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Friday, March 29, 1850
It seems almost incredible that the Reports of an institution
which, like the London Ragged School Union, professedly attempts to deal with
the "destitute and depraved" children of the metropolis, should give
us no means of testing, year by year, the efficacy of their several
establishments. One would naturally expect to find an annual record kept of the
number of London criminals under 20 years of age - and the utility of the
schools proved by the decrease of the juvenile offenders being shown to be in
proportion to the extension of the means taken for their reformation. Or - if
the facts recorded in the Criminal Returns of the Metropolitan Police did not
admit of this being done - one would imagine that some notice would be
taken of the continued increase of the youthful offenders, and an attempt made
to account for it. The five Annual Reports which have as yet been printed,
contain, however, no information upon the subject of the amount of juvenile
crime in the different districts of London. It is true we are told, quite
cursorily, in a note (1st Report, p. 18) - that "no less than 45 of the
children who attended one Ragged School are now transported." In the
second Report, page 29, we are further informed that 27 of the boys attending
the Jurston-street School had been in prison; while in the fourth Report, page
10, it is stated again in a footnote, that 16 of the lads attending the Old Pye-street
School were "known thieves." The sole allusion that I have been able
to detect as to the omission of all statistical facts upon this most important
and essential point, is at page 9 of the same Report. "It is clearly
proved, says the annual statement for 1848, "that in addition to the good
done (by the Ragged Schools) to the children and parents as individuals, the
public are benefited by improved neighbourhoods and diminution of crime."
(The Metropolitan Returns of that year exhibited an alarming increase of
offenders). "It is difficult in a place like London to show this - the
operations being so extended and the population so vast, though even here the
police invariably give their testimony in favour of Ragged Schools."
(The reader is referred to the statements of no less than four of the most
experienced police officers given in this letter.)
In the hope of obtaining some more satisfactory and particular account from the secretary of the London Ragged School Union concerning the working and influence of these institutions, I addressed the following letter to that gentleman:-
"Morning Chronicle Office, March 27, 1850.
"Sir - I am particularly anxious to know whether the Ragged
School Union' keeps any account of the number of Ragged Scholars' who have been
taken into custody or imprisoned, as well as those who have been transported for
felony, in the course of the year.
"In the first annual report there is a statement - and that in a foot-note, by the way, as if the information was of minor importance - that as many as forty-five of the boys attending one Ragged School had been transported. In the succeeding reports I have not as yet been able to detect any returns of a similar nature.
"Will you, therefore, oblige me by stating whether you receive any such returns annually, or whether any statistics of this character are kept by the masters of the different Schools throughout London? If you have any such returns, or can put me in the way of procuring them from other parties, I shall be most happy to print them, as I consider them most essential for exhibiting the influence of the Schools and do not wish to assert positively that no facts are given in connection with this point, in the annual reports of the union, until I have heard from you upon the matter.
"Have you also any returns concerning the number of juvenile offenders in the metropolis, year by year, since the institution of the Ragged Schools?
"If, moreover, you have any evidence as to the beneficial tendency of the education received at these institutions, I shall be most happy to make use of it, for I can assure you my object is simply to come at the truth upon this most important question.
"I am, sir, your obedient servant,
"THE METROPOLITAN CORRESPONDENT OF THE MORNING CHRONICLE."
The answer returned was, that the Society
kept no such records as I desired to be furnished with, nor was any evidence as
to the beneficial effects of the institution proffered.
Through the courtesy of the Commissioners of Police, I have obtained a return of the number of the juvenile and adult offenders apprehended in the B, or Westminster division for a series of years. The commissioners have, moreover, in the most kind and considerate manner, given instructions to the superintendents of the other divisions throughout the metropolis to prepare similar returns for me, so that I maybe able to test the influence of the London Ragged Schools upon the different districts. Of this most valuable information 1 purpose availing myself when I come to treat of the habits, haunts, and character of the London Criminals in general - adult as well as juvenile, which I purpose doing at the earliest opportunity -and when, through the kindness of Inspector Walker, of the statistical department of the police, to whose intelligence and experience I already stand indebted for many similar favours, I shall be enabled to avail myself of many most valuable and novel facts in connection with the Crime of the Metropolis.
It is but right I should add, that the evidence given in my last letter as to the pernicious influence of the schools upon the boys of better character, was not obtained from lads who had been discharged from the school.
