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Tuesday, October 30, 1849
The scenes witnessed at the London Docks were of so painful a
description - the struggle for one day's work - the scramble for 24 hours' extra
subsistence and extra life were of so tragic a character - that I was anxious to
ascertain, if possible, the exact number of individuals in and around the
metropolis who live by dock labour. At one of the docks alone I found that 1,823
stomachs would be deprived of food by the mere chopping of the breeze.
"It's an ill wind," says the proverb, "that blows nobody any
good;" and until I came to investigate the condition of the dock labourer,
I could not have believed it possible that near upon two thousand souls, in one
place alone, lived, chameleon-like, upon the air; or that an easterly wind,
despite the wise saw, could deprive so many of bread. It is indeed
"a nipping and an eager air." That the sustenance of thousands of
families should be as fickle as the very breeze itself; that the weathercock
should be the index of daily want or daily ease to such a vast number of men,
women and children, was a climax of misery and wretchedness that I could not
have imagined to exist; and since then I have witnessed such scenes of squalor,
and crime, and suffering, as oppress the mind even to a feeling of awe.
The docks of London are, to the superficial observer, the very focus of metropolitan wealth. The cranes creak with the mass of riches. In the warehouses are stored goods that are, as it were, ingots of untold gold. Above and below ground you see piles upon piles of treasure that the eye cannot compass. The wealth appears as boundless as the very sea it has traversed. The brain aches in an attempt to comprehend the amount of riches before, above, and beneath it. There are acres upon acres of treasure - more than enough, one would fancy, to stay the cravings of the whole world; and yet you have but to visit the hovels grouped round about all this amazing excess of riches, to witness the same amazing excess of poverty. If the incomprehensibility of the wealth rises to sublimity, assuredly the want that co-exists with it is equally incomprehensible and equally sublime. Pass from the quay and warehouses to the courts and alleys that surround them, and the mind is as bewildered with the destitution of the one place, as it is with the superabundance of the other. Many come to see the riches, but few the poverty abounding in absolute masses round the far-famed port of London.
According to the official returns, there belonged to this port, on the 31st of December, 1842, very nearly 3,000 ships, of the aggregate burden of 600,000 tons. Besides these there were 239 steamers of 50,000 tons burden; and the crews of the entire number of ships and steamers amounted to above 35,000 men and boys. The number of British and foreign ships that entered the port of London during the same year was 6,400 and odd, whose capacity was upwards of a million and a quarter of tons; and the gross amount of Customs duty collected upon their cargoes was very nearly £12,000,000 of money. So vast an amount of shipping and commerce, it has been truly said, was never concentrated in any other single port.
Now, against this, we must set the amount of misery that coexists with it. We have shown that the mass of men dependent for their bread upon the business of only one of the docks, are by the shifting of the breeze occasionally deprived in one day of no less than £220 the labourers at the London Docks earning, as a body, near upon £400 today, and tomorrow scarcely £150. These docks, however, are but one of six similar establishments three being on the north and three on the south side of the Thames - and all employing a greater or less number of "hands," equally dependent upon the winds for their subsistence. Deducting, then, the highest from the lowest number of labourers engaged at the London Docks - the extremes according to the books are under 500 and over 3,000 - we have as many as 2,500 individuals deprived of a day's work and a living by the prevalence of an easterly wind; and calculating that the same effect takes place at the other docks - the East and West India, for instance, St. Katharine's, Commercial, Grand Surrey, and East Country, to a greater or less extent, and that the hands employed to load and unload the vessels entering and quitting all these places are only four times more than those required at the London Docks, we have as many as 12,000 individuals, or families, whose daily bread is as fickle as the wind itself - whose wages, in fact, are one day collectively as much as £1,500, and the next as low as £500; so that 8,000 men are frequently thrown out of employ, while the earnings of the class today amount to £1,000 less than they did yesterday.
