-making and several different kinds of work since he left me. Then I used to earn about a-week; sometimes not so much. Sometimes I have made only , and lately—that is, within the last weeks—I have earned scarcely anything. About October last I was obliged to sell my things to pay off my rent and get myself something to eat. After that I went to lodge with a person, and there I stopped till very lately, when I had scarce nothing, and couldn"t afford to pay my rent. Then I was turned out of there, and I went and made shift with a friend by lying down on the boards, beside her children. I lay down with my clothes on. I had nothing to cover me, and no bed under me. They was very poor people. At last my friend and her husband didn"t like to have people about in the room where they slept; and besides, I was so poor I was obliged to beg a bit of what they had, and they was so poor they couldn"t afford to spare it to me. They were very good and kind to me so long as they could hold out anyhow, but at last I was obliged to leave, and walk about the streets. This I did for whole nights—last Sunday and Monday nights. It was bitter cold, and freezing sharp. I did go and sit on the stairs of a lodging-house on Monday night, till I was
|that cold I could scarcely move a limb. On Tuesday night I slept in the Borough. A lady in the street gave me threepence. I asked her if she could give me a ticket to go anywhere. I told her I was in the deepest distress, and she gave me all the halfpence she had, and I thought I would go and have a night"s lodging with the money. All these days and nights I had only a piece of bread to keep down my hunger. Yesterday I was walking about these parts, and I see a lot of people standing about here, and I asked them if there was anything being given away. They told me it was the Refuge, or else I shouldn"t have known there was such a place. Had I been aware of it, I shouldn"t have been out in the streets all night as I was on Sunday and Monday. When I leave here (and they"ll only keep me for nights) I don"t know what I shall do, for I have so parted with my things that I ain"t respectable enough to go after needlework, and they do look at you so. My clothes are all gone to live upon. If I could make myself look a little decent, I might perhaps get some work. I wish I could get into service again. I wish I"d never left it, indeed: but I want things. If I can"t get any things, I must try in such as I have got on: and if I can"t get work, I shall be obliged to see if the parish will do anything for me; but I"m afraid they won"t. I am years old, and very miserable indeed."|
From the opening of the Refuges for the Houseless in , until , as many as homeless individuals received "nightly shelter" there, being an average of upwards of a-year. Some of these have remained or nights in the same establishment; so that, altogether, no less than nights" lodgings were afforded to the very poor, and lbs., or nearly cwt. of bread distributed among them.
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|Chapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin|
|Our Street Folk - Street Exhibitors|
The Fantoccini Man
Guy Fawkes (Man)
Guy Fawkes (Boy)
An Old Street Showman
The Chinese Shades
Exhibitor of Mechanical Figures
The Telescope Exhibitor
Exhibitor of the Microscope
Acrobat, or Street-Posturer
The Street Risley
The Strong Man
The Street Juggler
The Street Conjurer
Statement of another Street Conjurer
The Street Fire-King, or Salamander
The Snake, Sword, and Knife-Swallower
The Penny-Gaff Clown
The Canvas Clown
The Penny-Circus Jester
The Tight-Rope Dancers and Stilt-Vaulters
Gun-Exercise Exhibitor - One-Legged Italian
|Chapter III: - Street Musicians|
Blind Performer on the Bells
Blind Female Violin Player
Blind Scotch Violoncello Player
Blind Irish Piper
The English Street Bands
The German Street Bands
Of the Bagpipe Players
Scotch Piper and Dancing-Girl
Another Bagpipe Player
French Hurdy-Gurdy Player, with Dancing Children
Poor Harp Player
Organ Man, with Flute Harmonicon Organ
Italian Pipers and Clarionet Players
Italian with Monkey
The Dancing Dogs
Concertina Player on the Steamboats
Another 'Tom-Tom' Player
Performer on Drum and Pipes
|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|
Characteristics of the Various Classes of Vagrants
Statements of Vagrants
Statement of a Returned Convict
Lives of the Boy Inmates of the Casual Wards of the London Workhouses
Increase and Decrease of Number of Applicants to Casual Wards of London Workhouses
Estimate of Numbers and Cost of Vagrants
Routes of the Vagrants
London Vagrants' Asylums for the Houseless
Asylum for the Houseless Poor
Description of the Asylum for the Houselss
Charities and Sums Given to the Poor
|Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men|