Homeless, ragged and tanned,
Under the changeful sky,
Who so free in the land?
Who so contented as I?
(Old Song) "The Vagabond.
GABONDS, tramps, casuals of all classes, have
free access to the Park. On a hot summer's day, passing from the Marble Arch Gate down
by the side of the North Ride, they may be seen
stretched out on the grass basking in the sun like
alligators. At least they were pretty well allowed to
do so during my service, for the simple reason that
there was no rule that one could with confidence act
upon to prevent them. But, thank goodness, a more
stringent and peremptory rule has been recently introduced, which I hope will in time be the means of
exterminating these objectionable-looking characters
from the Park altogether. This duty had to be done
very cautiously. To nine people out of every ten who
came into the Park it was a most unpleasant sight to
see these dirty, ragged, greasy-looking fellows lying,
some on the broad of their backs, with mouths open,
snoring away to their heart's content. Often we used
to try and get rid of them by rousing them up and
ordering them outside, and, if possible, could prove they
were breaking the then existing rule, they were occa~
sionally taken to the station and charged. But one
never knew when some interfering person or other
would come to the policeman and demand to know the
reason he was disturbed- What harm has he done?
It is a free Park, and so on; possibly not any harm,
yet it is our duty to ascertain if those apparently asleep
are dead or alive. (It was not unusual to find one dead - I have done so.) And these busybodies, not content
with the explanation given, will even then write and
complain of the constable's "unnecessary" interference, I have had practical experience with such people.
The enforcement of the rule introduced some year or two ago, forbidding reciting, comic sketches in character, palmistry, etc., by some tag, rag and bobtail lot who found it a paying game in the Park, these disgraceful exhibitions soon disappeared - for why? Because it was comparably easy for the policeman to stop their "business", or if they persisted they very soon made acquaintance with the Magistrate. Just opposite the Marble Arch Gate was a hunting ground for this class of people, and I should think a little gold mine for the palmists, judging from the number of simpletons - I can call them nothing else - male and female; who appeared so eager to pay their sixpence to have their hand felt and a few suave words whispered in their ear.
I have seen two or three at a time doing quite a bfslt trade, but, of course, the rule prohibiting "unauthorised persons from soliciting or collecting money" soon enabled the police to put a stop to all that. But this the case of vagrants it is not such plain sailing; for rny readers must not jump to the conclusion that all the people they see asleep on the grass are tramps and loafers. Take, for instance, a rough-looking but honest working-man, who has left his home at Hammersmith at four o'clock in the morning, and walked up to and shout the West End for hours, like hundreds do, and even then fails to get a job. He has to return home tired, footsore and down-hearted, and crossing the Park the temptation to resist a "downer" is too strong. The result is he falls asleep.
I have come across these poor fellows many a time, iand usually on being awakened they will be up and off without a word; but not so with the vagrant. He is annoyed at being disturbed, and will ask, "What's up?".
I could keep on writing of one incident and another concerning this duty, but what I have said I hope will convey to my readers the caution the police have to exercise in weeding out the habitual loafers; as I have had no experience under the new rule, it is not for me to comment as to the result it may or may not have, but I may be permitted to say that I believe, with a little patience this, like other past grievances, will cease to exist. For, after all, people must not forget - dirty and unsightly as the vagrant may appear - he is mortal like the rest of us, and cannot be swept away all at once like so much refuse. One never knows under what circumstances some of them have drifted into this deplorable state. I have no desire to be sentimental - that must not stand in the way of duty - still, it can be tempered with a little common humanity. There was one man at all events who sympathised with these poor wretches - Charles Lamb Kenney - judging from the pathetic words of his song, with the first verse of which I headed this chapter, and with the last I will close.
"Once, tender love watched by my side,
Now, from above, her angel's my guide,
When heaven above asks my last breath.
Angel love smile on the vagabond's death."
Edward Owen, Hyde Park, Select Narratives, Annual Event,
during twenty years' Police Service in Hyde Park, 1906