It would be curious to take the average number of days that easterly winds prevail in London throughout the year, and so arrive at an estimate of the exact time that the above 8,000 men are unemployed in the course of 12 months. This would give us some idea of the amount of their average weekly earnings. By the labourers themselves I am assured that, taking one week with another, they do not gain 5s. weekly throughout the year. I have made a point of visiting and interrogating a large number of them, in order to obtain some definite information respecting the extent of their income, and have found in only one instance an account kept of the individual earnings. In that case the wages averaged within a fraction of 13 shillings per week - the total sum gained since the beginning of the year being £25 odd. I should state, however, that the man earning thus much was pointed out to me as one of the most provident of the casual labourers, and one, moreover, who was generally employed. "If it is possible to get work, he'll have it," was the description given to me of his character - "there's not a lazy bone in his skin." Besides this, he had done a considerable quantity of piece-work; so that altogether the man's earnings might be taken as the very extreme made by the best kind of extra "hands." The account was written in pencil, on the cover of an old memorandum book, and ran as follows: -
|£ s d|
|Earned by day work from 1st January to 1st August, 1849, averaging 11s. l0d. per week||16 11 6|
|By piece-work in August, averaging 1l. 6s.5d. per week||5 5 8|
|By day work from 1st September to 1st October, averaging17s.1¾d. per week||3 8 7|
|Total, averaging l2s. hid, per week||25 5 9|
The man himself gives the following
explanation as to the state of the labour-market at the London Docks: "He
has had a good turn of work," he says, "since he has been there. Some don't
get half what he does. He's not always employed, excepting when the business
is in any way brisk, but when a kind of 'slack' comes, the recommended men get
the preference of the work, and the 'extras' have nothing to do. This is the
best summer he has had since he has been in London. Has had a good bit of
piece-work. Obliged to live as he does, because he can't depend on work. isn't
certain of the second day's labour. He's paid off every night, and can't say
whether or not they'll want him on the morrow.
If, then, 13s. be the average amount of weekly earnings by the most provident, industrious, and fortunate of the casual labourers at the docks - and that at the best season - it may be safely asserted that the lowest grade of workmen there do not gain more than 5s. per week throughout the year. It should be remembered that the man himself says "some don't get half what he does" - and, from a multiplicity of inquiries that I have made upon the subject, this appears to be about the truth. Moreover, we should bear in mind that the average weekly wages of the dock labourer, miserable as they are, are rendered even more wretched by the uncertain character of the work upon which they depend. Were the income of the casual labourer at the dock, five shillings per week from one year's end to another, the workman would know exactly how much he had to subsist upon, and might therefore be expected to display some little providence and temperance in the expenditure of his wages. But where the means of subsistence occasionally rise to 15 shillings a week, and occasionally sink to nothing, it is absurd to look for prudence, economy, or moderation. Regularity of habits are incompatible with irregularity of income - indeed, the very conditions necessary for the formation of any habit whatsoever are, that the act or thing to which we are to become habituated should be repeated at frequent and regular intervals. It is a moral impossibility that the class of labourers who are only occasionally employed should be either generally industrious or temperate; both industry and temperance being habits produced by constancy of employment and uniformity of income. Hence, where the greatest fluctuation occurs in the labour, there of course will be the greatest idleness and improvidence; where the greatest want generally is, there we shall find the greatest occasional excess; where, from the uncertainty of the occupation, prudence is most needed, there, strange to say, we shall meet with the highest imprudence of all! "Previous to the formation of a canal in the north of Ireland," says Mr. Porter, in the Progress of the Nation, "the men were improvident even to recklessness. Such work as they got before came at uncertain intervals; the wages, insufficient for the comfortable sustenance of their families, were wasted at the whisky-shop, and the men appeared to be sunk in a state of hopeless degradation. From the moment, however, that work was offered to them which was constant in its nature and certain in its duration, men who before had been idle and dissolute were converted into sober, hard-working labourers, and proved themselves kind and careful husbands and fathers; and it is said that, notwithstanding the distribution of several hundred pounds weekly in wages, the whole of which must be considered as so much additional money placed in their hands, the consumption of whisky was absolutely and permanently diminished in the district.
