Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Ragged London in 1861, by John Hollingshead, 1861 - Appendix - Letters

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[-282-]

LETTERS


To the Editor of The Penny Newsman. 

Sir,--As one of the working-class I beg to offer my thanks to "Scrutinizer," for his sympathy and able reply to the charge of improvidence which has been made against us; and I hope I shall not presume too much by offering a few remarks thereon. That many of us indulge in strong drink must be admitted, but there are also many who take it in moderation, as a necessary article of support during the hours of toil; and I would advise all who cannot use it as a blessing to abstain from making it a curse. In reference to our friend's expenditure of 18s. per week for three persons, I think all must admit there is no extravagance in it. But I cannot take 18s. a week as an average for the labouring class. If we look at the docks we find that 15s. is the price for extra men, in Government yards 13s., and some others still less. Now, the number of working-men having no children to provide for is indeed extremely limited; on the other hand, I think the average number in family given by your correspondent is too low. I think four children might be set down, on which to base the calculation of cost; therefore there will be six to provide for now. I think I may say without fear of contradiction that to lay out 18s. in the best way for that number, parents will find that they are not so well fed as the inmates of a poorhouse, but they have liberty, and are free born Englishmen, which is our boast. I will now glance at the mechanic--to which class I belong--and having reared a family in London, always found some difficulty in providing by [-283-] the produce of my labour for the necessaries requisite to produce comfort. From my experience I believe the wages paid in London to the working class generally is quite equal to any town in the kingdom, and I know it is better than in some. Now we must take it for granted that all mechanics in London do not receive the large wages spoken of, for I should say the majority receive less, and some much less; therefore I will suppose that 1l. 10s. will be something like an average, and I will endeavour to provide for a man, his wife, and four children, great and small, as they may be, in what I consider a plain way, without much luxury. Beer is said by some to be a luxury, and a ruinous one; so it is, when taken in excess, but I think it useful, and I would ask anyone who knows anything of a smith's shop, a shipyard, and many other trades, if two pints of beer per day during the hours of toil is not very acceptable. Some trades, perhaps, may do with half that quantity; I will, therefore, take the half quantity in my reckoning of expenditure, as follows:-- 

Weekly Expenditure for Six Persons.

 

s.

d.

Rent for two rooms

0

4

0

Bread and flour

0

5

4

Meat and suet

0

5

0

Butter and cheese

0

2

8

Tea, sugar, and milk

0

2

4

Vegetables

0

2

0

Coal and wood

0

1

4

Candles, soap, &c

0

0

9

Children's schooling

0

1

3

Sick club

0

0

9

Beer for the man at work

0

1

0

Beer at supper for man and wife

0

1

2

Tobacco

0

0

3

Newsman

0

0

1

Halfpenny for each child as a treat

0

0

2

Total

1

8

1

[-285-] Such, sir, is what I think necessary for comfort in a working man's home. I shall then have a balance of 1s. lld. per week, or 41. 19s. 8d. annually, to supply clothing, wear and tear of all articles in the house, doctoring, &c.-for where there is a family we are compelled to have medical assistance at times, and as the sum in question is not sufficient for the clothing, &c., we must of necessity curtail the victualling department to meet the expense. I have provided in my expenditure for sickness quite as much, I think, as I ought, with my income ; and I think the 9d. weekly will produce 15s. per week in sickness, so if I lose time by sickness I must go back 15s. each week (without counting any additional expense which is sure to be incurred in such cases), and if I lose time from any other cause it cannot be recovered. This, sir, is the saving I have been able to effect during my life. 

I am, sir, yours respectfully, 

    WORKING MAN. 

THE WORKING MAN AND HIS "EXTRAVAGANCE."

To the Editor of "The Penny Newsman." 