Indeed, it is now publicly acknowledged by the teachers of the Ragged Schools that the statements given are substantially correct. With the exception of the two scholars seen in Tothill-fields Prison, the children and the parents may be said to have belonged to the superior class. With a view to assure myself of this fact, I caused inquiries to be made into their character, and find them most satisfactory. The statements of the apprentices given in my last letter were obtained from youths whose address I procured specially for the occasion - from the secretary of the Union, so that I might not do the society any injustice by using unauthentic sources of information.
Actuated by the same motive, I applied to the Commissioners of Police for permission to avail myself of the experience of their different officers as to the influence of the Ragged Schools in the districts with which they were familiar. Mr. Commissioner Mayne, after stating that he considered Ragged Schools to be most praiseworthy in their intention, added, on consideration, that it certainly might be possible that the congregation of some hundred boys of vicious propensities and depraved habits would have an effect never contemplated by the founders of these institutions. It was very desirable, he said, that the best evidence should be collected as to the tendency of the association of so many ill-disposed lads, and he readily granted me permission to consult the most experienced police officers, that the truth might be arrived at as to the working of the schools in question. Among these officers I met with a high degree of intelligence, and great quickness of observation on general matters, as well as concerning questions of police. From an officer who had had many years' experience in the B or Westminster division, I had the following statement, in the truthfulness of which his superintendent fully concurred. Other officers also expressed a similar opinion, always temperately and guardedly stated:-
"The particular effects of Ragged Schools I have no precise means of describing. Certainly the returns show a decrease of juvenile offenders in the Westminster district; but it must be recollected that hundreds of houses in what may be called the criminal quarters have been pulled down, and this, I am convinced, is the cause of the decrease in juvenile offenders here. In the Almonry alone, some thirty houses have been taken down, having perhaps, an average population often to each house, all of the lowest class, and with children who would probably have frequented the Ragged School, and would have been, with equal probability, in the list of juvenile offenders here. In the New-way, fourteen houses have been pulled down - eight- roomed houses, formerly inhabited by noblemen and gentlemen, old fashioned mansions. Some houses of a similar class are still existing in other streets, such as Lord Dacre's, in Dacre-street, and that of Admiral Kempenfeldt, in Orchard-street, who went down in the Royal George at Spithead. These New-way houses were occupied by the lowest class; a few of the rooms, however, were inhabited by working men; but the other rooms were occupied by prostitutes and thieves. Westminster was the nursery for Newgate for a long time. Each house might average a score of inmates; all now gone to other quarters. These houses were like rabbit warrens, from cellar to attic. Duck-lane is swept away almost entirely. The population there was of the worst sort - the lowest of the low. The most respectable class were the costermongers, which isn't saying very much. They were six- roomed houses - perhaps twelve inmates to a house, and perhaps thirty-five houses in all. It was the noted place for 'Charley Eastrup's' bear-baiting, for the famous 'dog Billy,' and for dog-fighting, boxing, and all the blackguard amusements that thieves are fond of. They were all quite at home there on the Sunday mornings, dog fighting and such like. About half of Strutton-ground has been removed too; perhaps twenty-four houses, eight-roomed houses, have been pulled down there. The population was chiefly of the labouring class, and I think of the better description; the average number of inmates being - say twelve to each house. From the top of Duck-lane to the King's Head public-house in Orchard-street (where Mr. Bellchambers was on the night of his murder), all the houses have been removed. These had also been gentlemen's houses; but before they were pulled down the kitchen had most likely a costermonger and his family for tenants; of such class were the inmates chiefly, with a sprinkling of prostitutes, and numbers of children were there, and not of the most honest class. The poor have large families. If a drunken man is brought to the police-station, in Rochester- row, the place is soon surrounded with children. About a dozen of such houses have been removed from the top of Duck-lane - eight-roomed houses, with an average perhaps of a family in each room - say twenty-four in a house. Many houses in Peter-street have been pulled down as well, for the new church, the foundation-stone of which was laid by Lord Robert Grosvenor. Eighteen houses may have been there removed - six and four roomed - containing, it may be, a family to each room. Perhaps 150 houses have been removed altogether, with from 1,500 to 2,000 of the worst class of population, and where they have gone to we cannot tell. I have no hesitation in saying that the decrease in criminal offenders in the Westminster district is owing to this rooting out of the population as I have described. All these houses have been removed within these two years for the contemplated improvements. We cannot state positively whether we have had boys in custody from the Ragged School, as the question, 'Do you go to a Ragged School?' is not asked of any juvenile charged at a police-office. Where criminals are congregated together vice always flourishes, even at the foot of the gallows. Our experience teaches us that it is very dangerous to bring together any number of vicious persons. The Ragged Schools, no doubt, are most praiseworthy in intent; the founders and promoters of them have the good of the criminal children really at heart. I think it injudicious, however, to plant Ragged Schools in the most vicious neighbourhoods, because, when children leave the school, they are in the very heart of the haunts of thieves. I have seen young thieves waiting about the door of the door of the Ragged School in ----; I don't know for what purpose."