Indeed, it is a fact worthy of notice, as illustrative of the tendency of the times of pressure, and consequently of deficient and uncertain employment, to increase spirit drinking, that whilst in the year 1836- a year of the greatest prosperity - the tax on British spirits amounted only to £2,390,000; yet, under the privations of 1841, the English poorer classes paid no less than £2,600,000 in taxes upon the liquor they consumed - thus spending upwards of £200,000 more in drink at a time when they were less able to afford it, and so proving that a fluctuation in the income of the working classes is almost invariably attended with an excess of improvidence in the expenditure. Moreover, with reference to the dock labourers, we have been informed, upon unquestionable authority, that some years back there were near upon 220 ships waiting to be discharged in one dock alone; and such was the pressure of business then, that it became necessary to obtain leave of her Majesty's Customs to increase the usual time of daily labour from eight to 12 hours. The men employed, therefore, earned 50 per cent. more than they were in the habit of doing at the briskest times; but so far from the extra amount of wages being devoted to increase the comforts of their homes, it was principally spent in public-houses. The riot and confusion thus created in the neighbourhood were such as had never been known before, and indeed were so general among the workmen, that every respectable person in the immediate vicinity expressed a hope that such a thing as "overtime would never occur again.
It may, then, be safely asserted that, though the wages of the casual labourer at the docks average 5s. per week, still the weekly earnings are of so precarious and variable a nature, that, when the time of the men is fully employed, the money which is gained over and above the amount absolutely required for subsistence is almost sure to be spent in intemperance; and that, when there is little or no demand for their work, and their gains are consequently insufficient for the satisfaction of their appetites, they, and those who depend upon their labour for their food, must at least want - if not starve. The improvidence of the casual dock labourer is due, therefore, not to any particular malformation of his moral constitution, but to the precarious character of his calling. His vices are the vices of ordinary human nature. Ninety-nine in every hundred similarly circumstanced would commit similar enormities. If the very winds could whistle away the food and firing of wife and children, I doubt much whether, after a week or a month's privation, we should many of us be able to prevent ourselves from falling into the very same excesses. It is consoling to moralize in our easy chairs, after a good dinner, and to assure ourselves that we should do differently. Self-denial is not very difficult when our stomachs are full and our backs are warm; but let us live a month of hunger and cold, and assuredly we should be as self-indulgent as they.
Since my last letter I have devoted my time to the investigation of the state of the casual labourers at the other docks, and shall now proceed to set forth the result of my inquiries. The West India Docks are about a mile and a half from the London Docks. The entire ground that they cover is 295 acres, so that they are nearly three times larger than the London Docks, and more than 12 times more extensive than those of St. Katharine. Hence they are the most capacious of all the great warehousing establishments in the port of London. The Export Dock is about 870 yards, or very nearly half a mile in length by 135 yards in width, its area, therefore, is about 25 acres. The Import Dock is the same length as the Export Dock, and 166 yards wide. The South Dock, which is appropriated both to import and export vessels, is 1,183 yards, or upwards of two-thirds of a mile long, with an entrance to the river at each end; both the locks, as well as that into the Blackwall Basin, being 45 feet wide, and large enough to admit ships of 1,200 tons burden. The warehouses for imported goods are on the four quays of the Import Dock. They are well contrived and of great extent, being calculated to contain 180,000 tons of merchandise; and there has been at one time on the quays and in the sheds, vaults, and warehouses, colonial produce worth £20,000,000 sterling.
The East India Docks are likewise the property of the West India Dock Company, having been purchased by them of the East India Company at the time of the opening of the trade to India. The Import Dock here has an area of 18 acres, and the Export Dock about nine acres. The depth of water in these docks is greater, and they can consequently accommodate ships of greater burden, than any other establishment on the river. The capital of both establishments, or of the united company, amounts to upwards of two millions of money. The West India Import Dock can accommodate 300 ships, and the Export Dock 200 ships, of 300 tons each; and the East India Import Dock 84 ships, and the Export Dock 40 ships, of 800 tons each. The number of ships that entered the West India Dock to load and unload last year was 3,008, and the number that entered the East India Dock 298.
