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Title: How The Poor Live, and Horrible London - 1889
Author: Sims, George R.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By George R. Sims


Chatto & Windus, Piccadilly



|The papers which form this volume appeared originally in _The Pictorial
World_ and _The Daily News_. The interest now evinced in the great
question of Housing the Poor leads me to hope that they will be of
assistance to many who are studying the subject, and would desire to
have their information in a convenient form for reference. Much that
I ventured to prognosticate when 'How the Poor Live' was written has
happened since, and I have the permission of the author of 'The Bitter
Cry of Outcast London' to say that from these articles he derived the
greatest assistance while compiling his famous pamphlet. I have thought
it well, all circumstances considered, to let the work stand in its
original form, and have in no way added to it or altered it.

If an occasional lightness of treatment seems to the reader out of
harmony with so grave a subject, I pray that he will remember the work
was undertaken to enlist the sympathies of a class not generally given
to the study of 'low life.'




|I commence, with the first of these chapters, a book of travel. An
author and an artist have gone hand-in-hand into many a far-off region
of the earth, and the result has been a volume eagerly studied by the
stay-at-home public, anxious to know something of the world in which
they live. In these pages I propose to record the result of a journey
into a region which lies at our own doors--into a dark continent that is
within easy walking distance of the General Post Office. This continent
will, I hope, be found as interesting as any of those newly-explored
lands which engage the attention of the Royal Geographical Society--the
wild races who inhabit it will, I trust, gain public sympathy as easily
as those savage tribes for whose benefit the Missionary Societies never
cease to appeal for funds.

I have no shipwrecks, no battles, no moving adventures by flood
and field, to record. Such perils as I and my fellow-traveller have
encountered on our journey are not of the order which lend themselves
to stirring narrative. It is unpleasant to be mistaken, in underground
cellars where the vilest outcasts hide from the light of day, for
detectives in search of their prey--it is dangerous to breathe for some
hours at a stretch an atmosphere charged with infection and poisoned
with indescribable effluvia--it is hazardous to be hemmed in down a
blind alley by a crowd of roughs who have had hereditarily transmitted
to them the maxim of John Leech, that half-bricks were specially
designed for the benefit of 'strangers;' but these are not adventures
of the heroic order, and they will not be dwelt upon lovingly after the
manner of travellers who go farther afield.

My task is perhaps too serious a one even for the light tone of these
remarks. No man who has seen 'How the Poor Live' can return from the
journey with aught but an aching heart. No man who recognises how
serious is the social problem which lies before us can approach its
consideration in any but the gravest mood. Let me, then, briefly place
before the reader the serious purpose of these pages, and then I will
ask him to set out with me on the journey and judge for himself whether
there is no remedy for much that he will see. He will have to encounter
misery that some good people think it best to leave undiscovered. He
will be brought face to face with that dark side of life which the
wearers of rose-coloured spectacles turn away from on principle. The
worship of the beautiful is an excellent thing, but he who digs down
deep in the mire to find the soul of goodness in things evil is a better
man and a better Christian than he who shudders at the ugly and the
unclean, and kicks it from his path, that it may not come between the
wind and his nobility.

But let not the reader be alarmed, and imagine that I am about to take
advantage of his good-nature in order to plunge him neck-high into a
mud bath. He may be pained before we part company, but he shall not
be disgusted. He may occasionally feel a choking in his throat, but he
shall smile now and again. Among the poor there is humour as well as
pathos, there is food for laughter as well as for tears, and the rays
of God's sunshine lose their way now and again, and bring light and
gladness into the vilest of the London slums.

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, in his speech at the opening
of the Royal College of Music some years ago, said: 'The time has come
when class can no longer stand aloof from class, and that man does his
duty best who works most earnestly in bridging over the gulf between
different classes which it is the tendency of increased wealth and
increased civilization to widen.' It is to increased wealth and to
increased civilization that we owe the wide gulf which to-day separates
well-to-do citizens from the masses. It is the increased wealth of this
mighty city which has driven the poor back inch by inch, until we
find them to-day herding together, packed like herrings in a barrel,
neglected and despised, and left to endure wrongs and hardships which,
if they were related of a far-off savage tribe, would cause Exeter Hall
to shudder till its bricks fell down. It is the increased civilization
of this marvellous age which has made life a victory only for the
strong, the gifted, and the specially blest, and left the weak, the
poor, and the ignorant to work out in their proper persons the theory of
the survival of the fittest to its bitter end.

There are not wanting signs that the 'one-roomed helot' and his brood
are about to receive a little scientific attention. They have become
natural curiosities, and to this fact they may owe the honour in store
for them, of dividing public attention with the Zenanas, the Aborigines,
and the South Sea Islanders. The long-promised era of domestic
legislation is said to be at hand, and prophets with powerful telescopes
declare they can see the first faint signs of its dawn upon the
political horizon. When that era has come within the range of the
naked eye, it is probable that the Homes of the Poor will be one of
its burning questions, and the strong arm of the law may be extended
protectingly, even at the risk of showing the shortness of its sleeve,
as far as the humble toilers who at the present moment suffer only its
penalties and enjoy none of its advantages.

That there are remedies for the great evil which lies like a cankerworm
in the heart of this fair city is certain. What those remedies are you
will be better able to judge when you have seen the condition of the
disease for which Dr. State is to be called in. Dr. State, alas! is as
slow to put in an appearance as his parish _confrère_ when the patient
in need of his services is poor and friendless.

Forgive me this little discourse by the way. It has at any rate filled
up the time as we walk along to the outskirts of the land through which
we are to travel for a few weeks together. And now, turning out of the
busy street alive with the roar of commerce, and where the great marts
and warehouses tower stories high, and where Dives adds daily to his
wealth, we turn up a narrow court, and find ourselves at once in the
slum where Lazarus lays his head--even as he did in the sacred story--at
the very gates of the mighty millionaire.

We walk along a narrow dirty passage, which would effectually have
stopped the Claimant had he come to this neighbourhood in search of
witnesses, and at the end we find ourselves in what we should call a
back-yard, but which, in the language of the neighbourhood, is a square.
The square is full of refuse; heaps of dust and decaying vegetable
matter lie about here and there, under the windows and in front of the
doors of the squalid tumble-down houses. The windows above and below are
broken and patched; the roofs of these two-storied 'eligible residences'
look as though Lord Alcester had been having some preliminary practice
with his guns here before he set sail for Alexandria. All these places
are let out in single rooms at prices varying from 2s. 6d to 4s. a week.
We can see a good deal of the inside through the cracks and crevices
and broken panes, but if we knock at the door we shall get a view of the

If you knew more of these Alsatias, you would be rather astonished that
there was a door to knock at. Most of the houses are open day and night,
and knockers and bells are things unknown. Here, however, the former
luxuries exist; so we will not disdain them.

Knock, knock!

Hey, presto! what a change of scene! Sleepy Hollow has come to life.
Every door flies open, and there is a cluster of human beings on the
threshold. Heads of matted hair and faces that haven't seen soap for
months come out of the broken windows above.

Our knock has alarmed the neighbourhood. Who are we? The police? No. Who
are we? Now they recognise one of our number--our guide--with a growl.
He and we with him can pass without let or hindrance where it would
be dangerous for a policeman to go. We are supposed to be on business
connected with the School Board, and we are armed with a password which
the worst of these outcasts have grown at last sulkily to acknowledge.

This is a very respectable place, and we have taken it first to break
the ground gently for an artist who has not hitherto studied 'character'
on ground where I have had many wanderings.

To the particular door attacked there comes a poor woman, white and thin
and sickly-looking; in her arms she carries a girl of eight or nine with
a diseased spine; behind her, clutching at her scanty dress, are two or
three other children. We put a statistical question, say a kind word to
the little ones, and ask to see the room.

What a room! The poor woman apologizes for its condition, but the
helpless child, always needing her care, and the other little ones to
look after, and times being bad, etc. Poor creature, if she had ten pair
of hands instead of one pair always full, she could not keep this
room clean. The walls are damp and crumbling, the ceiling is black and
peeling off, showing the laths above, the floor is rotten and broken
away in places, and the wind and the rain sweep in through gaps that
seem everywhere. The woman, her husband, and her six children live,
eat, and sleep in this one room, and for this they pay three shillings
a week. It is quite as much as they can afford. There has been no
breakfast yet, and there won't be any till the husband (who has been out
to try and get a job) comes in and reports progress. As to complaining
of the dilapidated, filthy condition of the room, they know better. If
they don't like it they can go. There are dozens of families who will
jump at the accommodation, and the landlord is well aware of the fact.

Some landlords do repair their tenants' rooms. Why, cert'nly. Here is a
sketch of one and of the repairs we saw the same day. Rent, 4s. a week;
condition indescribable. But notice the repairs: a bit of a box-lid
nailed across a hole in the wall big enough for a man's head to go
through, a nail knocked into a window-frame beneath which still comes
in a little fresh air, and a strip of new paper on a corner of the wall.
You can't see the new paper because it is not up. The lady of the rooms
holds it in her hand. The rent collector has just left it for her to put
up herself. Its value, at a rough guess, is threepence. This landlord
_has_ executed repairs. Items: one piece of a broken soap-box, one yard
and a half of paper, and one nail. _And for these repairs he has raised
the rent of the room threepence a week._

We are not in the square now, but in a long dirty street, full of
lodging-houses from end to end, a perfect human warren, where every door
stands open night and day--a state of things that shall be described and
illustrated a little later on when we come to the ''appy dossers.' In
this street, close to the repaired residence, we select at hazard an
open doorway and plunge into it. We pass along a greasy, grimy passage,
and turn a corner to ascend the stairs. Round the corner it is dark.
There is no staircase light, and we can hardly distinguish in the gloom
where we are going. A stumble causes us to strike a light.

That stumble was a lucky one. The staircase we were ascending, and which
men and women and little children go up and down day after day and night
after night, is a wonderful affair. The handrail is broken away, the
stairs themselves are going--a heavy boot has been clean through one of
them already, and it would need very little, one would think, for the
whole lot to give way and fall with a crash. A sketch, taken at the
time, by the light of successive vestas, fails to give the grim horror
of that awful staircase. The surroundings, the ruin, the decay, and the
dirt, could not be reproduced.

We are anxious to see what kind of people get safely up and down this
staircase, and as we ascend we knock accidentally up against something;
it is a door and a landing. The door is opened, and as the light is
thrown on to where we stand we give an involuntary exclamation of
horror; the door opens right on to the corner stair. The woman who comes
out would, if she stepped incautiously, fall six feet, and nothing
could save her. It is a tidy room this, for the neighbourhood. A good
hardworking woman has kept her home neat, even in such surroundings. The
rent is four and sixpence a week, and the family living in it numbers
eight souls; their total earnings are twelve shillings. A hard lot, one
would fancy; but in comparison to what we have to encounter presently
it certainly is not. Asked about the stairs, the woman says, 'It is a
little ockard-like for the young'uns a-goin' up and down to school now
the Board make'em wear boots; but they don't often hurt themselves.'
Minus the boots, the children had got used to the ascent and descent, I
suppose, and were as much at home on the crazy staircase as a chamois on
a precipice. _Excelsior_ is our motto on this staircase. No maiden
with blue eyes comes out to mention avalanches, but the woman herself
suggests 'it's werry bad higher up.' We are as heedless of the warning
as Longfellow's headstrong banner-bearer, for we go on.

It is 'werry bad' higher up, so bad that we begin to light some more
matches and look round to see how we are to get down. But as we continue
to ascend the darkness grows less and less. We go a step at a time,
slowly and circumspectly, up, up to the light, and at last our heads are
suddenly above a floor and looking straight into a room.

We have reached the attic, and in that attic we see a picture which will
be engraven on our memory for many a month to come.

The attic is almost bare; in a broken fireplace are some smouldering
embers; a log of wood lies in front like a fender. There is a broken
chair trying to steady itself against a wall black with the dirt of
ages. In one corner, on a shelf, is a battered saucepan and a piece of
dry bread. On the scrap of mantel still remaining embedded in the wall
is a rag; on a bit of cord hung across the room are more rags--garments
of some sort, possibly; a broken flower-pot props open a crazy
window-frame, possibly to let the smoke out, or in--looking at the
chimney-pots below, it is difficult to say which; and at one side of the
room is a sack of Heaven knows what--it is a dirty, filthy sack, greasy
and black and evil-looking. I could not guess what was in it if I tried,
but what was on it was a little child--a neglected, ragged, grimed,
and bare-legged little baby-girl of four. There she sat, in the bare,
squalid room, perched on the sack, erect, motionless, expressionless, on

She was 'a little sentinel,' left to guard a baby that lay asleep on the
bare boards behind her, its head on its arm, the ragged remains of what
had been a shawl flung over its legs.

That baby needed a sentinel to guard it, indeed. Had it crawled a
foot or two, it would have fallen head-foremost into that unprotected,
yawning abyss of blackness below. In case of some such proceeding on its
part, the child of four had been left 'on guard.'

The furniture of the attic, whatever it was like, had been seized the
week before for rent. The little sentinel's papa--this we unearthed
of the 'deputy' of the house later on--was a militiaman, and away; the
little sentinel's mamma was gone out on 'a arrand,' which, if it was
anything like her usual 'arrands,' the deputy below informed us, would
bring her home about dark, very much the worse for it. Think of that
little child keeping guard on that dirty sack for six or eight hours at
a stretch--think of her utter loneliness in that bare, desolate room,
every childish impulse checked, left with orders 'not to move, or I'll
kill yer,' and sitting there often till night and darkness came on,
hungry, thirsty, and tired herself, but faithful to her trust to the
last minute of the drunken mother's absence! 'Bless yer! I've known that
young'un sit there eight 'our at a stretch. I've seen her there of a
mornin' when I've come up to see if I could git the rint, and I've seen
her there when I've come agin at night,' says the deputy. 'Lor, that
ain't nothing--that ain't.'

Nothing! It is one of the saddest pictures I have seen for many a day.
Poor little baby-sentinel!--left with a human life in its sole charge
at four--neglected and overlooked: what will its girl-life be, when it
grows old enough to think? I should like some of the little ones whose
every wish is gratified, who have but to whimper to have, and who live
surrounded by loving, smiling faces, and tendered by gentle hands,
to see the little child in the bare garret sitting sentinel over the
sleeping baby on the floor, and budging never an inch throughout the
weary day from the place that her mother had bidden her stay in.

With our minds full of this pathetic picture of child-life in the 'Homes
of the Poor,' we descend the crazy staircase, and get out into as much
light as can find its way down these narrow alleys.

Outside we see a portly gentleman with a big gold chain across his
capacious form, and an air of wealth and good living all over him. He is
the owner of a whole block of property such as this, and he waxes rich
on his rents. Strange as it may seem, these one-roomed outcasts are
the best paying tenants in London. They pay so much for so little, and
almost fight to get it. That they should be left to be thus exploited
is a disgrace to the Legislature, which is never tired of protecting the
oppressed of 'all races that on earth do dwell,' except those of that
particular race who have the honour to be free-born Englishmen.


|As I glance over the notes I have jotted down during my journey through
Outcasts' Land, the delicacy of the task I have undertaken comes home to
me more forcibly than ever. The housing of the poor and the remedy for
the existing state of things are matters I have so much at heart, that
I fear lest I should not make ample use of the golden opportunities here
afforded me of ventilating the subject. On the other hand, I hesitate
to repel the reader, and, unfortunately, the best illustrations of the
evils of overcrowding are repulsive to a degree.

Perhaps if I hint at a few of the very bad cases, it will be sufficient.
Men and women of the world will be able to supply the details and draw
the correct deductions; and it is, after all, only men and women of the
world whose practical sympathy is likely to be enlisted by a revelation
of the truth about the poor of great cities.

Come with me down this court, where at eleven o'clock in the morning
a dead silence reigns. Every house is tenanted, but the blinds of the
windows are down and the doors are shut. Blinds and doors! Yes, these
luxuries are visible here. This is an aristocratic street, and the rents
are paid regularly. There is no grinding poverty, no starvation here,
and no large families to drag at the bread-winner. There is hardly any
child-life here at all, for the men are thieves and highway cheats, and
the women are of the class which has furnished the companions of such
men from the earliest annals of roguedom.

The colony sleeps though the sun is high. The day with them is the idle
time, and they reap their harvest in the hours of darkness. Later in the
day, towards two o'clock, there will be signs of life; oaths and shouts
will issue from the now silent rooms, and there will be fierce wrangles
and fights over the division of ill-gotten gains. The spirit of murder
hovers over this spot, for life is held of little account. There is a
Bill Sikes and Nancy in scores of these tenements, and the brutal blow
is ever the accompaniment of the brutal oath.

These people, remember, rub elbows with the honest labouring poor; their
lives are no mystery to the boys and girls in the neighbourhood; the
little girls often fetch Nancy's gin, and stand in a gaping crowd while
Nancy and Bill exchange compliments on the doorstep, drawn from the well
of Saxon, impure and utterly defiled. The little boys look up half with
awe and half with admiration at the burly Sikes with his flash style,
and delight in gossip concerning his talents as a 'crib-cracker,' and
his adventures as a pickpocket: The poor--the honest poor--have been
driven by the working of the Artizans' Dwellings Acts, and the clearance
of rookery after rookery, to come and herd with thieves and wantons,
to bring up their children in the last Alsatias, where lawlessness and
violence still reign supreme.

The constant association of the poor and the criminal class has deadened
in the former nearly all sense of right and wrong. In the words of
one of them, 'they can't afford to be particular about their choice of
neighbours.' I was but the other day in a room in this district occupied
by a widow woman, her daughters of seventeen and sixteen, her sons of
fourteen and thirteen, and two younger children. Her wretched apartment
was on the street level, and behind it was the common yard of the
tenement. In this yard the previous night a drunken sailor had been
desperately maltreated, and left for dead. I asked the woman if she had
not heard the noise, and why she didn't interfere. 'Heard it?' was the
reply; 'well, we ain't deaf, but they're a rum lot in this here house,
and we're used to rows. There ain't a night passes as there ain't a
fight in the passage or a drunken row; but why should I interfere?'Taint
no business of mine.' As a matter of fact, this woman, her grown-up
daughters, and her boys must have lain in that room night after night,
hearing the most obscene language, having a perfect knowledge of the
proceedings of the vilest and most depraved of profligate men and
women forced upon them, hearing cries of murder and the sound of blows,
knowing that almost every crime in the Decalogue was being committed in
that awful back yard on which that broken casement looked, and yet
not one of them had ever dreamed of stirring hand or foot. They were
saturated with the spirit of the place, and though they were respectable
people themselves, they saw nothing criminal in the behaviour of their

For this room, with its advantages, the widow paid four and sixpence a
week; the walls were mildewed and streaming with damp; the boards as you
trod upon them made the slushing noise of a plank spread across a mud
puddle in a brickfield; foul within and foul without, these people paid
the rent of it gladly, and perhaps thanked God for the luck of having
it. Rooms for the poor earning precarious livelihoods are too hard to
get and too much in demand now for a widow woman to give up one just
because of the trifling inconvenience of overhearing a few outrages and

One word more on this shady subject and we will get out into the light
again. I have spoken of the familiarity of the children of the poor with
all manner of wickedness and crime. Of all the evils arising from this
one-room system there is perhaps none greater than the utter destruction
of innocence in the young. A moment's thought will enable the reader
to appreciate the evils of it. But if it is bad in the case of a
respectable family, how much more terrible is it when the children are
familiarized with actual immorality!

Wait outside while we knock at this door.

Knock, knock!--No answer!

Knock, knock, knock!

A child's voice answers, 'What is it?'

We give the answer--the answer which has been our 'open, sesame'
everywhere--and after a pause a woman opens a door a little and asks us
to wait a moment. Presently we are admitted. A woman pleasing looking
and with a certain refinement in her features holds the door open for
us. She has evidently made a hurried toilet and put on an ulster over
her night attire. She has also put a brass chain and locket round her
neck. There is a little rouge left on her cheeks and a little of the
burnt hairpin colour left under her eyes from overnight. At the table
having their breakfast are two neat and clean little girls of seven and

They rise and curtsey as we enter. We ask them a few questions, and
they answer intelligently--they are at the Board School and are making
admirable progress--charming children, interesting and well-behaved in
every way. They have a perfect knowledge of good and evil--one of them
has taken a Scripture prize--and yet these two charming and intelligent
little girls live in that room night and day with their mother, and this
is the den to which she snares her dissolute prey.

I would gladly have passed over this scene in silence, but it is
one part of the question which directly bears on the theory of State
interference. It is by shutting our eyes to evils that we allow them to
continue unreformed so long. I maintain that such cases as these are
fit ones for legislative protection. The State should have the power of
rescuing its future citizens from such surroundings, and the law which
protects young children from physical hurt should also be so framed as
to shield them from moral destruction.

The worst effect of the present system of Packing the Poor is the moral
destruction of the next generation.

Whatever it costs us to remedy the disease we shall gain in decreased
crime and wickedness. It is better even that the ratepayers should bear
a portion of the burthen of new homes for the respectable poor than
that they should have to pay twice as much in the long-run for prisons,
lunatic asylums, and workhouses.

Enough for the present of the criminal classes. Let us see some of
the poor people who earn an honest living--well, 'living,' perhaps, is
hardly the word--let us say, who can earn enough to pay their rent and
keep body and soul together.

Here is a quaint scene, to begin with. When we open the door we start
back half choked. The air is full of floating fluff, and some of it gets
into our mouths and half chokes us. When we've coughed and wheezed a
little we look about us and gradually take in the situation.

The room is about eight feet square. Seated on the floor is a white
fairy--a dark-eyed girl who looks as though she had stepped straight off
a twelfth cake. Her hair is powdered all over _a la Pompadour_, and the
effect is _bizarre_. Seated beside her is an older woman, and she is
white and twelfth-cakey too. Alas! their occupation is prosaic to a
degree. They are simply pulling rabbit-skins--that is to say, they are
pulling away all the loose fluff and down and preparing the skins
for the furriers, who will use them for cheap goods, dye them into
imitations of rarer skins, and practise upon them the various tricks of
the trade.

Floor, walls, ceiling, every inch of the one room these people live and
sleep in, is covered with fluff and hair. How they breathe in it is a
mystery to me. I tried and failed, and sought refuge on the doorstep.
The pair, working night and day at their trade, make, when business is
good, about twelve shillings a week. Their rent is four. This leaves
them four shillings a week each to live upon, and as there is no one
else to share it with them, I suppose they are well-to-do folk.

The younger woman's appearance was striking. Seated on the floor in an
Eastern attitude, and white from top to toe--the effect of her dark
eyes heightened by the contrast--she was a picture for an artist, and my
fellow-worker made excellent use of his pencil, while I engaged her and
her mother in conversation.

These people complained bitterly of their surroundings, of the character
of the people they had to live among, and of the summary proceedings of
their landlord, who absolutely refused to repair their room or give them
the slightest convenience.

'Then why not move?' I ventured to suggest. 'Four shillings a week--ten
guineas a year for this pigsty--is'. an exorbitant rent: you might do

The woman shook her head. 'There's lots o' better places we'd like to
go to, but they won't have us. They object to our business. We must go
where they'll take us.'

'But there are plenty of places a little way out where you can have two
rooms for what you pay for this.'

'A little way out, yes; but how are we to get to and fro with the work
when it's done? We must be near our work. We can't afford to ride.'

Exactly! And therein lies one of the things which reformers have to
consider. There are thousands of these families who would go away
into the suburbs, where we want to get them, if only the difficulty of
travelling expenses to and fro could be conquered. They herd together
all in closely packed quarters because they must be where they can get
to the dock, the yard, the wharf, and the warehouses without expense.
The highest earnings of this class is rarely above sixteen shillings a
week, and that, with four or five shillings for rent, leaves very little
margin where the family is large. The omnibus and the train are the
magicians which will eventually bid the rookeries disappear, but the
services of these magicians cost money, and there is none to spare in
the pockets of the poor.

In another room close to these people, but if anything in a more
wretched condition still, we come upon a black man sitting with his head
buried in his hands. He is suffering with rheumatics, and has almost
lost the use of his limbs. The reason is evident. His wife points to
the bed in the corner against the wall; the damp is absolutely oozing
through and trickling down the wall. The black man is loquacious. He is
a hawker, and can't go out and lay in a stock, for he hasn't a penny in
the world. He is stone broke. He is a Protestant darkie, he informs us,
and is full of troubles. Two boys are lolling about on the floor. At our
entrance a shock-headed, ragged girl of ten has crawled under the bed.
The Protestant darkie drags her out and explains she is 'a-bringin' him
to his grave with sorrer--she's a bad gel and slangs her mother.' The P.
D. doesn't know how he's going to pay his rent or where the next meal's
coming from. He stands outside 'a corffee shop' generally, when he can
get about, and 'the lady as keeps it, bless her!--she's a rare good'un
to me--she's a fallen angel, that's what she is;' but he can't go and
hawk nothing, else he'd be took up. 'I ain't got no capital, and, faith
of a Protestant darkie, I'm defunct.'

The man has a host of quaint sayings and plenty of the peculiar wit of
the nigger breed, but his position is undoubtedly desperate.

The rent of the death-trap he lives in with his wife and family is four
and sixpence, and his sole means of subsistence is hawking shrimps and
winkles when they are cheap, or specked oranges and damaged fruit.
He has at the best of times only a shilling or two to lay out in the
wholesale market, and out of his profit he must pay his rent and keep
his family. I suspect that the 'fallen angel' is often good for a
meal to the poor darkie, and I learn that he is a most respectable,
hardworking fellow. 'How do you do when you're stone broke?' I ask him.
'Well, sir, sometimes I comes across a gentleman as gives me a bob and
starts me again.'

The shot hits the mark, and we leave the Protestant darkie grinning
at his own success, and debating with his wife what will be the best
article in which to invest for the day's market.

Honest folks enough in their way, these--keeping themselves to
themselves and struggling on as best they can, now 'making a bit over,'
and now wondering where on earth the next sixpence is to come from. Just
up the street is a house with an inscription over it which tells us
we can find within a very different class to study. This is a licensed
lodging-house, where you can be accommodated for fourpence or sixpence a
night. This payment gives you during the day the privilege of using the
common kitchen, and it is into the common kitchen we are going. We walk
into the passage, and are stopped by a strapping young woman of about
eight-and-twenty. She is the deputy. 'What do we want?'

Once again the password is given, and the attitude of the lady changes.
She formally conducts us into a large room, where the strangest
collection of human beings are crowded together. It is sheet-washing
day, and there is a great fire roaring up the chimney. Its ruddy glare
gives a Rembrandtish tone to the picture. Tables and forms run round,
the room, and there is not a vacant place.' Men, women, and children are
lolling about, though it is mid-day, apparently with nothing to do but
make themselves comfortable. The company is not a pleasant one. Many of
the men and women and boys are thieves. Almost every form of disease,
almost every kind of deformity, seems crowded into this Chamber of
Horrors. The features are mostly repulsive; an attractive face there is
not among the sixty or seventy human beings in the room. Some of them
are tramps and hawkers, but most of them are professional loafers,
picking up in any way that presents itself the price of a night's
lodging. They are a shifting population, and rarely remain in one house
long. Some of them only get a night in now and then as a luxury, and
look upon it as a Grand Hotel episode. They sleep habitually in the
open, on the staircases, or in the casual ward. The house we are in is
one where Nancy and Sikes come often enough when they are down on their
luck. Here is a true story of this very place, which will perhaps
illustrate sufficiently the type of its frequenters.

Some time last year two men left the house one morning. They were going
into the country on business. One, whom I will call John, kissed his
mistress, a girl of twenty, and said 'Good-bye,' leaving her at the
house; he wouldn't be away long, and he and Bill, his companion, set out
on their travels.

