This article gratefully copied from
The Informal Education Archives
The district of
which I have hitherto been speaking is very near the West End of London, and was
formerly a most aristocratic part of the town. By the china tablets fastened
against some of the houses in this neighbourhood, we see where Dryden, Burke,
and Sir Joshua Reynolds lived, but now these houses are each occupied by several
families of working-people.
The Duke of Monmouth had also a house close to the Dials, and his room can still be seen just as he left it, his arms painted on the pannelled walls, and carved in wood over the chimney-piece; the ceiling is heavily decorated, and you can fancy yourself when in that room once more in the days of the Stuarts, instead of being in the very centre of a great warehouse, which sends out its goods to all parts of the world, and represents well the active trade and the toil of the nineteenth century. The Duke of Grafton also lived close by: but though the house still bears his name, it has no remains of former greatness, and is now occupied like the other houses I have mentioned, by several families of working people.
In the poorest part of the parish is a building used partly as an Industrial School, partly as a Night Refuge; it was formerly the library of Charles I., and was afterwards used for prayer meetings by Oliver Cromwell. It was surrounded by a garden, thence the name of Rose Street, one of the outlets from this quarter. In later days, a market was held here, and the porters used to stand hard by waiting to be hired - and so gave their name to another street. The remembrance was kept up no doubt for some time of the kings and the princes who visited this spot, as the name of Princes’ Row belongs to the houses that surround the Refuge - the poorest, the dirtiest, and the lowest houses that this part of London can boast of, making the prefix “prince” a very mockery to the Row we are speaking of. But the remembrance of princes, of gardens, of poets and of statesmen exists no longer in the minds of the dwellers in these parts. What they know Princes’ Row to be famous for is the gambling that is always going on there amongst the idle and the worthless of the neighbourhood. Stretched on the pavement you may see a small group, some playing, others looking on at games of cards, of marbles, or with stones, those various games wellknown to the street arabs, and which are so numerous, that a different one belongs to each month of the year.
In January what are called shoots are in the hands of most boys - that is an elastic fastened to a frame, with which bits of orange peel and other things can be shot forth to a great distance; and I know well the time when this sport is in vogue by the annoyance it is to me in the night school. Later they have cat-traps, or tip-cats, as they are called, a simple game with two pieces of wood; then there are marbles, tops, buttons, kites, cherry stones; in August grottos, probably in memory of St. James of Compostella; at other times rounders, and gobs, a game played with stones placed on divisions marked out on the pavement, and thrown up into the air and caught as they fall on the back of the hand. In November they buy what are called fireworks, explosive balls, that make a loud noise in falling to the ground. Hoops are used by smaller boys in the winter, as snow-balling is but a rare pleasure for Londoners.
The police will tell you that Princes’ Row is remarkable for having more apprehensions than any other spot of the same size in London. Not only is it a resort for street gamblers, but it is also a favourite rendevous for fights. I have heard of one grand one in the last five years, between the champions of Marylebone and St. Giles, who met there as a convenient battle-field on which to try their relative strength.
And the reason for this choice of Princes’ Row is that round the Refuge there is a broad road and pavement, where carriages and carts seldom pass. No strangers make this road a thoroughfare, - women from the neighbouring streets are afraid of going round Princes’ Row, and policemen do not like to come there alone, as they have often met with rough treatment when endeavouring to stop a fight. There are four outlets from this Row - two of them are merely courts, and when a band wishes to engage the ground for gambling or fighting, scouts are posted at the various entrances, who give timely notice of the approach of the policeman. Often as I have passed by I have seen boys quietly lying on the pavement enjoying their game, and suddenly they have sprung up and disappeared, and it was only after some minutes that I have seen the disturbing element in their slowly advancing enemy. But from both boys and men of this class, whose solace it seems to be to gamble, to swear, to drink, and to fight, who are ill-housed and ill-educated, I have experienced nothing but courtesy and respect. The dwellers of Princes’ Row tell me that the swearing over the games is appalling; but as I pass them, or stand by talking to any one they are silent.
About five years ago I determined to try what I could do with these poor boys; who from their very civility to myself, I felt were open to the refining influence of a woman’s teaching. So in February, 1873, after knowing the neighbourhood for three years, I began a School on Sunday afternoons. I invited four boys to come, these brought others, and from that time to August, I had a varying number of from eight to twenty-five every Sunday. I began the School with a working shoemaker, who lived in the next street, and later I had a postman to help; but he was always called “Squint Eye” by the boys, from a personal defect and he never got much hold over them. The shoemaker’s temper and patience used to be sorely tried: as for mine, I felt it no trial, for the fact of contending with the determined mischief of some of the boys, had in it the delight of a fight, in which I was generally victorious.
I tried to arrange the boys in classes, and taught them reading, writing, and arithmetic. The first year I did not attempt any religious instruction, my chief reason being that they were too unruly and uncivilised, and would only have made an irreverent mocking of such teaching. But in order to show them that there was something to be aimed at beyond mere learning, I ended the lessons with a prayer, when I was able to get them sufficiently quiet to have a reasonable hope that they would behave with reverence during the few minutes the prayer lasted; but more than once as I repeated the Lord’s prayer aloud, I have heard some of the boys parodying it throughout in very blasphemous language.
The moment of dispersion was often the time of revolt. The room we had, was lent to us by the vicar of the parish; in the week it was used for a Ragged School, where some industrial work was taught. It opened out of a passage from the street, the house door being always open. The boards which formed the partition of this passage were not very tightly joined, and cabbage-stalks and winkles picked up from the street were often thrown in through the apertures. Occasionally a boy would come and spit at us through the openings, or make noises that were answered by the boys within, with such powers of ventriloquism that it was impossible to discover the culprit. A step ladder led down from the room we were in to a cellar, used in the week-time for cutting up wood and preparing it in faggots for sale. As I said the moment of trial was the end of the school. As long as I could keep the boys under my eye, they were tolerably well-behaved, and to call to them by name was generally sufficient to restore order; but if, when the prayer was finished, my attention was wanted at the door, and I could no longer keep watch over the ladder, down would they rush, and make hideous confusion with the faggots, - and one day lighted a match and narrowly escaped burning down the house.
The amount of learning the boys got during this first half-year was not much: later we could do more amongst them when the discipline was greater, and several have learned to read who only knew their letters when they first came. But though there was not much learned by the boys, there was education and humanising of many amongst them. For instance, one boy of fifteen, who had attended very well up to June, came then to me, and told me he was leaving for a Baptist Sunday School where the boys behaved better, and he had got the taste for school by coming to us. Six of the boys who began that summer have continued with me till either too old to come any more, or have left the parish and gone to other schools. Later, two of these six boys were confirmed, and two when they were seventeen years of age went to the Working Men’s College, anxious to increase their knowledge.