I owe the above information, as well as that which follows, to the kindness of the secretary and superintendent of the docks in question. To the politeness and intelligence of the latter gentleman I am specially indebted. Indeed, his readiness to afford me all the assistance that lay in his power, as well as his courtesy and gentlemanly demeanour, formed a marked contrast to that of the deputy superintendent of the London Docks - the one appearing as anxious for the welfare and comfort of the labouring men as the other seemed indifferent to it. The transition from the London to the West India Docks is of a very peculiar character. The labourers at the latter place seem to be more civilized. The scrambling and scuffling for the day's hire, which is the striking feature of the one establishment, is scarcely distinguishable at the other. It is true there is the same crowd of labourers in quest of a day's work, but the struggle to obtain it is neither so fierce nor so disorderly in its character. And yet here the casual labourers are men from whom no character is demanded as well as there. The amount of wages for the summer months is the same as at the London Docks. Unlike the London Docks, however, no reduction is made at the East and West India Docks during the winter.
The labour is as precarious at the one establishment as at the other. The greatest number of hands employed for any one day at the East and West India Docks, in the course of last year, was nearly 4,000, and the smallest number about 1,300. The lowest number of ships that entered the docks during any one week in the present year was 28, and the highest number, 209; being a difference of 181 vessels, of an average burden of 300 tons each. The positive amount of variation, however, which occurred in the labour during the briskest and slackest weeks of last year, was a difference of upwards of 2,500 in the number of extra workmen employed, and of about £2,000 in the amount of wages paid for the six days' labour. I have been favoured with a return of the number of vessels that entered the East and West India Docks for each week of the present year, and I subjoin a statement of the number arriving in each of the first 14 of those weeks. In the first week of all there were 86, the second 47, the third 43, the fourth 48, the fifth 28, the sixth 49, the seventh 46, the eighth 37, the ninth 42, the tenth 47, the eleventh 42, the twelfth 131, the thirteenth 209, and the fourteenth 85. Hence it appears that in the second week the number of ships coming into dock decreased nearly one-half; in the fifth week they were again diminished in a like proportion, while in the sixth week they were increased in a similar ratio; in the twelfth week they were more than three times what they were in the eleventh; in the thirteenth the number was half as much again as it was in the twelfth; and in the fourteenth it was down below half the number of the thirteenth; so that it is clear that the subsistence derived from dock labour must be of the most fickle and doubtful kind.
Nor are the returns from St. Katharine Docks of a more cheerful character. Here, it should be observed, that no labourer is employed without a previous recommendation; and indeed it is curious to notice the difference in the appearance of the men applying for work at this establishment. They not only have a more decent look, but they seem to be better behaved than any other dock labourers I have yet seen. The "ticket" system here adopted - that is to say, the plan of allowing only such persons to labour within the docks as have been satisfactorily recommended to the company, and furnished with a ticket by them in return - this ticket system, says the statement which has been kindly drawn up expressly for me by the superintendent of the docks, "may be worth notice at a time when such efforts are making to improve the condition of the labourers. It gives an identity and locus standi to the men which casual labourers cannot otherwise possess; it connects them with the various grades of officers under whose eyes they labour, prevents favouritism, and leads to their qualifications and conduct being noted and recorded. It also holds before them a reward for intelligence, activity, and good conduct, because the vacancies in the list of preferable' labourers which occur during the year are invariably filled in the succeeding January by selecting, upon strict inquiry, the best of the extra' ticket labourers - the vacancies among the permanent men being supplied in like manner from the list of 'preferable' labourers, while from the permanent men are appointed the subordinate officers, as markers, samplers," etc.
Let us, however, before entering into a description of the class and number of labourers employed at St. Katharine's, give a brief description of the docks themselves. The lofty walls which constitute it, in the language of the Custom-house, a place of "special security, enclose an area of 23 acres, of which 11 are water, capable of accommodating 120 ships, besides barges and other craft. Cargoes are raised into the warehouses out of the hold of a ship without the goods being deposited on the quay. The cargoes can be raised from the ship's hold into the warehouses of St. Katharine's in one-fifth of the usual time. Before the existence of docks, a month or six weeks was taken up in discharging the cargo of an East India-man of from 800 to 1,200 tons burden; while eight days were necessary in the summer and 14 in the winter to unload a ship of 350 tons. At St. Katharine's, however, the average time now occupied in discharging a ship of 250 tons is 12 hours, and one of 500 tons two or three days, the goods being placed at the same time in the warehouse; there have been occasions when even greater despatch has been used, and a cargo of 1,100 casks of tallow, averaging from nine to 10 hundredweight each, has been discharged in seven hours. This would have been considered little short of a miracle on the legal quays less than 50 years ago. In 1841 about 1,000 vessels and 10,000 lighters were accommodated at St. Katharine's Docks. The capital expended by the dock company exceeds two millions of money.