A day or two after Bill returns alone; the girl asks him where her
sweetheart is. 'He's lagged,' says Bill. But the girl has a bit of
newspaper, and in it she reads that 'the body of a man has been found
in some woods near London;' and she has an idea it may be John. 'Oh,
nonsense,' says Bill--I quote the evidence--'he then lit his candle, and
they retired to rest.' John, as a matter of fact, had been murdered by
his companion, they having quarrelled over the division of the proceeds
of the burglary; and eventually this young woman, who so readily
transferred her affections from one lord to another, appeared in the
witness-box and deposed to pawning boots and other things for Bill which
were undoubtedly the proceeds of a robbery at a house close to where the
body was found.

This is the house in which we stand where the burglary was
planned--whence the murderer and the murdered set out together on
their fatal journey. It was at one of these tables that the young girl
discussed her absent lover's fate with her new lord, his murderer, and
it was here that the police came to search for him and found the girl
whose evidence helped to hang him.

Look at the people who sit there to-day--murderers and burglars some of
them, cheats and pickpockets others, and a few respectable folks as far
as their opportunities will allow. But remember that dozens of really
respectable families do have to frequent these places now, and mix with
malefactors day and night, because there are no other places open to

Among all the cruelties practised on the poor in the name of
Metropolitan improvements this one deserves mentioning--that the
labourer earning a precarious livelihood with his wife and his children
have been driven at last to accept the shelter of a thieves' kitchen and
to be thankful for it.


|I cannot help being struck, in my wanderings through Povertyopolis,
with the extraordinary resemblance which Caesar bore to
Pompey--especially Pompey. One room in this district is very like the
other. The family likeness of the chairs and tables is truly remarkable,
especially in the matter of legs. Most chairs are born with four legs,
but the chairs one meets with here are a two-legged race--a four-legged
chair is a _rara avis_, and when found should be made a note of. The
tables, too, are of a type indigenous to the spot. The survival of the
fittest does not obtain in these districts in the matter of tables. The
most positively unfit are common, very common objects. What has become
of the fittest I hesitate to conjecture. Possibly they have run away.
I am quite sure that a table with legs would make use of them to escape
from such surroundings.

As to the bedsteads, they are wretched, broken-down old things of wood
and iron that look as though they had been rescued a little late from a
fire, then used for a barricade, afterwards buried in volcanic eruption,
and finally dug out of a dust-heap that had concealed them for a
century. The bedding, a respectable coal-sack would blush to acknowledge
even as a poor relation.

I have enumerated chairs, tables, and beds, not because they are found
in every poor home--there are several rented rooms which can boast
of nothing but four walls, a ceiling, and a floor--but because these
articles placed in one of these dens constitute what are euphemistically
called 'furnished apartments,' a species of accommodation with which all
very poor neighbourhoods abound.

The 'furnished apartments' fetch as much as tenpence a day, and are
sometimes occupied by three or four different tenants during a week.

The 'deputy' comes for the money every day, and it is pay or go with the
occupants. If the man who has taken one of these furnished rooms for his
'home, sweet home,' does not get enough during the day to pay his
rent, out he goes into the street with his wife and children, and enter
another family forthwith.

The tenants have not, as a rule, much to be flung after them in the
shape of goods and chattels. The clothes they stand upright in, a
battered kettle, and, perhaps, a bundle, make up the catalogue of their
worldly possessions.

This kind of rough-and-ready lodging is the resource of thousands of
industrious people earning precarious livelihoods, and they rarely rise
above it to the dignity of taking a room by the week. The great struggle
is to get over Saturday, and thank God for Sunday. Sunday is a free day,
and no deputy comes to disturb its peaceful calm. The Saturday's rent,
according to the custom of the country, makes the tenant free of the
apartments until Monday.

It is the custom to denounce the poor as thriftless, and that they are
so I grant. The temptation to trust to luck and let every day take care
of itself is, it must be remembered, great. Life with them is always a
toss-up, a daily battle, an hourly struggle. Thousands of them can never
hope to be five shillings ahead of the world if they keep honest. The
utmost limit of their wage is reached when they have paid their rent,
kept themselves and their horribly large families from starvation, and
bought the few rags which keep their limbs decently covered. With them
the object of life is attained when the night's rent is paid, and
they do not have to hesitate between the workhouse or a corner of the
staircase in some doorless house.

There is a legend in one street I know of--a man who once saved half
a crown, and lost it through a hole in his pocket. The moral of
that legend may have impressed itself upon the whole population and
discouraged thrift for evermore; but be that as it may, the general rule
is, 'what you make in a day spend in a day.' It is needless to add
that this precept brings its practisers perpetually within measurable
distance of absolute pennilessness. They live and die on the confines of
it. I am wrong; they invariably die on the wrong side of the border, and
are buried at somebody else's expense.

Drink is the curse of these communities; but how is it to be wondered
at? The gin-palaces flourish in the slums, and fortunes are made out of
men and women who seldom know where to-morrow's meal is coming from.

Can you wonder that the gaudy gin-palaces, with their light and their
glitter, are crowded? Drink is sustenance to these people; drink gives
them the Dutch courage necessary to go on living; drink dulls their
senses and reduces them to the level of the brutes they must be to live
in such sties.

The gin-palace is heaven to them compared to the hell of their pestilent
homes. A copper or two, often obtained by pawning the last rag that
covers the shivering children on the bare floor at home, will buy enough
vitriol-madness to send a woman home so besotted that the wretchedness,
the anguish, the degradation that await her there have lost their
grip. To be drunk with these people means to be happy. Sober--God help
them!--how could they be aught but wretched?

There is not only temptation to drink wrought by the fearful
surroundings of the poor; a positive craving for it is engendered by
the foul and foetid atmosphere they continually breathe. I have often
wondered that the advocates of temperance, with the immense resources of
wealth and organization they command, have not given more attention to
the overcrowding and the unsanitary condition of the dwellings of the
poor, as one of the great causes of the abuse of stimulants.

It is not only that crime and vice and disorder flourish luxuriantly in
these colonies, through the dirt and discomfort bred of intemperance
of the inhabitants, but the effect upon the children is terrible. The
offspring of drunken fathers and mothers inherit not only a tendency
to vice, but they come into the world physically and mentally unfit to
conquer in life's battle. The wretched, stunted, misshapen child-object
one comes upon in these localities is the most painful part of our
explorers' experience. The county asylums are crowded with pauper
idiots and lunatics, who owe their wretched condition to the sin of the
parents, and the rates are heavily burthened with the maintenance of the
idiot offspring of drunkenness.

The drink dulls every sense of shame, takes the sharp edge from sorrow,
and leaves the drinker for awhile in a fools' paradise. Here is the
home of the most notorious 'drunkardess'--if I may coin a work--in the
neighbourhood. Mrs. O'Flannigan's room is easily entered, for it is on
the street-level, and one step brings us into the presence of the lady
herself. She is in bed, a dirty red flannel rag is wrapped about her
shoulders, and her one arm is in a sling. She sits up in bed at the
sight of visitors, and greets us in a gin and fog voice, slightly
mellowed with the Irish brogue. Biddy has been charged at the
police-courts seventy-five times with being drunk, and she is therefore
a celebrated character. She is hardly sober now, though she has
evidently had a shaking which would have sobered most people for a
month. Her face is a mass of bruises and cuts, and every now and then a
groan and a cry to certain Saints in her calendar tell of aches and
pains in the limbs concealed under the dirty blanket that covers the

'I'm a pretty sight now, ain't I, gintlemen dear?' she says, with a
foolish laugh. 'Shure and I got blind drunk again last Saturday, and
they run me in. The inspector let me out o' Sunday; God bless him for a
rale gintleman! They carried me on a stretcher, bless yer hearts! and I
kicked. Ha! ha! ha!'

The hag positively yelled with laughter as she thought of the scene she
caused, and the trouble she gave the police.

Suddenly she looks round as if in search of something.

'Molly, ye young varmint, where are ye?' she shouts, and presently
from under the bed, where the child lay crouching in fear, she drags a
wretched little girl of seven or eight, with her face and head covered
with sores, that make one shudder to look at them.

'There, Molly, ye young varmint, show yourself to their honours, will

The child begins to snivel. One of our number is the Board School
officer of the district, and Molly has not been to school lately.

Mrs. O'Flannigan explains.

'Ye see, I can't use my limbs just yet, yer honour, and Molly--Lord
love her!--she's just the only thing I got to look afther me. I might be
burned in my blessed bed, yer honour, and not able to move.'

'You should give up getting drunk,' I ventured to suggest; 'then you
wouldn't want a nurse.'

'You're right, your honour. It's the drink. Yer see, I can't help it.
I ain't been sober for five years--ha! ha! ha!--and it's all thro' the
trouble as come to me. My boy got into bad company and got lagged and
put away for ten years, and I've never been the same since, and it broke
my heart, and I took to the drink. And now my old man's took to drink
thro' aggravation o' me, and he gets drunk every night of his blessed
life. Ha! ha! ha!'

The woman's story is practically true. Before her trouble she and her
husband were costermongers and hawkers of fruit. The first of the evils
of the foul slums, where honest workers are forced to live, fell upon
them in the ruin of the boy reared in a criminal atmosphere. The vicious
surroundings were too strong for him, and he became a thief and paid the

The mother sees her son--idolized in her rough way--taken from her; the
den of a home becomes doubly wretched, and the cursed drink-fiend is
invoked to charm the sorrow away. That is the first step, 'to drown
sorrow.' The steps after that are easy to count. The woman becomes an
habitual drunkard, the rooms they live in get dirtier and smaller and
fouler, and at last the husband drowns his sorrow too. 'Aggravation' and
a constant association with a drunken woman turn the poor fellow to
evil ways; himself and a whole family are wrecked, that under better
circumstances might have been good and useful citizens. Had these people
been able to get a decent room among decent people, the first misfortune
that sent them wrong might never have happened. Their case is the case
of hundreds.

Of drinking-shops there are plenty in these places; of eating-houses, or
shops for the sale of food, very few. So rare are the latter that when
we come to one in a dirty, tumble-down street, we stop and examine the
contents of the window. I don't know whether to call it a tart-shop, a
baker's, or a dripping emporium. There seems to be a little bit of each
about it, and half a rice pudding, and a ham-bone, on which a bluebottle
has gone to sleep--tired out, perhaps, with looking for the meat--give
it the faintest suspicion of being an eating-house. There is also in the
window a dilapidated bloater which looks as though it had been run over
by an omnibus many years ago.

It is while taking notes of the contents of this tempting emporium of
luxuries that we become aware of a very powerful perfume. It seems to
rise from beneath where we are standing, and used as we are by this time
to the bouquets of the East, we involuntarily step back and contort the
muscles of our faces.

Then we see that we have been standing on a grating. Peering down, we
can just see into a gloomy little room. To the opened window presently
there comes a man in his shirt-sleeves, and looks up at us. His face is
deadly white, the eyes are sunken, the cheek-bones hollow, and there
is a look in his face that says more plainly than the big ticket of the
blind impostor, 'I am starving.' Starving down below there, with only
a thin floor between himself and the ham-bone, the ancient herring, the
rice pudding, and the treacle tarts.

As the noisome effluvia rises and steams through the grating we begin
to appreciate the situation. This food shop is directly over the cellar
which gives the odour forth. Pleasant for the customers, certainly. We
determine to push our investigation still further, and presently we are
down in the cellar below.

The man in his shirt-sleeves--we can guess where the coat is--receives
us courteously. His wife apologizes for the wretched condition of the
room. Both of them speak with that unmistakable _timbre_ of voice which
betokens a smattering of education. In the corner of the room is a heap
of rags. That is the bed. There are two children, a boy and a girl,
sitting on a bare hearth, and gazing into the fast-dying embers of
a wretched fire. Furniture the room has absolutely none, but a stool
roughly constructed of three pieces of unplaned wood nailed together.

Four shillings a week is the rent of the cellar below the pie-shop; the
foul smell arises from the gradual decay of the basement, and the utter
neglect of all sanitary precautions.

The man (who has only one arm) is out of work this week, he tells us,
but he is promised a job next. To tide over till then is a work of some
difficulty, but the 'sticks' and the 'wardrobe' of the family have paid
the rent up to now. As to meals--well, they hain't got much appetite.
The stench in which they live effectually destroys that. In this
instance even bad drainage has its advantages, you see.

Before the man lost his arm he was a clerk; without a right hand he
is not much good as a penman in a competitive market. So he goes on as
timekeeper in a builder's yard, as a messenger, or as anything by which
he can get a few shillings for a living.

The children have not been to school. 'Why?' asks the officer who
accompanies us. 'Because they've no hoots, and they are both ill now.'
It is true. The children, pale, emaciated little things, cough a hard,
rasping cough from time to time. To show us how bad they are they set
up a perfect paroxysm of coughing until the mother fetches them a smack,
and inquires 'how they expect the gentleman to hear himself speak if
they kick up _that_ row?'

The children's boots have gone with the father's coat, and at present it
does seem hard to say that the parents must be fined unless the children
come barefooted through the sloppy streets to school.

Such, however, is the rule, and this boot question is an all-important
one in the compulsory education of the children of the slums. How to
get the boots for Tommy and Sarah to go their daily journey to the Board
School is a problem which one or two unhappy fathers have settled by
hanging themselves behind the domestic door.

The difficulties which the poor have in complying with the demands of
the Education Act are quite unsuspected by the general public. They are
so numerous, and the histories revealed by their investigation are
so strange, that I propose in the next chapter to ask the reader to
accompany me to a meeting at which the parental excuses for non-,
attendance are made. This is a meeting at which the parents who have
been 'noticed' for the non-attendance of their children adduce what
reasons they can why they should not be summoned before a magistrate.

I will let the mothers and fathers tell their own tale, and give a few
statistics which I fancy will be a revelation to many who are at present
in sublime ignorance of how the poor live.


|In the remote age when I was a good little boy I remember being induced
to join a Dorcas meeting. Don't imagine that I ever so far forgot
the dignity of my sex as to sew or make little flannel petticoats and
baby-linen for the poor of the parish. The young ladies did that, and
we--myself and about ten other good little boys--were inveigled into
joining on the plea that while our sisters plied needle and thread we
could stick scraps into books and colour them, make toys, and perform
various other little feats of usefulness which would eventually benefit
the benighted Hottentots.

I know that when I had consented to join I was in agonies till the first
day of meeting arrived, and wondered to what I had committed myself; and
I remember to this day how very red I blushed when I arrived late and
found fifty other good little boys and girls assembled, all of whom
looked up and eyed me as though I was a natural curiosity, when the good
lady who directed the society said, 'This is little Master So-and-so,
who has come to help us in our good work.'

How I got past all those little girls I don't know, but I kept my eyes
fixed modestly on the ground, and at last found myself seated at a table
with about a dozen young gentlemen of my own age.

The elderly, good-hearted spinster who presided instantly deposited in
front of me a huge pot of paste, an empty book, and some old illustrated
papers. I guessed what she intended me to do, and I made wild efforts to
do it. I was informed that this book, when I had completed it, would be
sold at a bazaar for the benefit of the heathen.

I never ascertained what that book did fetch, but I know that it never
paid expenses. The mess that I got into with that paste, the way it
would get all over my fingers and on to my coat-sleeve, and all down me
and all over me--why, I wrecked a whole suit, which in my vanity I put
on new, at a single sitting. That was my first introduction to scissors
and paste, and I took an intense dislike to them..

I quote the reminiscence because this article is to be all about a 'B'
meeting; and when I first heard of a 'B' meeting I made sure it must be
something like a Dorcas meeting, where everybody was a busy bee, and did
work for the poor.

I had not had a very long experience before I found out that it was
something not half so pleasant as the scrap-book and flannel petticoat
society of my youth.

A 'B' meeting is held under the auspices of the School Board, to hear
the reasons parents may have to give why they should not be summoned
to appear before a magistrate for neglecting to send their children to

Here is an exact reproduction of the Notice B left with the parents,
which brings them to the meeting I am about to describe:

[By-laws.] [Form No. 13.]


The Elementary Education Acts, 1870, 1873, and 1876.


Notice to attend before Divisional Committee.


May 30, 1883.

To Mr. Bridge, 2, Smith's Court.

Take Notice, that you have been guilty of a breach of the law in that
your child Robert has not duly attended school, and you are hereby
invited to attend at George Street School on Wednesday, the 6th day of
June, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon precisely, to state any excuse you
may have, and to show cause why you should not be summoned before a
magistrate and fined.

Dated this 31st day of May, 1883.


Officer of the School Board for London.

Few persons who have not actual experience of the lives of the poorest
classes can have any conception of the serious import to them of the
Education Act. Compulsory education is a national benefit. I am one of
its stoutest defenders, but it is idle to deny that it is an Act which
has gravely increased the burthens of the poor earning precarious
livelihoods; and as self-preservation is the first law of nature, there
is small wonder that every dodge that craft and cunning can suggest is
practised to evade it.

In many cases the payment of the fees is a most serious difficulty.
Twopence or a penny a week for each of four children is not much, you
may say; but where the difference between the weekly income and the rent
is only a couple of shillings or so, I assure you the coppers represent
so many meals. The Board now allows the members to remit fees in cases
of absolute inability to pay them, and the remission of fees is one of
the principal items of business at a 'B' meeting.

Again, many of the children who are of school age are of a wage-earning
age also, and their enforced 'idleness,' as their parents call it, means
a very serious blow to the family exchequer. Many a lad whose thick
skull keeps him from passing the standard which would leave him free to
go to work, has a deft hand, strong arms, and a broad back--three
things which fetch a fair price in the labour market. As I will show you
presently, from the actual cases which come before the 'B' meeting, the
hardship of making boys and girls stop at school who might be earning
good money towards their support is terrible. Often these children are
the _sole_ bread-winners, and then the position is indeed a hard nut for
the kind-hearted official to crack.

After the children have passed a certain standard the officials have the
power of granting 'half-time'; that is to say, the boys and girls can
earn money so many days a week, and come to school for the remainder.
'The halftime grant' is another feature of the 'B' meeting.

The worst duty of the official who presides is to authorize the
summoning before a magistrate of the parents who cannot or will not send
their children regularly. The law leaves him no option. All children
must come unless illness or some equally potent excuse can be urged, and
if they don't the parent must appear before a magistrate, who, if the
case is made out, is bound by the law to impose a fine. I will endeavour
to show you, as the meeting progresses, a few of the parents who
thoroughly deserve the penalty.

A 'B' meeting is held in the upstairs room of one of the Board Schools.
The summoned parents wait in a huge crowd outside. They come in one by
one to be disposed of. The president of the meeting sits with the book
before him, in which the cases to be heard are fully entered up. Beside
him sits the Board official, the inspector of officers, who advises him
on little points of School Board law, and who marks the papers which are
to be returned to the School Board officer 'in charge of the case' to be
acted upon.

Standing round the room are the School Board officers of the different
divisions in the district. They are familiar with the history and
circumstances of every one who comes into the little room, and they
supply confirmation or contradiction as the necessity arises.

Somewhere or other in the scene my friend and I stand. We are accepted
by the parents who come and go as part and parcel of the 'Inquisition,'
and some care is necessary in executing our descriptive task, for
this class is very great on the rights of property; and more than one
energetic dame, if she knew she was being 'noted' by an unauthorized
interloper, would return the compliment with interest.

'The short and simple annals of the poor,' here related in their own
words, will induct the reader into the mysteries of 'How they live'
far more thoroughly than I could do did I fill pages with my own
composition; so, silence, pray, and let the 'B' meeting commence.

Here is a lady who very much objects to being summoned.

'What bizerness 'as he to summings me,' she says, pointing to the
officer, 'just cus my boy ain't bin fur a week? He's 'arsh and harbitury,
that's what he is.'Arsh and harbitury! D'ye think I ain't got anything
to do without a-trapesin' down here a-losin' my work? I tell ye what it

The chairman mildly interposes: 'My good lady----'

'Don't good lady me. I ain't a lady. If I was you daren't treat me like
it, you daren't; it's only because I'm----'

'My good woman, will you allow me to say one word?'

'Oh--yes--certainly--if you've got anything to say--go on.'

Thus encouraged, the chairman points out to the voluble lady that her
son has not been to school for a fortnight.

'Well, it's all through the boots.'

'Boots!' says the chairman; 'why, that was what you said last time, and
we gave you an order on a shoemaker for a pair.'

The woman acknowledges this is so. Some charitable people have started a
fund to let a few bad cases have boots, and this truant has been one of
the first recipients.

'I know you was kind enough to do that,' says the mother, 'but they 'urt
him, and he can't wear'em.'

Here the officer who has brought the lady up before the Board tells
_his_ story.

'The boy had a decent pair of boots supplied him, sir; but Mrs. Dash
went back to the shop with him, and said they weren't good enough--she
wanted a pair of the best the man had in stock, and made such a noise
she had to be put out.'

'Which, beggin' your pardon,' strikes in the angry lady, 'it's like your
imperence to say so. They 'urt the boy, they 'did, and he haves tender
feet, through his father, as is dead, being a shoemaker hisself.'

The officer chimes in again, 'If he can play about the streets all day
in the boots, Mrs. Dash, they can't hurt him very much.'

'My boy play about the streets! Well, of all the oudacious things as
ever I' erd! And as to his comin' to school, he's a beautiful little
scholard now, and he ain't got no more to learn.'

Eventually the 'beautiful little scholard,' who was waiting outside, was
sent for.

He confessed that the boots didn't hurt him, and Mrs. Dash was informed
that if he didn't forthwith attend she would be summoned.

With much difficulty Mrs. Dash was induced to retire, and her place was
taken by a burly man covered with grime from a forge, or something
of the sort, who looked the personification of fierceness and
stony-heartedness. His daughter had not been to school lately, and he
was asked to account for her absence.

There was a moment's pause. We expected an oath or a volley of abuse.
Instead of that the man's lips trembled a moment, then his eyes filled
with tears, and one rolled slowly down each grimy cheek.

In a choking voice he gasped out, 'I am very sorry, sir, but I've had a
little trouble.'

'Dear me!' says the chairman, slightly staggered at the unusual display
of emotion; 'I am sorry for that. What sort of trouble?'

'Well, sir, it ain't a pleasant thing to talk about'--sob--'but my
wife'--sob--'she's left me, sir'--sob--'gone away with another man.'

Here the poor fellow broke down utterly and sobbed like a child. Then
he drew a dirty rag from his pocket, and rubbed and rubbed it round his
eyes till there was a white ring about them that looked like a pair of

The effect was ludicrous, but no one smiled. The audience, as they say
in theatrical notices, was visibly affected.

The man stammered out his tale bit by bit. His wife had left him with
four little children. He had to go out to work, and his daughter he
had to keep away from school to look after them. She had to be 'little
mother' in the deserted home.

I wondered what the woman was like, and if she had any idea of the
genuine love for her that welled up in this honest fellow's heart. As I
watched the tears flow down his grimy face, I couldn't help thinking how
many a noble dame would like to know that her absence from the domestic
hearth would cause grief as genuine as this.

Under the painful circumstances the excuse was accepted; the 'little
mother' was allowed a short holiday till the betrayed husband had time
to make other arrangements, and he left the room murmuring his thanks
and mopping his eyes.

'Mrs. Smith,' calls out the Board official, taking the next case down on
the list for hearing, and a young girl of about fifteen, with a baby in
her arms and a child of five clinging to her skirts, enters the room and
seats herself nervously on the extreme edge of the chair.

'You're not Mrs. Smith, my dear,' says the chairman, with a smile.

'No, sir; that's mother.'.

'Oh, you've come for her, eh? These boys, Thomas and Charles, who have
been absent for three weeks, are your brothers, I suppose?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Well, my dear, they ought to come, you know. What's the reason?'

'Please, sir, they're at work.'

'But they've not passed the Fourth Standard.'

'I know, sir; but they've got a job, and it's four shillings a week
each, and that's all I've got to keep us.'

'All _you've_ got, my dear? Where's your father?'

The girl colours a little and hesitates. The School Board officer steps
forward to the table and helps her.

'It's a very painful case, sir,' he says. 'The father's been living with
another woman--left his family. A fortnight ago the mother met him and
asked him for some money. He knocked her down, and she fell and cut her
head open. She's in St. Thomas's Hospital--not expected to live. The man
was taken up, and he's under remand now, and this girl has to look after
the entire family.'

'I see,' says the chairman; 'and Thomas and Charles are giving you their
money, eh? and that's all you've got?'

'Yes, sir. I can't work myself, because I've got the baby and the others
to look after.'

'Well, my dear,' says the chairman, 'I am very sorry for you, but your
brothers can only have half-time or come back to school.'

The girl says nothing, she is only fifteen, and can't argue it out with
the gentleman--so she curtseys and is ushered out. I wonder, if the
mother dies and the father gets a long term of imprisonment, what the
fate of the family will be?

I have said that the hardships entailed upon the poor by the Education
Act are numerous. Let me quote a few statistics gleaned from the papers
which I turn over on the chairman's desk by his kind permission.

They are cases in which the parents apply to have the fees remitted
because they cannot afford to pay them.

1. Mrs. Walker. 7 children of school age; fee 2d. a week each. Total
earnings of entire family, 10s. Rent, 5s. 6d. Husband once good
mechanic, lost employment through illness and deafness. Parish relief
none. Character good. Is now a hawker--sells oranges and fish. Children
half-starved. When an orange is too bad to sell they have it for
breakfast, with a piece of bread.

2. Mr. Thompson. 5 children of school age. Out of work. No income
but pawning clothes and goods. Rent, 4s. Wife drinks surreptitiously.
Husband, good character.

3. Mrs.-----. 5 children of school age; widow. Earnings, 6s. Rent, 3s.
Her husband when alive was a Drury Lane clown. Respectable woman; feels
her poverty very keenly.

4. Mr. Garrard. 8 children of school age; two always under doctor. No
income. Pawning last rags. Rent, 5s. 6d. No parish relief. Starving.
Declines to go into workhouse.

I could multiply such instances by hundreds. These, however, will
suffice to show how serious a burden is added to the lives of the very
poor by the enforced payment of school fees. As a rule they are remitted
for very good and sufficient reasons.

How these people live is a mystery. It is a wonder that they are not
found dead in their wretched dens, for which they pay a rent out of all
proportion to their value, by dozens daily. But they live on, and the
starving children come day after day to school with feeble frames
and bloodless bodies, and the law expects them to learn as readily
as well-fed, healthy children, and to attain the same standard of
proficiency in a given time.

It is these starving children who are not allowed to earn money towards
their support until they are thirteen, and in many cases fourteen. Less
necessitous children, as a rule, pass out of school earlier, for reasons
which will be obvious to anyone who reflects for a moment upon the
relationship of a healthy brain to a healthy body.

In another chapter we shall hear a few more personal narrations at a
'B' meeting. I will conclude this one with a story of a young gentleman
whose excuse for non-attendance is at least dramatic. He has been absent
for six weeks, and his mother explains, 'It's all along of 'is aven a
reg'lar engagement at the Surrey Pantermine, and there hev been so many

'He's on the Surrey, is he?' says the chairman.

'Perhaps that's the reason he can't pass the Standard!'

We see the joke and chuckle, but the boy doesn't. Evidently his
pantomime training has been thrown away upon him.


|The ladies and gentlemen whom I had the pleasure of introducing to you
in the last chapter had, most of them, some good and sufficient excuse
for the non-attendance of their children at school. Before the 'B'
meeting at which we assisted was over, more than one case was examined
which left the official no option but to take out a summons and run the
risk of one of those amiable lectures which unthinking magistrates now
and again see fit to bestow upon the luckless officer of the Board who
has done what the law compels him to do, and no more.