I subjoin the Criminal Returns for the Westminster district, with an estimate of the number of the population to one offender. On reference to the tables, previously given, it will be found that the same plan has been invariably adopted, so that a due allowance might be made for the increase of population:
METROPOLITAN POLICE (B DIVISION).
TABLE SHOWING THE NUMBER OF PERSONS TAKEN INTO CUSTODY FROM 1839 TO 1848 INCLUSIVE, FOR THE B DIVISION.
|Year||Population||Number of Offenders under 20||Number of Offenders above 20||Total Numbers of Offenders||Number of Population to One Offender|
|1839||83917||1079||2531||3610||One in 23|
By referring to the above table it will be seen that the centesimal increase or decrease for the ten years on the total number of offenders has been as follows: -
|Increase on the total number of offenders||Decrease on the total number of offenders||Increase of offenders under 20||Decrease of offenders under 20||Increase of offenders of 20 and upwards||Decrease of offenders of 20 and upwards|
It appears, then, by the fourth and sixth columns of the
above table, that in the year 1847 there was a decrease of a little more than 7½
per cent of the adult offenders, and 3½ per cent of the juveniles, while in the
following year the decrease was more than 16 per cent on the offenders above 20
years, and nearly 5 per cent on those under 20. Hence the older criminals in
Westminster have decreased in the last two years of the returns within a
fraction of 24 per cent, whereas the younger ones have diminished only a little
more than 8½ per cent in the same time.
An experienced officer, who attended at a Ragged School in Lambeth, gave me the result of his observation on the subject. The superintendent of the district, to whom I had been directed by the Commissioners, referred me to two officers as best qualified to give me information. I subjoin the statement of the first I saw:
"At the ---- street Ragged School (Lambeth), none live in the house, but the attendance in the winter averages about 400 boys and girls every Sunday evening. The gentlemen who manage the Ragged School do everything they can to instruct and encourage the children in well-doing; they make them presents of Testaments and Bibles" (I find by the Reports that they are sold), "and give them occasional tea parties. In fact, everything is done to improve them in the school. The patience of the teachers is surprising. The boys and girls are separated in school; there are more boys than girls - perhaps 300 boys to 100 girls. The girls are better behaved than the boys; they are the children of very poor people in the neighbourhood, such as the daughters of people selling fruit in the street, and such like. Some few years ago I had some inquiries to make on the subject, and found several children of street-beggars there. I have not recognized a girl in this part on the town whom I knew at the school. Most of those that have grown into women since I knew them at the school sell things in the streets; they are very audacious, but I can't say that they are prostitutes. I have, however, seen biggers boys, not of the school, but street vagabonds whom I knew to be of bad character, waiting about the school until it broke up, and then go away with the bigger girls. These girls when in the street are indecent in their language, and immodest in their behaviour; quite different from what they appear in the school. The boys, as I have said, are worse than the girls. When gathered in the street, previously to being let into the school, their conduct is very bad. Some of them smoke short pipes which they pocket when let into school. While waiting on the Sunday evening, they sing, and caper, and some stand on their heads and clap their feet together, and fight frequently and swear, and make all manner of noises. As soon as they get into school they pull long faces. I have often heard them, when hymns were sung, sing something along with it quite different to a hymn. I have seen them too, when a gentleman has been addressing them on religious topics, wink one to another, and put their tongues in their cheeks. The school has been opened perhaps nine years. The police have been obliged to be in attendance since within three months of the opening, and I often turn a dozen boys out of the school in a night for misbehaviour. These boys in my opinion, have different objects in going to the Ragged School. Some few go really with the intention of learning. The great proportion go for warmth, or a change, or for shelter, or for a lark. I know it from their behaviour, for I can tell the boys who wish to learn from the others, by their conduct to the teacher. The worst class of boys always laugh and make faces at the teacher the moment his back is turned, and sometimes even before his face. I have seen many boys at the school whom I have known in custody for felony, and others whom I have seen in prison. On leaving school their behaviour is very disorderly; you can hear them half a mile off; they never seem to have benefited by the excellent things they may