Victorian London - Crime - Prostitution - London Labour and the London Poor - Board Lodgers

London Labour and the London Poor
A Cyclopædia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, and Those That Will Not Work.
By Henry Mayhew.
London: Griffin, Bohn, and Company, Stationers' Hall Court. 1862.

[digitised copy kindly provided by Les Butler, ed.]

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Board Lodgers

    Board lodgers are those who give a portion of what they receive to the mistress of the brothel in return for their board and lodging. As we have had occasion to observe before, it is impossible to estimate the number of brothels in London, or even in particular parishes, not only because they are frequently moving from one district to another, but because our system so hates anything approaching to espionage, that the authorities do not think it worth their while to enter into any such computation. From this it may readily be understood how difficult the task of the statistician is. Perhaps it will be sufficient to say that these women are much more numerous than may at first be imagined; although those who give the whole of what they get in return for their board, lodging, and clothes are still more so. In Lambeth there are great numbers of the lowest of these houses, and only very recently the proprietors of some eight or ten of the worst were summoned before a police magistrate, and the parish officers who made the complaint bound over to prosecute at the sessions. It is much to be regretted that in dealing with such cases the method of procedure is not more expeditious and less expensive. Let us take for example one of the cases we have been quoting. A man is openly accused of keeping a ruffianly den filled with female wretches, destitute of every particle of modesty and bereft of every atom of shame, whose actual occupation is to rob, maltreat, and plunder the unfortunate individuals who so far stultify themselves as to allow the decoys to entrap them into their snares, let us hope, for the sake of humanity, while in a state of intoxication or a condition of imbecility. Very well; instead of an easy inexpensive process, the patriotic persons who have devoted themselves to the exposure of such infamous rascality, find themselves involved in a tedious criminal prosecution, and in the event of failure lay themselves open to an action. Mysterious disappearances, Waterloo Bridge tragedies, and verdicts of found drowned, are common enough in this great city. Who knows how many of these unfathomable affairs may have been originated, worked out, and consummated in some disgusting rookery in the worst parts of our most demoralized metropolitan parishes; but it is with the better class of these houses we are more particularly engaged at present. During the progress of these researches, we met a girl residing at a house in a street running out of Langham Place. Externally the house looked respectable enough; there was no indication of the profession or mode of life of the inmates, except that, from the fact of some of the blinds being down in the bed rooms, you might have thought the house contained an invalid. The rooms, when you were ushered in, were well, though cheaply furnished; there were coburg chairs and sofas, glass chandeliers, and handsome green curtains. The girl with whom we were brought into conversation was not more than twenty-three; she told us her age was twenty, but statements of a similar nature, when made by this class, are never to be relied on. At first she treated our inquiries with some levity, and jocularly inquired what we were inclined to stand, which we justly interpreted into a desire for something to drink; we accordingly "stood" a bottle of wine, which had the effect of making our informant more communicative. What she told us was briefly this. Her life was a life of perfect slavery, she was seldom if ever allowed to go out, and then not without being watched. Why was this? Because she would "cut it" if she got a chance, they knew that very well, and took very good care she shouldn't have much opportunity. Their house was rather popular, and they had lots of visitors; she had some particular friends who always came to see her. They paid her well, but she hardly ever got any of the money. Where was the odds, she couldn't go out to spend it? What did she want with money, except now and then for a drain of white satin. What was white satin? Where had I been all my life to ask such a question? Was I a dodger? She meant a parson. No; she was glad of that, for she hadn't much idea of them, they were a canting lot. Well, white satin, if I must know, was gin, and I couldn't say she never taught me anything. Where was she born? Somewhere in Stepney. What did it matter where; she could tell me all about it if she liked, but she didn't care. It touched her on the raw - made her feel too much. She was 'ticed’ when she was young, that is, she was decoyed by the mistress of the house some years ago. She met Mrs. ---- in the street, and the woman began talking to her in a friendly way. Asked her who her father was (he was a journeyman carpenter), where he lived, extracted all about her family, and finally asked her to come home to tea with her. The child, delighted at the making the acquaintance of so kind and so well-dressed a lady, willingly acquiesced, without making any demur, as she never dreamt of anything wrong, and had not been cautioned by her father. She had lost her mother some years ago. She was not brought direct to the house where I found her? Oh! no. There was a branch establishment over the water, where they were broken in as it were. How long did she remain there? Oh! perhaps two months, maybe three; she didn't keep much account how time went. When she was conquered and her spirit broken, she was transported from the first house to a more aristocratic neighbourhood. How did they tame her? Oh! they made her drunk and sign some papers, which she knew gave them great power over her, although she didn't exactly know in what the said power consisted, or how it might be exercised. Then they clothed her and fed her well, and gradually inured her to that sort of life. And now, was there anything else I'd like to know particularly, because if there was, I'd better look sharp about asking it, as she was getting tired of talking, she could tell me. Did she expect to lead this life till she died? Well she never did, if I wasn't going to preachify. She couldn't stand that - anything but that.