The parents summoned are in many instances dissolute or careless people,
who utterly neglect their offspring, and take no pains to ensure their
attending school, or they are crafty, cunning wretches, who see in the
law a means of attaining a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Here is a woman who, when asked why her boy of nine has not been to
school for a month, declares that he plays truant, and that he is quite
beyond her control. Now, the result of such a complaint is, that the
young gentleman will, if the parent reiterates in court her statement,
be sent to a reformatory for five years.

That is just what the good lady wants. Her story is one that may be
instructive if not edifying.

Two years ago her husband got ten years' penal servitude for a heavy
fracture of his country's laws, leaving her with three children, two
boys and a girl. There is a custom in such districts as that of which
I write which shortens the period of mourning for a lost mate very
considerably: Directly husband 'No. 1' gets forcibly removed from
the domestic hearth, his place is almost invariably taken by another
gentleman, who is 'master of the situation,' and _locum tenons_ with
full family honours.

I cannot resist telling a little story _apropos_ of this domestic phase
of slum life, which illustrates it rather forcibly. A little girl of
eight at one of the schools near the Mint came one morning with a pair
of boots on her little feet. This was the first pair of boots she had
ever been seen in, and the unwonted magnificence naturally attracted

'Why, Annie, you've got a pair of boots at last, then!' exclaimed the

'Yes, mistress,' the child replied, glancing proudly at the battered,
second-hand shoes, three times too large for her.

'And where did you get them?'

'One of my fathers gave'em to me, mistress--the one what's at home this

This 'father' was evidently a better fellow than most of the nomadic
husbands who wander about from family circle to family circle, ready
to replace its absent head at a moment's notice. He must have been more
generous to another man's child than the 'husband' of the lady whose
history I have so unceremoniously interrupted, and who wants her boy put
away in a reformatory.

Husband 'No. 2,' I gather from one who knows the history of the case, is
a young fellow who objects to 'brats,' and the 'brats' are being got
out of the way one by one. The eldest boy was put to thieving, and he
is being kept now by the State; the girl took to something worse, and
a benevolent society relieved the mother of any future liability on her
behalf. And now the good lady comes to the 'B' meeting and declares the
youngest boy is incorrigible, and hints as broadly as she dare that she
should be glad to have him put away as well. She will have her wish,
and the boy, whom in all probability she has wilfully kept away and
encouraged in his incorrigibleness, will be sent to a reformatory within
a fortnight.

Thus you see a wholesale clearance has been made of one family, and the
room they took up at home will soon be utilized by new-comers, in the
shape of family number two.

A more charming and ingenious way of disposing of incumbrances it is
difficult to imagine. It is not, however, by any means uncommon.

Marriage, as an institution, is not fashionable in these districts. Yet
so long as cohabitation is possible--that is to say, so long as neither
the hospital, the prison, nor the churchyard effects a separation--the
couples are fairly faithful, and look upon themselves as man and wife,
with the usual marital obligations.

Both parties to the arrangement exhibit great reluctance to 'break' of
their own free will, and it is marvellous to see the tenacity with
which a decent hard-working woman will cling to a ruffian who spends
her earnings and blackens her eye, as regularly as Saturday night comes
round, although he has not the slightest legal claim on her allegiance.

If you ask the couples who live happily together why they don't get
married, some will tell you frankly that they never gave it a thought,
others that it's a lot of trouble and they haven't had time. A
clergyman's wife who took intense interest in a young couple living
together in a room in the Mint determined to make them get married. The
young fellow earned fair wages, and was sober and steady; the girl kept
her room and her two little children clean and decent, and was always
civil-spoken and pleasant. The good lady who had the _entrée_ of the
place talked to the young man whenever she saw him, and he admitted at
last that, perhaps, the union might as well be made a legal one: 'Not
that me and Sall 'ull get on any better, you know, mum--we couldn't; but
since you've been on at her she seems to have a bit o' fancy like for
to have the marridge lines, and if you'll tell us how, we'll get it done
and over, missis.'

Delighted with the promise, the lady set to work and prepared
everything. She gave the bride a new gown to be married in, and made
frocks for the two little ones to come and see their father married; she
arranged with her husband to perform the ceremony; and last, but most
important, she got the young man a day's holiday without loss of pay
from his employers.

The eventful day arrived; the good soul beaming and elated, waited, with
a few friends invited to see the interesting ceremony, at the church.
The clergyman stood with his book at the altar, but no young couple.
Twelve o'clock struck, the clergyman went into the vestry, and put his
coat on; and bitterly disappointed at the failure of her little scheme,
the good lady sat on for an hour, thinking some delay might have
occurred; but after awhile she gave it up as a bad job, and departed

That evening, in as towering a rage as a clergyman's wife could decently
be, she marched off to the Mint, and tackled the delinquents at once.

What did they mean by it?

The young man was very civil and very apologetic.

'He didn't mean to be rude, but the fact was, a mate hearin' he'd got
a day off offered him a job at carting as was worth five bob; and,
you know, mum, I couldn't lose five bob just for the sake o' getting

I am happy to say that the energetic lady set to work again, got another
holiday for the man a week after, and this time 'personally conducted'
the wedding-party to the church, which they did not leave till the young
woman was the proud possessor of that by no means common property in the
locality--a marriage certificate.

But to return to the 'B' meeting. The lady who wants her little boy put
away having been disposed of, a decent-looking woman takes her place.
She is nursing a baby, and by her side stands a small boy, with staring
eyes that seem fixed upon nothing in particular--a strange, uncanny,
big-headed child, who attracts attention directly.

Mrs. Jones, the mother, is called upon to say why this lad's sister,
aged ten, has been absent three weeks.

'Well, I'm very sorry, gen'lemen, but I've had to keep her at home. Ye
see, gen'lemen, I haves ruematics, which takes me all of a nunplush in
the joints o' the knees and the ankles of the feet, and then I can't

'Yes, but that needn't keep the girl at home. You can nurse the baby
even if you have rheumatics.'

'Yes, sir, I know; but it's that boy as is the trouble. Ye see, sir, he
can't be lef' not a minnit without somebody as can get after him
quick. He 's allers settin' hisself afire. He gets the matches wherever
we 'ides'em, and he lights anything he sees--the bed, the baby, hisself.
Bless you, gen'lemen, it's orful; he can't be off settin' somethin'
alight not five minnits together. He ain't right in 'is 'ed, sir.'

The idiot incendiary paid not the slightest attention; his wild, strange
eyes were wandering about the room, probably for a box of matches with
which to set us alight, and make one big blaze of the 'B' meeting,
chairman, officers, himself, and all.

'And that ain't all, sir. My 'usband's dead, sir; and all we've got for
a livin's a little shop, sir, where we sells drippin', and matches,
and candles, and odds and ends; and I can't run in and out when I'm so
queer, and the gal's all I've got to do things. I wish you would give
her half-time, sir.' The poor woman certainly had her work cut out, with
the rheumatics, the baby, the shop, and the idiot incendiary; and the
chairman, after a little consultation with the officer, finding the case
was a deserving one, granted the half-time; and the woman left evidently
considerably relieved, dragging the young gentleman with a tendency to
commit hourly arson after her.

The next to put in an appearance was a lady with a wretched-looking
face, and a shabby, draggled, out-all-night and drunk-in-the-morning
appearance generally. Her profession was stated with official bluntness
in the paper handed to the chairman. It is generally translated
'street-walker' in family circles.

But, whatever she might be, she had children, and the law required them
to come to school. Instead of making their attendances, learning to read
and write, the children were street Arabs. The woman was meek and quiet
enough. She promised 'she'd see to it,' and was reminded that she had
made the same promise before. This time it was not accepted, and the
woman was informed that she would have to appear before a magistrate.

Meekly and quietly she said, 'Thank you, sir,' as if the chairman had
presented her with a medal or a pound of tea, and went out.

The women poured in one after the other---there were very few men, most
of them, I suppose, being 'at work,' whatever that term might imply in
their particular case--and they were of all sizes, sorts and conditions.
There were respectable, decent, motherly-looking souls, drunken
outcasts, slatternly trollops, half-starved and sickly-looking women,
and fat, overwhelming women, who came not to be crushed, but to crush.

One gaunt, fierce-looking lady, with the voice of a man and the fist of
a prize-fighter, gave the company a bit of her mind. 'Her "gal" warn't
a-coming to be worrited with a lot o' stuff. She was delikit, her gal
was, and the School Board was murderin' of her.'

'What's the matter with her?' asked the chairman.

'Well, it's nervis system, and her teeth growin' out.'

'Where's the doctor's certificate that she's too ill to attend?'

'Sitifkit? d'ye think I've got time to go a-gettin' sitifkits--not
me--ain't my word good ernuff?'

The School Board officer knows this lady's circumstances, and he
whispers something to the chairman. The girl's 'nervis system' and
dental eccentricities have not prevented her affectionate mother from
sending her out hawking every day while she stops at home and drinks.

'Where's your husband?' asked the officer. 'I haven't seen him lately.
He'll have to be summoned, you know, as you can't get a certificate.'

The officer in question has good reason to ask affectionately after
the husband. Last year the worthy gentleman got a month for playfully
tossing the officer down a flight of stairs on to his head.

'Where's my husband? Ah!' says she, purple with passion, 'you want to
summon him, do you? Well, then, you jolly well carn't. Gord's got him.'

'Dead?' asked the chairman.

'Yes--didn't I say so?'

'Then you will be summoned instead.'

The lady didn't retire--she had to be diplomatically crowded out, and
the last sounds that reached the room as she receded along the corridor,
under gentle pressure, were wishes that the chairman and all concerned
might go where--at least, if her estimate of his whereabouts was
correct--they would not have the pleasure of meeting her late lamented

There are some rough customers to deal with in this district--so rough
that it is a wonder the Act works so smoothly as it does. The fiercest
and most reckless of the lawless classes have to be bearded in their
dens by the devoted, ill-paid officers, who ferret out the children and
insist upon their coming to school. Up to the topmost garret and down to
the lowest cellar, in dens and hovels given over to thieves and wantons,
I have accompanied a School Board officer on his rounds, and I frankly
confess that I have passed a few bad quarters of an hour.

There are dozens of these places where the blow follows the word in a
moment, where life is held of the least account, and where assaults are
so common that the victims would as soon think of asking the police to
notice their broken windows as to take cognizance of their broken heads.

There is a legend that in one of these cellars in the Mint--it fetches
three shillings a week rent, by-the-bye--a man killed a woman and left
her; and that nobody took any notice until the body got unpleasant, and
then they threw it out into the street.

The ''appy dossers' are the wretched people who roam about the street
houseless, and creep in to sleep on the stairs, in the passages and
untenanted cellars of the lodging-houses, with the doors open night
and day. No policeman's lantern is ever turned on them, and they crowd
together in their rags and make a jolly night of it. Sometimes in among
them creeps a starving woman, to die from want and exposure, and she
dies while the foul oath and the ribald jests go on; and the 'dossers'
who are well enough to be ''appy' make such a noise that a lodger,
disturbed in his legitimate rest for which he has paid, comes out and
lays about him vigorously at the 'varmints,' and kicks them downstairs,
if he can.

Thus not only are many of the licensed lodging-houses and homes of the
poor breeding-houses in themselves for crime, disease, and filth,
but they are, for lack of supervision, receptacles for that which has
already been bred elsewhere, and which is deposited gratis, to swell the

A ''appy dosser' can make himself comfortable anywhere. I heard of one
who used to crawl into the dust-bin, and pull the lid down; but I know
that to be an untruth, from the simple fact that none of the dust-bins
on this class of property have a lid. The contents are left, too, for
months to decompose, not only under the eyes of the authorities, but
under the noses of the inhabitants. The sanitary inspection of these
houses is a farce, and in many cases the vestrymen, who ought to put the
law in motion, are themselves the owners of the murder-traps.

How foul, how awful some of these places, where the poor have found
their last refuge from Artisans' Dwelling Acts and Metropolitan
improvements, are, I dare not tell you. I have been told that the
readers of a shilling book don't care to know, and the difficulties of
dealing with this subject are increased by my knowledge of the fact that
in a truthful account of 'How the Poor Live' there can be but little to
attract those who read for pleasure only. Rags--that is to say, the rags
of our cold, sunless clime--are never picturesque; squalor and misery
can only be made tolerable by the touch of the romancist--and here I
dare not romance.

Bad, however, as things are, shocking as is the condition in which
thousands and thousands of our fellow-citizens live from the cradle to
the grave, it is not an unmixed evil if out of its very repulsiveness
grows a remedy for it.

It has got now into a condition in which it cannot be left. For very
shame England must do something--nay, for self-preservation, which is
the most powerful of all human motives. This mighty mob of famished,
diseased, and filthy helots is getting dangerous, physically, morally,
politically dangerous. The barriers that have kept it back are rotten
and giving way, and it may do the State a mischief if it be not looked
to in time. Its fevers and its filth may spread to the homes of the
wealthy; its lawless armies may sally forth and give us a taste of the
lesson the mob has tried to teach now and again in Paris, when long
years of neglect have done their work.

Happily, there is a brighter side. Education--compulsory education--has
done much. The new generation is learning at least to be clean if not
to be honest. The young mothers of the slums--the girls who have been at
the Board Schools--have far tidier homes already than their elders. The
old people born and bred in filth won't live out of it. If you gave
some of the slumites Buckingham Palace they would make it a pigsty in
a fortnight. These people are irreclaimable, but they will die out,
and the new race can be worked for with hope and with a certainty of
success. Hard as are some of the evils of the Education Act, they are
outbalanced by the good, and it is that Act above all others which will
eventually bring about the new order of things so long desired.

So important a bearing on the home question has the schooling of the
children who are to be the rent-payers of the next generation, that I
propose to devote the next chapter to some sketches of School Board
life and character; and I will take it in one of the worst districts in
London, where-the parents are sunk in a state of misery almost beyond

I will show you the children at school who come daily to their work from
the foulest and dirtiest dens in London--that awful network of hovels
which lie about the Borough and the Mint.


|The difficulty of getting that element of picturesqueness into these
chapters which is so essential to success with a large class of English
readers becomes more and more apparent as I and my travelling companion
explore region after region where the poor are hidden away to live as
best they can. There is a monotony in the surroundings which became
painfully apparent to us, and were our purpose less earnest than it is,
we might well pause dismayed at the task we have undertaken.

The Mint and the Borough present scenes awful enough in all conscience
to be worthy of earnest study; but scene after scene is the same. Rags,
dirt, filth, wretchedness, the same figures, the same faces, the same
old story of one room unfit for habitation yet inhabited by eight
or nine people, the same complaint of a ruinous rent absorbing
three-fourths of the toiler's weekly wage, the same shameful neglect by
the owner of the property of all sanitary precautions, rotten floors,
oozing walls, broken windows, crazy staircases, tileless roofs, and
in and around the dwelling-place of hundreds of honest citizens the
nameless abominations which could only be set forth were we contributing
to the _Lancet_ instead of writing a book--these are the things which
confront us, whether we turn to the right or to the left, whether we
linger in the Mint or seek fresh fields in the slums that lie round
Holborn, or wind our adventurous footsteps towards the network of dens
that lie within a stone's throw of our great National Theatre, Drury

The story of one slum is the story of another, and all are unrelieved by
the smallest patch of that colour which lends a charm to pictures of
our poorest peasantry. God made the country, they say, and man made
the town; and wretched as is the lot of the agricultural labourer,
the handiwork of Heaven still remains to give some relief to the
surroundings of his miserable life. Field and tree and flower, the green
of the meadow and the hedge, the gold and white of buttercup and daisy,
the bright hues of the wild cottage garden--it is in the midst of these
the pigsties of the rustic poor are pitched, and there is scope for the
artist's brush. But in the slums he can use but one colour; all is a
monotone--a sombre gray deepening into the blackness of night. Even the
blue, that in the far-off skies seems to defy the man-made town to
be utterly colourless, is obscured by the smoke belched forth from
a hundred chimneys; and even the sun, which shines with systematic
impartiality on the righteous and the unrighteous alike, is foiled in
its efforts to get at these outcasts by the cunning builders, who have
put house so close to house that even a sunbeam which had trained down
to the proportions of Mdlle. Sarah Bernhardt, and then been flattened by
a steam-roller, could not force its way between the overhanging parapets
with any chance of getting to the ground. So what sunshine there is
stops on the roofs among the chimney-pots, and is the sole property of
the cats of the neighbourhood, who may be seen dozing about in dozens,
or indulging in a pastime which they have certainly not learnt of their
masters and mistresses, namely, washing their faces.

The cat-life of the slums is peculiar. Dogs are rare, but the cats are
as common as blackberries in September. Not over-clean and not over-fat,
the cats of the slums yet seem perfectly contented, and rarely leave the
district in which they have been reared. They ascend to the roof early
in the day, and stay there long after darkness has set in, and in the
choice of a local habitation they show their feline sense. The rooms of
their respective owners offer neither air nor sunshine, and when 'the
family' are all at home it is possibly the inability of finding even a
vacant corner to curl up in that drives Thomas to that part of a house
which the people of the East consider the best, but which the people of
our East have never sought to utilize.

The cats of the slums are certainly domesticated: they marry and have
families, and the kittens are the only really pretty things we have seen
since we started on our explorations.

The young of most animals are interesting and picturesque; but a kitten
is perhaps the prettiest of all; and a painful contrast is there between
the sallow dirty face, the sunken eyes and wizard features of a baby we
see sitting on a doorstep nursing one, and the dainty face, blue eyes,
and plump, pretty figure of the kitten. The mother of the latter has
set an example in the matter of philoprogenitiveness and domestic
forethought which the mother of the former would do well to imitate.

There are not wanting those who believe that for the present generation
of poor little can be done--I mean, of course, the poor who are sunk in
the misery and degradation of slum life. Dirtiness is ingrained in them,
and if they had decent habitations provided for them to-morrow, they
would no more live in them than a gipsy could settle down under any but
a canvas roof.

Thrift they do not understand, and are too old to be taught; and
ordinary decency is a thing of which they have about as much conception
as they would have of the aestheticism of Mr. Oscar Wilde or the
philosophy of Mr. Herbert Spencer.

I am not of the school which says that the regeneration of the masses is
hopeless, but I freely confess that the great chance of bringing about a
new and better order of things lies among the children who are to be the
mothers and fathers of the future. In the old Biblical times water and
fire were the elements which solved the knotty problem of regenerating
a seething mass of humanity sunk in the lowest abysses of vice and
degradation. The deluge that shall do the work now must come of the
opening of the floodgates of knowledge. Already, in tiny rivulets as
yet, the waters are trickling even into the darkest corners of our great
cities. The flood can never rise high enough to cleanse those who have
grown up ignorant--at best it can but wet their feet; but the children
cannot escape it--the waters will gather force and volume and grow into
a broad glorious river, through which the boys and girls of to-day will
wade breast high until they gain the banks of the Promised Land. It is
this river of knowledge which the modern wanderers in the wilderness
must ford to reach the Canaan which the philanthropist sees waiting for
them in his dreams.

The first working of the Education Act was fraught with countless
difficulties. It was no light task to catch the children of a shifting
race, to schedule street Arabs and the offspring of beggars and
thieves and prostitutes. But in the course of a few years almost every
difficulty has been conquered, and now there is hardly a child above a
certain age--no matter how wretched its condition may be--that is not
brought within the beneficial influence of education.

True that many of them come shoeless, ragged, and starving, to learn the
three 'B's,' to burthen their scanty brains with sums and tasks while
their stomachs are empty and their bodies weakened by disease and
neglect; but they have at least their chance. Let us take a school
where, perhaps, the poorest children come--a school recruited from such
homes as we have familiarized you with in previous chapters--and see the
little scholars at their dainty tasks.

Here is a child who is but one remove from an idiot. The teacher has a
hard task, for the Government inspector expects all the scholars to make
the same progress. This poor waif--the offspring of a gentleman whose
present address is Holloway Gaol, and a lady who has been charged
seventy-three times with being drunk and incapable--must pass a certain
standard before she can leave school; in her case, if she lives, she
will pass out by age, for statistics show that no system can make this
class of intellect retain a lesson. It is sowing seed upon a rock, and
there will be no harvest; but the child has just sufficient intelligence
to escape the asylum, and between the asylum and the school there is no
half-way house.

Some benefit, at least, she derives from the discipline, the care,
and the motherly sympathy of a kind head-mistress, who takes a strong
personal interest in her little charges.

For so many hours a day at least the child escapes the ghastly
surroundings of the den which is her 'home.'

Side by side with her sits a pretty, intelligent little girl of nine.
This child's eyes are bright with intelligence, the features are
pleasing and regular. As she is called forward, she rises and smilingly
comes towards us. There is none of that stolid indifference, that
mechanical obedience to a command which distinguishes too many of the
little ones who are here in obedience to the laws. This girl learns
quickly, and has had all the better qualities brought out. She is neat,
and takes a pride in her personal appearance. She has learnt to be
ashamed of dirt, and she is ambitious to be high up in her class.
Ambition is the one quality which will help above all others to lift
the poor out of degradation. The older race have it not; hence they
are content with their present positions, only seeking to gratify their
daily appetites, and caring not a fig for the morrow. This child will do
well, whatever she undertakes; and it is such as she who will survive in
the battle of life, and become the mothers of a better and more useful

Yet hers is a sad enough story. Her father was a boatman, and in a
drunken rage struck his wife down with a boat-hook.

Hers was the common offence of asking for money. The blow injured the
woman's brain, and from that day to this she has been in a lunatic
asylum. The father disappeared after the crime, and the child's
grandmother took the orphan with living parents in, and out of her
scanty earnings kept her. One day this year the old lady passed some men
carrying a body found in the river to the dead-house. Curiosity induced
her to go in with the crowd, and the face of the dead man was that of
her son.

A back-street tragedy--common enough, with a varied plot and incidents
in these parts, but, as it stands, the life-story of this child.

'And your granny keeps you now?' says the teacher, as she concludes the
little history, and turns to the girl.

'Yes, teacher; and when I grow up I'm going to keep granny.'

So may it be!

There are some hundred girls in the room. Some of them come from decent
homes, and some from cellars; many of their histories are romances; but
they are romances which mostly tend one way--to show the misery, the
guilt, and the poverty in which they have been reared; and to recount
them would be but to dwell upon a note which perhaps I have touched too
often already.

There are brighter stories, too, to be told of their parents, but none
so bright as they will be able to tell of themselves when, after years
of discipline and culture, they go forth to lead lives which with their
fathers and mothers were impossible.

Close to the school where the elder girls are educated, and in the same
building, is the department for infants. Here the children under seven
are prepared to pass into the upper department.

Directly we enter we are struck with the appearance of these children.
Bad faces there are among them--bruises and scars, and bandages and
rags--but the bulk of these younger children have a generally _better_
appearance than their little neighbours.

There is a theory in the school, and it is borne out to a certain extent
by fact, that some of the youngest and best-looking are the children of
girls who just got the benefit of the Education Act before they were
too old, and who in their young married life have reaped the benefit
of those principles of cleanliness and thrift which the Board School
inculcates. The young mothers are already a race far ahead of the older
ones in this district, and the children naturally benefit by it. It must
be borne in mind that the girls of this class marry or take a mate at
a very early age. Many of them have three or four children by the
time they are twenty, so that they would have been brought under the
influence of the present Education Act. These young women, too, live
in a better way; their room is tidier and cleaner, there is a little
coquetry in them, and they have a sense of shame which renders them
excellent service. They are anxious about their children's education,
they recognise the advantage the discipline and instruction have been
to them, and the general tone of their lives is every way a distinct
advance on the old order of things.

I quote these facts because they so fully bear out the theory that
Education must be the prime instrument in changing the condition of
the poor for the better, whatever results it may have later on upon the
condition of the labour market, and the political and social questions
of the future. The many theories which are put forward about the result
of educating the masses, it is not my province here to discuss; nor
need I consider those doctrines which are closely akin to Socialism, and
which are the favourite arguments of a school of advanced thinkers when
discussing the future condition of the masses.

I have only to confine myself to the facts before me, and I think this
great improvement in the children of the young mothers a most important

The best examples are in a room which is a kind of _crèche_. Here the
babies can be left by the mothers who have to go out to work, and
the tiny mites are looked after with motherly care by a kind-hearted
creature whose lot I do not envy. Fancy forty infants, some of them
little over two years old, to take care of for eight hours a day!
Mothers will appreciate the situation better than I can describe it.

Look at the babies at dinner. They have brought their bread and butter
with them, and they sit at the little low table enjoying it thoroughly.
In the winter, when work is scarce, alas! baby's bread and butter is not
always so thick as it is today. Sometimes baby has only a dry crust. But
there is a lot of the best sort of Christian character knocking about
in the Great City, and an excellent society, which provides dinners
for poor Board School children, has done much to alleviate this painful
state of things. A starving body, a famished child; there is no fear of
imposture here; and if anyone who reads these chapters wishes to support
a truly admirable movement, where there is no fear of abuse, he or she
may imitate Captain Cuttle, and, _having found a good thing, make a note
of it_.

In addition to the dining and play-table there is a long bed in the
room. There the tired babies sleep eight or ten in a row sometimes, and
forget their baby troubles. The _crèche_ is a boon and a blessing to the
poor woman who going out to work has a choice of keeping an elder girl
at home to nurse the baby and be summoned for it, or locking the said
baby up alone in a room all day with the risk to its life and its limbs
inevitable to such a course, not to mention the danger of fire and
matches and fits.

It is therefore with grief I hear that there are to be no more built in
Board Schools, and that the cost of maintaining those existing must in
future be defrayed by voluntary contributions. The Government objects to
the _crèche_ department on economical grounds.

The lady who manages the infants old enough to learn has no easy task,
but the order is perfect, and the children drill like little soldiers.
Here, too, the stories of many of them reveal a depth of misery not
often sounded except in the police-courts.

Here I see a bright, pretty, golden-haired girl of five who rather
upsets my pet theory. She ought to be ugly and dull, if there is
anything in breed. Her mamma is seldom out of prison for more than a
week. Mamma, not having learned Latin, does not know the difference
between _meum_ and _tuum,_ and is an incorrigible shoplifter and thief.
When she is enjoying her liberty, too, she has a habit of tumbling about
which is not conducive to health. She has fallen out of a window and
damaged the pavement below, and once with a baby in her arms she fell
down the stairs of this very school.

When they picked her up the baby's collar-bone was broken, but she was
sound enough to exclaim, 'If it hadn't ha' been for that blessed baby
I'd a broken my neck, I would.'

It isn't every mother who is philosopher enough to recognise the use of
a baby in breaking her fall downstairs.

The father of this little girl is a respectable man; but he has to go a
long way for work, and when papa is in the country and mamma is in gaol,
some good Sisters of Charity have taken the child and found it a home.

We have made our notes, and the children file out of school to dinner
and to play.

One sturdy little chap takes his sister's hand and leads her out like a
little father. He has over half a mile to take her home. We are told
it is a beautiful sight to see him piloting her across the great
thoroughfares when the traffic sweeps wildly up and down, and never
leaving go the little hand that is placed so trustingly in his till home
is reached and the dangers of the streets are over. They are a pretty
pair as they toddle ont hand in hand, and they form a pleasant picture
in this brief sketch of the little scholars who come daily from the
garrets and, cellars of the slums to get that 'little learning' which in
their cases is surely the reverse of a 'dangerous thing.'


|If I were asked to say off-hand what was the greatest curse of the poor
and what was the greatest blessing, I think my answer to the first query
would be the public-house, and to the second the hospital. Of course,
I might be wrong. There are some people who will contend that in these
islands the greatest blessing of the natives of all degrees is that they
are Great Britons. Our patriotic songs bid us all rejoice greatly at
the fact, and patriotism is not a class privilege. The starved outcast,
crouching for shelter on a wild March night in one of the stone recesses
of London Bridge, has a right to exclaim with the same pride as the
Marquis of Westminster--=

```'Far as the breeze can bear the billows' foam,

```Survey our empire and behold our home.'=

His soul, for all we know, may rejoice greatly that Britannia rules
the waves, and in spite of the fact that a policeman, spying him out as
'without the visible means of subsistence,' may seize him and consign
him to durance vile, he--the outcast, not the policeman--may ponder with
much national vanity on the fact that Britons never shall be slaves.