have heard; in fact, for bad and obscene language, cursing, swearing, and noise of every kind, they are worse in coming out than going in. When school is over they throw off all restraint. I can only judge by their conduct, and from that it does not appear to me that they pay the least attention to the good and religious advice given to them by their excellent teachers. I have often known the Rev. Mr. --- visit the school, and take great pains to impress upon the children the evil of their ways, but from their conduct after his lessons, after they get outside the door, and from their filthy and bad language, I fear no good effect has been produced. The boys generally go to the school in small parties, who know each other - four, five, or six; and if one won't go in the others won't; and when they leave, they go away together. After that they are beyond my observation. In the school I think the boys do behave rather better than they once did, but no better in the street. There is as much street gambling as ever. The boys are very bad in their neighbourhood. The boy-thieves are generally intelligent in all their wicked ways; clever, artful, and deceitful to the last degree; they would impose upon any one; they are capable of making people believe they are quite good innocent boys, and laugh at them just after. I've seen some of the most hardened shed tears, and protest they had never done anything wrong; and so naturally that it would impose upon any person unacquainted with their deep tricks.
The other officer gave me the following statement:
"I attend one of the Lambeth Ragged Schools to keep order, and have been there for eighteen months, since the school was opened. After being two Sundays opened, it was found necessary to call a policeman in. There might be 150 scholars - 100 boys, the rest girls - when I first went. It was summer time. In winter there may be 300 boys and 100 girls - there is not room for more girls. Cold and wet weather sends them to the Ragged School in winter. I know this from the fact that on a fine night in winter there are not near so many scholars as when the weather is wet or very cold. I have often heard them say they went for warmth and shelter. I see the boys assembling for school - their behaviour is very bad. They are always larking, but they are not so bad as they were; when I first went they pelted me away with bricks. Many of the boys at the school are mud-larks, and persons picking up their living along shore. At first when I attended the school, they let off crackers and threw detonating balls at the teachers, and then laughed at it. They 'took sights' at the teacher, and made all manner of games of him. They would burst out into nigger songs at school, and would sing vulgar songs instead of the hymns. They are better now. One reason may be that several master-potters attend to teach in the school, and they are the great employers of boys in the neighbourhood, and boys are quieter, in hopes of a job at the potteries. I have frequently seen boys, while a teacher was giving religious instruction, put their tongues in their cheek, one to another. The girls ongoing to school are decent in their behaviour compared to the boys. Some are better dressed than when they went, as they have got places through the kindness of the teachers. The girls leave school a quarter of an hour sooner than the boys, but some will wait about for the boys. If I ask them what they are waiting for, they will often answer, for their brothers, which I know is not the case, both by their conduct, and by girls having declared boys of different families to be their brothers on different nights. I have known boys, not going to the school, come down just before school is over and wait for the girls, and the girls walk away with them. When the boys leave they hollow, cat-call, swear, and make a great disturbance. Their language is most obscene. They appear as if their lessons had not the slightest effect upon them, except upon a few of the better disposed. I know the boys that are better disposed by their appearance, and by their bringing their bibles with them. I have heard the worst lads, when they have been waiting, try to contaminate the better - wanting them to go along with them when school is over. I interfere when I hear them, and caution the better lads. I don't know of any good boy who has been tempted to do wrong by the worst class going to the school, as I am only there just for the occasion. I don't see any improvement in the neighbourhood in going or returning on a Sunday evening. There is as much gambling, cursing, swearing, and mixing together of boys and girls as ever. A great many know how to impose upon their teachers - they pull long faces, and laugh when the teacher's back is turned, about how they've gammoned' him, as they call it. The teachers take great pains, and show great patience, kindness, and forbearance. They certainly ought to succeed better than they do. It seems to me, from what I observe of the boys' behaviour after leaving the school, that very little good follows."