I have said that I meet with nothing but courtesy and civility from the boys, and some may say the spitting, the throwing cabbage stalks, and the cat-calls were not civilities. True! but they were not directed at me particularly, and arose from a mischievous feeling for fun. One Sunday in June I was out of town, and I left the school in the charge of a young lady and a “Sister.” The boys took advantage of my absence, and spent the whole time in throwing winkles about the room.
In October of this year we began a Night School, in addition to the one on Sunday afternoons, the boys paying a penny for the two evenings. The payment was useful in two ways: it made them value the teaching more, and gave us the power of refusing to admit boys who brought no money with them, when we knew their only object in coming was to make a disturbance. In the week, the staff of teachers consisted of myself, my maid, and a gentleman who had some previous experience of rough boys, and who has from that time carried on the school jointly with myself, both on weekdays and on Sundays. Another teacher came for a few weeks; but he was driven away by the impertinence of these poor roughs. His hair was red, and he had a pointed beard, for which reason the boys called him the Shah, and used to ask him who his barber was. These and other impertinences, which he could neither tolerate nor correct, drove him from the school. After he left, a Scotch gardener came, and was of great use, having a firm and quiet manner by which he could control the boys who were under him, and make the lessons interesting.
We had the advantage of a better schoolroom this year, which was again lent to us by the vicar. It was close to Princes’ Row and Princes’ Court: but though we had no objectionable passage, we were constantly disturbed by knockings at the door from boys whom we had previously expelled, and we were obliged at last to ask the police to allow us to have a constable on duty outside the school whilst we were there in the evening, as there was constant throwing up of stones and rubbish at our windows. Indeed, one day a large stone came through into the schoolroom, but fortunately fell on the floor without striking any one. We had from twenty to thirty boys on Sundays, several never missed; but many came but once or twice to see what it was like. Occasionally an unruly boy would come, and either begin to fight with his neighbour or refuse to do the lesson with the others. I would remonstrate with him at first, and if that had no effect I would get one of the male teachers to turn him out. This was a matter of some difficulty, as we were closely packed, and the boy would often kick and resist. However, during the struggle, there was perfect silence, all the boys would watch intently and a calm seemed to fall on those that remained after one of the number had been expelled. This was the only punishment I could either threaten or inflict. The first expulsion was not final, as I would take them back if they promised to behave well.
In January, 1874, I tried what good could be done for the boys by taking them to an evening Mission Service, at the Refuge, held by the curate in charge of this district. The school finished at 5 o’clock, and I then invited those who liked to remain with me, to listen to a story. I read to them till six, or if they wished to go home to their tea, I asked them to return and to go with me to the service. About a dozen boys generally accompanied me. They behaved very well, and they appeared to enjoy the short service, which consisted of prayers, of singing and a short and simple sermon, - the whole thing lasting little over half-an-hour.
For three months, I continued this practice, and thought that this would have given the boys a taste for attending evening service, but I was rather disheartened on saying to one of them who had been the most regular —“
Now that Easter has come, the services will leave off here, and I hope you will attend some church where you will have the same hymns and prayers you have been hearing during the last three months.” The lad answered me, “No, I do not think it is likely I shall go to any church.”
“Why?” I said. “Because,” was the reply, “I do not believe in the whole thing, in a God or anything else.” And so I discovered he had come only for the sake of pleasing me. This same boy kept on regularly coming to our school till he joined the Working Men’s College. His home was wretched and miserably poor from the drunkenness of his father and the illness of his mother, and the poor boy was broken-hearted at times, and has told me the misery was so great he should like to put an end to himself; and here was an instance where I am sure the constant sympathy and interest felt for him by his teachers helped him to work on, so that now he is in a good position as a musical instrument maker, very dutifully helping the wretched home where he no longer lives.
A year or two ago, I asked him to come and help me to teach in the Night School. He came a few times, and then left off. I rather wondered at his so soon giving up helping me, but I said nothing, as I knew he was hard-worked, and I supposed he found the school too great a toil. However, some years after I found out the reason, and it was this, that in coming out of the school, the other boys would lay wait for him and pelt him with mud and stones. After bearing this ill-treatment for a few weeks, and having his Sunday hat broken, he gave up coming to teach, but did not like to tell me the cause of his doing so.
Another boy we were able to help very materially this year through the work of the school was John Vine. He had been at Feltham, but had left it two years when I first knew him. He was a strong boy, and well-disposed: but he had a drunken mother, who lived with an Irishman, who could work well, but was also generally drunk. The boy’s father a Scotchman, had died some years back, and when I first knew John he was in rags, seldom having any thing like shoes on his feet, but always ready to do any cleaning or sweeping he could get from his neighbours. Notwithstanding his rags, he came regularly to the school, and was well-behaved, and seemed very anxious to work. A friend of mine, hearing my account of the boy, asked to see him, was interested in him, and clothed him, and got him work, which he kept for four years, always behaving himself properly. When unfortunately through differences with his wife, whom he had married at seventeen years of age, he got drunk and lost his place; but there are such ups and downs in the life of the poor that I do not despair of him yet.
On Sundays, the curate who held the Mission Service used to come into the school for half an hour and have a class of boys, consisting of a few who were willing to he taught by him, or whom I could persuade to join the class. Four of these were unbaptised: they all promised to be prepared by the clergyman for that Sacrament, but only one kept his word, - was baptised, and afterwards confirmed, and has turned out a steady, well-behaved boy.
This year we gave the boys three treats. On Christmas Day we gave them a supper, on Easter Monday we took them for a day into the country, and on the Bank holiday in August they had an afternoon tea in a garden near Kensington. All these pleasures helped much to educate them in other ways than book-learning, making them feel that they were cared for by those above them in position, for the sake of whose good opinion they wished to keep respectable.
The discipline of a school depends to a great extent on its locality, and also on the size and suitable arrangement of the school room. And so we improved still more in our discipline, when we moved again from Princes’ Court to Chapel Place in the third year of our school. The reason of this change was that owing to the death of the vicar the school in Princes’ Court was done away with, and we were then allowed the use of one of the large school rooms lately finished and adjoining the church.
We began both the Sunday and Night School in December, and continued them on to August, but found it was a mistake to do so, for in the summer the attendance became very small. In the evenings the boys liked to be out after hot days of work, and on Sundays they would generally go for excursions into the country. It is bad for the discipline of the school to keep it on with a poor attendance, as it makes the boys think they are doing their teachers a kindness in coming, instead of the reverse. Gratitude is not a condition of mind we often meet with, and it is important for the boys to feel that it is themselves who are benefited by coming to school, and not to think that any advantage accrues to the teachers by their attendance.