Out upon the parochial-minded disciples of the Birmingham school, who
pretend that a nation can be very great abroad and yet very small at
home! 'Survey our empire' is a noble line, and there is another about
the Queen's morning drum which has a magnificent ring about it, and
crops up in patriotic leading articles about twice a week all the year
round. It is, however, just possible that the vast extent of British
rule does not come home so pleasurably to my friend on the bridge as it
does to the well-fed, prosperous citizen of Jingo proclivities who
believes that Heaven's first command to an Englishman was, 'Thou shalt
remove thy neighbour's landmark.' The poor wretch may 'survey' his
'empire' with a feeling of anything but contentment, and he may be
tempted to wish that we had a little less empire to look after abroad in
order that a little attention might be bestowed upon the place where
charity begins.

Even at the risk of being pronounced unpatriotic, I shall, therefore,
maintain my contention that the greatest blessing of the poor is the
hospital--that noble institution of which Englishmen of all classes and
all creeds may reasonably be proud.

Sickness, disease, and accident enter very largely into the annals
of the poor. Overcrowding and unsanitary dwellings--all the ghastly
surroundings of poor life in a great city, which I have attempted feebly
to describe in this book--render the masses peculiarly susceptible to
illness in every shape and form. Epidemics of some sort or other are
rarely absent from the poorer districts, and many painful diseases and
deformities are transmitted regularly from parent to child. To be
sound of limb and well in health in these dens is bad enough, but
the existence of an invalid under such circumstances is pitiable to a
degree. The hospitals are the heavens-upon-earth of the poor. I
have heard little children--their poor pinched faces wrinkled with
pain--murmur that they didn't mind it, because if they had been well
they would never have come to 'the beautiful place.' Beautiful,
indeed, by contrast with their wretched homes are the clean wards, the
comfortable beds, and the kind faces of the nurses. Step across from
the home of a sick child in the slums of the Borough to the Evelina
Hospital, and it is like passing from the infernal regions to Paradise.
To this noble charity little sufferers are often brought dirty,
neglected, starving; and even the nurses, used as they are to
such sights, will tell you their hearts ache at the depth of baby
wretchedness revealed in some of the cases brought to them.

Passing from cot to cot, and hearing the histories of the little ones
lying there so clean, and, in spite of their suffering, so happy, one
is inclined to think that the charity is a mistake--that to nurse these
children back to health only to send them again to their wretched homes
is a species of refined cruelty. It were better in dozens of cases that
the children were left to die now, while they are young and innocent,
than that death should be wrestled with and its prize torn from it only
to be cast back into a state of existence which is worse than death.

The children have some dim inkling of this themselves. Many of them cry
when they are well, and cling to the kind nurses, asking piteously not
to be sent back to the squalor and dirt, and often, alas! cruelty, from
which they have been snatched for a brief spell.

The elder people doubtless appreciate the blessings of the hospital as
much as the children. The poor generally speak in the highest terms of
such institutions. They could not, as a rule, lie ill at home; care
and attention would be impossible; and for a sick person the atmosphere
would mean certain death. Doctors they cannot afford to pay. The
class of practitioners who lay themselves out for business in
these neighbourhoods are not, as a rule, much more than nostrum and
patent-medicine vendors, and their charges are generally extortionate.
If you could bring yourself to imagine truthfully the condition of the
sick poor without the hospitals to go to, you would see a picture of
human misery so appalling that you would cover your eyes and turn away
from it with a shudder.

Yet there are such pictures to be seen. There are cases which, from
varying circumstances, do not go to the hospital. There are men and
women who lie and die day by day in these wretched single rooms, sharing
all the family trouble, enduring the hunger and the cold, and waiting
without hope, without a single ray of comfort, until God curtains their
staring eyes with the merciful film of death.

It was such a case we came upon once in our wanderings, and which,
without unduly harrowing up the reader's feelings, I will endeavour to

The room was no better and no worse than hundreds of its class. It was
dirty and dilapidated, with the usual bulging blackened ceiling and the
usual crumbling greasy walls. Its furniture was a dilapidated four-post
bedstead, a chair, and a deal table. On the bed lay a woman, young,
and with features that, before hourly anguish contorted them, had been
comely. The woman was dying slowly of heart disease. Death was 'writ
large' upon her face. At her breast she held her child, a poor little
mite of a baby that was drawing the last drain of life from, its
mother's breast. The day was a bitterly cold one; through the broken
casement the wind came ever and anon in icy gusts, blowing the hanging
end of the ragged coverlet upon the bed to and fro like a flag in a
breeze. The wind roared in the chimney, too, eddying down into the
fireless grate with a low howling noise like the moan of a Banshee round
a haunted house. To protect the poor woman from the cold her husband
had flung on it his tattered great-coat--a garment that the most ancient
four-wheel night cabman would have spurned as a knee-protector. 'He was
a plumber,' she whispered to us in a weak, hollow voice; 'he had been
out of work for a week, and he had gone out to try and look for a job.'
One shivered to think of him wearily trudging the streets this bitter
day, half clad and wholly starved; what must have been his torture as he
failed at place after place, and the day wore on and brought the night
when he would have to return to the poor dying wife with the old sad

As one realized the full meaning of this little domestic tragedy, and
knew that it was only one of many daily enacted in the richest city in
the world--the scene of it laid not a mile from the full tide of all
the pomps and vanities of fashion, of all the notorious luxury and
extravagances which is the outward show of our magnificence and
wealth, it was hard to repress a feeling of something akin to shame and
anger--shame for the callous indifference which bids one half the
world ignore the sufferings of the other--anger that, with all the gold
annually borne along on the broad stream of charity, so little of it
ever reaches the really deserving and necessitous poor.

The house this poor woman lay dying in was one of a block which would
have been a prize to a sanitary inspector anxious to make a sensational
report. For the room in question the plumber out of work had to pay four
and sixpence, and the broken pane of glass the landlord had refused to
replace. The man was told 'he must do it himself, or if he didn't like
it as it was he could go.'

Such stories as this are painful, but they should be told. It is good
for the rich that now and again they should be brought face to face
with misery, or they might doubt its existence. These people--our
fellow-citizens--cannot be neglected with impunity. These fever
and pestilence-breeding dens that are still allowed to exist, these
deathtraps out of which vestrymen and capitalists make large annual
incomes, are a danger to the whole community.

While I am on this subject, I may as well quote an instance which bears
directly upon the interest--the selfish interest--which the better
classes have in lending their voices to swell the chorus of complaints
which is going up about the present state of things.

Here is an 'interior' to which I would call the special attention of
ladies who employ nurse-girls for their children.

This room when we entered it was in a condition beyond description. The
lady was washing the baby, and she made that an excuse for the dirt of
everything else. Two ragged boys were sitting on the filthy floor, a
dirty little girl was in a corner pulling a dirty kitten's tail, and
the smoke from the untidiest grate I ever saw in my life was making
the half-washed baby sneeze its little head nearly off. The family, all
told, that slept in this room was seven. There was a bed and there was a
sofa--so I concluded the floor must have been the resting-place of some
of them. 'The eldest girl'--materfamilias informed us in answer to our
questions--'was gone out. She slept on the sofa.' We knew somebody had
slept there, because some rags were on it, which had evidently done duty
as bed-clothes.

Outside this room, which opened on to a back-yard, was a dust-bin. We
didn't want eyesight to know that--it appealed with sufficient power
to another sense. Inside was an odour which made the dust-bin rather a

I have described this place a little graphically for the sake of that
eldest girl. It is not from any gallantry to the fair sex that I have
done this, but because the young woman in question was, I ascertained, a
domestic servant. She was a nursemaid just home from a place at Norwood,
and in a week she was going to a place at Clapham. I remembered, as I
gazed on the scene, a certain vigorous letter from Mr. Charles Reade
which appeared in the _Daily Telegraph_ some years ago about servants
'pigging with their relations at home,' and wanting the best bedroom
and a feather-bed with damask furniture when in service. I never so
thoroughly realized what 'pigging with their relations' meant before.

Now, if you will take the trouble to think out the possible result
of girls going from such pigsties as these straight into well-to-do
families, where they will nurse the children and be constantly in the
closest contact with the younger members of the family, I think you
will see that the dangers of unhealthy homes for the poor may be equally
dangerous to a better class. I should like to know how many families
now mourning the loss of a little child from fever, or the death of some
dear one from small-pox, would have been spared their sorrow had the
existence of such places as I have described been rendered impossible by
the action of the law!

I do not imagine for one moment that I have seen, or that I am likely
to see, the worst phases of the evil which has become one of the burning
questions of the hour. But what I have written about I have in every
case seen with my own eyes, and in no case have I exaggerated; and yet
more than one of my kindly correspondents doubt my story of the dead
body being kept, and eventually put out into the street.

With regard to this, let the reader in doubt ask any sanitary inspector
or officer of health to whom he can get an introduction, if it is not
an appalling fact that the poor have grown so used to discomfort and
horrors that they do not look upon a corpse in the room they live, and
eat, and sleep in as anything very objectionable!

It often happens there is no money to pay for the funeral, and so, with
that inertness and helplessness bred of long years of neglect, nothing
at all is done, no steps are taken, and the body stops exactly where it
was when the breath left it.

The following incident I take haphazard from the reports of Dr. Liddell,
whose recent statement has even attracted Parliamentary attention and
led to a question in the House:

Prolonged Retention of a Dead Body in a Room occupied by a Family.

Mr. Wrack reports that, on visiting No. 17, Hope Street, Spitalfields,
he found in the room of the second floor the dead body of a child who
had died fifteen days before the time of his visit. The room, which
contained 1,176 cubic feet of space, was occupied by the parents of
the dead child and a daughter aged thirteen years. The body was in a
decomposed state. The reason assigned for not burying the child at an
earlier period was that the father had no means to do so, and that his
friends had failed to render him the assistance which they had promised.
Mr. Wrack having pointed out the danger of keeping a dead body so long
in the only room occupied by the family, application was made to the
relieving officer, and the body was buried on the following day.

Fifteen days! Fancy that! with the knowledge you have by this time of
the size and condition of the room in which the corpse remains mixed up
with the living inmates day and night. Here are two more cases. Note
the fact that in the first the child has died of scarlet fever, and that
tailoring work is going on around it--work which when finished will be
carried, in all human probability, with the germs of disease in it
to the homes of well-to-do and prosperous people--a class which too
frequently objects to be worried with revelations of the miseries of the

Prolonged Retention op a Dead Body in a Room occupied by a Family.

Mr. Wrack reports that, upon visiting No. 28, Church Street,
Spital-fields, on the 5th December last, he found in the second floor
front room the dead body of a child which had died of scarlet fever on
the 1st of the month. The body was not coffined, and it lay exposed on
a table in one corner of the room. The room was occupied as a living and
sleeping room by five persons, viz., the father and mother, their child,
a girl about three years old, and by two adults, viz., the grandfather
and grandmother of the child, who were engaged at tailors' work. The
child was playing on the floor. The room was about fourteen feet square
and eight feet high, thus affording only 260 cubic feet of space to
each person. The smell on entering the room was most sickening. Upon
remonstrating with the people for keeping the body so long unburied,
and especially for not having it coffined, they replied that they were
waiting to raise the means for burying it; and, being Irish, said
that it was not their custom to coffin their dead until the day of the
funeral. The body was not buried until the 9th of December, and then it
had to be buried by the parish authorities.

Mr. Wrack also visited No. 24, Princes Street, Spitalfields, on the 5th
January, and found in the second floor front room the dead body of an
aged woman, who died on Christmas Day. The room was occupied by the
daughter of the deceased, a person about forty years of age, who lived
and slept in the same room. Upon asking the reason of her keeping the
body so long unburied, she stated that she had been waiting for suitable
things to be made for the funeral; and upon asking when the funeral
would take place, she stated that the body would not be buried until the
8th January, a period of fifteen days from the death. The Board had
no power to compel the removal of the corpse, as there is no mortuary
belonging to the Board in the district.

I want to drive this nail home, though it is the practice itself I
should prefer to knock on the head. Here are three more cases. Let me
quote them, and have done with the subject.

Prolonged Retention of Dead Bodies.

There have been three cases of prolonged retention of the dead in rooms
occupied as living and sleeping rooms. One of these cases was that of a
child who died at No. 26, King Street, Spitalfields, and whose body was
retained for nine days, the parents stating that they were unable to
raise sufficient money to bury it. During the time the body was kept it
became so offensive that it was necessary to remove it to a shed at
the rear of the house. Eventually the father applied to the relieving
officer, and obtained an order for the burial of the body.

Another case was that of a young man who died of consumption at 120,
Royal Mint Street. The body of this young man was kept for eight days in
the room in which his father and mother lived and slept.

The third case was that of a child three weeks old, who died at No. 5,
Devonshire Place, Whitechapel. The body of this child was kept in the
room occupied by its parents for a period of twelve days, and at the
time of the visit of the inspector the smell from it was most offensive.

Although in each of these cases everything was done by the officer
of this Board, and by the relieving officer, to induce the respective
parties to bury their dead before a nuisance was occasioned, yet to a
certain extent their effort s were unavailing.

As such cases are of frequent occurrence, it is certainly full time
that power was given to magistrates to order the burial without delay
of every corpse which is certified to be a nuisance or dangerous to the
public health.

It is necessary a great many things were done. It is necessary, above
all, that the direct attention of the State should be given to the whole
question, but the Home Secretary says there is 'no time' to attend
to such matters. The question which led to this answer and the Home
Secretary's statement in full were as follows:

Sanitary Condition of Whitechapel.

Mr. Bryce asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether
his attention had been called to the two last reports presented to the
Whitechapel District Board of Works by the Medical Officer of Health
on the sanitary condition of the Whitechapel district, in which he
condemned, as unsanitary and ill-arranged, several new buildings
recently erected in that district, and expressed the opinion that
amendments in the existing Building Acts were urgently required; and
whether, if sufficient powers to prevent the erection or order
the closing of unsanitary dwelling were not now possessed by local
authorities, he would undertake to bring in a Bill to amend the Building
Acts in this important particular, by investing the proper local
authorities with such powers.

Sir W. Harcourt said he would be glad to introduce Bills upon this and
many other subjects, but there was no time for them.--Evening Standard,
June 18, 1883.

'No time!'

It is well, with that answer ringing in our ears, to turn to the
Parliamentary proceedings and discover what the important questions
are which are engrossing the entire attention of the Legislature, and
leaving 'no time' for such a matter as the constant menace to public
health which exists in the present system of 'Housing the Poor.' I will
not enumerate them, or I might be tempted into a political disquisition,
which would be out of place; but the reader can, with considerable
profit to himself, find them and make a note of them.

The list of important measures which have consumed the session and left
'no time' for this question will be instructive and amusing--amusing
because the discussions which have taken up the time of the House
contain in themselves all the elements of screaming farce.

And, talking of screaming farce, I am reminded that we met Mr. J. L.
Toole, and that he has not been introduced yet.

Room by all means, and at once for Mr. J. L. Toole--not the Toole of
Toole's Theatre--the popular comedian who has made tomfoolery a fine art
and burlesque a science, but his living, breathing image as he appeared
to us, 'Mug,' voice, and gesture, at the door of a house at which we
lately knocked in search of information as to the profits of hat-box

Our J. L. Toole didn't tell us anything as to these profits, though he
was very funny--he cracked wheezes that even John Laurence himself might
give off without blushing.

He suggested that while we were about it perhaps 'he might as well tell
us who he worked for as how much he got, and then we could go round and
offer to make hat-boxes a halfpenny a dozen under.' We didn't get much
out of our J. L. Toole.


|One of the greatest evils of the overcrowded districts of London is
the water-supply. I might almost on this head imitate the gentleman
who wrote a chapter on 'Snakes in Iceland,' which I quote in its
entirety--'There are no snakes in Iceland.' To say, however, that in
these districts there is no water-supply would be incorrect, but it is
utterly inadequate to the necessities of the people. In many houses more
water comes through the roof than through a pipe, and a tub or butt in
the back-yard about half full of a black, foul-smelling liquid supplies
some dozens of families with the water they drink and the water they
wash in as well. It is, perhaps, owing to the limited nature of the
luxury that the use of water both internally and externally is rather
out of favour with the inhabitants. As to water for sanitary purposes,
there is absolutely no provision for it in hundreds of the most
densely-inhabited houses. In the matter of water and air, the most
degraded savage British philanthropy has yet adopted as a pet is a
thousand times better off than the London labourer and his family,
dwelling in the areas whose horrors medical officers are at last
divulging to the public.

The difficulties of attaining that cleanliness which we are told is next
to godliness may be imagined from a description of a water-butt which
we found in the back-yard of a house containing over ninety people. The
little boy in his shirtsleeves has come to fill his tin bowl, and we are
indebted to him for the information that he wants it for his mother to
drink. The mother is ill--has been for weeks; her lips are burning with
fever, her throat is dry and parched, and this common reservoir, open to
all the dust and dirt with which the air is thick, open to the draining
in rainy weather of the filthy roof of the tumble-down structure beside
it--this is the spring at which she is to slake her thirst. Is it any
wonder that disease is rampant, or that the temperance folk have such
trouble to persuade the masses that cold water is a good and healthy

Remember, this is absolutely the supply for the day; it is, perhaps,
turned on for about five minutes, and from this butt the entire
inhabitants of the house must get all the water they want. In dozens of
instances there is no supply at all--accident or design has interfered
with it, and the housewife who wants to wash her child's face or her
own, or do a bit of scrubbing, has to beg of a neighbour or make a
predatory excursion into a back yard more blessed than her own.

Some of the facts about the water-supply are not easy to deal with in a
book for general reading. The difficulties of the 'drawer of water' are
great. It was while I and my esteemed collaborator were debating how we
could possibly reproduce much that we had seen in connection with this
crying evil that a gentleman came along and gave us the chance of at
least one sketch 'on the spot.' He made himself busy at the side of a
tub--a tub from which his neighbours will fill their drinking and their
culinary vessels anon. Do not imagine that he is engaged in his morning
ablution. He is washing his potatoes--that is all--and in the evening he
will take them out baked, and sell them in the public highway. For the
sake of the public I am glad they will be baked, but though the water
will in some instances be boiled, I don't think that tea is improved by
the dirt off potato-skins--at least, I have never heard so.

Perhaps at the house where we saw this tub the inhabitants were not so
much injured as they might have been by the deficient water-supply in
the yard. If they didn't get water in one way, they generally had it in
another. The law of compensation is always at work, and the rapacity of
a landlord who left his tenants so badly off in one particular way may
have been a godsend in another.

The water in rainy weather simply poured through the roof of this house,
saturating the sleepers in their beds and washing their faces in a
rough-and-ready manner, but unfortunately it didn't rain towels at the
same time, so that the bath had its inconveniences.

The cause of these periodical shower-baths was pointed out to us by a
tenant who paid four and sixpence a week for his 'watery nest' in the
attic, and who, in language which did not tend to show that his enforced
cleanliness had brought godliness in its train, explained that the
landlord had taken the lead from the roof and sold it, and replaced it
with asphalte, which had cracked, with the result above described.

Unacquainted with the stern necessities of the situation, you will
contemplate the picture and say that these people are idiots to pay rent
for such accommodation. What are they to do? Move. Whither? They know
well how they will have to tramp from slum to slum, losing work, and the
difficulties which will beset them on this room-hunt. They are
thankful to have a roof, even with cracks in it, and they will go on
suffering--not in silence, perhaps, but without taking action, because
they know if they go further they may fare worse.

The accommodation which these people will put up with is almost

Some of the houses are as absolutely dangerous to life and limb as those
specially built up on the stage as pitfalls for the unwary feet of the
melodramatic heroes and heroines led there by designing villains in
order that they may fall through traps into dark rivers, and so be got
rid of.

Here is a house which has been slowly decaying for years; the people who
live in it must be competent to accept engagements as acrobats, yet from
floor to roof every room is densely inhabited.

The stairs are rotten, and here and there show where some foot has
trodden too heavily. The landing above is a yawning gulf which you
have to leap, and leap lightly, or the rotten boarding would break away
beneath you.

Open a door and look into a room. There are two women and three children
at work, and the holes in the floor are patched across with bits of old
boxes which the tenants have nailed down themselves.

The place is absolutely a shell. There is not a sound room or passage
in it. Yet it is always crammed with tenants, and they pay their rent
without a murmur--nay, within the last year the rents of the rooms have
been raised nearly twenty-five per cent.

The gentleman who inhabits the ground-floor with his wife and family
is best off. He is a bit of a humorist, and he seems quite proud of
pointing out to us the dilapidations of his dwelling-place, and takes
the opportunity to indulge in what the gentlemen of the theatrical
persuasion call 'wheezes.'

'Come through?' he says; 'well, no, I can't say as anybody have come
through, not altogether. We sees a leg o' somebody sometimes as we ain't
invited to join us, and now and agen a lump o' ceilin' comes down when
the young woman upstairs stamps her foot; but so long as they don't
start a dancin' acadermy up there, I don't mind.'

'But haven't you spoken to the landlord about it?'

'Spoke! Lor' bless you! wot's the use? He'd larf at us, and if he was to
larf too loud it might be dangerous. He won't do nothink. The place is
bound to come down, yer know, by-and-by, for improvements.'

Possibly the man's explanation of the landlord's neglect was correct,
but to us it certainly appeared that the place was more likely to come
down for lack of improvements.

Going to bed under such circumstances as these must require a good
deal of confidence; but I suppose the contingency of the floor above
descending on one in one's sleep does not have the same terror for these
people that it had for the nervous hero of that story of Edgar Allan
Poe's, in which the room with contracting walls and descending roof was
supposed to be a horror worthy of the inventive genius of the gentlemen
of the Inquisition.

Of course, when the ordinary repairs demanded by consideration for the
safety of life and limb are left undone, and the most ordinary sanitary
precautions are neglected, it is not likely that the present race of
poor tenement-owners will listen to the appeals of those tenants whose
livelihood depends upon them keeping animals, and make some provision
for the housing of pigs and the stabling of donkeys.

Strange, too, as it may seem, in the houses which are being built on
improved principles, no provision is made for the barrows and donkeys
of the costermongers--a class which enters very largely into the
composition of the one-roomed tribes. Some time ago a man was charged
with assaulting his wife, and at the magisterial hearing it was elicited
that the matrimonial quarrel was all on account of a donkey which slept
under the bed.

The magistrate was naturally astonished. He didn't believe such a state
of things possible. Doubtless his wonder was shared by the public. The
presence of a donkey in the apartment of a costermonger and his family
is, however, by no means rare, and quite recently a zealous sanitary
inspector has discovered a cellar inhabited by a man, his wife, three
children, _and four pigs_.

The presence of animals not exactly regarded as domestic is a feature
of certain poor districts of London. Fowls roost nightly in dozens of
bedrooms in the back streets; and only the other day a score of those
miserable tortoises that one sees on barrows destitute of the smallest
vestige of green stuff, and probably enduring the most prolonged agony,
were discovered crawling about the floor of a costermonger's attic among
his progeny, only slightly inferior in point of numbers to the poor
animals themselves.

It is a great complaint of the men, who, as a rule, are hardworking,
honest fellows enough in their way, and thrifty, too, when they can keep
away from the temptation of drink, that so little attention is being
paid to their needs in the many schemes for improved dwellings for the
industrial classes.

In some of the cases where the accommodation for ponies and donkeys may
fairly be called 'stabling,' the entrance is through the passage of a
house densely inhabited, and the animals are led in and out daily in
such a manner as to be a nuisance to the occupants, while the stables,
being so close to the windows of the room and kept in anything but good
order, are a constant danger to health.

I have been assured by an old inhabitant of the costers' quarters that
he knew a donkey who went upstairs to the third floor every night to go
to bed; but old inhabitants are not to be relied upon, and I give you
the story for what it is worth.

Of one thing, however, no one who personally investigates the poorer
districts of great cities can remain in doubt. There are there hidden
away from general observation marvels as great as any of those which
the enterprising Farini imports from the Cannibal Islands, the dismal
swamps, the deserts and jungles of the savage world, for the amusement
and edification of the shilling-paying public. Missing links abound, and
monstrosities are plentiful. Some of the terrible sights which we have
seen we have too much respect for the reader's feelings to reproduce.
Now and again the revelations of some police-court send a shudder
through society. Children starved and stunted and ignorant as the lowest
beasts of the forests are unearthed in foul dens, where they have passed
their little lives chained to the walls, or pounced upon by the police,
led to the discovery by the tavern gossip of the neighbours. Grown women
who have lived naked in underground cellars, and long ago lost their
reason, are found one fine morning by the merest accident while their
gaolers are away. On these hidden horrors of unknown London I need not
dwell here. The history of Horrible London has yet to be written; but
the brutality which makes many of these terrible things possible is
largely due to the circumstances under which the poor live. The
careless disregard of human life and human suffering which has so long
characterized us as a nation must bear fruit. The waste of human life
brought about by the conditions under which the poor are allowed to
live breeds in them a contempt for the sufferings of others. They become
hardened, and the cruelty at which we shudder is their second nature.
All that is best and holiest in life there is nothing to encourage--only
the ferocious instincts of the brute are fostered by a state of
existence in which the struggle for the very air men breathe is bitter
and intense.

Says a philanthropist, who has gone to the root of this appalling
subject: 'In these districts men live in little more than half the space
their corpses occupy when dead.' Think of it! Penetrate the awful places
where vice and squalor, crime and brutality, reign supreme; where the
oath of the gin-maddened ruffian, the cry of the trampled wife, and the
wail of the terrified child ring out night and day; where all is one
fierce ferment in a hell upon earth, where day brings no light,
and night no rest, and ask yourself what manner of fruit these
forcing-houses can bear.

When some one bold enough shall write 'Horrible London,' and the black
page lies open that all may read, then, and not till then, will the
enormity of the responsibility be recognised of those to whom the power
to do so much has been given and who have done so little.

That work is for stronger hands than mine to do. I am content here to
chronicle such lights and shadows of life among the poor as fall across
my path in a journey round the outskirts only of the dark continent in
our midst.

Here is an incident which, pathetic enough, has yet its humorous side.
Here is a boy of eight years old in petticoats, a big, strong, healthy
lad. His father is a dock labourer, and this is how he was brought
forward as a candidate for some cast-off clothing which a director of
the East and West India Dock Company was generously distributing.

The dock labourers are a distinct class among the East-End poor, and
I hope at some future time to give the reader a glimpse of life among
them. How hard their struggle is may be gathered from the fact that
their boys have to go till eight and nine years old in petticoats
because the parents cannot afford to buy them knickerbockers or


|These pages would be incomplete without at least a passing reference to
some of the many efforts which have already been made to deal with the
evils arising from the condition of things it has been my desire to

The mere charitable work going on I have not space to deal with. There
are night refuges, missions, and many excellent institutions due to
public and private enterprise in all the poorer quarters, all of which
in a manner more or less satisfactory afford relief to the inhabitants.

One good work, however, which I do not care to leave hiding its light
under a bushel is the home for factory-girls, managed by the Sisters of
St. John the Baptist, Clewer, and situated in Southwark.

Here, girls employed in the many factories of the neighbourhood during
the day can, if they are willing to submit to the rules, find a real
home for a small weekly payment, and escape the wretched and too often
vicious surroundings of the places in which their parents live.

With a full knowledge of all the temptation which besets the work-girls
who have to spend their leisure in these slums, none can doubt the good
work such institutions may do.