The Ragged School to which I principally directed my attention is situated in one of the worst quarters of Westminster. The street - in which it is the best and cleanest house - and all the circumjacent streets, with their many courts and alleys, and what are well described as "blind passages" - is mainly occupied by the destitute and the criminal. Low lodging-houses abound. "Lodgings for Travellers," at "3d." (and sometimes 2d.) "a night," are the predominating signs. The shattered and ill-patched windows of very many house - where sheets of brown paper occupy the place of glass - and the open and unpainted doors, allow even a cursory observer to notice much filth and laziness in the rooms within. In some houses each room has its family, and sometimes almost every upper window has its yellow patched or ragged linen hanging out to dry on something like a small bowsprit rigged out of the window. Young thieves, with greasy side-curls, and unoccupied costermongers are lounging at the corners of the streets - some few smoking - some tossing in the open road, with an eager crowd of lads gathered round them - some gambling at pitch and toss, in a dirty corner or bye place - others leaning against a post or a wall, seemingly as much asleep as awake - and all appearing to strive to while away the time as best they can. Empty costermongers' carts stand by the edge of the kerbstone, and capless women, with fuzzy hair, eyes bloodshot with drink or want of sleep, and with dirty shawls over their shoulders, either loll out of the windows or sit on the door step. An oppressive odour seems always to pervade the atmosphere - and cocks and hens scratch at the heaps of filth in the street. The people look generally unhealthy. Here and there, as you emerge from the low and filthy streets, there rises in startling contrast, some towering gin-palace, the squalor of its noisy customers being again in full contrast with its glittering decorations and glare of light. The house that now forms the Ragged School (I learn from Mr. Walker's account) was once a public-house, in which thieving, or rather one of its branches, that of pocket-picking, was taught as a science, a pair of trowsers supplying the means of tuition. A master-thief illustrated and explained the adroitest modes of picking pockets to perhaps half a hundred keen pupils. A mock Old Bailey trial frequently followed, and the lads who evinced most skill either in practising on the trowsers (which were hung from the ceiling), or in defending themselves from any Old Bailey charge, were encouraged with drink and skittles. Very near to this spot stood another public-house - a resort of Dick Turpin and of others whose names modern literature has made more familiar to that criminal neighbourhood, and far more popular than did tradition or any other previous cause. Turpin's resort is now an Institute for Working Men.
The number of boys employed in tailoring, when I visited the school at the time of industrial training, was 26. Of these 3 were fourteen years old, 1 was thirteen, 8 were twelve, 6 were eleven, 2 were ten, 4 were nine, 1 was eight, 1 was six. There were also 22 boys engaged in shoemaking, whose ages were in the same proportion as those who were tailoring. All these boys, as far as I ascertained, expressed their sense of the kindness with which they were treated, and of the pains taken to do them good. Of these boys, I learned from their own admissions, that six had been (collectively) thirteen times in prison. As they detailed their experience in prison, the other boys, who declared that they had never been in prison, laughed and grinned admiringly. One boy said to a gentleman who accompanied me, "Master, what do you think that boy was in prison for? "I can't tell," was the answer. "He stole a pig," whispered the urchin, laughing and smiling approvingly as he whispered.
The Master Tailor, who was the only officer in attendance when I called, did not know, he said, of any boy having been transported; nor could he at first remember any boy having been imprisoned from that school. At last he suddenly recollected that two boys were in prison at that time from the Ragged School (the two I had seen at Tothill-fields) even this fact, however, he could not remember until reminded of it by my inquiry whether Ragged Schools were not intended, if possible, to bring about the reformation of thieves. Neither did he know of any boys of the Ragged School who had been in prison within the last twelve months, but the school-boys present (one especially) numbered up eight very rapidly. When a boy disappears, he added, the Ragged School managers do not inquire after him, as they have not time to go to the police-office. They keep no records of the imprisonment of their scholars.
