The million-peopled city
The Shoe-blacks a most remarkable Illustration of the Success of the Efforts made to benefit this Class.
The shoe-blacks now to be seen throughout the London streets are a very interesting class, illustrative of the vast benefit which may be conferred on individuals and on society by well-directed voluntary Christian efforts. They are employed by a Society, the Committee of which are twelve barristers of the Temple or Lincoln's Inn, who honourably devote much time and attention to a cause so apparently humble. One of these gentlemen gave evidence before a in , that, in addition, he had been a Sunday-school teacher for the last 15 years, a member of the for 4 years, and that he had been in the habit of visiting two or three times every week, as well as on the Sundays. The boys employed have been taken as nuisances from the streets, and as criminals from the gaols-made useful servants to the public, able to earn an honest livelihood during their reformation, and give promise of becoming religious and respectable lads at home, or useful colonists abroad. Of those engaged in the first 1 1/2 year, 27 had been criminals, and some of them had been many times in gaol. They are from 12 to 16 years of age, though not often so old as 16 now, as younger boys are found preferable. They are more generally now about 12 or 13. During the , the number of these lads was increased to 36, but since then it has even increased, and during the summer of , was 45. It
|is supposed that there is room for the employment of 200 in the great city. They are all dressed in a red uniform, provided by the Society, which has been found extremely useful-to the boy, in enabling him to keep himself separate from his former associates; to the Society, in enabling them to find the boy and inspect his conduct; and to the public, in showing them where the boy is stationed. The stations occupied were applied for by the Society, and allowed by the Police Commissioners. They vary very much in their value, and the lads are promoted from an inferior station to a better one as a reward for good conduct, or removed from a better to a worse station as a punishment for bad conduct. The boys are all taken from the , and their reception is held out as a prize for merit. It devolves on the superintendents of the 26 best to select the candidates, and from these the select a given number, whom they consider most worthy of the distinction. Before they are employed they have a week's training at the Society's premises, No. 1, , , . There they all assemble every morning before they proceed to their respective stations, and prayers are conducted at half-past 7 by one of the Committee, or, in his absence, by a paid officer, who receives a salary of 641. a-year. Ten of the boys sleep on these premises, which pays the rent of the entire house; for the Society is made now entirely self- supporting. The boys in general take their meals at their posts, and return at 6 in the evening to pay in all the money they have earned. On Wednesday evenings a lecture is delivered to them on religious subjects. There are provided for them a library, a savings-bank, and means for providing bath-tickets. They attend their respective schools in the evening, and a Sunday morning school is conducted for their benefit by one of the Committee. "Good-conduct|
|badges" are given by the Society as marks of merit; and warning, suspension for a week, or discharge, as punish- ments. Each boy is paid 6d. a-day. The remainder of his earnings is divided into three parts, the first of which is paid to the boy himself, the second is put by for him in the savings-bank, and the third is given to the Society to defray its expenses. A penny is the charge for brushing a gentleman's shoes and cleaning his trousers. Sometimes 2d., 3d., 4d., or even 6d., is given, but the Society desires to discourage this excess of payment. About 800 pairs of shoes were cleaned each day during the summer of . During the first year the boys laid by for their future welfare, in the savings-bank, . The earnings of course much vary, according to the state of the weather, the traffic of the station, and the quickness of the boy. It once reached 21. 2s. a-week by an Irish lad during the Exhibition. In the summer, 10s. is a fair sum to earn. This, continued all the year, with 45 boys, would amount to 1,4041.; but in the winter months the earnings are reduced one-half. The boys have generally been found honestly to bring to the office what they receive. As they are changed, the value of each station is tolerably known. They are also inspected by officers of the Society. If suspicion is excited, they are watched. But only 2 cases of dishonesty were thus dis- covered during the Society's first year. During that year, of the 27 previous criminals, 3 were sent out by the Society, as a reward, as emigrants, 5 obtained situations, 1 was restored to his friends, 3 left of their own accord, 2 were discharged for incompetence, 4 for misconduct, and 9 remained in the employment. All these had been convicted as thieves. Of 29 other boys employed that year, whose parents were convicts, or drunken and depraved, or had abandoned their children, 4 emigrated, 6 obtained situations, 1 was apprenticed, I left of his own accord, 2 were dis-|
|charged for incompetence, 7 for misconduct, and 9 remained in the employment. Of the first class-the thieves, a lad was raised from the rank of a criminal to the rank of inspector, and was paid 10s. a-week by the Society. Another, who had been a burglar, and who entered on his work with a bullet in his neck, received a similar promotion. And a third, who, although so young, had been 30 times in custody, and 3 times in gaol, was proceeding favourably. In one case, a lad received the reward of emigration, who was the son of a transport, and who took with him 151., which he had saved from his earnings. In another case, a boy, who was without a father, had only a drunken mother, and who was a criminal himself, obtained a situation as in-door servant, and, on doing so, commenced family prayers in the kitchen. He gave every satisfaction to his employer. One of the best lads remaining has no father; his mother is a criminal; and he himself had been a criminal also.|
A remarkable circumstance is, that the Society has received numerous applications from respectable parents to employ their sons, who have apparently felt no objection to their children associating with lads of so debased a class, so satisfactory has been the general conduct of the latter. The Society has refused, however, such applications, desiring to limit the number of the lads to those who have passed through .
Another interesting circumstance is, that 25 of these lads, although so young, actually supported their parents by their earnings.
It is also very interesting, that the lads are so fond of their situations, that it is difficult to get them to leave for more permanent ordinary places. They will not go for less than 7s. a-week, and they often show a desire to return, after having left.
Nor is it an unimportant circumstance, that the Society has no need to seek after situations for the lads. They receive numerous applications for them. One omnibus com- pany alone, during the year, applied for 40 lads.
Similar Societies have also been formed in , , and .
The lads who have no homes, and who do not lodge at the Society's house, live in model lodging-houses, and the refuges connected with their schools. Those who lodge in pay 3d. a night for their lodging.
Emigration expenses have been met partly by the schools to which the lads pertain, and partly by the . The outfit is in every case paid for out of the lad's savings. None are sent out but those who really desire to leave the country. In many cases they prefer remaining at home.
Arrangements are in progress for establishing a school especially for these lads, and making them pay for it, which they appear to be most ready to do.
All the lads on the Sunday must attend either church or school.
A fine of Id. is levied for want of punctuality at prayers in the morning, which is applied to a sick fund.
The following advantages in the plans of the Society are believed to have been most important in its success. By them industry is not merely enforced, but immediately rewarded; permanent employment is held out in prospect; good and bad conduct are made directly apparent to the other lads, and to the managers; emulation is promoted by classification; honesty by constant money transactions, in which trust is involved; economy by daily saving; attention to respectability of appearance by enforcing proper clothing; punctuality by fixed hours; steadiness by the requirement of prolonged attention to duties at a certain post; learning by
|promotion to stations requiring it, and love of home by a provision for those who would otherwise be without a slelter.|