On the night of our visit we were conducted from basement to roof by one
of the Sisters; we saw the girls and heard their histories from their
own lips, and learnt how terrible was the sin and misery which had
forced them to look upon their vile homes with loathing, and how fierce
the temptation which beset them when left to themselves.

These girls are of the class which most deserve help; they work hard
at dangerous trades for their living, and they pay for their food and
board. What the charity does is to throw a certain home influence around
them, give them cleanliness and godliness, and preserve them to some
extent from the contamination of the streets--streets which are here
thronged at night with the worst types of humanity the great city can

The story of the Mission is romantic. A lady, Mrs. Hun, was left a
young widow. After less than two years of married life her husband died
suddenly. She devoted herself to her only daughter, who grew up into
a beautiful girl. The morning after her first ball the young lady was
found dead in her bed. To assuage her grief and keep from breaking down
utterly, the bereaved mother determined to devote herself to charity.
The fearful condition of the young girls in this neighbourhood was
brought to her attention, and with her fortune and that of her dead
daughter she devoted herself to establishing a home for factory-girls.

Such is the short and simple story of how this excellent institution was
founded. How it is carried out, how the girls cling to the Home, and how
thoroughly they appreciate its comforts, any lady can see who cares to
take a trip as far as Union Street, Borough, and ring the bell of the
All Hallows' Mission-House.

The work which these girls have to do in return for a small wage is
generally of a dangerous character. Many of them literally snatch their
food from the jaws of death.

One girl in the Home was white and ill and weak, and her story may be
taken as a sample. She worked at the 'bronzing,' that is, a branch of
the chromo-lithography business, and it consists in applying a fluid,
which gives off a poisonous exhalation, to certain work. Bronzing enters
largely into the composition of those Christmas pictures which delight
us so much at the festive season, and which adorn the nursery of many a
happy, rosy-cheeked English child.

The law, recognising the dangerous nature of the work, says that the
girls doing it shall be allowed a pint of milk per day, the milk in some
way counteracting the effect of the poison the girls inhale. It will
hardly be believed that some of the best firms refuse to comply with the
regulation, and if the girls complain they are at once discharged.

Now, the wages paid are seven shillings per week. To keep at their
employment it is necessary that the workers take castor-oil daily, and
drink at least a pint of milk. They must either pay for these luxuries
out of their scanty earnings or go without, and eventually find their
way to the hospital.

Take another trade--the fur-pulling. The women and girls employed at
this are in some shops locked in the room with their work, and have to
eat their food there.

If you had ever seen a room crowded with girls pulling the fluff from
cats, rabbits, rats, and goodness knows what other animals, you would
appreciate the situation better. The fluff, the down, and the small
hairs smother everything, and are necessarily swallowed by the occupants
of the room, with pernicious effect. Yet it is the custom of some of
the men in the trade to force their employés to eat under such
circumstances--that is, to swallow their food thickly coated with the
hairs from which nothing can preserve it.

Why do not the women refuse? Because they would be discharged. There are
always hundreds ready and eager to take their places. The struggle for
bread is too fierce for the fighters to shrink from any torture in its

With the dangers of the white-lead works, which employ a large number of
these families, most people are now familiar; at least, those who read
the inquests must be. In addition to the liability to lead-poisoning, in
many of these works the machinery is highly dangerous. In spite of the
Employers' Liability Act, the victims of machinery accidents--that is,
when they are women or children--rarely get compensation.

The hospitals are full of accidents from these causes; often the
negligence is that of a fellow-workman, but in at least half a dozen
cases I have investigated not one shilling of compensation has the
victim obtained.

Saw-mills, and places where steam and circular saws are used, employ a
large number of boys. If you were to give a tea-party to saw-mill boys,
the thing that would astonish you would be the difficulty of finding
half a dozen of your guests with the proper number of fingers.

I know one little lad who is employed at pulling out the planks which
have been pushed through the machine by men, and he has one hand now on
which only the thumb is left. Then there is the lemonade-bottling, which
is another industry largely employing the lads of poor neighbourhoods.
The bottles are liable to burst, and cases of maiming are almost of
daily occurrence. The bottlers are obliged to wear masks to protect
their faces, but their hands are bound to be exposed to the danger.

These are a few of the dangerous and unhealthy occupations by which the
poor live, and I have enumerated those largely practised by children.
I have done so to show how little we can wonder if for lack of a
protecting arm, or that parental love which is, alas! so rare a thing
in the very poor districts, these boys and girls yield to the first
temptation to go wrong, and instead of risking life and limb for a
paltry wage, take to those paths of vice which we have it on the highest
authority are always the most easy of access.

As we leave the home of the factory girls we come upon a scene which
illustrates the life outside. A big crowd of foul-mouthed, blackguardly
boys and girls, with a few men and women among them, are gathered round
two girls who are fighting fiercely. They have quarrelled, a bystander
tells us, in the adjacent public-house about a young man. He is
considered her legitimate property by one lady, and the said lady has
surprised him treating her rival to gin. Neither of the girls is more
than seventeen, I should say, yet they are fighting and blaspheming and
using words that make even myself and my collaborator shudder, used as
we are by this time to the defiled Saxon of the slums.

'Go it, Sal!' yells a female friend, and Sal goes it, and the boys
and girls stand round and enjoy the spectacle, and add their chorus of
blasphemy and indecency to the quarrel duet of the Madame Angots of the

I had nearly forgotten an incident which occurred when we were in the
factory-girls' home, and which is not without its lesson as showing the
value even these girls attach to social position. One young lady was
introduced to us as having a sweetheart who always brought her home of
an evening with great punctuality. 'What is your sweetheart?' I asked.
'A boot-finisher,' was the answer. 'Where does he work--at what firm?'
'He works just by Fenchurch Street Station.' 'Is it a large
bootmaker's?' 'Well, it ain't exactly a bootmaker's; he's a shoeblack.'
I never heard a shoeblack called a boot-finisher before, but I think the
euphemism was allowable in a young lady who wished to exalt the
commercial status of her intended.

I alluded in a recent chapter to the costermongers as a large and worthy
class. Since that chapter was written I have explored a district which
is almost exclusively inhabited by them--a portion of St. Luke's.. To
what I have already written let me add that until now I had not the
slightest conception that things were so bad as they really are. My
visit was early in the morning, before the men and women had gone out
with their loads. If you could have seen the condition of the rooms and
yards piled up with rotting vegetable refuse, and the way in which the
cabbages and the fruit were stowed for the night, and where they were
stowed, it would have cured such among you as are fond of a bargain at
the door from ever patronising a barrow again.

Out of the fetid one room where man and wife and family slept they
carried the stuff that then neighbours were to eat. It had passed the
night with them, and the green-stuff was decidedly faded and languid.
It was piled on the barrow, and then soused with dirty water, and so
wheeled away to be cried up and down the streets of London.

No wonder diseases are spread if from such poisoned, fever-breeding dens
as this the food is carried with all its impurity day after day to be
hawked from door to door!

I do not blame the costers. They must get where there is an open space
for their barrows handy, some bit of waste land where houses have been
condemned and pulled down. They stack their barrows here, taking off one
wheel and carrying it home, that their property may not be wheeled off
in the night. But areas with this waste land are limited, so up go the
prices, and the coster must pay. In Green Arbour Gourt, St. Luke's, I
came upon a man who was paying eight shillings a week for one miserable
room, and all round the district the very vilest accommodation fetches
something very near that figure.

Eight shillings a week for one room! Surely a class that can pay that
must be worth catering for even by the five per cent, philanthropists.

Some time ago there was a scheme to build a goods station in this
district, and before the Bill could be considered Parliment required a
labouring-class statement, that is, a statement of the number of poor
people who would be displaced.

On looking through the figures I find that to build this station about
3,000 poor people would have to be turned out of their homes.

It is the pulling down of area after area for the purpose of building
large warehouses and railway-stations, and that sort of thing, which is,
of course, at the root of the overcrowding. The accommodation becomes
more limited year after year, and the property built as dwelling-houses
under the Artisans' Dwellings Act does not, as I have pointed out
before, offer any accommodation to the class displaced.

In another district I made a discovery which I fancy must be unique. I
found a public-house which was a highway for traffic. You went out of a
street into a bar--you walked straight through and found yourself in
a network of courts behind. I found on inquiry that for years the
public-house had been used as a footpath, and I have no doubt it was
found highly convenient by ladies and gentlemen in a hurry to escape

In another district still I unearthed as sweet a little story as any of
the annals of jobbery can, I imagine, furnish. Let me tell it carefully,
for the law of libel is a fearful and wonderful thing, and I have no
desire that my publishers should eat their next Christmas dinner in
Holloway Gaol.

A big block of buildings, falling into decay, was for sale. A person
officially connected with the parish drew the attention of the sanitary
officers to them, and had them condemned as unfit for habitation.
Directly this was done the parish gentleman, in conjunction with a firm
of speculators, bought the property for a bagatelle--for old building
material, in fact. But the new proprietors didn't pull it down--not
they. They gave a coat of whitewash here and there, and let every single
room again directly at increased rentals, and every single room is full
of rent-payers now. The street of houses which was condemned five years
ago has been a little gold mine, and a handsome fortune has been made
out of it by the very people who insisted upon calling the attention of
the sanitary authorities to it.

It is needless to say that the same attention has never been solicited

I should like to know how many more blocks of property--unfit for human
habitation--are held in the same way in London.

I fancy the revelations on this subject would be startling to a degree.

Yet amidst all these horrors and sufferings, working at dangerous
trades, housed in death-traps, neglected and persecuted, the poor manage
to live, and some of them to amuse themselves. How they amuse themselves
we shall shortly see.


|When I come to the task of describing how the poor amuse themselves,
there comes back to me the memory of a certain 'exam.' I submitted
myself to in the happy long ago. I am not quite sure now whether the
result was to be a clerkship in Somerset House, or a certificate of
proficiency which I could frame, and glaze, and hang up in my bedroom;
all I remember is, that I was taken up to London with half a dozen of my
fellow-collegians, and deposited in a large room, at a desk, and that in
front of me was placed a paper with a string of printed questions on
it, which I was requested to answer in writing. The questions were not
particularly flabbergasting then, though I doubt whether I could answer
a single one of them correctly now; but that which carried terror to my
fluttering heart at once was the special note which enjoined me to write
my answers briefly and concisely. There are certain questions which will
not be answered in half a dozen words. Several such there were on my
examination-paper, and such a question, after a lapse of years, again
stands and defies me to mortal combat.

'How do the poor amuse themselves?'

The name of their amusements is legion, and to catalogue them briefly is
beyond my powers.

The principal amusement of the people who have no money is, I take it,
loafing at street corners and gossiping with their neighbours, and the
form of enjoyment by far the most prevalent is getting drunk.

The public-house, after centuries of philanthropic tail-talk and
hundreds of miles of newspaper and magazine writing, tracts and essays,
remains still the Elysian field for the tired toiler. The well-meaning
efforts of the societies which have endeavoured to attract the poor
to hear countesses play the fiddle, and baronets sing comic songs in
temperance halls, have not been crowned with anything like success, for
the simple reason that there is an air of charity and goody-goody about
the scheme which the poor always regard with suspicion. They want
their amusement as a right, not as a favour, and they decline to be

The public-house', then, is still the centre of attraction for the
masses during their leisure--the public-house and its giant offspring,
the music-hall. The old Free and Easy, held every Monday or every
Saturday, as the case might be, in the bar-parlour or the big room
upstairs, is dying the death--the halls have killed it. There are a few
still in existence, but the attendance is meagre, and the entertainment
is only kept up by ambitious amateurs of the type who sit back in a
chair and close their eyes to sing a sentimental ballad, and the young
gentlemen who are anxious to exchange the workshop or the counter for
the footlights, and try their hand first at the comic songs of Messrs.
Arthur Roberts and McDermott before the dozen or so of the bar-parlour
frequenters of the Blue Bear who make up the weekly audiences of the
'Free and Easy.'

The old sporting-houses, once the resort of half the blackguardism of
the East-End and a good deal of the West, have gone down before the
steady bowling of the law. The friendly bouts with the gloves between
local 'chickens' and 'novices,' which once were regular Saturday night
amusements, are few and far between, and dog-fights and ratting-matches
have to be searched for by the curious as diligently as though they were
looking for a policeman in a suburban neighbourhood, and the result is
generally the same.

That boxing and ratting, and other forms of the 'fancy,' still exist as
part of the amusement of the lower orders is perfectly true, but they
exist in such a hole-and-corner, out-of-the-way, few-and-far-between
style, that they can no longer be classed as among the amusements of
those who cannot afford to pay high prices of admission to illegal

The noble art of self-defence did undoubtedly linger among the lower
orders as a pastime long after it had passed out of favour with the
Corinthians, and many of the porters of Billingsgate, Covent Garden, and
Smithfield, waterside labourers, costermongers, and street-hawkers are
to this day famous as 'bruisers,' and given to indulge their friends at
odd times with a display of their prowess on the extreme Q.T., in quiet
out-houses and secluded spots where the police are unlikely to mar the
harmony of the proceedings. Such meetings, when they do take place,
always attract a mob of the lowest riff-raff, and if there be, as is
generally the case, a charge for admission, ragged wretches, who look as
though a crust of bread and cheese would be of considerable advantage
to them, manage in some mysterious way to find the requisite amount of
silver, without the production of which the crystal Bar of the Pug's
Paradise moves not, and the sporting Peri is sent disconsolate away.

It has been my good or evil fortune, in my desire to know all sorts
and conditions of men, to witness some of the latest revivals of
glove-fighting; now in drill-sheds, now in top-floors of public-houses,
and once in the upper floor of a workshop, which nearly gave way with
the weight of accumulated blackguardism collected. These, it is only
fair to say, were mostly 'ramps,' or swindles, got up to obtain
the gate-money, and generally interrupted by circumstances arranged
beforehand by those who were going to 'cut up' the plunder.

As a matter of fact, the suburban racecourse has now absorbed most of
the poorer patrons of the ring, and the fighting men--that is, the
class who are of the slum order--find employment in connection with the
betting-lists and booths. The turf is still as highly patronised as
ever in poor districts, in spite of the objection of the police to
ready-money betting, and the racing element enters largely into the
recreations of the residuum.

This, however, is hardly the class of amusement with which we are
concerned, which is more that which engages the attention of the poorer
toilers after work-hours. Saturday night is the great night in these
districts for the play which prevents Jack being dull, and accordingly
it is a Saturday night we select to take a trip once more through the
streets of the unfashionable quarters.

We choose the heart of a thickly-populated district, and emerge from
comparative quiet into a Babel of sound. A sharp turn brings us from a
side-street into one long thoroughfare ablaze with light, and as busy as
a fair. It is a fair, in fact; the pavement and the roadway are crowded
with a seething mass of human beings side by side with the meat-stalls,
the fish-stalls, the fruit and vegetable stalls, and the cheap-finery
stalls; there are shooting-galleries, try-your-strength-machines,
weighing-chairs, raffling-boards, and nothing is lacking but 'three
shies a penny' and a Richardson's show to make a complete picture of an
old-fashioned fair.

All the world and his wife are out to-night, and the wildest
extravagances are being committed in the way of fish for supper to-night
and vegetables for dinner to-morrow. The good housewives, basket on arm,
are giving the ready-witted hawker as much repartee over the price of a
cabbage as would suffice for a modern comedy.

The workman, released from his toil, is smoking his pipe and listening
open-mouthed to the benevolent and leather-lunged gentlemen who are
sacrificing household utensils, boots, ornaments, concertinas, and
cutlery, at prices which would have cajoled the money from the pocket of
a Daniel Dancer. And the golden youth of the neighbourhood, with their
best attire on, all cut after one relentless fashion--the mashers of the
East--they, too, are out in full force, entering into the wild delirium
of reckless pleasure which the scene invites.

The principal amusement in the street, apart from buying knives and
neckties of the Cheap Jack and entering into a raffle for a concertina,
which is the sole business of one densely-crowded stall, seems to be
shooting at a target--three shots a penny--and the prize for hitting
the bull's-eye a real Whitechapel cigar. This seems to be an intensely
popular pastime with the boys, and the one who wins a cigar and turns
away and proudly lights it is at once surrounded by a crowd of lads,
who praise his skill, and plead for a puff at the luxury which his
marksmanship has won for him.

The public-houses are crammed all along the line. This form of
'amusement' seems to be the favourite one with families, for in house
after house there are little groups comprising a gray-headed old lady
with a glass of neat gin, a buxom young woman with a baby and ditto, and
a burly young fellow with a big pewter. On barrels against the wall,
and on forms set around, these groups of young men and young women are
talking more or less loudly, and spending an idle hour in putting the
bulk of the week's wages down their throats. It is a truism to say that
the curse of the lower orders is drink, but no man with eyes can walk
on a Saturday night through the homes of the wage-earning class without
feeling how terrible the evil is, and how earnestly, without being
either a bigot or a fanatic, every man who has a chance should raise his
voice at the criminal neglect which flings these poor people into the
arms of their only caterer--the publican.

Many people object to the music-halls as sinks of iniquity. That
they are unmixed blessings I am not going to contend, but if properly
conducted they do an immense deal of comparative good. Drink is sold
certainly in some of them, but few people get drunk. A very little
liquor goes a long way at a hall, and the people, being amused and
interested in the entertainment, do not want much liquid sustenance. The
entertainments at some of the lower halls might, it is true, be weeded
of certain suggestive songs; but, after all, the best patrons of
indecency are the rich, and the poor give their loudest applause to
skilful dancing and sentimental singing. A good ballad, well sung,
'fetches' the masses as nothing else will, and they can appreciate good
music. If the managers of halls would do away with the coarser items in
their programmes, I should say that this form of entertaining the masses
was absolutely calculated to benefit them. I am quite certain that to
keep young men and women off the streets and away from bars is no
bad service to the cause of morality. In the East of London there are
several places where a big entertainment is given and no liquor is sold
at all. At one of them--the best of its kind in London--there are
two houses nightly. From seven till nine dramas are performed, then
everybody is turned out and the house is refilled with a fresh audience
for a music-hall entertainment--and nearly every evening the theatre is
crammed to suffocation; the admission is 1d. the gallery, 2d. the pit,
and 3d. and 6d. the upper circle and boxes. On the night of our visit
there wasn't room to cram another boy in the place; the gallery and pit
were full of boys and girls of from eight to fifteen, I should say, and
the bulk of the audience in the other parts were quite young people.

The gallery was a sight which, once seen, could never be forgotten.
It was one dense mass of little faces and white bare arms twined and
intertwined like snakes round a tree--tier above tier of boys rising
right away from the front rows until the heads of the last row touched
the ceiling. It was a jam--not a crowd--when one boy coughed it shook
the thousands wedged in and round about; and when one boy got up to go
out he had to crawl and walk over the heads of the others; space below
for a human foot to rest there was absolutely none.

All this vast audience was purely local. Our advent, though our attire
was a special get-up for the occasion, attracted instant attention, and
the cry of 'Hottentots' went round. 'Hottentots' is the playful way in
this district of designating a stranger, that is to say, a stranger come
from the West.

The entertainment was admirable; the artistes were clever, and in only
one case absolutely vulgar; and the choruses were joined in by the
entire assembled multitude.

When it was time for the chorus to leave off and the singer to go on
again, an official in uniform, standing by the orchestra, and commanding
the entire house, raised his hand, and instantly, as if by magic, the
chorus ceased.

Of course there are disturbances, but the remedy is short and effective.
Two young gentlemen in the dress circle fought and used bad language to
each other. Quick as lightning the official was upstairs with a solitary
policeman, the delinquents were seized by the collar, and, before they
could expostulate, flung down a flight of steps and hustled out into the
street with a celerity which could only come of constant practice.

It is fair to say that the youths seemed quite ready for the emergency,
and took their 'chucking out' most skilfully. I should have fallen and
broken my nose had I been flung down a flight of steps like that;
these youths were evidently prepared, and took a flying jump on to
the landing. What they did outside I can't say, but after a chorus of
hooting at the helmeted intruder, the audience resumed their seats, and
the performance went on without any further interruption.

Such places as this--the cheaper halls, gaffs, and singsongs--are the
principal places of resort of the ladies and gentlemen of the slums who
have coppers to spare for amusement. But the streets themselves offer to
many a variety of entertainments for which there is no charge. A horse
down is a great source of quiet enjoyment; a fight attracts hundreds;
and round in one dark spot we came upon an _al fresco_ gambling
establishment, where some hundreds of lads were watching half a dozen
of their companions playing some game at cards on a rough deal stand,
presided over by a villainous-looking Jew. What the game was we could
not stay long enough to study, for our approach was signalled by scouts,
and as we came close to the crowd it dispersed as if by magic, and
the gentleman with the board produced from his pocket a quantity of
cough-drops, and flung them upon the board, bawling aloud, 'Six a penny,
six a penny!' in a manner intended to convince us that this was his
occupation. Possibly we were mistaken for plain clothes policemen; at
any rate, we were followed and watched for fully a hundred yards.

The mock-litany scoundrel had a big crowd in one street, and an infant
phenomenon--a boy who played all the popular airs down the spout of
a coffee-pot--was largely patronised; but the biggest audience of the
evening surrounded a gentleman who, mounted on a cart, was at once
carrying on the business of an ointment vendor and the profession of an
improvisatore. His ointment was only a penny a box, but its intrinsic
merits were priceless. It was warranted to draw glass or iron or steel
from any part of the human body with one application; also to cure weak
eyes, bad legs, and sores of all descriptions.

The gentleman indulged in anecdotes full of ancient and modern history,
all proving the value of his ointment, and every now and then he dropped
into rhyme:=

```'If you have a bad leg, and physicians have given you up,

```Or you have been to the doctors, who've half poisoned you with nasty

```Perhaps you fancy that it's no good--that your leg can't be cured;

```But Moore's ointment will do, of that rest assured.

```Try it; if it don't succeed, you're only a penny the worse.

```If you don't try it, you may think of it too late, when you're in
your `````funeral hearse.

```It's cured hundreds, and thousands will testify

```It is good for even the tenderest baby's eye.

```Why pay a doctor, or in hospital lie for months,

```When this ointment will cure you by only applying it once?'=

Then the gentleman broke off into prose, and related how Napoleon, in
the Island of 'Helber,' had bought a box of this very ointment of the
seller's grandfather, who was under the British Government then, and had
declared, if ever he got free, every soldier in the French army should
have a box in his knapsack, and also gave certain humorous reminiscences
of his own struggles to get the English people to believe in the
specific. His eloquence was not thrown away, for he did a roaring trade,
and at one time a perfect forest of hands was held up to secure the
famous ointment.

The crowd thins as closing-time comes, and the hawkers pack up what
is left of their stock, strike their naphtha-lamps, and wheel off the
ground. What they have left they will sell in the early market on Sunday


|Looking over what I have written, I am struck by what seems to me an
important omission. In driving home the nail of the miserable condition
in which the poor are forced to live, I have perhaps led the reader to
imagine that the better instincts of humanity have been utterly stamped
out--that the courts and alleys are great wastes of weed, where never a
flower grows.

I should be loth to father such an idea as this. In the course of many
years of the closest contact with the most poverty-stricken of our
fellow-men, I have learnt to think better, and not worse, of human
nature, and to know that love, self-sacrifice, and devotion flourish
in this barren soil as well as in the carefully-guarded family circles,
which are, or should be, forcing-houses for all that is choicest and
most beautiful among human instincts.

Braver than many a hero who comes back from foreign plains, with a deed
of prowess to his credit and a medal on his breast, are some of the
ragged rank and file who fight the battle of life against overwhelming
odds, and never flinch or falter, but fight on to the end; and the end,
alas! is rarely victory or renown--too often the guerdon of these brave
soldiers is the workhouse, the hospital, or a miserable death from cold
and slow starvation, in a quiet corner of the street, where they have
sunk down to rise no more.

It is often a matter of wonder--at least, I hope it is--to the good
folks who skim their newspapers at the morning meal, and take their
politics, their Court Circular, and their police intelligence at
a single draught between their sips of coffee, what becomes of the
children whose fathers and mothers are sent to prison for long or short

The State does not consider the innocent victims of crime; the law
punishes the individual without taking thought of the consequences
to those who may be dependent upon her or him for bread. I am not
advocating any leniency to a culprit on the score of his value as
a breadwinner; I am simply going to state a few facts, and leave my
readers to draw any moral they please from the narrative.

Half the men and women of the lower orders who are imprisoned for
various small offences, such as being drunk and incapable, assaulting
each other, or committing petty larceny, are married and have
families. Bachelors and spinsters are rare after a certain age in low
neighbourhoods, and large families are invariably the result of early
marriages, or that connection which, among the criminal classes and
the lowest grade of labourers, does duty for the legally-solemnized

Many persons who wander into police-courts at the East-end, either for
business or amusement, must be familiar with the poor woman, a baby in
her arms, and her head strapped up with sticking-plaster and surgical
bandages, who begs the magistrate not to punish the hulking fellow in
the dock who has so brutally ill-used her. The woman knows, what the
magistrate and the public ignore, that the three months' sentence means
comfort and luxury to the man--misery and starvation to the woman and
her little ones.

He has probably been the chief bread-winner; the woman is incapacitated
by his ill-treatment from doing any work, and so she and her children
are suddenly rendered penniless and homeless. She must crawl back from
the court to her miserable garret, and when her babies ask for food pawn
her few rags to get it for them; and when all is pawned and gone, she
cannot pay her nightly rent, so she must turn out with her little family
into the streets or go into the workhouse. Such a case we heard as we
looked into a police-court on our travels; and I shall not soon forget
the agonized cry of the woman as the magistrate gave her husband
six months, and congratulated her on being temporarily rid of such a

'Great God, what will become of us now?'

I see that many humane people are asking what can be done to alleviate
the sufferings of the poor. I don't know whether there is any society
which looks after the wives and children of malefactors, and lends them
a helping hand, if they deserve it, to tide over the absence of their
sole source of income; but if there is not, I fancy here is work
for idle hands to do, and a source for charity that, worked with
discrimination and care, might alleviate one of the crushing evils to
which poor families are liable.

But these people are not always friendless, and it is a case I wish to
quote which has led me to touch upon the subject.

In one wretched room we visited there were six little ones home at the
mid-day hour from school.

'You have six children?' I said to the woman.

'No, sir, only four; these two little ones ain't mine--they are staying
with us.'

I imagined that they were the children of a relative, and questioned
the woman further, wondering how she cared to crowd her little den with
extra visitors, and then the story came out.

These two extra mouths the good soul was feeding belonged to two little
children whose mother, a widow, lived in a room above. For an assault
upon the police she had been sent to prison. Thus the position of these
orphans with a living parent was terrible. They would have been starved
or taken to the workhouse, but this good creature went up and fetched
them down to be with her own children, and made them welcome; she washed
them and dressed them, and did for them all she could, and she intended
to keep them if she was able till the mother came out.

She didn't see that she had done anything wonderful. 'It was only
neighbourly-like, and my heart bled to see the poor young'uns a-cryin',
and that wretched and neglected and dirty.'

Such cases as this are common enough--the true charity, the charity
which robs itself to give to others, is nowhere so common as among the
poor. The widow's mite that won the Saviour's praise is cast into the
great treasury daily, and surely stands now, as then, far higher on the
roll of good deeds than all the gold flung carelessly by the hands of
the rich to every box-rattler who promises 'that the amount shall be
duly acknowledged in the _Times_.'

I will quote one more case, which has just come under my personal
observation, and which illustrates the brave struggles against adversity
of which these people are capable.

Our attention was directed to the circumstance by the head-mistress of
the school which the children were attending, and who had noticed that
they, who had always been the cleanest and tidiest in the class, were
beginning to show signs of a little less motherly care. The children
said their mother was too ill to do much, and we went to see her.

Mrs. B. had some children of her own, and in addition she and her
husband had taken in a little girl whose father had gone off tramping in
search of work.