The business of this establishment is carried on by 35 officers, 105 clerks and apprentices, 135 markers, samplers, and foremen, 250 permanent labourers, 150 preferable ticket labourers, and a number of extra ticket labourers, proportioned to the amount of work to be done. The average number of labourers employed, "permanent," "preferable," and "extras," is 1,096; the highest number employed on any one day last year was 1,713, and the lowest number 515, so that the extreme fluctuation in the labour appears to be very nearly 1,200 hands. The lowest sum of money, therefore, that was paid in 1848 for the day's work of the entire body of labourers employed was £64 7s. 6d., and the highest sum £214 2s. 6d., being a difference of very nearly £150 in one day, or £900 in the course of the week. The average number of ships that enter the docks every week is 17; the highest number that entered in any one week last year was 36, and the lowest five, being a difference of 31. Assuming these to have been of an average burden of 300 tons, and that every such vessel would require 100 labourers to discharge its cargo in three days, then 1,500 extra hands ought to have been engaged to discharge the cargoes of the entire number in a week. This, it will be observed, is very nearly equal to the highest number of labourers employed by the company in the year 1848.
The remaining docks are the Commercial Docks and timber ponds, the Grand Surrey Canal Dock at Rotherhithe, and the East Country Dock. The Commercial Docks occupy an area of about 49 acres, of which four-fifths are water. There is accommodation for 350 ships, and in the warehouses for 50,000 tons of merchandise. They are appropriated to vessels engaged in the European timber and corn trades and the surrounding warehouses are used chiefly as granaries - the timber remaining afloat in the dock until it is conveyed to the yards of the wholesale dealer and builder. The Surrey Dock is merely an entrance basin to a canal, and can accommodate 300 vessels. The East Country Dock, which adjoins the Commercial Docks on the south, is capable of receiving 28 timber ships. It has an area of ½+ acres, and warehouse room for 3,700 tons.
In addition to these, there is the Regent's canal Dock, between Shadwell and Limehouse, and though it is a place for bonding timber and deals only, it nevertheless affords great accommodation to the trade of the port by withdrawing chipping from the river.
The number of labourers, casual and permanent, employed at these various establishments is so limited, that, taken altogether, the fluctuations occurring at their briskest and slackest periods may be reckoned as equal to that of St. Katharine's. Hence the account of the variation in the total number of hands employed, and the sum of money paid as wages to them by the different dock companies, when the business is brisk or slack, may be stated as follows: -
At the London Docks the difference between the greatest and smallest number
is ... ... 2,000 hands.
At the East and West India Docks ... 2,500
At the St. Katharine Docks ... ... 1,200
At the remaining docks (say) ... ... 1,300
Total number of dock-labourers thrown out of employ by the prevalence of easterly winds ... 7.000
difference between the highest and lowest amount of wages paid at the
London Docks is ... ... £1500
At the East and West India Docks ... ... 1,875
At the St. Katharine Docks ... ... 900
At the remaining docks ... ... 975
From the above statement, then, it appears that by the
prevalence of an easterly wind, no less than 7,000 out of the aggregate number
of persons living by dock labour may be deprived of their regular income, and
the entire body may have as much as £5,250 a week abstracted from the
amount of their collective earnings at a period of active employment. But the
number of individuals who depend upon the quantity of shipping entering the port
of London for their daily subsistence is far beyond this amount. Indeed, we are
assured by a gentleman filling a high situation in St. Katharine's Docks, and
who from his sympathy with the labouring poor has evidently given no slight
attention to the subject, that, taking into consideration the number of wharf
labourers, dock labourers, lightermen, riggers and lumpers, shipwrights,
caulkers, ship carpenters, anchor smiths, corn porters, fruit and coal meters,
and indeed all the multifarious arts and callings connected with
shipping, there are no less than from 25,000 to 30,000 individuals who are
thrown wholly out of employ by a long continuance of easterly winds. Estimating,
then, the gains of this large body of individuals at 2s. 6d. per day, or 15s.