     I really begged to apologize if I had wounded her sensibility; I wasn't inquiring from a religious point of view, or with any particular motive. I merely wished to know, to satisfy my own curiosity. Well, she thought me a very inquisitive old party, anyhow. At any rate, as I was so polite she did not mind answering my questions. Would she stick to it till she was a stiff 'un? She supposed she would; what else was there for her? Perhaps something might turn up; how was she to know? She never thought she would go mad; if she did, she lived in the present, and never went blubbering about as some did. She tried to be as jolly as she could; where was the fun of being miserable?
     This is the philosophy of most of her sisterhood. This girl possessed a talent for repartee, which accomplishment she endeavoured to exercise at my expense, as will be perceived by the foregoing, though for many reasons I have adhered to her own vernacular. That her answers were true, I have no reason to question, and that this is the fate of very many young girls in London, there is little doubt; indeed, the reports of the Society for the Protection of Young Females sufficiently prove it. Female virtue in great cities has innumerable assailants, and the moralist should pity rather than condemn. We are by no means certain that meretricious women who have been in the habit of working before losing their virtue, at some trade or other, and are able to unite the two together, are conscious of any annoyance or a want of self-respect at being what they are. This class have been called the "amateurs," to contradistinguish them from the professionals, who devote themselves to it entirely as a profession. To be unchaste amongst the lower classes is not always a subject of reproach. The commerce of the sexes is so general that to have been immodest is very seldom a bar to marriage. The depravity of manners amongst boys and girls begins so very early, that they think it rather a distinction than otherwise to be unprincipled. Many a shoeblack, in his uniform and leathern apron, who cleans your boots for a penny at the corners of the streets, has his sweetheart. Their connection begins probably at the low lodging-houses they are in the habit of frequenting, or, if they have a home, at the penny gaffs and low cheap places of amusement, where the seed of so much evil is sown. The precocity of the youth of both sexes in London is perfectly astounding. The drinking, the smoking, the blasphemy, indecency, and immorality that does not even call up a blush is incredible, and charity schools and the spread of education do not seem to have done much to abate this scourge. Another very fruitful source of early demoralization is to be looked for in the quantities of penny and halfpenny romances that are sold in town and country. One of the worst of the most recent ones is denominated, "Charley Wag, or the New Jack Shepherd, a history of the most successful thief in London." To say that these are not incentives to lust, theft, and crime of every description is to cherish a fallacy. Why should not the police, by act of Parliament, be empowered to take cognizance of this shameful misuse of the art of printing? Surely some clauses could be added to Lord Campbell's Act, or a new bill might be introduced that would meet the exigencies of the case, without much difficulty.
     Men frequent the houses in which women board and lodge for many reasons, the chief of which is secrecy; they also feel sure that the women are free from disease, if they know the house, and it bears an average reputation for being well conducted. Men in a certain position avoid publicity in their amours beyond all things, and dread being seen in the neighbourhood of the Haymarket or the Burlington Arcade at certain hours, as their professional reputation might be compromised. Many serious, demure people conceal the iniquities of their private lives in this way.
     If Asmodeus were loquacious, how interesting and anecdotical a scandal-monger he might become!