We found her propped up in a chair looking terribly ill, but in front of
her, in another chair, was the wash-tub, and the poor woman was making
a feeble effort to wash and wring out some of the children's things. She
was dying. She was suffering from dropsy, and had not lain down for a
month--the water was rising rapidly, and would soon reach her heart
and kill her. Yet here she sat, scarcely able to breathe, and enduring
untold agony, but making an effort to the very last to work and keep her
little ones clean and tidy.

It is a glorious lot in life, these people's--is it not?--to toil on and
struggle, to resist temptation, and giving their youth and age to the
hardest labour for a wage that barely staves off starvation, to know
that when illness comes, or time steals their strength away, they are
mere burthens, refuse to be got rid of, since it encumbers the land.

Can one blame them if, knowing their hard lot and the little reward the
most virtuous life can bring them, they sink into the temptations spread
around them? Remember that, for half their miseries, half their illness
and premature decay, and much of the disease which cripples and carries
off their children, the shameful way in which they are housed, and the
callous neglect of their rights as citizens by the governing class, is

They are handicapped in the race from start to finish. And, under
these circumstance, such charity, such humanity, and such patience and
long-suffering, as exist among them, are indeed worthy of admiration.

The natural instinct of man is to evil, and when I read in little tracts
and clerical addresses of the awful depravity of the 'heathen in our
midst,' I am tempted to ask what the reverend gentlemen and shocked
philanthropists expect. I say, with a full knowledge of their
surroundings, that the lower classes of our great cities are entitled
to the highest credit for not being twenty times more depraved than they

They are a class which contains the germs of all that goes to make up
good citizenship, and the best proof of it is the patience with
which they endure the systematic neglect of their more fortunate
fellow-countrymen. In any other land but ours, the mighty mass of helots
would long ago have broken their bonds and swept over the land in vast
revolutionary hordes. They did not always know their power, and had not
enough knowledge to appreciate their wrongs. Education is opening
their eyes, and their lips will not be slow to express their new-born
sentiments. It will be well to meet the movement half-way, and yield to
them that reform and humane recognition which some day they may all too
noisily demand.

Here am I up on a platform and thumping away at the table and spouting
what I have no doubt many excellent persons will think is rank
communism, though it is nothing of the sort. _Peccavi_, I apologize. The
fumes of the misery I have passed through the last two months have got
into my head and made me talk wildly. Let me resume my labour more
in the character of a missionary or special correspondent, and leave
oratory and denunciation to the Sunday morning Wilkeses of Battersea

We have no business out-of-doors at all--let us study another domestic
interior. The scene, a street which lies cheek by jowl with the quarter
where the world of fashion rolls nightly in comfortable carriages to
enjoy theatrical and operatic performances in half-guinea stalls and
three-guinea boxes, and where fabulous fortunes are made by those who
can make Mr. and Mrs. Dives weep at imaginary woes or laugh at a merry
jest or comic antic.

From such a scene as I am going to ask you to witness, thousands who
crowd a theatre nightly to see a woman's head battered out against a
sofa, or a young man suffocate himself with the fumes of charcoal, would
shrink back in disgust. But you will not, for if you have gone so far
with us as this journey, you are, I feel sure, convinced that no good
can come of hiding the worst phase of a question which is only dragged
forward here that it may, by the very horror of its surroundings, arrest
attention and so secure that discussion which must always precede a
great scheme of reformation.

Come with me to this place. Our way lies through Clare Market, so don't
go alone, for it is a dangerous neighbourhood to strangers. Come with me
through strange sights and sounds, past draggled, tipsy women crowding
the footway, and hulking fellows whose blasphemies fill the tainted air;
pick your way carefully through the garbage and filth that litter
the streets, and stop in this narrow thoroughfare which is but a
stone's-throw from many a stage that holds the mirror up to nature, and
yet would shrink from holding such a scene as this.

We have stopped at a marine-store shop--we enter the passage and find
our way up to the third floor. Here in a single room live a man, his
wife, and three children. There has been an inquest on a baby who has
died--poisoned by the awful atmosphere it breathed. We have stumbled up
the dark crazy staircase at the risk of our limbs, to see this room
in which the family live and sleep and eat, because in its way it is a
curiosity. It has been the scene of an incident which one would hardly
believe possible in this Christian country. For days in this foul room
the body of a dead baby had to lie because the parish had no mortuary.
Not only did the corpse have to lie here for days among the living, but
on that little table, propped against the window, the surgeon had to
perform a post-mortem examination.

Think of it, you who cry out that the sufferings of these people are
sensationally exaggerated--the dead baby was cut open in the one room
where the mother and the other little ones, its brothers and sisters,
lived and ate and slept. And why?

Because the parish had no mortuary, and no room in which post-mortems
could be performed.

The jurymen who went to view the body sickened at the frightful
exhalations of this death-trap, and one who had thirty years' experience
of London said never had he seen a fouler den.

I have turned to the newspapers for a report of the inquest and found
it, and I think it will be better to present it word for word. It is
an ordinary newspaper report of what has happened and been legally
investigated, and may carry conviction where my own unsupported
testimony would fail:

'A coroner's inquiry was held last night by Mr. Langham regarding the
death of an infant aged two and a half months, the daughter of a butcher
named Kent, who, with his wife and three children, occupy a single room
on the third floor of premises used as a marine store in Wych Street.
The inquiry was held in the Vestry-room of the parish. On the return of
the jury from viewing the body--which lay in the room occupied by the
family--one of the jurymen addressed the coroner. He had, he stated,
during his thirty years' residence in the parish, seen many places which
he regarded as unfit for dwelling-houses, but never had he seen one so
bad as that which the jury had just visited. The staircase was dark and
out of repair. The atmosphere inside was intolerable. Indeed, it was
so bad that several of his fellow-jurymen had felt ill while they were
there. They hoped that this expression of opinion would have some
effect in inducing the proper authorities to provide a mortuary for the
district, and that families who lived in one room might not be compelled
to sleep and take their meals with a dead body within sight. Mr. Samuel
Mills, surgeon, 3, Southampton Street, Strand, medical officer to the
Bow Street Division of Police, deposed that he had made a post-mortem
examination of the body on a propped-up table placed in front of the
window of the room occupied by the family. The cause of death was
consumption of the brain. From the state of the atmosphere in which the
child was born, it was unhealthy. Another child had died from the same
cause. He thought the local authority ought to provide a mortuary, and
also a room in which post-mortem examinations could be conducted. A
verdict in accordance with the medical evidence was returned by the
jury, who further expressed their opinion that the want of a mortuary
was calculated to be detrimental to the health of the persons living in
the district; that there being no mortuary was a disgrace to the local
authority; and that the circumstances surrounding the case they had
investigated were a disgrace to this enlightened age.'

I will not add a word. I leave the newspaper report to arouse whatever
thoughts it may in the minds of those who will peruse it. It is at least
a revelation to many of 'How the Poor Live.'

Let me hark back again to the lighter side of my subject. I began the
chapter with a story of the self-sacrifice of the poor. I will now
end it with a little incident of which I was an eye-witness. Some poor
children of the slums had 'a day in the country' given them by a friend,
at which I had the privilege of being present.

At tea, to every little one there were given two large slices of cake;
I noticed one little boy take his, break a little piece off, eat it, and
quietly secrete the remainder in his jacket pocket. Curious, and half
suspecting what his intention was, I followed the lad when tea was over
to the fields.

'Eaten your cake yet?' I asked.

'No, sir,' he answered, colouring as though he had done something wrong.

'What are you going to do with it?'

'Please, sir,' he stammered, 'I'm goin' to take it 'ome to mother. She's
ill and can't eat nothink, and I thought as she might manage cake, sir.'

In the train that brought those youngsters down came one white-faced
child, who looked faint and ill with the walk to the station.

The head teacher, who has the history of each child at her fingers'
ends, saw what was the matter.

'Had no breakfast to-day, Annie?'

'No, ma'am,' was the faltering reply.

There was a crowd of poor mothers at the station, come to see the
children off. One went ont and presently returned with a penny, which
she pressed into the child's hand--to buy herself something with.
The woman had pawned her shawl for a copper or two in sheer womanly
sympathy. Had she had the money about her, she needn't have left the

There was a good deal of pawning that morning, I know, from an
eye-witness, and all to give the little children a copper or two to

And what a struggle there had been to get them something decent to wear
for that grand day out! If all the stories were written that could be
told of the privations and sacrifices endured by mothers, that Sally
and Jane and Will might look respectable at the treat, your heart would
ache. As I don't wish it to, we will not go into the matter.


|To get an odd job at the Docks is often the last hope of the labouring
men who are out of regular employment, and to whom the acquisition of a
few shillings for rent, and the means of subsistence for themselves and
families, is a task fraught with as much difficulty as were some of the
labours the accomplishment of which added in no inconsiderable degree to
the posthumous fame of Hercules.

When it is borne in mind that sometimes at the West India Docks--taking
one for example--as many as 2,500 hands can be taken on in the morning,
it will be easily understood that the chance of employment draws an
immense concourse of men daily to the gates.

The time to see what I venture to think is one of the most remarkable
sights in the world is an hour at which the general public is not likely
to be passing by.

Sometimes the hands are engaged as early as four, but it is generally
about six o'clock that the quay-gangers ascend the rostrums or elevated
stands which are placed all along the outside wall, and survey the huge
crowd in front of them, and commence to call them out for work and send
them into the different docks where the good ships lie, with their vast
cargoes, waiting for willing hands to unload them.

The pay is fivepence an hour, and the day's work lasts for eight hours.
It is miscellaneous, and a man is expected to put his hand to anything
in the shape of loading or unloading that the occasion may require.

Stand outside the dock gates any morning about six, and you will have
plenty to study among the vast crowd of men, more or less dilapidated
and hungry-looking, who fill all the approaches and line the banks in
front of the rostrums.

Many of them are regular men, who are called 'royals,' and who are
pretty sure to be taken on, their names being on the ganger's list and
called out by him as a matter of course. These men show signs of regular
employment, and differ very little from the ordinary labourer. The
strangest part of the crowd are the ragged, wretched, woebegone-looking
outcasts who are penniless, and whose last hope is that they may have
the luck to be selected by the ganger. Many of these come from the
distant parts of London, from the North, and the South, and the East,
and the West. Some of them have tramped all night, and flung themselves
down to sleep at the great dock gates in the early dawn, determined to
be in the front rank.

They are of all sorts, sizes, and conditions. Among them is the
seedy clerk, the broken-down betting man, the discharged soldier, the
dismissed policeman, the ticket-of-leave man, the Jack-of-all-trades,
the countryman, and the London rough. An enormous proportion of the
regular men are Irish and of the ordinary labouring class, but now and
then a foreigner or a negro crops up among the crowd. One man there is
among them who wears his rough jacket and his old battered billycock
with a certain air of gentility, and whose features are strongly refined
when compared with the coarser lineaments of those around him.

In the Docks they call him 'the nobleman.' He is a gentleman by birth
and education; he can swear, I believe, in four languages; and as a
matter of fact is the son of a baronet, and has a right to be called
'sir' if he chose to demand it. Into the sad story which has brought
about this social wreck it is no business of mine to enter, though to
the friendly dock police and to the gangers the baronet is ready enough
to tell it.

The baronet can work, in spite of his pedigree, as well as any of his
mates, and the fivepence an hour is a godsend to him. Strange are the
stories of vicissitude which many of these men can tell. I have said
it is the last haven of the outcast, and by that I do not mean to imply
that all Dock-labourers are destitute; but that among the huge crowd of
outsiders who come daily to take their chance are many of those who form
the absolutely most helpless and most hopeless of the London poor, No
character is required for the work, no questions are asked; a man can
call himself any name he likes; so long as he has two hands and is
willing to use them, that is all the Dock Company require. Among these
men are hundreds of those whose cases are so difficult to deal with
in respect of house accommodation. They are the men who have to pay
exorbitant rents for the filthy single rooms of the slums, and whose
fight with starvation is daily and hourly. They are the men earning
precarious livelihoods who are objected to by the managers of all the
new Industrial dwellings, which have swept away acres of accommodation
of an inferior class. A man who is a dock-labourer may earn a pound a
week--he may earn only five shillings. Sometimes they get taken on every
day in a week, and then for a fortnight they may have to go empty-handed
from the gates day after day.

Once fix on your mind the wear and tear, the anxiety and doubt, the
strain and harass, the ups and downs of a life like this, count the
smallness of the gain and the uncertainty of employment, and you will
understand why it is that the common body of men who are classed as
'Dock-labourers' are reckoned as among the poorest of the London poor
who make an honest effort to keep out of the workhouse. Watch the
crowd--there must be over two thousand present in the great outer
circle. The gangers are getting into the rostrums--two tea ships have
come in, and a large number of men will be required. Hope is on many
faces now; the men who have been lying in hundreds sleeping on the bank
opposite--so usual a bed that the grass is worn away--leap to their
feet. The crowd surges close together, and every eye is fixed in the
direction of the ganger, who, up in his pulpit, his big book, with the
list of the names of regular men, or 'Royals,' open before him, surveys
the scene, and prepares for business. He calls out name after name--the
men go up and take a pass, present it to the police at the gate, and
file in to be told off to the different vessels. It is when the 'Royals'
are exhausted that the real excitement begins. The men who are left are
over a thousand strong--they have come on the chance. The ganger eyes
them with a quick, searching glance, then points his finger to them,
'You--and you--and you--and you.' The extra men go through the usual
formality, and pass in. There is still hope for hundreds of them. The
ganger keeps on engaging men; but presently he stops.

You can almost hear a sigh run through the ragged crowd. There comes
into some of the pale, pinched faces a look of unutterable woe--the hope
that welled up in the heart has sunk back again. There is no chance now.
All the men wanted are engaged.

As you turn and look at these men and study them--these, the unfortunate
ones--you picture to yourself what the situation means to some of them.
What are their thoughts as they turn away? Some of them, perhaps, have
grown callous to suffering, hardened in despair. To-day's story is but
the story of yesterday, and will be the story of tomorrow. There is on
many of their faces that look of vacant unconcern to everything that
comes of long familiarity with adversity. They have the look of the
man who came into the French Court of Justice to take his trial for
murdering his colleague at the galleys, and who had branded on his arm
his name--'Never a chance!' Never a chance when a man gets that branded,
not on his arm but on his heart; he takes bad luck very quietly. It is
the good luck which would astonish and upset him.

Some of the men, new-comers most of these, and not used to the game yet,
show a certain rough emotion. It is fair to say it generally takes the
form of an expletive. Others, men who look as though they had sunk by
degrees from better positions, go away with a quivering lip and a flush
of disappointment. If we could follow the thoughts of some of them, we
should see far away, and perhaps where in some wretched room a wife and
children sit cowering and shivering, waiting for the evening to come,
when father will bring back the price of the day's work he has gone to
seek. It must be with a heavy heart that his wife towards mid-day hears
the sound of her husband's footsteps on the creaking stairs. This advent
means no joy to her. That footstep tells its sad, cruel tale in one
single creak. He has not been taken on at the Docks; another weary day
of despair has to be sat through, another night she and the little ones
must go hungry to bed.

It must not be imagined that the men clear away directly who have not
been engaged. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, and dozens of
men still wait on in hope. It sometimes happens that a ship comes in
late, or something happens, and more men are required. Then the ganger
comes out and picks them from among the remaining crowd.

Dozens of them hang about on the off-chance until two; after that it
rarely happens any men are engaged, so the last brave few who have stood
with wistful eyes for six or eight hours at the gate, turn slowly on
their heels and go--God knows where!

Some of them, I believe, are absolutely homeless and friendless, and
hang about street corners, getting perhaps a bit of tobacco from one or
another more fortunate in this world's goods than themselves, and
with it stave off the gnawing pangs of hunger. They hang about up side
streets and round corners till night comes, then fling themselves down
and sleep where they can, and go back once more at dawn to the gates of
their paradise, to wait and hope, and be disappointed perhaps again.

This is the dark side of the Dock-labourer's story. It has a brighter
and better one inside, where on miles and miles of wharf hundreds of
men, package- and bale-laden, are hurrying to and fro, stowing the
produce of the world in shed after shed. Thousands of barrels of sugar
are lying in one, and the air is perfectly sweet with it. The ground
is treacly with it, and one's boots are saturated with it as one
walks through a thick slime of what looks like toffee gone wrong in a
sweetstuff window on a hot summer day. Thousands of boxes of tea, just
in from China, are in another shed, and their next-door neighbours are
myriads of bags of wheat. The steam cranes are going as far as the
eye can see, whirling and dragging, and swinging huge bale after bale
greedily from the good ships' holds; lighters laden to the top are being
piled higher still; whole regiments of men bent with precious burthens
are filing from wharf to warehouse; the iron wheels of the trolley, as
it is pushed rapidly over the asphalted floor, make a music of
their own; and the whole scene is shut in with a background of
shipping--argosies freighted with the wealth of the Indies, the produce
of many a land beyond the seas; all this goes to make up a picture of
industry and enterprise and wealth, which gives just a little pardonable
pride to the Englishman who contemplates it for the first time.

The system in the Docks is admirable. The strange men who are taken on
are not taken entirely on trust. There is a uniform scale of pay for old
hands and new, but there is an overlooker to see that all work well. If
a man shirks or makes himself in any way objectionable, the process is
short and summary: 'Go to the office and take your money.' The man is
discharged--he is paid for the time he has worked, but no more; and he
can leave the Docks out of the question as a field for his talents, if
he has shown himself a duffer. A mark is put against his name in the
ganger's book.

At the door every man who leaves the Docks is searched. This is more of
a preventive measure than anything else. The men handle many packages of
valuable commodities which have been broken in transit, and could easily
extract some for their private use.

It would not be hard for a gentleman brought face to face with a
broken chest of tea to fill his pockets with a loose pound or two, for
instance. The search at the gate stops that. Knowing that detection is
certain, those men who would be dishonest if they could get a chance
see the impossibility of escaping with their plunder, and so, making a
virtue of necessity, respect the eighth commandment. The Docks are in
the custody of a special body of Dock-police, who maintain order, keep
guard night and day over the goods in the warehouse, search the men,
and check all the carts and vans passing out or in at the gates, and are
generally responsible for everything.

The boys employed as messengers between the Dock House in Billiter
Street and the Docks themselves, and also the lads employed on the
spot, are all dressed in a remarkably neat uniform, and add to the
picturesqueness of the busy scene. All these boys are drilled, and
come to attention and salute their superiors with the precision of old

I have given a little space to the inside of the Docks because such
numbers of the men whose homes we have visited in previous chapters are
employed there, and it is there that unskilled labour finds the readiest

But it is outside that one must search for the misery which those who
know them best acknowledge to be the commonest lot of the Dock-labourer.

Inside, when the men are at work, the beer barrel on a stand with wheels
is trundled merrily along at certain hours, and there is a contractor
who supplies the men with food. It is outside that the beer barrel and
the food contractor find their occupation gone.

Poverty in its grimmest form exists here, and it is for these men,
struggling so bravely and waiting so patiently for the work their hands
are only too willing to do, that philanthropists might look a little
more earnestly into the question of house accommodation.

Looking at the uncertainty of employment, it is not hard for anyone
to see that a rent of five shillings for a single room is too much for
these men to pay, and they cannot go out into the suburbs, where rents
are cheaper, because they could not get to the Docks in anything like
condition to work.

These men must live within a reasonable distance of their labour, and
to do so they have to pay exorbitant prices for vile accommodation. They
are kept in the lowest depths of poverty, because rent almost exhausts
all the money--all that the luckiest can hope to earn.

'Honest sweat,' the poet has told us, is a very noble decoration to a
man's brow, and these men are plentifully decorated before their task is
over, I can assure you. It is scandalous that having done all they
can, risked life and limb (for Dock accidents are numerous and keep a
hospital busy), and done their duty in that state of life to which it
has pleased God to call them, they should have to creep home to fever
dens and pestilential cellars. Half the money they pay ought to go for
food for themselves and their children, instead of into the well-lined
pockets of those who are making fortunes out of the death-traps they
call 'House Property.'

This short and hurried sketch of life in the Docks is necessarily
incomplete. Its one great feature connected with the subject of this
book my readers can see for themselves at any time they like to take a
long walk in the very early morning. No one who does not see the vast
crowd can appreciate the character and pathetic elements it contains.
I cannot write them with my pen; but I can gratefully acknowledge
my indebtedness to Mr. A. T. A. Brownlow, of the London Offices, and
Captain Sheppy, of the Dock Police, whose kindness enabled me to see
under peculiar advantages this phase of



|With the present chapter I bring this series to a close. I have
endeavoured briefly to present to the reader a few of the phases of
existence through which their poorer brethren pass. I have necessarily
left untrodden whole acres of ground over which a traveller, in search
of startling revelations, might with advantage have journeyed. But
startling revelations were not the object I had in view when I
undertook these sketches. My object was to skim the surface lightly,
but sufficiently to awaken in the general mind an interest in one of
the great social problems of the day. A few of the evils of the present
system of overcrowding and neglected sanitation, I have the courage to
believe, have been brought home for the first time to a world of readers
outside the hitherto narrow circle of philanthropists who take an active
interest in the social condition of the masses.

One word with regard to the many letters which have appeared in the
newspapers, and which have reached me privately. There seems a very
general and a very earnest desire among the writers to do something for
the people on whose behalf I have appealed to their sympathy.

While fully appreciating the kind-heartedness and the generous feelings
evoked, I cannot help regretting that in too many instances the idea
prevails that charity can ameliorate the evils complained of. I have
been grievously misunderstood if anything I have said has led to the
belief that all Englishmen have to do to help the denizens of the
slums and alleys is to put their hands in and pull out a sovereign or a

It is legislation that is wanted, not almsgiving. It is not a temporary
relief, but a permanent one, that can alone affect, in any appreciable
manner, the condition of the one-roomed portion of the population of
great cities.

Charity is to be honoured wherever it is found, but charity, unless
accompanied by something else, may do more evil than good. There are in
London scores and scores of men and women who live by getting up bogus
charities and sham schemes for the relief of the poor. Hundreds of
thousands of pounds pass annually through the hands of men whose
antecedents, were they known, would make a careful householder nervous
about asking them into his hall if there were any coats and umbrellas

I am not a thick and thin supporter of the C.O.S. At various times I
have been bitterly opposed both to its theories and its practices; but
it certainly has done an immense deal of good in exposing some of the
scoundrels who appeal to the best sympathies of human nature under
absolutely false pretences. .

It is not so long ago that a man who had been convicted of fraud was
found to be the flourishing proprietor of a mission to the poor, or
something of the sort--whose annual income for two years past had been
over a couple of thousand pounds, against an expenditure in tracts,
rent, and blankets of one hundred and thirty-six pounds.

In another instance, the promoter of a charity, which had been in a
flourishing condition for years, actually had his villa at St. John's
Wood, and kept his brougham--his total source of income being the
charity itself.

If I quote these cases here it is not to hinder the flow of the broad,
pure stream of charity by one single obstacle, but to show such of my
readers as may need the hint how dangerous and delusive it is to think
that careless almsgiving is in any shape or form a real assistance to.
the poor and suffering.

People who wish to do good must give their time as well as their money.
They must personally investigate all those cases they wish to relieve,
and they must set about seeing how the causes which lead to misery and
suffering can be removed.

How are the evils of overcrowding--how are the present miseries of the
poor to be removed? In what way can the social status of the labouring
classes be permanently raised? Not by collecting-cards or funds, not by
tracts or missions, but by remedial legislation--by State help and
State protection, and by the general recognition of those rights of
citizenship, which should be as carefully guarded for the lowest class
as for the highest.

We live in a country which practically protects the poor and oppressed
of every land under the sun at the expense of its own. We organize great
military expeditions, we pour out blood and money _ad libitum_ in order
to raise the social condition of black men and brown; the woes of an
Egyptian, or a Bulgarian, or a Zulu send a thrill of indignation through
honest John Bull's veins; and yet at his very door there is a race so
oppressed, so hampered, and so utterly neglected, that its condition has
become a national scandal.

Is it not time that the long-promised era of domestic legislation gave
some faint streaks of dawn in the parliamentary sky? Are we to wait
for a revolution before we rescue the poor from the clutches of their
oppressors? Are we to wait for the cholera or the plague before we
remedy a condition of things which sanitarily is without parallel in
civilized countries?

There is a penalty for packing cattle too closely together; why should
there be none for improperly packing men and women and children? The
law says that no child shall grow up without reading, writing, and
arithmetic; but the law does nothing that children may have air, and
light, and shelter.

No one urges that the State should be a grandmother to the citizens, but
it should certainly exercise ordinary parental care over its family.

To quote an instance of the gross neglect of the interests of the poor
by the State, take the working of the Artisans' Dwellings Act. Space
after space has been cleared under the provisions of this Act, thousands
upon thousands of families have been rendered homeless by the demolition
of whole acres of the slums where they hid their heads, and in scores of
instances the work of improvement has stopped with the pulling down.
To this day the cleared spaces stand empty--a cemetery for cats, a last
resting-place for worn-out boots and tea-kettles. The consequence
of this is, that the hardships of the displaced families have been
increased a hundredfold. So limited is now the accommodation for the
class whose wage-earning power is of the smallest, that in the few
quarters left open to them rents have gone up 100 per cent, in five
years--a room which once let for 2s. a week is now 4s. Worse even than
this--the limited accommodation has left the renters helpless victims
of any extortion or neglect the landlords of these places may choose to

The tenants cannot now ask for repairs, for a decent water-supply, or
for the slightest boon in the way of improvement. They must put up
with dirt, and filth, and putrefaction; with dripping walls and broken
windows; with all the nameless abominations of an unsanitary hovel,
because if they complain the landlord can turn them out at once, and
find dozens of people eager to take their places, who will be less
fastidious. It is Hobson's choice--that shelter or none--and it is small
wonder that few families are stoical enough to move from a death-trap to
a ditch or a doorstep for the sake of a little fresh air. The law which
allows them the death-trap denies them the doorstep--that is a property
which must not be overcrowded.

Now, is it too much to ask that in the intervals of civilizing the Zulu
and improving the condition of the Egyptian fellah the Government should
turn its attention to the poor of London, and see if in its wisdom it
cannot devise a scheme to remedy this terrible state of things?

The social, moral, and physical improvement of the labouring classes is
surely a question as important, say, as the condition of the traffic
at Hyde Park Corner, or the disfigurement of the Thames Embankment.
If one-tenth of the indignation which burst forth when a ventilator
ventured to emit a puff of smoke on the great riverside promenade to the
injury of the geraniums in Temple Gardens could only be aroused over the
wholesale stifling and poisoning of the poor which now goes on all over
London, the first step towards a better state of things would have been

Why does that indignation find no stronger outlet than an occasional
whisper, a nod of the head, a stray leading article, or a casual
question in the House sandwiched between an inquiry concerning the Duke
of Wellington's statue, and one about the cost of cabbage-seed for the
kitchen-garden at Buckingham Palace?

The answer probably will be, that up to a recent date the magnitude of
the evil has not been brought home to the general public or the members
of the Legislature. M.P.'s do not drive through the Mint or Whitechapel,
nor do they take their constitutional in the back slums of Westminster
and Drury Lane. What the eye does not see the heart does not grieve
after, and the conservative spirit born and bred in Englishmen makes
them loth to start a crusade against any system of wrong until its
victims have begun to start a crusade of their own--to demonstrate
in Trafalgar Square, and to hold meetings in Hyde Park. There is a
disposition in this country not to know that a dog is hungry till it
growls, and it is only when it goes from growling to snarling, and from
snarling to sniffing viciously in the vicinity of somebody's leg, that
the somebody thinks it time to send out a flag of truce in the shape of
a bone. We don't want to wait until the dog shows its teeth to know that
he has such things. We want the bone to be offered now--a good marrowy
bone, with plenty of legislative meat upon it. He has been a good,
patient, long-suffering dog, chained to a filthy kennel for years, and
denied even a drink of clean water, let alone a bone, so that the tardy
offering is at least deserved.