per week, when fully employed, we shall find that the loss to those who depend
upon the London shipping for their subsistence amounts to £20,000 per week; and
considering that such winds are often known to prevail from a fortnight to three
weeks at a time, it follows that the entire loss to this large class will amount
to from £40,000 to £60,000 within a month; an amount of privation to the
labouring poor which it is positively awful to contemplate. Nor is this the only
evil connected with an enduring easterly wind. Directly a change takes place, a
"glut" of vessels enters the metropolitan port, and labourers flock from all
quarters, indeed they pour from every part where the workmen exist in a greater
quantity than the work. From 500 to 800 vessels frequently arrive at one time in
London, after the duration of a contrary wind; and then, such is the demand for
workmen, and so great the press of business, owing to the rivalry among
merchants, and the desire of each owner to have his cargo the first in the
market, that a sufficient number of hands is scarcely to be found. Hundreds of
extra labourers, who can find labour nowhere else, are thus led to seek work in
the docks. But, to use the words of our informant, two or three weeks are
sufficient to break the neck of an ordinary glut, and then the vast amount of
extra hands that the excess of business has brought to the neighbourhood are
thrown out of employment, and left to increase either the vagabondism of the
neighbourhood, or to swell the number of paupers and heighten the rates of the
This may in some measure account not only for the poverty and wretchedness of the people located in the many courts and alleys round about the docks, but it seems also to afford a ready explanation as to the amount of crime to be found there. As we said before, uncertain employment destroys all habits of prudence; and where there is no prudence, the present affluence cannot be made to provide for the future want. Since it is the very necessity of those who depend upon their daily work for their daily food, that if such work is not to be obtained, they must be either paupers, beggars, or thieves, it cannot be wondered at that the great majority of the population round about the port of London, where work is of such a precarious nature, should consist principally of these three classes. That such was the fact we had been assured by those whose long residence in the neighbourhood had made them acquainted with the condition of the lower classes abounding in the purlieus of Rosemary-lane and the Minories. A few days ago I made an attempt to fathom the secrets of one of the low lodging-houses in the neighbourhood; and though I had proof demonstrative that the endeavour was attended with considerable personal risk, still I was determined to compass my end, so as to be able to give the public some idea of the misery and crime that infested that part of the town.
Entrusting myself to an experienced guide, I was led to one of the most frequented and cheapest lodging-houses in the neighbourhood. It was a large-sized out-house, about the size of a small barn, and about as rudely put together. The walls were unplastered, and the tiles above barely served to cover it in. In the wet weather we were told it leaked like a sieve. Around the room ran a long dirty table, at which sat some score of ragged, greasy wretches. The others were huddled round the fire. Some were toasting herrings, others drying ends of cigars for tobacco, and others boiling potatoes in coffee-pots. I soon communicated to them the object of my visit; and having inquired how many of them out of those then present worked at the docks, I found them ready to answer my questions in a more courteous manner than I had expected. There were 29 people in the shed, and about a fourth were occasional dock labourers. "I worked at the docks half a day this afternoon," said one, "and all yesterday, and half a day on Monday - three days last week, and never above two or three days in the week these last nine weeks." This one appeared to have been about the most successful of the number; and when I asked the rest what they did when they were wholly unemployed, the answer was, they were forced to walk the streets all night, and starve. "There are plenty of us," said another, "who have to walk the streets of a night, though the 'bunks' (beds) are only two-pence here, and there's no other crib so cheap anywhere near." I asked those who spoke of having walked the streets all night till daylight what they had done for food? "I've been two days," cried one, "without taste or sup;" and one in the corner, with his head down, and his chin resting on his chest, cried, "I've been three days without food - haven't had a bit in the world." "Ah! it's plaguy hard times, in the winter time with us, that it is," said a youth who could not have been more than 17.