The Master Tailor had been there about three years. He had belonged to a society in connexion with the honourable trade about ten years ago. Within three years ten boys had been apprenticed to tailors. A premium of £10 used to be given - now it is £5. Small masters generally get the apprentices. The articles made by the boys, I was informed, were given to the scholars as rewards for good conduct. I found out afterwards, by inquiry among the boys, that a small price was charged for them. I was furnished with an account of the number of shoes,jackets, &c., made by the boys in the course of last year, and upon investigation I found that "forty-eight boys in school had received nineteen jackets, thirty-four pairs of trowsers, and twenty- eight pairs of shoes;" four of the lads, however, were without shoes, and five worse women's or girls' boots, and often odd boots.
A boy in school told me he had known the school boys go thieving after school hours. Another lad knew boys, but not school boys, go thieving in small gangs. Another boy remembered the school being robbed; the police came, but no charge was made. He had heard that the thieves about the street corners had got hold of some of the boys. A policeman searched the boys. Four of the boys I saw in the school had fathers only living (one of whom was in prison); eleven had only mothers (but two of the fathers of these children were not dead, for one was transported and one was in a workhouse); and one had neither father nor mother living. The others had both parents alive.
In order that I might have the best and most trustworthy information as to the quality of the work and the probable consequences of the instruction of the boys of a Ragged School (with industrial training superadded to the usual reading, writing, and arithmetic), I took with me two well-informed, experienced, and unprejudiced men - a tailor and a shoemaker - on whose judgment and fairness, from my inquiries among the trade, and from my recent investigations, I knew I could rely. I give their statements - the first being that of the tailor. He said:
"I have noticed the work of the Ragged School boys, whom I have seen making or repairing their clothes, and I have formed the following opinion. The boys have attained just that degree of proficiency in their tailoring which would make them available for the slopworker or the sweater - more particularly for the slopworker, as the work of the sweater must be of a better character. They are proficient enough to do their work regularly, but not well; the sewing is thin but regular; by thin, I mean too small a number of stitches in a given space; but the stitches, as I have said, are regular and in good form. Indeed the work of some of the poor little fellows rather surprised me, as it is not very easy to sew fustian and cord, such as their jackets and trowsers are made of. I consider that the teacher of the children has exercised due pains and skill. I think that boys so circumstanced, whatever may be the immediate advantage, are likely ultimately to prove a very serious injury to the working men in my trade - I mean, of course, 'the honourable trade.' It is not possible that these boys can remain long in their present state, so that some other place must be found for them, or they must resort to thieving. I see no alternative for the poor fellows. If, indeed, they are apprenticed, it will most likely to be to small masters, or sweaters, for sweaters are often small masters - that is, they are able to do a small quantity of work on their own account, underselling the very masters who employ them. They may not be so apprenticed now, but this is what it must come to. To small masters or sweaters the premium is generally the grand object; they care nothing what becomes of the boy, as our police reports too frequently prove. The boy, if not thus apprenticed, may possibly resort to the slop-market, and there he can never rise into the means of earning a fair remuneration, for his abilities are not sufficient to elevate him. He may, and will, drag better workmen down to his level, but he cannot rise; and so he may marry - as reckless people will - and his children may be reared in a poverty that will tempt them to crime far more promptly than any institute (however well intended) can check them. I see no other career for such a boy, and no other likely result. If he is to be sent abroad, where is the use of teaching him the trade of a tailor? Let him go to any of the colonies, he will find that the slop seller - maintained by such labour as schools like these create - is there before him. There is not a market they do not supply. One of these poor lads, when he has had two or three years' instruction (according to his quickness) at a school such as that we have visited to-day, is able to earn a trifle from a slop-worker, and he grows up a slop workman, and adds to the poverty, and perhaps the crime, of the country, as a consequence of the very system adopted to make him a good member of society. It is impossible he can become a first-rate workman, unless he be altogether an exception to the general rule; and so he adds to the already overstocked, little-skilled, or unskilled labour-market, which is producing such sad consequences to the superior artisans, and to the best masters in England. I have very carefully watched this matter in all its bearings for more than sixteen years - Government contracts, police clothing, prison and workhouse labour, philanthropic and industrial schools; and this last and worst phase of all - Ragged Schools. The conclusion forced upon me is, that there is no hope for bettering the condition of any trade in which these thugs exist, or upon which they are brought to bear, whilst such practices are persevered in. Such practices produce starvation wages, on which men cannot live. Some parish authorities are so convinced of this that workhouse labour has been abandoned. I am afraid that many excellent persons who encourage such institutions as the Ragged Schools look only at the surface. Ragged School tailors must ultimately lower tailors' wages, and so increase the very evil they are intended to destroy.''