We had a larger attendance on Sundays than on weekdays, and about half a dozen boys of seventeen, who came very regularly. We had not quite as many bad boys, who only came for mischief, as at the other school. This one was not in a thoroughfare, nor was it a convenient resort for the idle boys who hang about the streets all day. I have had boys at the school whose cropped hair showed me whence they had come. Some disappeared for a time, and I heard of them next at Clerkenwell. Others I have known from the police to be confederates of thieves, and there were a few whose lives were so ill-spent that there was not much hope of improving them. Indeed the conclusion I have come to in this respect is, that we can improve those who are willing to improve themselves, and who wish to be respectable, and to learn; — but by no Sunday or Night School alone can we reform idle and evil boys to any great extent. The school may be the means of bringing them to a knowledge of what is better, and a wish to improve, but to be reformed they must be altogether removed from their bad associations.
One boy, especially, Arthur Anderson, is an example of what I am saying. His father was a respectable carpenter, who from the ill-health of his wife, was in great poverty. The boy had learned no trade and had no regular place, but got any chance work he could find in the neighbourhood. He was sixteen and wished, he said, to go to sea - a profession I always recommend to any boys who seem fitted for it. He got his papers and went up for the medical examination; but unfortunately having bad teeth, he was considered unfit for the navy. The boy was in despair, and said to me that he felt it would be impossible, if he remained where he was, to withstand the bad companions who surrounded him. He asked me to get him on board a merchant vessel, and the longer the voyage, and the further from England he should go, the better pleased he would be. But two things were necessary for this - an expensive outfit, and his teeth being put in order. The first I was able to get for him through the liberality of two of my friends, and the second through a letter to the Dental Hospital, where the boy patiently spent two or three hours for many days whilst a young practitioner was getting through the work, evidently new to him, as he would often leave the boy to ask advice as to how the next operation was to be performed.
The boy sailed to Sydney, and was away two years, during this time he wrote me several happy, grateful letters, and when I saw him on his return he brought me an excellent report from the ship, and was eager to return for the next voyage. He had received on that trip only ten shillings a month, but was promised for the next two pounds a month.
If he had remained at home no doubt he would have gone as he expected to the bad; and often the downfall of a boy seems to be but the result of an accident, or of a misfortune, and once sunk into the slough of wickedness to be found in London I know no human efforts that can drag them out of the mire.
There was a boy, James Jinks, whose fate I much deplored. He had been brought up at St. James’ Workhouse School, and had received a very good education. He was placed on leaving at Chapman and Hall’s, and remained there for six months, obtaining a very good character. He had to leave because he caught scarlet fever, and was taken to a hospital. On coming out, he had no place to go to, no friends, and soon no clothes. He then fell amongst evil companions. I saw him often about this time, and gave him some clothes, after I had inquired of Mr. Chapman if he had given a true account of himself. He did not come near me again for some time, and when he did he said he had been ill. I then said I would try to get him a place; but took the precaution first of sending the shoe-maker teacher to where he lived - such a bad account, however, was brought to me of his way of living, that I did not feel justified in recommending him to any employer. And this poor boy, had he not had the scarlet fever at that unfortunate time of his life, might have kept well through those years of difficulty.
Another boy I had been much interested in, and who had learned to read with us, was John Mac. He had been very troublesome many times, but with constant rebukes and encouragement we had kept him on. One evening I inadvertently left the bag of pennies I received from the boys, on the desk, and it disappeared. I suspected this boy; but only said that the bag had gone. The boy I suspected never came again, and I could well imagine he had taken it.
The discipline was not yet good, and we were much tormented in January, the month dedicated to the game of shoots which I have described. The bits of orange-peel flew about the school, and it was impossible to discover the offender and none would tell of the other. In March the tops were produced, nuts were thrown about, and the ventriloquism that continued was impossible to detect; but by degrees the bad boys left off coming as the discipline became more severe.
The last conflict we had was in 1876; a boy, called Patrick, had come in, whom I knew to be thoroughly bad. However, as he promised to behave well, I let him remain, but he soon showed that his only object was to disturb the others. He made noises, and finally refused to do the lesson I set him. I then told him to leave the class he was in, and to sit elsewhere. This also he refused to do, and whilst I was speaking to him a young guardsman, who was teaching another class, saw the insubordination, and fresh from the discipline of his men came up and offered to turn out the boy. I still tried to parley with Patrick, but with no success; so before he knew what was in store for him, the young officer was behind him, and putting his own arms under those of the very dirty and ragged Patrick, lifted him up and put him clean out of the school at the expense of tremendous kicks on his own shins: this was the last forcible expulsion we had from the school. Boys still came who were very poor, and some who certainly had not sufficient food. One of them told his teacher one cold winter evening how he had slept for three nights in the street, because his father had driven his from home. He was very cold, and was thankful to get a warming from the good fire. I called next day at his home, and from his mother heard that what he had said was true. She did not venture to let the boy in again, as the father, who had been drinking hard, said he would kill him if he returned. I was able to get this boy into St. Andrew’s Home for Working Boys, in Dean Street, to which I have already referred. Here he could earn his own living, and has turned out well.
The following year we put the Night School under Government Inspection, closing in April, after having kept it open fifty-six nights, four boys attending over fifty nights, and many over forty nights in the season. Several different teachers came at various times, and very kindly helped us to teach; but the one who joined me in Princes’ Court was alone responsible with myself in managing the school.
We still had some unruly boys; there was one in particular - George Snow - who was full of fun and talk, and would always have the last word. This boy unfortunately gave our school a bad name for discipline, as he would “chaff” the Government Inspector, and was daunted by nothing; but he was a good boy and never missed an evening, though often kept late at work for a shop in Piccadilly; and when he left it, with a good character of three years, I was able to get him a place as a railway porter, where he has done very well, justifying the recommendation I gave him.
That year, 1875, games were started for the boys on the Wednesdays, and a club on the Saturday nights, the school being held on Tuesdays and Fridays, for which they now paid two-pence a week. The games and club are managed by two gentlemen, and are very largely attended - the nightly average attendance being 140. The charge for admission is the same as at the school - a penny per night. The games were begun as an experiment in the direction of forming Working Lads’ Clubs on the same principle as those of men, the attraction provided being of course different to suit youthful tastes. The experiment has been entirely successful in regard to the number of members, the room being always full to overflowing, and the receipts from the boys have been sufficient to cover all expenses (save rent) including salaries, light, coal, &c. Fencing and boxing, besides quieter amusements of bagatelle, draughts, and dominos, are the principal games, while a coffee and cake bar add to the profit of the club. There is ample scope for giving lectures for the lads, the only hindrance in this way being the lack of personal assistance.