     Another woman told me a story, varying somewhat from that of the first I examined, which subsequent experience has shown me is slightly stereotyped. She was the victim of deliberate cold-blooded seduction; in course of time a child was born; up to this time her seducer had treated her with affection and kindness, but he now, after presenting her with fifty pounds, deserted her. Thrown on her own resources, as it were, she did not know what to do; she could not return to her friends, so she went into lodgings at a very small rental, and there lived until her money was expended. She then supported herself and her child by doing machine-work for a manufacturer, but at last bad times came, and she was thrown out of work; of course the usual amount of misery consequent on such a catastrophe ensued. She saw her child dying by inches before her face, and this girl, with tears in her eyes, assured me she thanked God for it. "I swear," she added, "I starved myself to nourish it, until I was nothing but skin and bone, and little enough of that; I knew from the first, the child must die, if things didn't improve, and I felt they wouldn't. When I looked at my little darling I knew well enough he was doomed, but he was not destined to drag on a weary existence as I was, and I was glad of it. It may seem strange to you, but while my boy lived, I couldn't go into the streets to save his life or my own - I couldn't do it. If there had been a foundling hospital, I mean as I hear there is in foreign parts, I would have placed him there, and worked somehow, but there wasn't, and a crying shame it is too. Well, he died at last, and it was all over. I was half mad and three parts drunk after the parish burying, and I went into the streets at last; I rose in the world - (here she smiled sarcastically) - and I've lived in this house for years, but I swear to God I haven't had a moment's happiness since the child died, except when I've been dead drunk or maudlin.
     Although this woman did not look upon the death of her child as a crime committed by herself, it was in reality none the less her doing; she shunned the workhouse, which might have done something for her, and saved the life, at all events, of her child; but the repugnance evinced by every woman who has any proper feeling for a life in a workhouse or a hospital, can hardly be imagined by those who think that, because people are poor, they must lose all feeling, all delicacy, all prejudice, and all shame.
     Her remarks about a foundling-hospital are sensible; in the opinion of many it is a want that ought to be supplied. Infanticide is a crime much on the increase, and what mother would kill her offspring if she could provide for it in any way?
     The analysis of the return of the coroners' inquests held in London, for the five years ending in 1860, shows a total of 1130 inquisitions on the bodies of children under two years of age, all of whom had been murdered. The average is 226 yearly.
     Here we have 226 children killed yearly by their parents: this either shows that our institutions are defective, or that great depravity is inherent amongst Englishwomen. The former hypothesis is much more likely than the latter, which we are by no means prepared to indorse. This return, let it be understood, does not, indeed cannot, include the immense number of embryo children who are made away with by drugs and other devices, all of whom we have a right to suppose would have seen the light if adequate provision could have been found for them at their birth.
     A return has also been presented to Parliament, at the instance of Mr. Kendal, M.P., from which we find that 157,485 summonses in bastardy cases were issued between the years 1845 and 1859 inclusive, but that only 124,218 applications against the putative fathers came on for hearing, while of this number orders for maintenance were only made in 107,776 cases, the remaining summonses, amounting to 15,981, being dismissed. This latter fact gives a yearly average of 1,141 illegitimate children thrown back on their wretched mothers. These statistics are sufficiently appalling, but there is reason to fear that they only give an approximate idea of the illegitimate infantile population, and more especially of the extent to which infanticide prevails. Those who live in Low Lodging Houses.

The New Cut - Evening

     In order to find these houses it is necessary to journey eastwards, and leave the artificial glitter of the West-end, where vice is pampered and caressed. Whitechapel, Wapping, Ratcliff Highway, and analogous districts, are prolific in the production of these infamies. St. George's-in-the-East abounds with them, kept, for the most part, by disreputable Jews, and if a man is unfortunate enough to fall into their clutches he is sure to become the spoil of Israel. We may, however, find many low lodging houses without penetrating so far into the labyrinth of east London. There are numbers in Lambeth; in the Waterloo Road and contiguous streets; in small streets between Covent Garden and the Strand, some in one or two streets running out of Oxford Street. There is a class of women technically known as "bunters," who take lodgings, and after staying some time run away without paying their rent. These victimise the keepers of low lodging-houses successfully for years. A "bunter," whose favourite promenade, especially on Sundays, was the New Cut, Lambeth, said "she never paid any rent, hadn't done it for years, and never meant to. They was mostly Christ-killers, and chousing a Jew was no sin; leastways, none as she cared about committing. She boasted of it: had been known about town this ever so long as Swindling Sal. And there was another, a great pal of her'n, as went by the name of Chousing Bett. Didn't they know her in time? Lord bless me, she was up to as many dodges as there was men in the moon. She changed places, she never stuck to one long; she never had no things for to be sold up, and, as she was handy with her mauleys, she got on pretty well. It took a considerable big man, she could tell me, to kick her out of a house, and then when he done it she always give him something for himself, by way of remembering her. Oh! they had a sweet recollection of her, some on 'em. She'd crippled lots of the ---- crucifiers." "Did she never get into a row?" "Lots on 'em, she believed me. Been quodded no end of times. She knew every beak as sot on the cheer as well as she knew Joe the magsman, who, she might say, wor a very perticaler friend of her'n." "Did he pay her well?"