The Shoemaker's statement I now give, which is as follows:
"I found, on counting heads, while at the school, that twenty-one boys were at work there; but I was told by several of these boys that there were others who were not at present in the shop. The number absent were some nine or ten. Mr. ----, the master, was not there at the time, so I had no means of testing the variety of ability displayed. One, the eldest of the number, had a rather more conspicuous seat than the rest; his age was sixteen, and he had the name given to him of monitor, by way of distinction. Here I may state that the boys were somewhat grotesquely grouped in three separate classes. The first, or youngest class, were six in number, and were seated round a low square table, garnished with a few much-worn knives, a pair of very narrow-nibbed pincers, and an edged tin plate, covered with small bits of rounded wax. This, the initiative, class were generally employed in what is called stabbing' bits of leather, this being a mere exercise of the awl. The scrap of leather is held in the instrument called the 'clams,' which are two long bowed staves, the mouth or upper part tightly nipping whatever substance may be placed between them, and thus enabling the operator to have complete command over whatever material he may be engaged upon. None of these boys had any knowledge of, or had received any instruction in the sort of work named 'blind stabbing' - a very beautiful and most essential process - indeed, one which cannot be done without when the boy is intended to be the 'boot-closer;' and a process, too, which only can be effectually learned in early life, when the sense of touch is most delicate, and the fingers the most expert. The second class were the cobblers; and these I found numbered seven, and they appeared to take much more delight in making the hammer sound, in beating the leather on the 'lapstone,' than in putting in stitches. Some were sewing patches on the upper leathers, or drawing together rents; but the greater part, as I have said, kept striking away on the stone; while two or three were nailing pieces on the heels, which, as I observed, they found to be very weak, in consequence of the severe battering which the bit of bull-hide had received. The third class - with the 'monitor,' in the absence of the master baker,' presiding in a somewhat dignified manner over his fellow-boys of younger years and less size - were the 'new' shoemakers. The 'monitor' himself had just finished the sewing round or the stitching' of a shoe which would fit a lad of about fourteen years of age. He said that his own age was sixteen, and that he had been at the shoemaking for upwards of a year; that he could sew a shoe round, of the sort I have mentioned, in an hour, which is about half the time a man would take to accomplish a similar piece of inferior work, although the perfect 'stitching' of a light boot or shoe will often require from two to three hours. Two other of these boys of the third class gave me likewise their work to examine; this, although very coarse in quality, as might be expected, seemed to be drawn together firmly - the workers, as I perceived, appearing always to make the best use of the 'hand-leather,' in accordance, no doubt, with their instructions. As this, though a means, is however no security for solidity, it often happens that the mere fact of the shoemaker labouring at his work is only doing so in vain; for if there is not the proper foundation laid in the getting up of a shoe, as of a house, in the nice and close fitting and adjustment of the materials beforehand, no mere thickness of thread or strength of pull will avail in securing a truly serviceable article. The generality of these boys had very bad shoes, and the rest no shoes at all. On inquiring how this happened, the information was given that the right to have shoes came by purchase; ninepence per pair being the price charged to every boy or girl to whom shoes are given. 'And these trowsers,' said one of the little shoemakers, 'cost me also ninepence;' while another told me that he also paid the same sum for his jacket." "And if you have not this money," I asked, "you neither get shoes, nor trowsers, nor jackets?" "No," was the general and immediate reply. "My mother," one said, "is to give me the ninepence on Saturday, and then I shall have these shoes to go out in on Sunday." And the poor boy had here, indeed, a great blessing in prospect, for he was actually barefoot. "Do you want an apprentice, sir," now inquired the "monitor, perceiving that I was examining somewhat closely the pair of shoes which had just been handed to me, and imagining, as I suppose, that I was in quest of a boy, from the manner of my inspection. I gave him to understand that I was not seeking an apprentice, but only came there for general information. The work which I examined, though very inferior indeed, was still, considering all things, as well got up as might be expected, the boys being employed only at short intervals; the early part of the day, from nine in the morning till the hour of dinner, being set apart for schooling purposes; and the afternoon, from two till five, for learning shoemaking, five days in the week. Boys so taught, however, are never to be supposed capable of earning a livelihood through the extent of their capacity, but can only be made so far useful as to become the apprentice of the slop home-worker, or garret-master - a class of people who are always on the look-out for cheap labour and an 'apprentice fee;' the latter to enable them to buy 'stuff,' or the material for their low-priced goods. With such people the helpless position of the apprentice allows every chance of their compelling the greatest possible amount of exertion from the lads."