It is plain from the large attendances at this club that there is a great need for places of harmless recreation for the immense working-boy population in London, and the clergy would find extraordinary opportunities of gaining a hold over their boy-parishioners by using their school rooms in the evening in the manner indicated.
We changed the Sunday School into one of purely religious teaching, but the attendances became much less, and it no longer attracted the older boys. Our object has always been to get a hold on boys of from thirteen to eighteen, - that dangerous time in the life of working boys and girls, when their habits are formed for good or for evil, for industry or for idleness. At this time especially are they alive to the influence of those above them; they are capable of affection for their teachers, which will induce them to keep straight. The school has to vie with many pleasures of an attractive nature outside, hence the teaching must be made attractive, the boys must feel an interest in the success of the schools as tested by the Government Inspection. They must feel they are working for a definite object, and that their individual advancement is as much a matter of interest to their teachers as to themselves. The tone you get into a school influences very much all new-corners, and the higher you set the standard the more you will accomplish.
I have always remembered what an experienced School Inspector once said to me about good marks for punctual attendance at school. “If you give them good marks (to the children) for doing their duty, duty will not become to them a rule, a necessity. Give bad marks for unpunctuality, then they will feel that they have done wrong in neglecting the duty, not a meritorious action in fulfilling it.” This principle I have tried to carry out in the Night School. The attendance being a voluntary action on the part of the boys, it was necessary in order to ensure regularity and attention to assume an authority over them, which of course existed only as an idea. Often have I met some of our boys in the street who had lately been missing school, and when I asked them why they had not been they made some excuse, and tacitly admitted my right to demand their attendance.
The following letter will exemplify what I say. I one evening told the writer, a boy of seventeen to write for a composition a letter giving me the reason for his irregular attendance whilst I had been away, and to my surprise he wrote this —
“I write you these few lines in ancer to your letter inquiring of me why I have not attended school of late. I must own it was wrong of me to stay away, but since you have been away there are but few who keep order of any kind. I suppose Mr. Bennett is not enough for them, but since you are back again I shall be most happy to return. “Yours &c.,
With regard to marks and prizes, I think the plan of giving threepence or sixpence to the boy who has done the best exercise in the class, or who has answered best, is very objectionable; it makes them, as I said before, think it a merit if they do well. The system of working in standards, as practised in the schools under Government inspection, is far the best impetus they can have. To all who were qualified by their attendance and good behaviour to be examined by the inspector we gave a framed certificate, recording their standard and number of attendances. These certificates we found were much valued.
The first year we were under Government inspection we presented twenty-four, and the second year twenty-five boys, to these we gave an excursion into the country and other pleasures. By the system of standards a stupid boy of sixteen who has struggled with much difficulty to pass the first standard is as much rewarded as the clever boy of fourteen who gets through his fractions in the sixth standard without any difficulty. The inspection is much looked forward to by the boys, and last year their behaviour was so good that the inspector complimented us on our discipline.
In the first report Mr. Matthew Arnold says, “The neighbourhood is one where an Evening School might do much service. But forty hours to accomplish work for which day-scholars have five hundred hours!” -meaning, by this, how is it possible to advance one standard with merely the work of a Night School. However, we have done so in several cases, as our examination of 1877 will show; and one boy may specially be remarked on, who the first year got to Standard IV., soon after leaving the Day School. Last year he passed successfully in Standard V., and this year he has got through Standard VI. Of course the boy who gains a standard has seldom missed a night, attending forty or fifty times from October to April. Many of them will come straight from work, bringing with them a piece of bread to eat for their supper sooner than lose any time by going home for it; and I have seen some so tired with their long day’s work, that they have dropped to sleep over their lessons. The boys like to find themselves of importance at an inspection, with the knowledge that their progress will be reported on; and much of the orderly behaviour of last year was owing to their hearing the report read, where their want of discipline was mentioned. This gave them the desire to try and deserve a better report.
Several boys have, like the writer of the letter above-mentioned, been deterred from coming through the rude behaviour of the others. This was the case with two Scotch boys, very intelligent and anxious to learn. They left off coming; so I went to inquire the cause, and saw the mother, a respectable, clean Scotchwoman. She was reluctant at first to give me any reason, but on my pressing her said the fact was, that her boys told her that they could not bear to sit quietly by and hear a lady rudely treated. I told her the discipline was improving, and she must tell them I particularly wished them to return, as the presence of orderly boys helped to make the others more orderly. They returned and were constant in their attendance, until they had to leave London with their father. I have lost sight of them now, but perhaps they will turn up again at some future time.
Many boys pass away from our sight. Out of the 120 admittances one year, and 100 the next, we presented, as I said, about twenty-five each year, but as many more came directly under our notice and influence in various way, though they did not make up the number of attendances required by Government. Some left off coming when they had to work overtime; some ceased to care for the school, but even those who were but a short time with us had gained something from contact with teachers who were interested in their welfare. They at least would never later in life have the bitter, though mistaken feeling that exists in the minds of many of the poor, that the rich and well-to-do take no heed of the poor, and that their happiness and interests are not considered.
There are often disappointments in the boys, and those perhaps whom we take most trouble for turn out worst. One boy, James Webb a nice-looking, clean, bright boy, with light curling hair, came very regularly to us one winter. He had no settled place of work, and told us he would much like to go to sea. He had once made a short voyage, and said it was the life he would prefer; his mother, a drinking Irishwoman, sold watercresses, an employment that is considered the lowest amongst hawkers. I went to see her to ask if she was willing the boy should go to sea, she said quite so, as he did not help her at all, so after some trouble we got him engaged by the captain of a small trading vessel, he was started with clothes and many small things that would be useful to him on board ship. He sailed, and I got a letter from him from the dock, before starting, saying how much he liked the ship, and how grateful he was for the help he had received. My mind was easy about him, thinking that an honest seafaring life would set him up in the world, when on day as I was walking down Piccadilly who should I see but James in his sailor’s clothes, taking a good look into a print shop. He started when I spoke to him, but explained his presence there, by the fact that his ship had gone ashore in a fog off the Isle of Wight, and that he had come up to give evidence with reference to the insurance of the ship. Some thing about his manner made me suspicious. I made inquiries; found out that all he had said was untrue, - that he had really left his ship as soon as it touched land, had come to London and was amusing himself about town. When I discovered his misconduct and deceit, I saw him once more, and told him how ill he had behaved. I have never spoken to him since, though I have seen him, and I fear that this attempt to put him straight having failed, placed him in a worse position morally than if nothing had been done for him.