"Average it all the year round," cried a tall fellow in a canvas-smock, "I've worked 11 years in the dock as an extra, and it don't give more than 5s. in the week. Why, we're very often three or four weeks and earn nothing in the winter time." "But you must get something," I said. "Yes, we goes about jobbing, doing things down at Billingsgate. We gets a twopenny and a three-halfpenny job very often. If we don't get that, we have to go without anything for lodging, and walk and starve." "I'll have to do that tonight, sir," cried the man at the corner of the room, who still sat with his chin on his chest - "I'll have to walk the streets all night." "Yes," said a second, "and there's another besides him that'll be obligated to walk the streets. The Refuge isn't open yet." I asked them what they usually had to eat. One had had "taters and herrings and a pound of bread." Another, "a pound of bread and a farthing's worth of coffee." "I've had two or three hard crusts," cried the man again who sat alone at the end of the room. "That's about the living we all has," I was told. "When we go without food all day," they said, "it's generally the depth of winter, wet weather, or something like that. We give those that want a bit of ours, whatever it may be. We gather all round for him if we can."
I asked them how much money they had got. "I've got 4d.," cried one. "I've got 1s. 3d., cried another. "I've got just enough for me bed." "I've got three-halfpence. " "I've got ld." "I haven't one halfpenny," said the man at the end of the room. "No more have I," cried a second. "There's another one here hasn't got one," exclaimed a third. "Ah, if you was to come a here tomorrow night, you'd find half of us had not got any - full half."
At this moment a boy about 13 years of age, in rags and tatters, with his hands full of halfpence, entered the room. There was a cunning about his expression that half told his calling. "What's he been at?" said our guide, "spouting a fogle,' think you? At this there was a loud laugh all through the company. "He's been on the monkey, sir." I requested an explanation, and was informed that he had been begging. The boy had retired to the further corner of the apartment and was busy changing his clothes. "Do you see, sir," said one of the company, "he's going to call at the same houses over again - he's changing his dress ready for it." "I'll lend you my cap, Jim," said a lad to the young but experienced mendicant. I asked them whether they all usually slept there of a night. "Bless you," was the answer, "I've known many here six months without sleeping in a bed. One of the youths saw me writing, and cried as he laughed, "Ah, they'll make a good play of this here, and have it out at the Standard. ""I've been for the whole winter round, said a beardless young man, " and never slept in a bed at a stretch. I laid for three solid months on Billingsgate stones. Some here lives by begging, but I don't; there's two in the place now. The boy who had entered with the halfpence here approached me, and, looking up impudently in my face, cried, "I lives by cadging master, and that's the plain truth. I get sometimes 4d.; had two sixpenny jobs today, carrying gentlemen's parcels." I wished to know something more definite about their living. I asked one what he was boiling; he told me that it was a farthing's worth of coffee, and that was his supper. "There's a shop round here makes farthing's worths of everything," said they. "A farthing's worth of sugar, a farthing's worth of coffee, butter, and bacca. A halfpenny worth of bread - a farthing's worth of that ain't no good."
I then inquired as to the state of their clothing. "I've got a clean shirt to put on tomorrow morning, and that's the first I've had these eight months," cried the first. "I've got no shirt at all," said another. "I've none," said a third; "and the man down there ain't got none, I know;" he spoke of the same man at the far end of the room.
Next I sought to find out how many among the number had been confined in prison. "I've been in quod, sir, I have," cried one. "I've been in," too, shouted a second. And finding the answers to come too quickly for me to take down, I requested those who had been inmates of a gaol to hold up their hands. They did so, and I counted 18 out of the 29 who were my companions. "Ah, there's quite that," said the best-looking man of the party; "if the whole 29 of us was down, it would not be too much, I'm sure." The young beggar-boy here advanced again to me, and with a knowing wink, cried, "I can't tell how many times I've been in - oh! it's above counting. I'm sure it's above a dozen times."