It would be easy to show how the amelioration of the condition of the
lower classes would be beneficial to the entire community, but it is
scarcely worth while to put the question on such low grounds. The boon
craved should come as an act of justice, not as a concession wrung from
unwilling hands by fear, or granted with interested motives.

Briefly, and narrowing the question down to its smallest dimensions,
what is wanted is this: The immediate erection on cleared spaces of
tenements suitable to the classes dislodged. A system of inspection
which would not only cause the demolition of unhealthy houses, but
prevent unhealthy houses being erected. A certain space should be
insisted on for every human being inhabiting a room--say 300 cubic feet
for each person, and this regulation should be enforced by inspection
of labouring-class dwellings, the enforcement of proper sanitary
regulations, and a higher penalty for any breach of them; the providing
of increased bath and washing accommodation in every crowded district;
the erection of proper mortuaries in every parish; and the preservation
in every district of certain open spaces to act as lungs to the
neighbourhood--all these should be items in any remedial scheme.
Beyond this, the poor should be encouraged in every possible way to
decentralize. They must at present all crowd round the big centres of
employment, because the means of travelling to and fro are beyond the
reach of their slender purses. But if a system of cheap conveyance by
tram or rail for the working-classes could be developed, they would
scatter themselves more and more about the suburbs, and by their own
action reduce the exorbitant rents they are now called upon to pay.

Again, there should be in all new blocks of tenements built for this
class accommodation for the hawkers and others who have barrows which
they must put somewhere, and who are compelled at times to house the
vegetable and animal matter in which they deal. A man who sells cabbages
in the streets cannot leave his unsold stock to take care of itself
at night, so he takes it home with him. At present he and his family
generally sleep on it in their one room, but lock-up sheds and stabling
for donkeys and ponies would obviate all the evils of the present
system. The men are quite willing to pay for a little extra
accommodation, and the removal of the mischief which comes of whole
areas polluted with decaying vegetable matter is at least worth an

The density of the population in certain districts, and the sanitary
defects of the tenements, are, at present, absolute dangers to the
Public Health. On this ground alone it is desirable to agitate for
reform; but there is a broader ground still--humanity. It is on that
broad ground I venture to ask those who by these scant sketches of a
great evil have become in some slight way acquainted with it, to raise
their voices and give strength to the cry which is going up at last for
a rigid and searching inquiry into the conditions under which the Poor
of this vast city live.

To leave the world a little better than he found it is the best aim
a man can have in life, and no labour earns so sweet and so lasting a
reward as that which has for its object the happiness of others.

Public opinion boldly expressed never fails to compel the obedience of
those who guide the destinies of States. Public opinion is a chorus of
voices, and the strength of that chorus depends upon the manner in
which each individual member of it exerts his vocal power. How long
the scandal which disgraces the age shall continue depends greatly,
therefore, good reader, upon your individual exertions. If aught that
has been written here, then, has enlisted your sympathy, pass from a
recruit to a good soldier of the cause, and help with all your will
and all your strength to make so sad a story as this impossible when in
future years abler pens than mine shall perhaps once again attempt to
tell you



* Originally published in the Daily News.


|A great subject, which for years journalists and philanthropists have
been vainly endeavouring to interest the general public in, has suddenly
by leaps and bounds assumed the front rank in the great army of
social and political problems. The housing of the poor has long been a
smouldering question; dozens of willing hands have sought to fan it into
a flame, but hitherto with small results. At the last moment a little
pamphlet laid modestly on the dying embers has done what all the
bellows-blowing of the Press failed to accomplish, and the smouldering
question has become a brightly-burning one. It is while the flames
are still at their height, and everyone is suggesting a remedy, that
I should like to say a few words on a subject with which I have been
practically and intimately acquainted for many years.

It is evident, after reading the many letters which have appeared in
the _Daily News_ and other journals, that the great bulk of the
remedy-suggesters are writing without the slightest personal
knowledge of the people who are to be washed and dressed, rehoused and
regenerated, and converted by the State and the Church into wholesome,
pleasant, God-fearing citizens of the most approved type. There is a
capital picture on the hoardings of London of a little black boy in a
bath who has been washed white as far as the neck with Messrs.
Somebody's wonderful soap. I do not for one moment dispute the excellent
qualities of the moral and political soaps which kindly philanthropists
are recommending as likely to accomplish a similar miracle for the
Outcast Blackamoors of Horrible London; but I am inclined to think the
advocates for these said soaps underestimate the blackness of the boy.

In the early part of the present year I spent some two months in
visiting the worst slums of London, and in investigating the condition
of the inhabitants. I not only went from cellar to attic, but I traced
back the family history of many of the occupants. I followed the workers
to their work, the thieves and wantons to their haunts, the children to
their schools, and the homeless loafers to the holes and corners, the
open passages and backyards where they herded together at night. I began
my task with a light heart; I finished it with a heavy one. In that
two months I saw a vision of hell more terrible than the immortal
Florentine's, and this was no poet's dream--it was a terrible truth,
ghastly in its reality, heartbreaking in its intensity, and the doom of
the imprisoned bodies in this modern Inferno was as horrible as any that
Dante depicted for his tortured souls. But the most terrible thing of
all was that the case of many of these lost creatures seemed utterly
hopeless. I felt this then, and, now that the Press has been flooded
with suggestions, I feel it still. In writing this I trust I shall not
be misunderstood. I have only ventured to intrude myself in this great
discussion now to point out where I think the new forces set in motion
may be most profitably employed and where they would simply be wasted.

We must remember that it is not only poverty we have to deal with in
order to metamorphose Horrible London into a new Arcadia--we have to
do battle with a hydra-headed monster called Vice, and vice is born and
bred in tens of thousands of these outcasts, whose lot we are trying to
remedy. It taints the entire atmosphere of the slums. The people I refer
to are dirty and foul and vicious, as tigers are fierce and vindictive
and cruel, because it is part of their nature. Take them from their dirt
to-morrow, and put them in clean rooms amid wholesome surroundings, and
what would be the result?--the dirty people would not be improved, but
the clean rooms would be dirtied. You cannot stamp out the result of
generations of neglect in a day, or a week, or a year, any more than
you can check the ravages of consumption with doses of cough mixture;
whether you give it to the patient a tablespoonful or a tumblerful at a
time, once an hour or once a week, the result will be the same.

The first great work of the reformers in all their schemes must be
to separate the labouring from the criminal classes. At present both
classes herd together, to the infinite harm of the former; and the poor
artisan's children grow up with every form of crime and vice
practised openly before their eyes. The pulling down of vast areas of
labouring-class accommodation to make way for Metropolitan improvements
is the cause of this commingling of the honest poor with their dishonest
brethren. The men and women earning low wages and precarious livelihoods
have been driven step by step into the Alsatias of London, because
nowhere else have they been able to find shelter. The suburbs are beyond
their means, not because of the rents, but because of the expense of
getting to and from their daily work. Take the case of the thousands of
the labouring poor who get employment at the docks. Their only chance
of being taken on is to be at the dock-gates by four or five in the
morning. Many of them are there as early as three. How could these men
get from the suburbs at such an hour, and how could they afford the
daily railway fare? Then there are the factory hands, and the men and
women and children who work at home for the City houses--they too must
be within walking-distance of the factories and warehouses. At present
their only chance is to live in the rookeries, and there they must pay
from two-and-sixpence to four shillings for a single room. And without
exception all these rookeries are largely peopled by the criminal
classes, who find their security in the surrounding filth and
lawlessness, which are so many fortifications against the enemy. The
criminal classes will oppose all efforts at their redemption, the
labouring classes will welcome them, so that, to get a good result
quickly, the latter must be the first consideration with politicians,
whatever the religious view of the subject may be.

Having separated the criminals from the workers, the next task must be
to separate the old from the young, in planning out measures of reform
and applying remedies. The condition of many of the older people, even
among the pooler workers, is almost hopeless. They could never adapt
themselves now to the life the philanthropist dreams for them.
They could not be brought to see that marriage is any better than
cohabitation, that thrift is a virtue, or that there is any higher
pleasure in life than the gratification of the animal instincts. To
gratify intellectual instincts, men must have intellects trained and
cultivated to gratify. The older denizens of Horrible London have
had their intellects dulled rather than sharpened by long years of
familiarity with want, privation, and wretched surroundings. They have
lived come-day, go-day, God-send-Sunday lives too long to be
suddenly awakened to a taste for intellectual amusements or to higher
aspirations; and, what is more, the bulk of the class I allude to are
absolutely ignorant, and can neither read nor write.

But with their children the case is different; _and here is the great
hope of the reformer. The Board schools have, through good and evil
report, sown the seeds of a new era._ Amid all the talk of the last few
weeks, few have recognised the fact that it is by the education of the
rising generation that the ground has been cleared for the brighter and
better state of things we are all hoping to see. _The children who
go back to the slums from the Board schools are themselves quietly
accomplishing more than Acts of Parliament, missions, and philanthropic
crusades can ever hope to do_. Already the young race of mothers, the
girls who had the benefit for a year or two of the Education Act,
are tidy in their persons, clean in their homes, and decent in their
language. Let the reader, who wishes to judge for himself of the
physical and moral results which education has already accomplished, go
to any Board school recruited from the 'slum' districts, and note
the difference in the elder and the younger children, or attend a 'B'
meeting, where the mothers come to plead excuses for their little ones'
non-attendance, and note the difference between the old and the young
mothers--between those who, before they took 'mates' or husbands, had
a year or two of school training, and those who had given birth to
children in the old days of widespread ignorance.

It is to the rising generation we look for that which is hopeless in the
grown-up outcasts of to-day. Even education, the greatest remedy that
has yet been applied to the evil, will be heavily handicapped if such
home-teaching is to supplement the efforts of the schools.

I have only touched lightly upon a few points which lie on the outskirts
of this great question. Knowing the nature of the task our social
reformers have undertaken, I venture most earnestly to hope that nothing
may be done hastily, or entrusted to well-meaning _dilettanti_ or
crotcheteers. Any scheme, to be successful, must embrace the entire
question. The peculiar needs and necessities of a people who are a race
by themselves must be borne in mind, and whatever is granted in the way
of amelioration must be given, not as a charity to the abject poor, but
as a right yielded at last to our long-neglected fellow-citizens.


|In a sermon preached in St. Paul's Cathedral, the Rev. Prebendary
Capel-Cure referred to the preceding article on 'Horrible London.' While
insisting on the necessity for State interference, the preacher went
on to say that he had read a series of papers on the 'Misery of Paris,'
published in 1881, and that the unspeakable, the nameless horrors, the
awful accumulation of guilt and filth and misery which the French writer
had seen with his own eyes, and heard with his own ears, 'made even
the dreadful revelation of the English writer seem almost trivial in
comparison.' Now, as a matter of fact, no English writer conversant with
the subject has dared to tell a plain unvarnished tale of London's guilt
and woe. There are many of us who have seen with our own eyes, and heard
with our own ears, things so revolting that we can only hint at them in
vague and hesitating language. Were I, even now that public attention
has been thoroughly aroused to a great danger, to go into the details of
ordinary life in a London slum, the story would be one which no journal
enjoying a general circulation could possibly print.

There is indeed a great danger that, in endeavouring to steer clear of
loathsome details, writers dealing with the question of the amelioration
of the condition of the poor may fail to bring home to the public the
real nature of the ills that have to be remedied. It is to the general
avoidance of offensive revelations that we owe most of the impracticable
schemes of reform with which the Press all over the country is being

Let us 'rehouse' the poor by all means, but before we set about the task
it is imperatively necessary that we should know what kind of people we
are going to build for. Unless this is thoroughly understood, the result
of the present agitation will be simply deplorable. We shall pull down
slum after slum, not to rehouse the present inhabitants, but to drive
them into still closer and closer contact, until we have massed together
a huge army of famished and desperate men and women, ready, in the 'wild
hour' that must sooner or later come, to burst their barriers at last,
and to declare open and violent war against law and order and property.

The present terrible condition of affairs is mainly due to two
causes--over-population and the small remuneration commanded by labour,
and it is out of the former evil that the latter has grown. That drink
is the curse of poverty-stricken districts no one wishes to deny, but it
is a mistake to say that drink is the cause of poverty; as a matter
of fact, poverty is equally the cause of drink. On this part of the
question I may at some future time give the result of my experiences
among the poor. For the present I want my readers to accompany me
through a typical London slum, and to make a short study of the
inhabitants, in order that they may form their own opinion of the
remedies likely to be of permanent value.

One London slum is very like another, but for my purpose now I will
select a district in Southwark, where the houses are in such a
condition that they are bound to come down under any scheme of sanitary
improvement, however halfhearted it may be.

We enter a narrow court, picking our way with caution over the nameless
filth and garbage and the decaying vegetable matter that, flung
originally in heaps outside the doors, has been trodden about by the
feet of the inhabitants until the broken flags are almost undiscernible
beneath a thick paste of indescribable filth. The outside of the houses
prepares us for what is to come. Inside them we find the staircases
rotten and breaking away. A greasy cord stretched from flight to flight
is often the sole protection they possess. Wooden rails there may
originally have been, but the landlord has not replaced them. He does
not supply his tenants with firewood gratis. The windows are broken and
patched with paper, or occasionally with a bit of board. The roofs are
dilapidated, and the wet of a rainy season has soaked through the loose
tiles, and saturated the walls and ceilings from attic to basement. And
the rooms themselves! To describe them with anything like truth taxes
my knowledge of euphemisms to the utmost. The rooms in these houses are
pigsties, and nothing more, and in them men, women and children live and
sleep and eat. More I cannot say, except that the stranger, entering one
of these rooms for the first time, has every sense shocked, and finds
it almost impossible to breathe the pestilent atmosphere without being
instantly sick. And in such rooms as these there are men and women
now living who never leave them for days and weeks together. They are
sometimes discovered in an absolute state of nudity, having parted with
every rag in their possession in order to keep body and soul together
through times when no work is to be had.

So much for the district which is to be levelled, and the general habits
of the inhabitants who are to be 'rehoused.' Let us take a few of the
families who will have to be somebody's tenants under any scheme, and
see what their circumstances are. The cases are all selected from the
district I have endeavoured to hint at above. I will begin with the

T. Harborne, stonemason, occupies two dilapidated rooms, which are in
a filthy condition. Has five children. Total weekly income through
slackness, 8s. Rent, 4s. 6d.

E. Williams, costermonger, two rooms in a court which is a hotbed of
vice and disease. Has eight children. Total earnings, 17s. Rent, 5s. 6d.

T. Briggs, labourer, one room, four children. Rent, 4s. No furniture;
all sleep on floor. Daughter answered knock, absolutely naked; ran in
and covered herself with a sack.

Mrs. Johnson, widow, one room, three children. Earnings, 6s. Rent, 3s.

W. Leigh, fancy boxmaker, two awful rooms, four children. Earnings, 14s.
Rent, 6s.

H. Walker, hawker, two rooms, seven children. Earnings, 10s. Rent, 5s.

E. Thompson, out of work, five children. Living by pawning goods and
clothes. Wife drinks. Rent, 4s.

G. Garrard, labourer, out looking for work, eight children. No income.
Rent, 5s. 6d. Pawning last rags. No parish relief. Starving. Declines to
go into workhouse.

These people may fairly be described as workers. They will accept
employment if they can get it, but they positively refuse to go into the
workhouse when they cannot. If they fail to get the rent together, they
will go into a furnished apartment, i.e., a frightful hovel, with an
awful bed, a broken table, and one chair in it. These places can be had
by the night, and vary in price from sixpence to a shilling. They are
largely used by the criminal classes, who do not care to accumulate
household goods, which their frequent temporary retirements from society
would leave at the mercy of others.

In the same district and in the same houses, mixing freely with their
more honest neighbours, and quarrelling, fighting, and drinking with
them, we find another class whose earnings are also precarious. I will
quote one or two cases, as these people must be dislodged when the
present buildings come down:

Mrs. Smith. Husband in gaol. One room, three children. She earns 6s. a
week, and pays 2s. 6d. rent. The man has been away fourteen years for
burglary. The day of his release he came home. (The manner in which
the men coming from long terms of imprisonment find their wives is
marvellous.) The woman gave him what money she had, and he went out at
once and got drunk. In the evening he came back, quarrelled with
his neighbour, and stabbed a woman in a fight. He was taken to the
police-station, tried, and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment.

F. Barker. One dreadful room, three children; father and mother both
criminals. Have been getting three and six months at intervals for
years. Sometimes both in gaol together. Their neighbours take the
children and mind them till parents come out.

W. Moggs, Raspberry Court--a sweet name for a hideous place--one room,
four children. Rent, 4s. Father professional thief. Constantly in and
out of prison.

These cases are fair samples of the class of people we call the abject
poor,' people who will not go to the workhouse under any circumstances,
and who are at present herding together in the rookeries we are all
agreed must be demolished and replaced by something better. Add to them
the people carrying on objectionable trades in one or two rooms--and who
must carry them on to live wherever they go--and the reformers will have
a fair idea of the tenants for whom houses must be provided somewhere,
if their present dwellings are to be pulled down. At the first glance
it seems almost impossible to cater for them. Fancy turning these people
into nice clean rooms and expecting five per cent, for your money!
Besides, putting their habits on one side, they are never sure of
regular work. They may pay the rent one week and be penniless the next.
Then five per cent, philanthropy must turn them out, having given them a
glimpse of Paradise which will make the return to Hades a terrible trial
to those who have had their better instincts aroused.

Whichever way we look at the subject, it is fraught with difficulties,
and if we are challenged to find a remedy, we have to go into a question
which thousands of excellent people refuse altogether to discuss. The
deserving poor could all be better housed now without a single brick
being laid or a single Act of Parliament passed, if they had fewer
children. Even in the slums the rents are lower and the rooms better for
couples who have only two children. In dozens of instances where I have
asked the denizens of these hovels why they pay four and five shillings
for such vile accommodation, the answer is, 'They won't take us in a
decent place because of the children.'

I know a case now of a man who took a house for himself and family, and
found he had two rooms to spare. The house was clean and healthy, and
he had dozens of applications from would-be lodgers. But, though he was
poor--and the extra rent would have been a godsend to him--he remained
unlet for four months because all the applicants had three or four
children. His case is the case of hundreds of people who have decent
rooms to let for the labouring poor.

The large families these people invariably have not only keep them in
grinding poverty all their lives, but the overpopulation floods the
labour market and keeps the scale of wages down to starvation point.
While supply so enormously exceeds demand, how can any market be in a
healthy condition?

Men and women, and boys and girls, all eager for something to do, are
to be had by thousands, and labour is at a discount. If the supply
diminished, and hands were more in proportion to the work to be done,
labour would be at a premium.

We have reached a point when it is absolutely mischievous to ignore
this side of the question. It is not only labour that is affected by the
rapid increase in the population; half of the vice and half the crime we
deplore in these districts is traceable to the same cause. Did I wish to
imitate the French writer and plunge the reader to his eyes in horror,
I might tell how the lack of employment brings mere children in these
districts into the streets--how girls of eleven and twelve are forced
into sin by their wretched parents as the last desperate means of that
self-preservation which we are told is the first law of nature. And as
the girls in evil times sin at first for bread to eat, so the boys begin
to thieve; and we are brought face to face with the fact that we have in
our midst vast human warrens, which are simply places where thieves and
wantons are bred, and poverty and crime increase and multiply together.

I have no desire to argue a vexed question or engage in a controversy on
a subject which requires the most delicate handling, but no one who has
actual experience of outcast London can keep this one great cause of the
teeming misery and vice entirely out of sight. What the remedy for it
may be it is no part of my purpose to discuss, but here again I believe
that the great hope is in the new race that is coming to replace the
old. The next generation will be more cultured, more intellectual, and
more refined; mental faculties will be exercised which have been dormant
in the poor of to-day, and as we increase in civilization so shall we
decrease in numbers. Education will make even the lowest of our citizens
something better than they are at present--mere animal reproducers of
their species.

In the meantime, while we are waiting for that good day to dawn, we can
be helping it on. If we begin our task by catering at once for the most
hopeful class we can find, we shall make a distinct step in advance.
Weed out the slums by degrees--encourage the most decent among the
workers first, and get down to the lower strata step by step. Leave the
poor wretches who are impossible in any but rookeries a rookery or two
to finish their careers in. Encourage everything that will keep their
rents down, and encourage everything that will give labour a better
return. If the process of elimination is gradual, we shall in time
improve the condition of all who are not beyond help. As for the rest,
they will solve the riddle in time for themselves by dying off, and
leaving the ground free for the well-paid, well-educated, healthy
labourer, with two little children and a contented mind, who is the
dream of the modern social reformer.


|A public meeting was held at 'the Farm House,' Harrow Street, in the
Mint, some time since, to take into consideration the grievances of the
poor people whose homes were about to be demolished to make way for a
new street, a railway, and some dwellings for the accommodation of a
superior class of tenants.

It is necessary for a thorough understanding of the question which is
agitating the entire community that every phase of it should be studied.

In and about the Mint, which is a notorious 'slum,' in addition to a
very large contingent of the criminal classes, there resides a colony
of industrious folks, whose livelihood must be earned in the great
thoroughfares. Hawkers of fish and fruit and vegetables, penny-toy
vendors, watercress and flower girls, cheapjacks, street stall-keepers
of all sorts and conditions, and men and women and children who work at
certain industries carried on in the neighbourhood--these are among the
deserving class of the poor, earning precarious incomes, who are about
to be driven out by a Metropolitan improvement and forced to seek
shelter in one or other of the already densely-packed districts.

The first effect on the dishoused people themselves will be disastrous.
They will not only be compelled to give up their work and their
_clientèle_ in the neighbourhood, but they will lose a privilege which
is absolute salvation to many of them. The injury is greatest to the
most industrious, because they have 'established a character' among the
little tradespeople of the district, and in the winter they obtain the
necessaries of life on credit. In the winter, times are bad for many of
the ordinary industries of the poor, and, but for the fact that local
shopkeepers will trust established tenants of decent character, hundreds
of them would be brought face to face with absolute starvation.

The 'characters' worked up in one district are useless in another,
and thus it will be seen how severe a blow to the poor dwellers in a
neighbourhood its destruction must be.

Moreover, in addition to being injured themselves, the displaced
inhabitants will injure the neighbourhoods to which they migrate. A
sudden rush will be made, say, on the rookeries of Bethnal Green or
Whitechapel--places already overcrowded. What will be the result? Where
we have one family living in a single room now, we shall presently find
two families packed, and the rush for accommodation will send the rents
of these places up another ten or fifteen per cent.

Some of the dislodged people, men and women who are never half-a-crown
ahead of the world, must, as they get no compensation for the loss they
will be put to by eviction, drift into the workhouse.

Now, the workhouse is utter ruin to the class who look for their work
daily. A man goes into the casual ward; before he leaves it in the
morning, he must do a certain amount of work. It is quite right that he
should, but what is the result? When he gets out it is too late to look
for work that day; the chance is gone. So he must come in again the next
night, and the process is repeated. This is the way habitual loafers are
too often manufactured, and one fruitful source of vagabondage is the
constant disturbance of the poor from the places where they had settled
down and started in business.

Another evil which must inevitably come of the poorest and the most
helpless being driven farther and farther back before the march of
improvement is this: They must come into closer and closer contact
with the criminal and the vicious classes. Men come into a low district
because they are poor and other neighbourhoods are beyond their means.
Many of them come honest and remain honest, but the children degenerate
rapidly under the evil influences of the place.

Take the history of the Black Gang of the Mint as an example. It is
composed of the worst desperadoes, young and old, of the metropolis. Its
ranks are thinned over and over again by the arrest and conviction of
the members, but their places are filled almost directly by the sons of
the labourers and hard-working folks of the district. This is a painful
fact which is perpetually being forced on the attention of those who
do philanthropic work in the slums. The criminal classes are daily
recruited from the children of the labouring classes, and this is mainly
due to their enforced herding together in the rookeries. But where else
are the dislodged poor with large families to go?

Those who have passed their lives among these people, and have watched
area after area of labourers' dwellings disappear, know that each fresh
clearance has a deteriorating effect on the character of the remaining
districts. Unless some scheme be devised which will check the wholesale
destruction of slum neighbourhoods and the hasty displacement of those
who cannot be accommodated elsewhere, the ultimate result must be
pestilence or revolution. We may frankly recognise the necessity of
condemning buildings unfit for habitation without denying the hardships
of the evicted tenants. All reforms injure one class at first in order
to benefit another. But while public attention is so fully aroused to
the question of 'Housing the Poor,' we may as well learn the lesson of
the past in order to avoid a recurrence of the evil. How is it a puzzled
public is asking every day that, with medical officers of health,
sanitary inspectors, inspectors of nuisances, and what not, all armed
with full powers, so many districts of labouring-class accommodation
have been allowed to drift into a state of dilapidation and filth
which renders it imperatively necessary to raze them to the ground? The
machinery to prevent such a state of things was ample. We have a right
to know why it has broken down.

I will endeavour to explain as far as I can why we have at present a
'Horrible London,' and also to suggest in what way it may be possible
to avoid having another. The clearance of vast spaces has sent
accommodation in tenement houses up to a premium, and landlords have
been able to let their rooms regardless of their condition.

The officers whose duty it is to report on sanitary neglect are
appointed by the vestry, and hold their appointments at the goodwill and
pleasure of the vestryman.

Much of the worst property in London is held either by vestrymen or
by persons who have friends in the vestry. The first thing, as a rule,
which a man does who acquires low-class and doubtful property is to try
and be elected a vestryman. What chance under such circumstances has a
vestry-appointed officer of doing his duty in a thorough and efficient
manner? His reports, if he make them, are too often burked. Messrs.
Jones and Smith and Brown are the gentlemen upon whose votes will depend
that increase of salary he is going to ask for next Christmas. And
Messrs. Jones and Smith and Brown are the gentlemen who will be put to
considerable pecuniary loss if he insists upon the unsanitary condition
of certain large blocks of property in the district.

I do not for one moment pretend that this is the case in the Mint--there
some of the vestrymen are among the most earnest agitators for a new
order of things.

But the evil exists in some of the worst districts, and to an extent
of which the public little dreams. If some of the flagrant pieces of
jobbery in this class of property, which have been the result of vestry
government, could be brought to light, the public would cease to wonder
how such a condition of things could have come to pass.

Let anyone who wishes to inform himself thoroughly on the subject walk
through any of the slums, and contrast the condition of the registered
lodging-houses with the condition of the surrounding dwellings. The
lodging-houses are almost everywhere in better repair. The floors are
scrubbed continually, the walls are fairly clean, and there is proper
sanitary accommodation. But these lodging-houses are under the control
of the police--an officer appointed by Scotland Yard inspects them, and
sees that every regulation is complied with. If the proprietor fails in
his duty he loses his license.

A portion of this very Farm House in the Mint is a common lodging-house,
and it is a place the most refined lady might enter and inspect without
the slightest repugnance.

Within a stone's-throw of it are whole streets of houses which are sinks
of all that is abominable.

If a periodical inspection of certain lodging-houses can produce such an
excellent result, it must strike an observer at the first blush that
a periodical inspection of houses let out to families would have a
similarly beneficial effect.

I may say that the idea of licensing houses let out in rooms to the
class of people whose condition we have been discussing, and placing
them under the control of a police-appointed official, is a favourite
one with many of the local agitators for reform.