As a general rule, the clothes of a boy will be an index of his good conduct; as there is such a demand for boys’ labour in this part of London, that any industrious, respectable boy can get work and good wages. I was one Sunday saying this to the boys, that I thought less well of them when I saw them in ragged and dirty clothes, and I knew it was generally their own fault. One or two of them said, “Ah! but teachers in other Sunday Schools say they like us better in rags: they do not want us to have good clothes!” On which I answered, that those teachers probably did not know them as I did in school, and out of school, in their homes, and often, alas! idling away many hours outside the public house.
But of all faults the worst to contend with in a boy is idleness. If he will not work, you may give him chance upon chance; you may reprove, you may encourage, nothing will do them good. I have had a few cases of idleness where I have got a boy a place, but his laziness caused him to be discharged. I have come upon boys I knew of seventeen, who instead of working were playing at marbles in courts where they never expected to meet me.
As I have said, the worthless boys have ceased to come to our school. We have a regular attendance, and perfect order and quiet. The boys on entering fall into their proper places - none have to be called to order. When we finish, as we always do with a prayer, there is complete calm. They are all working lads, some are apprentices, some have learned their trades, and some are errand boys. The work of teaching is no longer one of difficulty, the civilising has been done, but much more could still be done if we had more helpers. We could have more religious teaching on Sundays, and more classes on the week days. The boys are now attracted to the school, and as long as it continues to be conducted in the same spirit, more and more boys will come. But the natural consequences of the improved discipline is to attract only the better class of working boys. To meet the rest a school must begin again in the worst neighbourhood, amidst the wild and turbulent spirits. That work is open still to any one who will undertake it, and I should gladly welcome any who would begin it next autumn I am sure they would meet with as good results as we have had.
In time, with the work of the School Board, there will, I hope, be no such thing as boys of fourteen and fifteen coming to us unable to read, but we shall always find boys who have learned to read and write, who, like those we now have, having passed the Fifth Standard, are anxious to come not only to keep up their learning, but to increase it; and we shall find that the school, the games, and the club, will be the best means of preserving the boys from the evils which surround them in great cities.
I have mentioned already instances of the different influences, that various teachers have over the boys, and I think that almost the first element of success in dealing with them is the sympathy that should exist between the teacher and the taught. We have had a marked example of this in the Girls’ Night School held in the same building. It was begun two years ago, and was so successful that last year, the school having been open three nights a week for five months, there was an average attendance of forty girls, from thirteen to twenty years of age. This year the mistresses are changed from various causes, and the members have diminished to an average of nine. At last only six came, and the school is now closed.
…them once a week; it is for those who have left school and are at work in trades or at home. They readily bring their pennies to pay for the class, and we teach them needlework and cutting out, and great is the delight of these poor girls to be able to go home and show their mothers that they can cut out a shift. The best of mothers could not well teach their girls to cut out in one crowded room which is occupied by the whole family day and night; and nothing contributes more to the comfort of the home of a working man than when his wife can make his shirts and the children’s clothes, instead of buying them ready-made, as many do in London, a cheap article perhaps, but ill-sewn and a poor material.
Whilst the girls work a story can be read to them, or they can join in singing. Work with both boys and girls of this age is deeply interesting, no labour will more repay any person for the time and trouble they may spend upon it.
Maude Stanley, Work about the Five Dials 1878
This article gratefully copied from
The Informal Education Archives
The whole question of Evening-Classes
and Night-Schools has been lately revived, and public attention has been drawn
somewhat prominently to the subject of supplemental education for the working
classes. The occasion of this attention to a rather shelved question is no doubt
the manifest gap which has appeared in the educational life of the working man.
It is not to be concealed that the training of the school is brought to a very abrupt and premature termination by the necessities which call away our working boys to the earning of their livelihood; and however rigorously the course of teaching may be restricted to those rudiments which will furnish a lad with useful and handy knowledge for the common exigencies of his station, the time is often scant for the laying of even these foundations, and, at the best, their permanence is greatly endangered by the early age at which they must be put to the proof.
Unless a lad so taught find some means of following up his school education co-ordinately with his daily work, there is every prospect of his losing the little learning he has accumulated, and none of his adding to the store. On the other hand, the Mechanics’ Institute or Working Men’s Club comes to his assistance only after a long interval, in which his knowledge has rusted, and his facility for study become dull and blunted.
This is the merely educational view of the matter, which has revealed the want of some intermediate agency in the shape of an evening school to supplement the work of the day-school as soon as the office of the latter ceases and thereby to save it from most probable effacement.
But the general experience of tried schemes for evening instruction seems to have been far from encouraging. The very name of “Night-school” has become suggestive of much unrequited drudgery on the part of the teacher, much wearisomeness and untowardness on the part of the taught, and a general failure of any permanent results in the improvement of the class aimed at.
This acknowledged unsuccess of night-schools, with a few bright exceptions here and there, is perhaps due to an assumption, which is not warranted by experience, that working lads would for the most part desire so to continue the studies of the day-school, and that such supplemental instruction was the great desideratum for meeting the evil.
But it does not prove to be the case that mere teaching, even in subjects of practical usefulness, is either the great want of this class of boys, or to any large extent welcomed by them. To be either useful or welcome, it must be associated with some work of a more social and recreative character; not only because lads so newly emancipated from the restraints and work of the school-room very naturally shy at anything which seems threaten a return to the old bonds, but because their day’s work fairly entitles them to reasonable recreation at its close, and still more because there are other and more important offices to be done for them than the mere supply of book-learning.
This opens up the social aspect of the question, which seems to be the more important of the two.
The great peril of the system which releases boys at so early an age from the discipline of school, and turns them out loose upon the world imperfectly taught and trained, is, that they are likely to degenerate into a very low condition, mental and moral, and gradually to slip away from all improving and elevating influences. The kind of influence which a Working Men’s Club is designed to exercise is just that which it is desirable should be brought to bear upon the boy who has exchanged the slate and copy-book for the desk, the counter, or the tool-bench; and it is practically found that many boys would find their way into these societies, were not their admission detrimental to the attendance of adult men. For several reasons men do not choose to attend a reading-room or class frequented by boys; and a junior or intermediate institution is thus necessitated, which shall receive youths, until they are of age to avail themselves of the Men’s Club.
This is, in the simplest light, the office which those institutions fulfil which have acquired the distinctive title of Youths’ Clubs or Institutes. It is the purpose of the present paper to describe the objects and operations of a Youth’s Institute, especially illustrating them by a sketch of that established in Islington.
It will be quite understood that any attempt to prescribe a scheme of universal applicability must be hopeless. Local circumstances must greatly guide any plans undertaken for the purpose in question; and besides this, the class of lads to be provided for must be clearly defined. For it is plain that even recreations which would be highly appreciated by an intelligent class of town-boys, might offer no inducement to farming-lads in a village, or to a lower grade of boys even in town, and the questions of payment and instruction are equally affected by the same consideration.