The following intelligence, though not given to me as derived from any official source, is the opinion of two gentlemen who are observant of public and local affairs, and who have certainly every means of coming to a correct and dispassionate conclusion. "It was painful," both agreed in saying, "to give an unfavourable opinion of an institution founded with such excellent and benevolent motives, and conducted with so much painstaking and Christian feeling. But the boys imposed upon the supporters and teachers of the Ragged School, just in proportion to those gentlemen's benevolence, for those artful lads pretended to be reformed characters, fond of their Bibles and of public worship, while they were as depraved as others." "The Ragged Schools" (they both agreed again) "were in reality nurseries for criminals - houses of call for thieves; and three out of every five boys who swelled the lists of our juvenile criminals were taught roguery at a Ragged School, or had taught it there to others." My informants stated, moreover, that it was the most dangerous experiment ever attempted in hopes of doing good, to bring some hundred boys together - a majority of them being vicious - as nothing but ill could result, for that one scabbed sheep would not more surely infect a flock, than a few daring, artful young thieves would corrupt other children who were honest but suffering from poverty, and often, perhaps, from hunger. The young thieves knew well how to show the poor boys they met at such places that the easiest mode to obtain any enjoyments was by theft. "What need you care for other people," they would say to honest lads, "they don't care for you." It is right to add, that these gentlemen advocated no theory whatever; they were strictly practical men, with, I repeat, excellent means of forming a sound opinion. My informants asserted, moreover, that they were convinced that for every one child that might derive benefit from a Ragged School two were corrupted. Indeed, all the really practical men with whom I have conversed on the subject of Ragged Schools, expressed not less admiration of the benevolence of the founders and maintainers of such schools, than wonder at the short sightedness that had led good men to be the means of so much evil.
In conclusion, it is my duty to add that, after patiently investigating the operation of the London Ragged Schools, I cannot but arrive at the conclusion that, however well intended such institutions may be, they are, and must be, from the mere fact of bringing so many boys of vicious propensities together, productive of far more injury than benefit to the community. If some boys are rescued - and that such is repeatedly the case is cheerfully and fully conceded - many are lost through them, as is now admitted by the teachers themselves; and such, indeed, is the opinion of all the practical and experienced men I have seen upon the subject. In a word, they may be thieves' houses of refuge, but they are likewise thieves' houses of call.
(In presenting to the public the results of our Correspondent's investigations into the operation of the benevolent institutions above treated of, we are anxious not only to express our warm admiration of the philanthropic zeal and earnestness of their founders and supporters, but also to indicate what we conceive to be the true cause of their imperfect success. The Ragged School system, regarded as a scheme for rescuing destitute and neglected children from brutish ignorance and from the influence of depraved parents and associates, is undoubtedly a first step in the right direction - it is the beginning of the greatest of all social reforms. The evils which experience has shown to be incidental to its workings are to be attributed not to the principle of the system itself - nor, we fully believe, to any avoidable error on the part of its promoters - but to the external conditions by which its operation is controlled and limited. An educational organization designed for the purposes contemplated by Ragged Schools obviously requires, in order to render it effectual, larger powers, ampler pecuniary rescources, the means of incessant supervision over the pupils, and a more comprehensive field of action, than private benevolence can command. The discipline of such an institution ought to be upheld and enforced by some public authority - its lessons ought to be preparatory to schools of a higher grade, admission to which should be a privilege awarded to good conduct - its industrial training ought to be of a nature to qualify the pupils for a life of self-supporting labour in the colonies - and the whole scheme should be connected with a plan of systematic emigration, which would secure honest employment in other lands for those who cannot find it here. It is obviously not the fault of the founders and managers of our Ragged Schools that their existing means and resources preclude them from giving a wider development to their generous project, and that, in too many cases, they merely send back to the streets, with sharpened faculties and increased powers of mischief, those whom they took from the streets. In a word, the great flaw of the system lies, properly speaking, not in what it does, but in what it necessarily and unavoidably leaves undone.)