For the accommodation of the doubtful class, buildings might be erected
constructed almost entirely of brick and stone and iron; wood should be
avoided wherever possible, as it harbours filth, and is easily damaged
or removed to light the fire with. The rooms should be square, and
without corner or crevice, and should have floors made of material which
could be cleansed thoroughly with a mop and a bucket of water. No human
power could ever cleanse the wooden floors of the present dens. The
water-supply in such houses would of course be an efficient one. At
present the bad water-supply is a source of the greatest evils. One
butt in a backyard frequently has to supply the inmates of half a dozen
houses, and this butt is, in nine cases out of ten, open at the top,
so that it easily becomes impregnated with objectionable matter. In one
instance a butt, when cleared out, was found to contain the dead body
of a cat, and a playful youth of the neighbourhood confessed to having
tossed it in six weeks previously. This is the water the inhabitants
not only do such washing with as they occasionally indulge in, but it is
also the liquid with which they make their tea. In its simple condition,
water, I may state, is not largely consumed by the adult population, but
the children frequently quench their thirst with it. Here at least is
one evil which may be dealt with to the advantage of the very poorest
denizen of the slums.

Another glaring iniquity in the present system is the insufficient
accommodation of a most necessary kind, and this is an evil to which the
most horrible phase of the 'domestic interior' of the slums is largely
due. The only retiring-room in one place available for the 150 people
who inhabit ten small houses is situated right away down another court,
and in some instances the only accommodation of this kind is in the
cellar of the building, and this cellar is inhabited by a family.

Such a monstrous state of things as this will, of course, never be
permitted in any new property, however low class it may be; and
any improvement in such matters as this--the water supply, and
the adaptability of the rooms to the cleaning process--will tell
advantageously on the health and cleanliness and decency of the

But while these improvements are being made, the old houses which are
past repair must go, and many more are to be sacrificed to railway
schemes and to new streets.

Such, is the condition of affairs in the Mint, a district which teems
with the poor earning precarious livelihoods, and we may look forward
with interest to the views of the tenants themselves, who will be
invited to speak at a proposed meeting. It is, I believe, to be the
first of a series about to be held, at which the whole question will be
discussed. The names of Mr. Berry, a gentleman who was born in the Mint,
and carries on business there still; Mr. Hawkins, a member of the School
Board, who knows all the circumstances of the inhabitants; Mr. Hunter,
a local temperance worker; Mr. Andrew Dunn, and Mr. Arthur Cohen,
M.P., are guarantees that the discussion will be guided into practical
channels, and those who have said so much about the poor will be able to
hear what the poor have to say about themselves.

If anyone interested in the question should make his way to these
meetings and wish to see some of the property that is coming down, let
him take Gunn Street and Martin Street _en route_. Through the open
doors he will catch a glimpse of some curious interiors. He will see,
if he goes at the right time, unsold fish, grapes, vegetables, and what
not, being carried into strange backyards and queer corners, and he will
be struck with the extraordinary number of fowls, geese, and ducks which
are roaming about in the slush and the garbage, fattening themselves for
the Christmas market of the big thoroughfares, where they will doubtless
be offered by their gentle-voiced proprietors as 'prime country fed.'

As, however, the accommodation is exceedingly limited, and the 'natives'
are likely to attend in large numbers, the curious outsider had better,
for many reasons, wait until the committee carry out their announced
intention of calling a public meeting in a larger hall.

We have passed through the period in which it was necessary to arouse
general attention, and no one who reads the public journals can be
ignorant of the main facts of the case. The two great questions to which
reformers have now to find a practical answer are these: What scheme
will release this class of property from vestry control and compel a
more efficient carrying out of the ample powers the authorities now
possess? and in what way can we save the inhabitants of the scheduled
areas from the loss, the misery, and the further degradation which have
been the result of wholesale evictions hitherto?


|It has been asserted by several writers who have joined in the present
controversy concerning the Housing of the Poor that drink and unthrift
are the main causes of the existing distress, and some go so far as to
say that the masses live to drink, and that consequently no legislation
can improve their condition.

This is a pessimist view of the question which is by no means warranted
by the facts. To deny that the poor in the rookeries drink and are
unthrifty would be foolish. But I venture to assert, with a knowledge
of the life-histories of hundreds of these 'outcasts,' that the drinking
habits of a large percentage are due to the circumstances under which
they are at present forced to live. Temptation surely enters as largely
into drunkenness as into any other vice, and in the foul and fetid
courts and alleys of London the temptation to every kind of vice is
never absent. The complete lack of home-comforts, the necessity of
dulling every finer sense in order to endure the surrounding horrors,
the absence of anything to enter into competition with the light and
glitter of the gin-palace, and the cheapness of drink in comparison
with food--all these contribute to make the poor easy victims of
intemperance. Thousands of people do undoubtedly drink for drinking's
sake, but that is a phase of intemperance which is by no means confined
to one class. Among the poor the constant war with fate, the harassing
conditions of daily life, and the apparent hopelessness of trying to
improve their conditions, do undoubtedly tend to make them 'drown their
sorrows' and rush for relief to the fiery waters of that Lethe which the
publican dispenses at so much a glass. This is no general assertion; it
is a conclusion arrived at with a knowledge of the circumstances which
first led many of the most notorious drunkards of a slum to contract
their evil habits.

Ask any of the temperance workers in the viler districts, and they will
tell you how they have watched hundreds of decent folk come into a bad
neighbourhood and gradually sink under the degrading influences of their
surroundings. There are few men who have worked to keep their brethren
from the clutches of the drink-fiend who would not gladly hail the
advent of air and light and cleanliness, and the enforcement of sanitary
laws, as the best weapons with which to do doughty deeds in their
combats with intemperance among the poor.

Having said so much, I am prepared to admit that drink is a contributing
cause to the present condition of the poor. It is even, in a certain
degree, a cause of overcrowding.

The Bishop of Bedford, in a recent speech, expressed a desire to have
the drink statistics of a slum. I cannot give figures, but I can give
facts. The Bishop expressed a belief that the revelation would astonish
the public. I am quite sure that it will.

More than one-fourth of the daily earnings of the denizens of the slums
goes over the bars of the public-houses and gin-palaces. To study the
drink phase of this burning question, let us take the districts from
which I have drawn the facts and figures I have previously submitted.

On a Saturday night, in the great thoroughfare adjacent, there are three
corner public-houses which take as much money as the whole of the
other shops on both sides of the way put together. Butchers, bakers,
greengrocers, clothiers, furniture dealers, all the caterers for the
wants of the populace, are open till a late hour; there are hundreds
of them trading round and about, but the whole lot do not take as
much money as three publicans--that is a fact ghastly enough in all
conscience. Enter the public-houses, and you will see them crammed. Here
are artisans and labourers drinking away the wages that ought to clothe
their little ones. Here are the women squandering the money that would
purchase food, for the lack of which their children are dying. One group
rivets the eye of an observer at once. It consists of an old gray-haired
dame, a woman of forty, and a girl of about nineteen with a baby in
her arms. All these are in a state which is best described as
'maudlin'--they have finished one lot of gin, and the youngest woman is
ordering another round. It is a great-grandmother, grandmother, and a
mother and her baby--four generations together--and they are all dirty
and dishevelled and drunk except the baby, and even that poor little
mite may have its first taste of alcohol presently. It is no
uncommon sight in these places to see a mother wet a baby's lips with
gin-and-water. The process is called 'giving the young'un a taste,' and
the baby's father will look on sometimes and enjoy the joke immensely.

But the time to see the result of a Saturday night's heavy drinking in
a low neighbourhood is after the houses are closed. Then you meet dozens
of poor wretches reefing home to their miserable dens; some of them roll
across the roadway and fall, cutting themselves till the blood flows.
Every penny in some instances has gone in drink.

One dilapidated, ragged wretch I met last Saturday night was gnawing a
baked potato. By his side stood a thinly-clad woman bearing a baby
in her arms, and in hideous language she reproached him for his
selfishness. She had fetched him out of a public-house with his last
halfpenny in his pocket. With that halfpenny he had bought the potato,
which he refused to share with her. At every corner the police are
ordering or coaxing men and women to 'move on.'

Between twelve and one it is a long procession of drunken men and women,
and the most drunken seem to be those whose outward appearance betokens
the most abject poverty.

Turn out of the main thoroughfare and into the dimly-lighted back
streets, and you come upon scene after scene to the grim, grotesque
horror of which only the pencil of a Doré could do justice. Women, with
hideous, distorted faces, are rolling from side to side, shrieking
aloud snatches of popular songs, plentifully interlarded with the vilest
expressions. Men as drunk as themselves meet them; there is a short
interchange of ribald jests and foul oaths, then a quarrel and a shower
of blows. Down from one dark court rings a cry of murder, and a woman,
her face hideously gashed, makes across the narrow road, pursued by a
howling madman. It is only a drunken husband having a row with his wife.

Far into the small hours such cries will ring here, now that of an
injured wife, now that of a drunken fool trapped into a den of infamy
to be robbed and hurled into the street by the professional bully who
resides on the premises. As you pass the open doors of some of the
houses, you may hear a heavy thud and a groan, and then stillness. It
is only a drunken man who, staggering up the staircase to his attic, has
missed his footing and fallen heavily.

Spend any Saturday night you like in a slum, and then say if one-tenth
of the habitual horrors of the 'drunken night' have been catalogued
here. And all these people who have spent so much in drink are
undoubtedly among the class included in the description 'the abject

It is not fair to prove by facts and statistics the evil of
over-population and the evil of low wages, and to shrink from revealing
the evil of drink. That has to be removed as well as the others, and
must be taken into account.

I have given here merely the experience of one Saturday night in the
districts I have taken for a test in previous articles. It is in the
same district I will find the facts to prove that the drink curse
contributes to overcrowding as well as to poverty.

Hundreds of the people crowding into a slum have no business there
at all. They should be in better neighbourhoods, inhabiting superior
houses; but they are people who have fallen on evil times, and become
gradually impoverished. People on a downward track filter through the
slums _en route_ for the workhouse.

Come to a common lodging-house, and see what class of people fill the
beds at fourpence a night. Poor labourers? Yes. Loafers and criminals?
Yes. But hundreds of men who have once been in first-class positions,
and who have had every chance of doing well, are to be found there also.

For my purpose I will merely take the cases which have drifted to the
slum lodging-house through drink.

The following have all passed recently through one common lodging-house
in one of the most notorious slums of London:

A paymaster of the Royal Navy.

Two men who had been college chums at Cambridge, and met accidentally
here one night, both in the last stage of poverty. One had kept a pack
of hounds, and succeeded to a large fortune.

A physician's son, himself a doctor, when lodging here sold fusees in
the Strand.

A clergyman who had taken high honours. Last seen in the Borough, drunk,
followed by jeering boys.

A commercial traveller and superintendent of a Sunday-school.

A member of the Stock Exchange--found to be suffering from delirium
tremens--removed to workhouse.

The brother of a clergyman and scholar of European repute died
eventually in this slum. Friends had exhausted every effort to reclaim
him. Left wife and three beautiful children living in a miserable den in
the neighbourhood. Wife drinking herself to death. Children rescued by
friends and provided for.

Brother of a vicar of large London parish--died in the slum.

These are all cases which have passed through one common lodging-house.
What would the others show, had we the same opportunity of knowing their
customers? These people have all been forced back on a rookery through
drink--sober, they need never have sunk so low as that. Now come from
the lodging-house into the hovels--the places where men, women, and
children herd together like animals.

To one fearful court we trace a master in a celebrated college, a Fellow
of the Royal Society. To another a lieutenant in the army, who ekes out
a miserable drunken existence as a begging-letter impostor. Among the
tenants of houses that are in the last stage of dilapidation and dirt,
we find the sons of officers in the army and navy, of contractors and
wealthy tradesmen. Some of them are waterside labourers, and one is
the potman of a low beer-shop. Perhaps the most terrible case that has
drifted to this slum is the wife of a West-End physician, who became one
of the lowest outcasts of the neighbourhood, and died in the workhouse.

I could multiply instances like these, but there is no necessity.
They will suffice to show that drunkenness is one of the causes of
overcrowding in poor districts.

But drinking goes on among the natives as well as among the immigrants.
It is only when one probes this wound that one finds how deep it is.
Much as I have seen of the drink evil, it was not until I came to study
one special district, with a view of ascertaining how far the charge of
drunkenness could be maintained against the poor as a body, that I had
any idea of the terrible extent to which this cause of poverty prevails.

In the street I saw evidence enough. From a common lodging-house and
from the tenement houses I have quoted the cases given above. Come to
the school and see how the drink affects the future of the children of
whom we have such hopes. Let them tell their own stories:

M. L. Father drunk; struck mother and hurt her skull. Mother went raving
mad, and has been in a lunatic asylum ever since. Father slipped off
a barge when he was drunk and was drowned. Poor old grandmother has to
keep the children.

E. S. Father gets drunk and beats mother. Is in prison now for
assaulting her. Children dread his coming back, he is so cruel to them
when he's drunk.

S. H. Has a fearful black eye. Mother and father both drink, and hurl
things at each other. Missiles often bruise and injure the children.

C. S. Mother drinks 'awful.' Dropped baby on pavement; baby so injured
it died. This is the second baby she has killed accidentally.

M. A. H. Came to school with arm broken. 'Father didn't mean no harm,
but he was tight.'

S. S. Bright, lively girl of seven. Mother drinks. Shoulders and neck
black with bruises. There is a curious domestic arrangement in this case
which is worth recording. S.'s mother lived with a man, and had several
children. The man deserted her. Mrs. S.'s sister was married to a man
named D., and had also several children. One day Mrs. D. gets eighteen
months for assaulting the police. Then D. takes compassion on his wife's
sister, and has her to live with him, and the children of both families
herd together. How the family will rearrange itself when the legitimate
Mrs. D. comes out remains to be seen.

These stories, told by the lips of little children, are terrible enough;
but the authorities of the district and those whose business takes them
constantly into the wretched homes can tell you worse.

A friend of mine, who is never tired of trying to urge the people of
this district to temperance, not long since found a man sitting up naked
on a heap of rags, shivering with the death throes on him, and crying
for water for his parched throat. His wife, in a maudlin state of
intoxication, was staring helplessly at her dying husband. A coat was
given to wrap round the poor fellow. At night, when my friend returned,
he found the man cold and dead and naked, and the woman in a state of
mad intoxication. She had torn the coat from the body of the dying
man and pawned it for drink. In these districts men and women who are
starving will get grants of bread, and some of them ask for the bread to
be wrapped in clean paper. Do you know why? That they may sell the loaf
to someone for a copper or two, and get drunk with the money. Men will
come and buy a pair of boots in the morning out of their earnings, and
pay seven shillings for them. At night they will return to the same
shop and offer to sell them back for four shillings. They have started
drinking, and want the money to finish the carouse with.

Such are a few of the facts connected with the drink phase of one London
slum. They might easily be multiplied and intensified did we pass from
the slum to the workhouse, and then to the County Lunatic Asylum; but
for my present purpose I have given the reader sufficient evidence
already. I have endeavoured to prove that drink is one cause of the
existing misery and overcrowding. But is it a cause which is more beyond
remedy than are any of the others? All honour to the brave temperance
workers who have already done so much to diminish the evil. In this
district such men are labouring night and day. No one now disputes the
good which temperate temperance can accomplish. It will strengthen the
hands of those who are trying to wean the thriftless poor from drink,
if we give the people better homes and enforce sanitary laws. The very
extent of the evil shows the necessity for immediate action. Signing
the pledge is a very good thing for drunkards to do, but in this very
neighbourhood a woman signed it twenty-three times and died drunk.
Again, all alcohol may be poison in some good people's estimation, but
there are degrees of poison. It is the vile nature of the stuff now
allowed to be sold to the poor which increases the effect of drink upon
them and makes their reclamation more difficult. And, having seen all
I have seen, and heard all I have heard, I return to my original
statement, that much of the intemperance of these people is due to their
wretched surroundings. Remedy that, and you give them a chance to be
sober. You pave the way for the brave soldiers of a good cause to fight
under more favourable circumstances. The temperance advocates have
accomplished much--they will accomplish more; but if they wish to check
the evil in its hotbed, they must be among the strongest advocates of
the proper Housing of the Poor. To say, because a certain proportion
of the poor are drunkards, it is useless to try and improve the social
condition of the masses, is like refusing to send the lifeboat to a
sinking ship because half the crew are already known to be drowned.

There are drunkards, there are criminals, there are poor labourers in
these districts who will never be 'improved.' No one who knows them has
the slightest hope for them. But Sodom was to be spared for the sake
of ten just persons; in the City of Dreadful Night, where our poor herd
together, there are hundreds of just persons. For their sakes the city
must be saved.


|That the great 'Guilt Gardens' of London are overrun with the rankest
of weeds and the most poisonous of plants must by this time be the
conclusion of everyone who has studied the mass of literature which
the question of the Housing of the Poor has called forth. So thickly
do crime and vice and drink and improvidence twine and intertwine and
spread themselves over the soil upon the fertilizing juices of which
they flourish and grow fouler day by day, that to the casual observer
nothing else is visible. But those who have studied the horticulture of
the slums know that deep down under all the rank luxuriance of nettle
and weed there may be found many a fair flower of humanity. And the
fairest of all is the flower which is the offshoot of a weed. The
generosity of the very poor to each other is to a great extent the
outcome of their improvidence.

The poor help the poor. Nowhere are the bonds of human sympathy so
strong as down the courts and alleys whose horrors have lately been
exhibited in as fierce a light as ever beat upon a throne. We have all
painted in strong colours the vices of the people in whom such general
interest is now taken--it is only right that their virtues should be
brought into equal prominence on the canvas. To weep with those that
weep and rejoice with those that do rejoice is the best system of
co-operation as yet invented for the benefit of mankind, and it is the
system of co-operation which has long been in vogue among those whom we
are pleased to term 'outcasts.' Outcasts many of the abject poor are.

They are cast out by Dives to make room for his mansions, his marts,
and his manufactories, his railway schemes and his splendid streets,
and they are cast out by the stern philosophers who hold that before the
march of improvement all who are not fit to survive must shrink hack and
hide in holes and corners till, in obedience to the law of nature, they
pass away and cumber the earth no more. But they are not outcasts to
their brethren in misfortune, or to the grade of poor immediately above

The poor are kinder to each other than the rich; they are bound by
stronger ties of sympathy; their hearts respond more readily to generous
impulses. They have greater opportunities of helping each other, and
there are no barriers of pride between them. They live their lives
before each other's eyes, and their joys and sorrows are the common
property of the entire community. The rich man wraps his mantle about
him and breaks his heart, locked in the darkest room of his house; the
poor man bares his breast to the light of day, and has not a neighbour
but knows the nature of his woe and has seen every link in the chain of
circumstances that brought his trouble about. What is the fate of one
to-day may be the fate of another to-morrow. In their sympathy they are
hut making common cause against a common enemy. The poor are trained by
constant association to ready appreciation of the 'points' of the human
drama always being enacted before their eyes, just as certain audiences
are trained to appreciate the points of the theatrical drama. To expect
the rich to understand and sympathize with the poor as readily as
they do with each other would be as just as to turn the old 'Grecian'
audience into the St. James's Theatre, and expect them to 'take the
points' of the latest society drama with the same readiness as the

It may seem harsh to say that much of the generosity of the poor springs
from their improvidence, but it is true. The beggars, the lame fiddlers,
the widowed warbler of street ballads, and the crippled orphan with a
crutch and a concertina, reap their richest harvests on Saturday night
in poor neighbourhoods. Friendly leads, whip-rounds, and benefits are
nowhere so common as among the labouring classes whose earnings are
precarious. While a millionaire requires a reference from the C. O.
S. before giving the 'broken-down officer' who calls on him
half-a-sovereign, the street-hawker or the dock labourer flings his
sixpence into the hat extended for a 'poor cove' he has never seen in
his life without a second thought. A pitiful tale reaches the heart of
the poor in a moment--their tears are as easily won as their laughter.
It is the fashion to sneer at 'cheap sentiment,' and to talk about the
pathos of ordinary melodrama as 'food for the gods,' but the sneerers
forget that the mimic misery comes home to the poor as it can never do
to the rich. To the gallery people the starvation in the garret, the
separation of husband and wife, the wail of the little children for
bread, the agony of the mother over the cradle of her sick baby, the
struggle with poverty, the heartlessness of the cruel landlord who
wants the rent, and the roughness of the officials who are called in to
persecute virtue in distress, are all so many items in their own daily
life. They have been familiar with such things from their birth, and
they understand the true meaning of that which the stalls--justly
perhaps from their point of view--call 'bosh.'

Having shown, or endeavoured to show, why the poor sympathize with and
help each other, let me give a few instances to show what practical
forms their sympathies invariably take. I shall not cull them haphazard
here and there, but all from the same neighbourhood which has furnished
the bulk of the facts on which these articles are formed. My purpose
is to give the reader the complete story of a London slum and its
inhabitants, that they may consider the popular question of the day in
all its bearings. I have shown the vices of one of these districts; it
is a pleasanter task to chronicle the virtues.

The first thing which a visitor to the slums asks is, What becomes of
the children of the men and women who are sent to prison, or who are
removed to the hospitals? The answer is simple. The neighbours take them
in and take care of them. Orphans are by no means rare in the slums, but
they are almost always 'adopted.'

In the house of a Mrs. R. lived a family named Hinde. Mrs. Hinde died of
consumption, leaving four children and a husband out of work. He set out
to look for it, and Mrs. R. took the four little ones into her room to
sleep with her own six. Out of her scanty earnings she fed them too,
and when she was asked why she had taxed her limited resources to this
extent, she answered, 'Poor young'uns! how could I see'em a-starvin' and
their father out 0' work, and no mother!' The man is still out of work,
and Mrs. R. has thought it her duty to keep his children for over six

Orphans are not only kept, but are passed on sometimes from family to
family. There is a little crippled lad I know named Dennis Sullivan.
Till lately he was kept by an old watercress-seller, who had adopted
him. A month or two since the poor old soul fell into the fire, and was
so severely burned that she died. And when the boy was to be sent to an
institution, a brother of the old watercress woman, a poor hawker, came
forward and said, 'He shan't be sent away. I'll keep him for the sake o'
the old woman as was so fond of him.'

One of the most touching cases of this kind I ever met I have alluded to
elsewhere, but for the sake of my argument I will repeat it here. A poor
woman had taken charge of three children whose father was away in the
country. She had children of her own as well. Sickness came upon her,
and a terrible disease almost disabled her. Yet she refused to let the
little ones go uncared for. Dying slowly of dropsy, she was found one
day propped up in a chair, with a wash-tub in front of her, and with
her poor weak hands making a brave struggle to wash the little ones'
clothes, that they might look clean and tidy at the school.

A servant-girl lost her place, and in the slums gave birth to an
illegitimate child. She could not keep it; she must go to service. An
old woman adopted the child, and brought it up, giving it her own name.
The mother married, and then wanted the child. The old woman had
fallen on evil days, and consented to part with it. But the real mother
ill-treated the child, and it was unhappy. Off marched the old lady, and
fetched it back again. 'I ain't got much to spare, God knows,' she said,
'but I ain't goin' to see the gal unhappy, and I'll keep her somehow.'

A maker of wooden toys deserted his child, and left it starving. A poor
woman, with eight children of her own and an income of 15s. a week,
'felt her 'art bleed for the poor little thing.' She took the child into
her own room, and her eight are now nine.

When these people have no money, and their friends are in distress, they
will often pledge their clothes rather than see misery unrelieved.

The other day, at a police-court, a woman was fined 2s. 6d., and in
default sent to the cells. Her 'pal' went out of court, took the shawl
from her shoulders, collected a few more of her garments, and, pawning
the lot, returned and liberated the prisoner. Pawning is frequently
resorted to by the women who attend each other in their confinements. In
these districts the female neighbours, be it remembered, invariably
take the place of the doctor, and their kindness and gentleness to their
suffering sisters is marvellous. They will sit by the invalid day and
night in a foul den, destitute of every comfort, and perform all
the household duties as well. They will see to the children, get the
husband's tea, and if there is, as is too often the case, a lack of all
that the sufferer needs, they will go and pledge all they have and buy

These people do not inquire into a person's creed or moral character
before they hold out the helping hand. When a thief comes back to his
district from prison, his 'pals' find him money and food for weeks,
until he either gets a job or takes to his former line of business
again. A notoriously bad character has just died here. He was ill for
months, and his 'pals' kept him the whole time, and gave him a grand
funeral when he died. I have known men, out of work and ill, kept for
months and months by the subscriptions of their poor neighbours.

A street-hawker was found last Sunday sharing his dinner with a man,
his wife, and his children who lived in the same house with him, and who
were penniless. The hawker's takings on the previous Saturday had been
3s. 7d., and depending on him were a wife, two children, and a donkey.
How improvident! but--how kind!

Into the common lodging-houses many a man comes at night who has not the
fourpence to pay for his bed. He tells his story; if he is not known as
a professional cadger, and his woes appear real, round goes the hat in a
minute, and the other lodgers pay for his night's rest. In these places,
too, the lodgers divide their food frequently, and a man, seeing a
neighbour without anything, will hand him his teapot, and say, 'Here you
are, mate; here's a bull for you.' A 'bull' is a teapot with the leaves
left in for a second brew. When Mrs. Brown or Mrs. Jones loses a baby
and cannot bury it, or when Mr. Smith is in trouble and more money is
wanted than one friend or two can conveniently spare, a friendly lead is
organized and a general subscription made at a social gathering. Here is
a card announcing one of these meetings:

'A Friendly Meeting will take place at Mr. Dash's, "The Three Stars," on
Saturday evening, Oct. 27th, 1883, for the joint benefit of Mike Johnson
and Fred Miller, who, through unforeseen circumstances, have been placed
in rather peculiar difficulties, and solicit your kind assistance. They,
being good supporters of these Meetings, now hope their Friends will
rally round them on this occasion. Chairman, Charley Mackney; Vice,
Jack Dobson. Supported by the following Friends: Bros. Holland, G. Bush,
Bros. Wenham, D. Purcell, T. Bemmington, Bros. Poole, W. Haynes, F.
McHugh, J. Beecham, Ted Dobson, Peter Mason, Jack Howard, G. Wooder, Tom
Eastopp, Alf. Barron, Jemmy Welch, Jerry Casey, and a host of others.
Commence at eight o'clock.'

I do not know what the 'unforeseen circumstances' were, or the 'peculiar
difficulties.' Generally the wording is less vague. The meeting is for
'Mrs. Bousby, better known as Loo, to bury her child;' or for 'Bill
Hinkham, known as Dutchy, whose wife has died in her confinement,
leaving him with eight children;' or something of the same kind. Apropos
of the latter misfortune, it is no uncommon thing for the mothers of
the neighbourhood to suckle the babies of dead or ailing women. A
foster-mother is found in a moment, and a previous acquaintance with
the family is quite unnecessary. A woman will even lose a portion of her
work during the day for months to go and suckle a neighbour's child.

There is no difficulty in giving facts to illustrate the kindness of the
poor to each other. Such stories as I have given above abound in every
alley and every street. This virtue, of course, no more makes the poor
wholly good than do their intemperate and dirty habits make them wholly
bad. But this phase of the character of the abject poor should be made
known to those who, skimming only the surface of what has lately been
written, could never discover it for themselves. The soul of goodness
that lurks in things evil is apt to be lost sight of too often when from
pulpit and platform the vices and errors of the masses are denounced.
That a better appreciation of the fact that the poor are reckless
in their generosity and full of sympathy for each other will assist
philanthropists and politicians to arrive at a speedier solution of the
present dwelling-house difficulty, I do not pretend to say. But I do
maintain that the poor man's virtues should be as widely discussed as
his vices. If we know that beneath the rank vegetation of our guilt
gardens there grows many a fair white bud struggling for the light and
the air which would give it a better chance to blossom, that at least is
some encouragement to reformers to go vigorously to work with rake and
hoe in order to clear the noxious weeds away.


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