The class contemplated by a Youths’ Club and Institute is capable of easy definition. It consists of boys and young men between the ages of thirteen and nineteen, who have left an elementary school for some junior situation at a weekly salary or wages, varying from 5s to 18s. This description creates a distinct, well-defined class within sufficiently wide limits. It embraces the junior clerk in an office or warehouse, the office-boy and errand-boy, the apprentice to a skilled trade, and the son of the small shopkeeper. For the most part, such lads are capable of appreciating a superior kind of recreation to that offered them in the streets - a higher social intercourse, a better style of literature, and a healthier class of amusements, requiring some mental exercise.
They have also their special wants and dangers, which call for such an agency as the Youths’ Institute. Their peculiar wants are evening recreation, companionship, an entertaining but healthy literature, useful instruction, and a strong guiding influence to lead them onward and upward socially and morally; their dangers are, the long evenings consequent upon early closing, the unrestraint they are allowed at home, the temptations of the streets and of their time of life, and a little money at the bottom I of their pockets.
In the ease of most of these lads, their own homes afford no supply for these peculiar wants. There is often small accommodation, and less quiet, for writing or study; in the midst of domestic arrangements they may frequently find themselves in the way; the resources of the family in the way of amusements are slender, and out of doors they must turn in quest of congenial associates of their own age and tastes.
But all these wants the Youths’ Institute is specially designed to supply - recreation, companionship, reading, instruction, and all of a pure and healthy kind.
Its operations may be best explained by an account of an actually existing Institution; and while that at Islington is selected for the purpose, it ought to be stated that the first experiment of the kind was made, with great success, by the Rev. Henry White, of the Chapel Royal, Savoy - first at Dover, in 1857, and afterwards at Charing-cross, in 1860; and that a most flourishing Youths’ Club has been carried on for the last five years at Bayswater, by Mr. Charles Baker. Each of these Institutes has possessed its own peculiar features, though planned upon one model.
The Islington Youths’ Institute was opened in the first week of October, 1860, at St. George’s Hall, Richmond Road, which was engaged for the week evenings only of the seven winter months. This hall was used for reading, recreation, and a weekly lecture; the educational classes being held in a smaller adjacent room. The subscription of members was fixed at 3d. per week.
The success of this first experiment was immediate and marked, 236 boys and youths of various occupations availed themselves of the advantages offered during the season - more than 100 being always in steady membership - and the nightly attendances ranged from 50 to 75.
This success encouraged the Managers to employ the interval before the second winter season in extending and consolidating the scheme. A larger and handsome room was added to the original premises, and furnished for reading and recreation; the old hall being appropriated to the purposes of classes and lectures, and fitted with the necessary desks and forms. A small room was also fitted up for the library and for secretarial purposes; and a class-room added for the use of the Penny Bank, and occasional classes. The Bishop of London became the patron of the Institute, and on the occasion of his visit addressed the members.
Under these improved auspices, the Institute has continued its work to the present time with a steadily increasing success.
The work is chiefly carried on by two Hon. Secretaries, one or both of whom is always present in the reading-room. They are assisted by a staff of gentlemen, who gratuitously conduct the various classes, and in their more mechanical labours by a committee of members, nominated by themselves, who also serve as monitors, and watch over the good order and comfort of the Society.
The conditions of membership are made somewhat stringent by the requirement of a small entrance-fee, and the recommendation of two members; and the numbers are limited to 160. It is thus made to be regarded as a privilege.
The reading-room is open each evening (Sundays excepted) from half-past six till half-past nine, a short prayer being used at the commencement, and an evening hymn sung at the close. Great pains have been taken to make the room attractive and cheerful, by having it well lighted and warmed, and hung with good pictures.
A large central table, capable of seating about twenty-five readers, is spread with more than three dozen different periodicals, including the daily, illustrated, and local newspapers, the various Boys’ Magazines, and the serials of a higher class. Twelve smaller tables, each accommodating three pairs of players, are provided with the games - chess, draughts, solitaire, tactics, and any similar drawing-room amusement that can be found. All the tables are covered with red baize, which adds greatly to the cheerfulness of the room.
This room is unreservedly devoted to recreation. The members are encouraged to the freest and happiest intercourse amongst themselves, and complete confidence towards the managers; it is sought to cultivate in them courtesy of manners, truthfulness, mutual forbearance, and good temper. No coercion is exercised but what may be needful for the general comfort and propriety. And it is pleasing to state that in this, the characteristic feature of the Institute, the success has been most complete. The reading-room is used with invariable decorum and earnestness; the periodicals and papers find an increasing number of readers; the interest in chess and draughts has become more intense each season, and the Institute can now furnish a large number of skilful players.
At half-past seven, the classes commence; two (sometimes three) being held each evening. They consist of book-keeping, arithmetic, reading, elocution, grammar, writing, dictation, drawing, French, and biblical study. Each member is required to attend at least three of these classes regularly, and for encouragement to diligence a large number of prizes are distributed at the close of the season.
On alternate Tuesday evenings Lectures of an entertaining or instructive kind are delivered, to which friends are admitted at a small charge.
The Library contains at present 800 volumes, chiefly the gifts of friends or grants of societies. It is open for the exchange of books twice-a-week, and is used very largely by the members, the issues averaging about 100 volumes weekly.
The Penny Bank receives deposits also twice-a-week, and is fairly availed of by the members.
Beyond these regular features of the Youths’ Club and Institute, there are various other occasional opportunities, useful or pleasant, which grow out of it, or group themselves around it - summer excursions, by rail or river, with friends and subscribers - gatherings of kindred societies for a distribution of prizes or an outdoor holiday - reciprocal visits from one Institute to another, for friendly rivalry in recitation or to contest a chess tournament - Christmas social meetings and Easter musical entertainments. Such incidents serve to keep up a freshness and spirit about the undertaking, to attach the members to the scheme, and to bind the several Institutes together in a friendly fellowship
The satisfactory and harmonious tone which pervades the members has been already alluded to. It is in this moral improvement which they have observed resulting from their work that the managers find their chief encouragement. But the success of the scheme is not less apparent upon paper. A few statistics will show how thoroughly St. George’s Hall is enjoyed, and its advantages welcomed in the neighbourhood.
The Hall was opened for the present season on Monday evening, 3rd October last. No effort by means of advertisement or otherwise was made to obtain members, but on the first night 95 applicants were enrolled, and by the Friday evening the full number of 160 was completed. From a super-numeracy list of applicants the vacancies have been filled up week by week to the present time, until the register shows a total of 245 names entered. The largest number present on any one evening has been 139, and through a most severe winter the attendance has never fallen below 43. The attendances throughout the season show an average of 90 present each night, of 104 for the Monday evenings, and of 140 present during each week. No falling off is being experienced as the season draws to an end.