     This was merely a question to ascertain the amount of remuneration that she, and others like her, were in the habit of receiving; but it had the effect of enraging her to a great extent. My informant was a tall, stout woman, about seven-and-twenty, with a round face, fat cheeks, a rather wheezy voice, and not altogether destitute of good looks. Her arms were thick and muscular, while she stood well on her legs, and altogether appeared as if she would be a formidable opponent in a street-quarrel or an Irish row.
     Did he pay well? Was I a-going to insult her? What was I asking her sich a 'eap of questions for? Why, Joe was good for a ---- sight more than she thought I was! - "polite." Then she was sorry for it, never meant to be. Joe worn't a five-bobber, much less a bilker, as she'd take her dying oath I was." "Would she take a drop of summut?" "Well, she didn't mind if she did.
     An adjournment to a public-house in the immediate vicinity, where "Swindling Sal" appeared very much at home, mollified and appeased her.
     The "drop of summut short, miss," was responded to by the young lady behind the bar by a monosyllabic query, "Neat?" The reply being in the affirmative, a glass of gin was placed upon the marble counter, and rapidly swallowed, while a second, and a third followed in quick succession, much, apparently, to the envy of a woman in the same compartment, who, my informant told me in a whisper, was "Lushing Lucy," and a stunner - whatever the latter appellation might be worth. But the added "Me an' 'er 'ad a rumpus," was sufficient to explain the fact of their not speaking.
     What do you think you make a week?" at last I ventured to ask. Well, I'll tell yer," was the response: "one week with another I makes nearer on four pounds nor three - sometimes five. I 'ave done eight and ten. Now Joe, as you 'eered me speak on, he does it 'ansome, he does: I mean, you know, when he's in luck. He give me a fiver once after cracking a crib, and a nice spree me an' Lushing Loo 'ad over it. Sometimes I get three shillings, half-a-crown, five shillings, or ten occasionally, accordin' to the sort of man. What is this Joe as I talks about? Well, I likes your cheek, howsomever, he's a 'ousebreaker. I don't do anything in that way, never did, and shant; it aint safe, it aint. How did I come to take to this sort of life? It's easy to tell. I was a servant gal away down in Birmingham. I got tired of workin' and slavin' to make a livin', and getting a ---- bad one at that; what o' five pun' a year and yer grub, I'd sooner starve, I would. After a bit I went to Coventry, cut Brummagem, as we calls it in those parts, and took up with the soldiers as was quartered there. I soon got tired of them. Soldiers is good - soldiers is - to walk with and that, but they don't pay; cos why, they aint got no money; so I says to myself, I'll go to Lunnon, and I did. I soon found my level there. It is a queer sort of life, the life I'm leading, and now I think I'll be off. Good night to yer. I hope we'll know more of one another when we two meets again.