I wished to see the size of the farthing's worth of coffee and sugar that they had spoken of as constituting their meals, and I spoke to the gentleman who had brought me to the place as to the possibility of getting a sample of the quantity. He directed me to give one of the boys a shilling, saying the lad would fetch what I wanted. Seeing that I hesitated doing as be requested, he took one from his purse, and giving it to a lad of the name of Dan, whose physiognomy was not of the most prepossessing description, he told him to go for what I wished. The boy quitted the room, and I must confess I never expected to see him enter it again.
I now asked the lodgers the reason why they preferred theft to work. "We don't," was the answer; "its precious hard work having to walk the street, I can tell you; but we can't get nothing to do." "Look at me," cried one standing up. The man was literally a mass of rags and filth. His tattered clothes and shirt were black and shiny as a sailor's dreadnought with grease and dirt. "Look at me; who'd give me a day's work in the state I am! Why, the best job I've had I only got 3d. by, and I don't make above 2s. 6d. a week honestly at the outside. We couldn't live on what we get, and yet we can live on a precious little here. Get a meal for five farthings. A farthing's worth of coffee, a farthing's worth of sugar, and half a pound of bread, three farthings. We can have a slap-up dinner for two-pence; a common one for a penny." "Oh, yes, a regular roarer for two-pence! " cried the beggar boy. "Three halfpenny-worth of pudding, and a halfpenny-worth of gravy." "Or else we can have," said another, "2½ lb. of taturs - that's a penny - and ½ lb. fourpenny bacon - that's another penny. That's what we calls a first-rate dinner. Very often we're forced to put up with a penn'orth of taturs and a halfpenny herring - that's a three- halfpenny dinner. There's a chap here was forced to do today with a ha'p'orth of taturs. He's been out ever since, and perhaps won't come in at all tonight. He'll walk the streets and starve."
At this point the boy came back with the farthing's worth of coffee and sugar, and to my utter astonishment produced the 1l½d. of change. He was without shirt to his back or shoe to his foot, and when I asked him whether he had ever been in prison, he told me he had been "quodded" three times for vagrancy, and once on suspicion of highway robbery! I expressed my surprise at the honesty of the young thief. "Why, there's not a chap among them that wouldn't have done the same thing," said my companion, who knew their characters well; "they would all have done the same, except that one smoking there," pointing to an ill-looking lad in a Scotch cap. "When you gave me the shilling," cried Dan, "he followed me into the yard, and told me to hook it.
I whispered with my companion as to whether it were possible to take the poor shoeless boy, who had resisted this double temptation, from the wretched and demoralizing associations of the place, and make an honest man of him. "No," was his answer; "he is hopeless. This is the chivalry of these people. Make friends of them, and they will scarcely ever deceive you. They may be trusted with pounds by those whom they know; but as for industry or getting an honest living, it's out of the question. I have known a few in my time that have been reclaimed, but they are the exceptions, and certainly not the rule."
Their habits could not be attributed to ignorance, for I found that 18 out of the 29 could read and write; nor could their propensities be said to be due to the influence of early associations, for, on inquiring as to their parentage, one told me that his father kept about 40 or 50 horses. "My father was a schoolmaster," said a second. "And mine a dyer," said a third. "My father was a hatter," cried a fourth. Observing that the individuals were mostly youths, I wished to know how many were under 21; and on inquiry I found that 15 out of the 29 were below that age, nine were under 19, five under 17, and three under 15.
The remainder of the scene I must reserve for my next letter. Suffice it, before my departure I went to inspect the "bunks," as the beds are called, for which they are charged 2d. per night. The dormitory was at first appearance exactly similar to a small dissenting chapel, the divisions between the beds standing up like the partitions between the pews. On inspection, however, I found they were much closer, the partitions being only 22 inches apart. So close, indeed, were the bunks together, that 120 of them were stowed into a place about double the size of a four-stall stable. At the bottom of each of these was spread a leather, and as I walked round the place I saw many shirtless men stretched there like corpses, in a bed as narrow as a coffin, with another leather to cover. The stench of the room was overpowering, and I hurried from the place, indeed, a wiser and a sadder man.