A few words on finance may be acceptable. The present subscription is 4d. per week; entrance-fee for old members, 6d., for new, is 6d. These payments will amount to about 85l. for the year, of which about 81l. is taken during the seven months when the Institute is open. In the summer, we charge one penny for such members as use the Library, and take about 4l. The Cricket Club is self-supporting. The only other source of regular income is the sale of lecture tickets, producing 3l. or 4l.
Of expenditure, the chief item is for rent, gas, cleaning, and firing – 65l. All other permanent expenses, printing class materials, periodicals, postages, &c., are under 20l. So that not the least gratifying feature of a Youth’s Club and Institute, well conducted, is that as regards all ordinary expenditure it may be thoroughly self-supporting. It is well, too, that the members should feel a consciousness of honest independence; it makes the Institute more really their own property.
The only objects for which it is needful occasionally to ask a little help from personal friends are books for the library, pictures, &c., for the walls, prizes, and an occasional entertainment.
It may be added that during the summer months a Cricket Club is formed among the members, which has proved a source of much healthful enjoyment, and a means of holding them together from one winter season to another.
Such are the means by which Youths’ Institutes seek to supply the gap which has been so long allowed to exist in the opportunities afforded to the people. A five years’ trial warrants the expectation that they are destined satisfactorily to answer the vexed question, “What is to be done with our older boys?” A five years’ observation also establishes the conviction that such boys are open to a good influence, and ready to submit themselves to it. There is, in the generality of them, enough of moral good, enough of knowledge and consciousness of right, instilled in their early training, to pre-dispose them to welcome and profit by any offer of good in the stead of evil. It is the absence of any provision for their harmless recreation, and the refusal to recognize their natural claim to it, that has driven so many of them into bad ways.
Evil is still to be overcome with good; and splendid triumphs in the great battle are to achieved by such agencies as a Youths’ Institute. The idler and lounger, the good-for-nothing and vicious among our big lads, are to be redeemed from a lost life, and trained to self-respect and manliness, frankheartedness and moral-mindedness, intelligence and industry, to do good and true work in their day and generation.
The following practical remarks, made at one of the monthly tea-meetings of the Secretaries of London Clubs, held at the office of the Union, form a fitting sequel to this very valuable paper. They will be read with interest, treating as they do of the rather difficult question -How to Deal with the Youths, in relation to those clubs which they have so uniformly wooed, and too often won, with a passionate and fatal ardour worthy of the most dismal and romantic scenes in a modern sensation novel.
The Chairman having inquired the views of each person present, in turn, as to the age at which they thought persons might be admitted as members without prejudice to the Club, six representatives mentioned “eighteen;” but four of them, admitting that applicants for admission constantly falsified their age, urged that measures should be taken to prevent any coming in who had not actually admitted that age, either by requiring older persons to certify the fact, or by making the nominal age twenty-one. One secretary considered none should be admitted unless they had actually attained the age of twenty-one; another named twenty-two, and another urged twenty-three. Several maintained that none under twenty-five or thirty, even though admitted to the Club, should be allowed to use the bagatelle-room, as, independently of the noise younger men made when playing, it had too often happened that youths came to the Club, learned to play at bagatelle, became passionately fond of it, and then got into the habit of playing at public-houses, for money or beer. It was also recommended by most of those present that no person under twenty-one should be admitted, if at all, with out a recommendation, or (as at the Southwark Club) unless two adult members agreed to be answerable for his good behaviour. (This last suggestion carries us back to the renowned institutions of Alfred the Great, and has great virtue in it.) One speaker ably contended that it was really a question of good management, saying that men do not object to the company of well-behaved youths, but quite concurred in the exclusion of the latter from the bagatelle-room until their characters were comparatively formed - say, twenty-five years. In judicious management, wisely blending firmness and kindness, would be found, he thought, the solution of all these and similar difficulties. Most, however, agreed that men would not keep company with the youths; but the representative from Camden Town and St. Bride’s considered that grown men did not object to the company of youths as young as sixteen or eighteen. One speaker urged the great importance of not allowing any member under the age of twenty-five to be on the committee; otherwise, as was the case at one time in the Club he belonged to, the youths might get completely the upper hand, and do great mischief. The representative from Chelsea (Mr. Taylor) said they admitted them at the age of eighteen, provided, as long as they were under twenty, some members of the Committee took them under their special charge. At that Club they had twenty-four on their committee, and four of them took it in turn to be there every night; hence such a thing as disorder and noise was quite unknown among them. He maintained that, unless youths are admitted as young as eighteen, “they go to the bad” before they are admitted to the Club. Many youths who used to play bagatelle at beershops in the neighbourhood of this Club never go there now, but play at the Club instead, and without betting or noise. None, however, are allowed to play twice until all who wish it have a chance of playing once. (This Club, however has since been closed. Some working men of the neighbourhood being asked the reason, said, “it was an excellent thing, but there had been too much patronage and interference.” Of course we cannot say how far this representation was correct. Great pains, we know, were taken to make it both useful and pleasant. We fear the want of separate rooms for youths had much to do with the catastrophe.) The representative of another Club urged that there was no possibility of keeping youths out of the bagatelle-room till they had reached the given age. The great point was to let them amuse themselves as they liked; but to be continually taking opportunities of leading them on to care occasionally for something higher and more improving.
We then dwelt on the original and fundamental idea of a Working Men’s Club - viz., that of a society of grown men for promoting that social intercourse and pleasant fellowship among themselves which the wealthier classes get at each other’s homes, or at their Clubs, but which working men are driven to seek at the public-house. We urged that husbands and fathers of families, men of ripe years and experience, often wished for chat with one another on many subjects of interest, in discussing which they certainly did not desire the company of lads and youths as listeners. Of course, we fully recognized the vast importance of providing a place of resort for the latter, but suggested the various expedients already mentioned; and contended that where youths were admitted indiscriminately to a Club, without any of those precautions, it might be doing a great deal of good in some other way, but it certainly was not answering the purpose for which Working Men’s Clubs were and ought to be established. The Secretary of the Southwark Club (Mr.Symons), in a very able speech, then summed up the discussion. He believed that if Clubs could be formed and maintained such as we had described, to which none should be admitted under the age of twenty-five, they would be a very great success, and would meet an extremely urgent want. Perhaps they might be best supported in large towns if each trade had its own Club. At all events, he much wished to see Clubs that would really belong to, and be used by, grown men exclusively. He strongly confirmed, by various illustrations from his own experience, the statements made as to the absurdity of expecting grown-up men to talk familiarly with one another in the presence of youths. What they said would be sure to be misunderstood, or be repeated, perhaps misrepresented. Very likely it would be all over their workshop the next day, or they would hear of it in their families, perhaps in the streets. In every point of view, it was most unpleasant and objectionable to have lads listening to their talk. For these reasons, he would like to see in every Club at least one room where men could be by themselves. But he could not consent to exclude youths altogether. And in the present state of the movement, and of his own Club in particular, he felt that he would rather labour to save those whose characters were not yet formed - who were under the age of twenty-five - than older men; for he had seen the wonderful good done to these young fellows by admitting them to that Club. He would employ, however, various safeguards. He had got power from the Committee to suspend any member guilty of disorderly conduct until the next Committee meeting, and the youths, knowing he had this power, now behaved much better.