     When she was gone I turned my attention to the woman I have before alluded to. "Lushing Loo" was a name uneuphemistic, and calculated to prejudice the hearer against the possessor. I had only glanced at her before, and a careful scrutiny surprised me, while it impressed me in her favour. She was lady-like in appearance, although haggard. She was not dressed in flaring colours and meretricious tawdry. Her clothes were neat, and evidenced taste in their selection, although they were cheap. I spoke to her; she looked up without giving me an answer, appearing much dejected. Guessing the cause, which was that she had been very drunk the night before, and had come to the public-house to get something more, but had been unable to obtain credit, I offered her halfacrown, and told her to get what she liked with it. A new light came into her eyes; she thanked me, and, calling the barmaid, gave her orders, with a smile of triumph. Her taste was sufficiently aristocratic to prefer pale brandy to the usual beverage dispensed in gin-palaces. A "drain of pale," as she termed it, invigorated her. Glass after glass was ordered, till she had spent all the money I gave her. By this time she was perfectly drunk, and I had been powerless to stop her. Pressing her hand to her forehead, she exclaimed, "Oh, my poor head!" I asked what was the matter with her, and for the first time she condescended, or felt in the humour to speak to me. "My heart's broken," she said. "It has been broken since the twenty-first of May. I wish I was dead; I wish I was laid in my coffin. It won't be long first. I am doing it. I've just driven another nail in, and 'Lushing Loo,' as they call me, will be no loss to society. Cheer up; let's have a song. Why don't you sing?" she cried, her mood having changed, as is frequently the case with habitual drunkards, and a symptom that often precedes delirium tremens. "Sing, I tell you," and she began,
     In a regiment of dragoons,
I gave him what he didn't like,
And stole his silver spoons.

     When she had finished her song, the first verse of which is all I can remember, she subsided into comparative tranquillity. I asked her to tell me her history.
     “Oh, I'm a seduced milliner," she said, rather impatiently; "anything you like”. It required some inducement on my part to make her speak, and overcome the repugnance she seemed to feel at saying anything about herself.
     She was the daughter of respectable parents, and at an early age had imbibed a fondness for a cousin in the army, which in the end caused her ruin. She had gone on from bad to worse after his desertion, and at last found herself among the number of low transpontine women. I asked her why she did not enter a refuge, it might save her life. “I don't wish to live," she replied. "I shall soon get D. T., and then I'll kill myself in a fit of madness”. Nevertheless I gave her the address of the secretary of the Midnight Meeting Association, Red Lion Square, and was going away when a young Frenchmen entered the bar, shouting a French song, beginning "Vive l'amour, le vin, et le tabac," and I left him in conversation with the girl, whose partiality for the brandy bottle had gained her the suggestive name I have mentioned above.
     The people who keep the low lodging-houses where these women live, are rapacious, mean, and often dishonest. They charge enormously for their rooms in order to guarantee themselves against loss in the event of their harbouring a "bunter" by mistake, so that the money paid by their honest lodgers covers the default made by those who are fraudulent.
     Dr. Ryan, in his book on prostitution, puts the following extraordinary passage, whilst writing about low houses:-
     An enlightened medical gentleman assured me that near what is called the Fleet Ditch almost every house is the lowest and most infamous brothel. There is an aqueduct of large dimensions, into which murdered bodies are precipitated by bullies and discharged at a considerable distance into the Thames, without the slightest chance of recovery.
     Mr. Richelot quotes this with the greatest gravity, and adduces it as a proof of the immorality and crime that are prevalent to such an awful extent in London. What a pity the enlightened medical gentleman did not affix his name to this statement as a guarantee of its authenticity!
     When speaking of low street-walkers, the same author says:-
     These truly unfortunate creatures are closely watched whilst walking the streets, so that it is impossible for them to escape, and if they attempt it, the spy, often a female child, hired for the purpose, or a bully, or procuress, charges the fugitive with felony, as escaping with the clothes of the brothel-keeper, when the police officer on duty immediately arrests the delinquent, and takes her to the station-house of his divison, but more commonly gives her up to the brothel-keeper, who rewards him. This inhuman and infamous practice is of nightly occurrence in this metropolis. When the forlorn, unfortunate wretch returns to her infamous abode, she is maltreated and kept nearly naked during the day, so that she cannot attempt to run away. She is often half starved, and at night sent again into the streets as often as she is disengaged, while all the money she receives goes to her keeper whether male or female. This is not an exaggerated picture, but a fact attested by myself. I have known a girl, aged fifteen years, who in one night knew twelve men, and produced to her keeper as many pounds.
     "Paucis horis, hæ puellæ sex vel septem hominibus congruunt, lavant et bibunt post singulum alcoholis paululum (vulgo brandy vel gin) et dein paratæ sunt aliis."