SIR,--The liberal tone of feeling expressed in the leaders of the Penny Newsman induces me to hope a few plain, simple expressions of my opinion may meet with insertion in the next number. My position for the past thirty years has been that of a superintendent and manager of works in various parts of the kingdom, and in the metropolis as well; and I have in that time had ample opportunities of seeing and studying the habits, wants, and feelings of some thousands of mechanics and [-285-] labourers with whom I have been mixed up, and no man can (I humbly, but firmly, state) know more of their real points and bearings than myself; but I have heard and read so many statements of late (particularly in the past severe winter) as to the "improvidence, waste, and extravagance of the working men and labourers in the disposal of their large wages," that I felt myself bound to say the charge is generally false and groundless as a whole; and I assert that some of those statements have been made by clergymen and others, who evidently wrote for mere writing sake, and they have done a serious injury to themselves as clergymen by misstating the causes of the depression of the working classes. I will endeavour to point out what is the real and positive facts of the case. In the first place, the working men are not receiving large wages, but just barely sufficient, with the most scraping and rigid economy, to make their wages last out the weekthat is, if they have, as is mostly the case, a wife and children to support besides themselves. That single men, who are prudent and cautious, may put by a something in the "savings'-bank," whilst others may patronize the beer-house and gin-shop, whose tastes are depraved, I will admit; but, as a general rule, the husband and father will be always (or nearly so) found in his home, where every penny of his hard earnings will be best spent; but there are many cases where the family of children are large, and the pressure for maintenance of them is so heavy, that the wife is often obliged to leave her own home to go out charing-that is, cleaning other persons' homes-whilst her own home and her children are neglected and filthy. Husband [-286-] and wife return home together at night tired out with the day's work, and often several miles' walk after it, and, perhaps, wet through. A cheerless, cold, and uncomfortable home presents itself; that home, in most cases a single room, but at the best two rooms, are all they have. The children are hastily fed on a few scrap victuals, and put to bed, whilst the husband, and sometimes the wife as well, adjourn to a well-warmed and lighted tap-room, where they seek together a little temporary enjoyment or comfort which cannot be found in their own cheerless home; for it is not sufficiently considered that the working men, especially in the metropolis, have not a large range of rooms to choose for residence in, but are positively obliged to settle down and nestle in such localities as will suit their slender means. Let me ask the question--how many hundreds of mechanics and labourers, with their wives and families, are huddled together within an area of less than a quarter of a mile of the printing-offices of the Penny Newsman, whose homes are sickening to look on, much worse, then, must it be to be compelled, as the occupants are, to exist in them from year's end to year's end? That, and no other, is their choice at present, for they must be within a reasonable distance of their workshops or factories, and if they are too far off from their work their pockets must be affected by the increased expenditure of getting to and from their work. Give the poor working-men a fair chance of having a decent home, and the generality of them will avail themselves of its comforts, and society be benefited by their having a cheaper supply of room, fresh air, and good water for their homes. It is a positive mockery [-287-] to expect a labouring man to be what is called provident under his present circumstances. I will take a labouring man obtaining eighteen shillings per week all the year round, with no sickness, or loss of work, or stoppage of work. Now, I know he may possibly, with a wife and child, contrive to make his money last out on the following scale,*

[*Expenditure calculated for a labouring man with wife and child.

 

For Three Persons per Day.

For Three Persons per Week of Seven Days.

 

s.

d.

s.

d.

Bread

0

7

4

0

Beer

0

2

1

2

Meat and potatoes

0

6

3

6

Butter and cheese

0

2 1/2

1

6

Tea and milk

0

1 3/4

1

0

Candles and firewood

0

1

0

6

Coals

0

1 3/4

1

0

Clothes and shoes

0

4

2

6

Rent

0

3 1/2

2

0

Soap and Cleansing materials

0

1 1/4

0

10

Total

2

7

18

0

Luxuries or amusements are in no way to be recognised in the above]

and no luxury is here shown. The list I have enclosed shows bare necessaries ; and it must be borne in mind that eighteen shillings per week is in London the labourer's standing wages; fifteen shillings and sixteen shillings are taken by hundreds and thousands, but the pinch and privation is all the greater, for it is certain that the markets for provisions are considerably higher than they were, and God alone knows what the calamitous results would have been had free trade not been enforced. 