(It was mentioned, by-the-bye, in the course of the evening, that the steward of the Holloway Club had the power en-trusted to him of turning out any offender for the night, but had never had occasion to exercise it -partly, perhaps, because he had the power - partly, no doubt, because of his firm, yet genial, manner with the members.)
Mr. Symons further mentioned that they had passed a rule making youths only “associates” until they attain the age of eighteen, so that they would have no power in managing the Club, or rather mismanaging it, as had formerly been the case. He also suggested that, where there was a great demand for admission on the part of youths, the committee might require them to show a certificate from the secretary that they were in the habit of attending some class or lecture, and of conducting themselves respectably, before giving them a ticket of admission to the bagatelleroom. This, however, would require a great deal of tact and good management, but in some Clubs he thought it would work well. He wished they were as fortunate as the members of the Chelsea Club in having so many staunch and competent members of committee to take it in turn to attend every evening, and so many popular gentlemen to help work the Club and make it both pleasant and useful. They had only one of this class, their president, Mr. Seaward Tayler, to whom they were under the greatest obligations; but he lived a long way off, and of course could not be very often there.
We must confess that we agree in the doubt expressed above as to whether it is desirable to have a bagatelle-board in it; for experience certainly shows that in several instances youths have learned to play at bagatelle in the Club, have acquired a passion for the same, and have afterwards become systematic players for money at a public-house. Even where that has not happened, it must be confessed that there is generally a great deal of noise connected with the game, and disorderly youths are attracted by it, so that the older members are annoyed and repelled; while even though no betting or stakes are allowed by the rules, it sometimes happens that lads and youths play for beer, bet, and then adjourn to the public-house after the game to settle their accounts. Of course, no good is without some attendant evil, and the abuse of a good thing is no argument against its use. But it is by no means clear that bagatelle-playing is so decided a benefit for youths as to counterbalance its dangers. Unquestionably it is of the greatest importance, as was well urged by two highly intelligent and respectable working men at the aforesaid London Secretaries’ Tea-meetings, must form an essential part of their programme. But it is very different providing bagatelle-tables for grown men, whose characters are comparatively formed, and who would only use them, in general, as gentlemen use their billard-tables, for an occasional relaxation, and letting youths give themselves up to the game, night after night, perhaps meanwhile acquiring a taste for betting and gambling. If these youngsters would consent to vary their bagatelle-playing with attendance at classes and lectures, and if a vigilant yet amiable member of the committee, or other official, could guard against betting and rioting among them, the game might be simply a useful and pleasant diversion for them, just as in the drawing-room of a gentleman’s home.
But, further, in all cases we would recommend the plan suggested above of admitting youths, if at all, only as associates, not as full members, until they have reached a specified age, which we should strongly advise to be fixed at twenty-five years. They would thus obtain no power to interfere with the management of the Club, nor exercise the right of voting, until their age (and, perhaps, previous satisfactory connexion with the Club as associates) gave some guarantee that they would exercise the privileges of full membership judiciously. In all such cases it would be well to require -as is now done in some Clubs, when youths under twenty-one apply for admission - that they should bring a recommendation from two or three of the older members. Obtaining full membership would then be looked forward to as an object of honourable ambition, and would be viewed, perhaps, with something of the old Roman satisfaction felt in putting on the toga virilis.
No doubt there are strong reasons for leaving the managing committee some power to admit, in one way or another, youths under twenty-five, or even younger. A father may wish to join a Club chiefly for the sake of encouraging his sons to attend it; and his presence there, or their own characters, testified to by himself and some other members of the Club, may be sufficient guarantee that they will conduct themselves quietly, and not annoy the older members. And when youths can be brought into a Club without annoying older men, and without learning bad practices there is not only a great gain to themselves, but ultimately to the Club, of which they will probably, in time, become staunch and valuable members. Some young men under twenty-five or even under twenty-one, may be much steadier and pleasanter company for grown-up men than those of older growth. But, equally of course, these cases are exceptional, and we cannot legislate for exceptions. Probably the best solution of the difficulty will be found in the practice of election by ballot recommended elsewhere.
Lastly, on the principle of dealing with facts as we find them, we must not, however, ignore the hapless condition of many existing Clubs, which before they knew the deadly nature of the mistake, admitted these youthful, innocent-looking allies into the heart of the citadel. Now, the managers of those youth-oppressed Clubs, round which treacherous and deceitful juveniles are clinging, like drowning victims to their would-be preservers, may fairly turn to us and say: “This is all very fine, if we had only known it a year or two ago, and had then adopted the precaution you suggest; but now two-thirds or three-fourths of our members are under twenty-five. They have driven away all the older men, except those who are content with the quiet reading-room, and lectures, or entertainments. We cannot afford to send them packing, or we could not pay our rent, and should not have thirty members left.” Now in answer we might say that, if they cannot have those separate chat and game rooms above proposed; and that, if the Club was really established for men, and not for youths, the sooner they left off perverting it from its legitimate purpose the better; that, moreover, as soon as it became known in the neighbourhood that the youths had really been bowed out, the men would gradually return. But there is a middle course in such a case, viz., that adopted at Heywood, and which, in many cases, might be a far better one than making a clean sweep of more than two-thirds of the members of a Club. It secures one room, at all events, in which grown men can always secure from the presence of lads, where they can have their chat and their pipe in peace, and talk without constraint. This, after all, is the thing of most importance; and if the older men want to use the bagatelle-board, and cannot afford to have two, they must form their own party and take their turn. At one of the London Clubs they have the great advantage of having a separate entrance and staircase for the youths, as well as separate rooms; which, in fact, affords the material conditions for a Youths’ Institute in connexion with a Working Men’s Club. Nothing better than an arrangement of this sort could be desired, if it be strictly carried out.
Arthur Sweatman, Working Men’s Clubs and Institutes (Henry Solly) 1867