     With what a vivid imagination the writer of these striking paragraphs must have been gifted. The Arabian Nights and the Tales of the Genii that are so charmingly improbable, are really matter of fact in comparison. If we multiply 12 by 365, what is the result? We never took such interest in arithmetic before: 12 X 365 = 4380. This total of course represents pounds; why, it is nearly equal to the salary of a puisne judge! But perhaps the young lady whose interesting age is fifteen, is not so fortunate every night. Let us reduce it by one half; 4380 ÷ 2 = 2190. Two thousand one hundred and ninety pounds per annum is a very handsome income; and after such a calculation, can we wonder that a meretricious career is alluring and attractive to certain members of the fair sex, especially when "hæ puellæ" make it "paucis horis?" So lucrative a speculation cannot be included in the category of those who are "kept nearly naked during the day, and often half starved." We suggest this on our own responsibility, for we have not been an "eye-witness" of such precocious profligacy; but we make the suggestion because it is something like nigger-keeping in the Southern States of America. A full-grown, hearty negro is a flesh and blood equivalent for a thousand or two thousand dollars. If he were "larruped" and bullied, he would perhaps die, or at any rate not work so well, and a loss to his owner would ensue that Pompey's massa would not be slow to discover. By parity of reasoning the white slave of England must also be treated well, or it naturally follows that she will not be so productive, and the 12l. received from as many men in a few hours, may dwindle to as many shillings, gleaned with difficulty in a great number of hours.
     Dr. Michael Ryan evidently possesses an extensive acquaintance among remarkable men. Let us examine the statement of "my informant, a truly moral character, a respectable citizen, the father of a family," who gives the following account of bullies:-
     Two acquaintances of his, “men of the world" (we submit with all humility that truly moral characters, respectable citizens, and fathers of families ought to be more select in their acquaintance, for birds of a feather, &c.), "were entrapped in one of the Parks by two apparently virtuous females, about twenty years of age, who were driving in a pony phaeton, to accompany them home to a most notoriously infamous square in this metropolis. All was folly and debauchery till the next morning. But when the visitors were about to depart, they were sternly informed they must pay more money. They replied they had no more, but would call again, when their vicious companions yelled vociferously. Two desperate-looking villains, accompanied by a large mastiff, now entered the apartment and threatened to murder the delinquents if they did not immediately pay more money. A frightful fight ensued. The mastiff seized one of the assaulted by the thigh, and tore out a considerable portion of the flesh. The bullies were, however, finally laid prostrate: the assailed forced their way into the street through the drawing-room windows; a crowd speedily assembled, and on learning the nature of the murderous assault, the mob attacked the house and nearly demolished it before the police arrived" (where were the police?). "The injured parties effected their escape during the commotion.
     What a surprising adventure! Haroun Alraschid would have had it written in letters of gold. The man of the world, who had a considerable portion of the flesh torn out of his leg by the terrible mastiff, must have been the model of an athlete to effect his escape and punish his bully after such a catastrophe, more particularly as he jumped out of the drawing-room window. Then that mob, that ferocious mob that nearly demolished the house before the police arrived! Mob more terrible than any that the faubourgs St. Antoine or St. Jacques could furnish during a bread riot in Paris, to harry the government, and erect barricades. What a horror truly moral characters must entertain of apparently virtuous females driving pony phaetons in the Parks! A little further on the same respectable citizen informs us, in addition,
     "that in a certain court near another notoriously profligate square, which was pulled down a few years ago, several skeletons were found under the floor, on which inquests were held by the coroner."
     What ghastly ideas float through the mind and obscure the mental vision of that father of a family!
     That rows and disturbances often take place in disorderly houses, is not to be denied. A few isolated instances of men being attacked or robbed when drunk may be met with; but that there are houses whose keepers systematically plunder and murder their frequenters our experience does not prove, nor do we for an instant believe it to be the case. Foreigners who write about England are only too eager to meet with such stories in print, and they transfer them bodily with the greatest glee to their own pages, and parade them as being of frequent occurrence, perhaps nightly, in houses of ill fame.
     Prostitutes of a certain class do not hesitate to rob drunken men, if they think they can do so with safety. If they get hold of a gentleman who would not like to give the thief in charge, and bring the matter before the public, they are comparatively safe.