I am, &c., 

    Feb. 2, 1861. SCRUTINIZER.   

[-288-]

"PHILANTHROPY THAT PAYS."

To the Editor of "Lloyd's Newspaper."

SIR,--In a leading article, with the above heading, in your paper last week, you appeal to capitalists to employ some portion of their money in creating joint-stock companies to erect habitable dwellings for the poor. With the general tenor of your remarks I most cordially agree, but I think that the appeal will be much more readily answered, and the beneficial effects derivable therefrom incalculably superior, were it directed to the poor. The skilled artisan, the ordinary mechanic, and the common labourer are the men to whom I would apply for the funds to build decent homes for themselves and their class, and who will most readily do it. Startling as the proposition may seem that the poor shall become the bankers of the poor; unsound in theory and impossible in practice as, at first sight, many may consider it to be, attention to the following statement will show them that such is by no means the case. 
    About the year 1844 an outre idea entered the heads of some dozen unemployed, half-starved Lancashire weavers: they resolved to improve their condition; without money and without friends, with no helping hand stretched out to them, not even a kindly word to cheer them on, but with perseverance and honesty as their guide, they would start a business on entirely new principles, and become the pioneers in a new science. "We will find our own money, and stand our own friends," said they, and most nobly they did so. 
    By subscribing 2d. a week, they raised, in shares of 1l. each, about 20l.; with this they commenced business. Their premises were so humble, and the stock [-289-] inside so limited, that no one had moral courage enough to take down the shutters when at last the opening day came--they cast lots for it. A tradesman in the town having heard of the threatened opposition, came to see what kind of an appearance they put in to commence with, and went away joyfully declaring that he could "wheel all the lot away in a barrow," and prognosticating a speedy "shut up." However, the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers' Society (such was its name) is in existence at the present moment, and the balance-sheet for the September quarter, 1860 (the account for the quarter just ended has not come to hand at the time I write), shows the following results:--The receipts are 37,816l. (exceeding 140,000l. a year); capital in hand, 34,525l.; profit, after paying all expenses, setting aside 107l. for educational purposes, giving 20l. to the town infirmary, and 5l. to the surgeon, is 4,342l. Out of the profits, five per cent. goes to the shareholders on their paid--up capital, and the residue is divided among the customers in proportion to the amount they have spent at the shop during the quarter--an exact account of which is kept.*

[*Contrast these profits with those of the benevolent lodging-house societies]

They commenced as general dealers only--they now sell everything that is wanted to eat, drink, wear, or use in any station of life. The works are rapidly increasing, and the advantage to the town is. incalculable. Impelled by their example, and encouraged by their success, 200 co-operative stores have sprung into existence in the north, representing capital amounting to 5,000,000l. Verily, this is "Philanthropy that Pays." 
    [-290-] Some short time back I called attention to these facts in the columns of a morning contemporary (Daily Telegraph), and asked how it was that London was so much behind the north; the Era, referring to my remarks, said I was in error in asserting that this movement was not progressing here, and instanced the National Co-operative store in the Euston-road, with several branches in London. I have not had time to inquire much about it yet, but have seen their balancesheet for the last quarter, and affairs stand thus:-- Number of shareholders, 2,400; capital in hand, 2,953l.; business done, 4,978l.; which, considering the society did not open until March last, is most astonishing. 
    Then why not form co-operative building societies? I believe this would find more favour among the people, when it once came to be understood. It would teach the poor a valuable lesson, that if they want to improve their condition it must be by their own organized exertions. If they want anything done they must do it themselves, for other help there is none. It would leave no room for the cant of the professional philanthropist, and save the working classes from the ostentatious parade and humiliating patronage of their "kind friends." 
    Should you deem this worthy of notice I shall be happy to forward you some further particulars respecting the management and working of co-operative societies generally. 

I remain, yours, &c., 

Feb. 2, 1861. HENRY H. WILTSHIRE.