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NEAR KING'S CROSS
Some of our most densely populated, faded parishes--like some of our most degraded
streets - are known by names that mock their present condition. Paradise Row, Mount Pleasant, Angel Place, and similar titles are commonly attached to some of the rottenest courts in London; and two of the central
parishes - St. Martin's, at Charing Cross, and St. Giles's, at Upper Holborn -
are only legally known as standing "in the fields." The latter parish, at one time the most notorious, if not the worst, in London, has been partly purified at the expense of other portions of the town, and we may now ask very fairly where we can find St. Giles's-in-the-Fields. Without assuming that the courts off Drury Lane, the dark, close avenues of Endell Street, and the
[-130-] dismal maze of the Seven Dials, are half cleared of their human rats; without shutting our eyes to the troublesome fact that Lambeth, Marylebone, Whitechapel, and St. George's in the East have become more crowded with refuse population that certain improvements in Bloomsbury and thereabouts might be carried out, we may conclude that the real St. Giles's-in-the-Fields stands exactly where it has stood for nearly twenty years
- at Agar Town, in the noisy parish of St. Pancras. You may reach it in a walk of half-an-hour from the centre of Clerkenwell, and find it nestling, as snugly as ever, by the side of the Great Northern Railway.
The origin of a very few London eyesores may be traced to a landlord-and-tenant quarrel, and Agar Town apologizes for its present degraded existence by a local tradition. The ground belongs to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners - the whole property belongs to them now - and many years ago it was let to a gentleman on a certain lease, most probably for farming land. Some five-and-twenty years before the expiration of this [-131-] lease he applied for a long extension, expecting no doubt to profit by the advance of railways on the metropolis. His application was refused by the commissioners, and upon this he resolved to make the most of his remainder, and annoy his landlords. The necessary steps were taken, the proper people were called together, and Agar Town--the lowest effort of building skill and arrangement in or near London--arose upon Church property.
It is exactly ten years since I last went over this unsightly settlement, and I found upon visiting it again that more than one half of its habitations (it contains about five hundred) are hopelessly decayed, while its roads and footways are improved. In 1851--the historical year of civilizing exhibitions--it had gasworks, but no gas; for what lighting material was made upon the spot was despatched to more solvent and favoured neighbourhoods. Its highways were ditches--deep and filled with mud--and its footways were mere earthbanks on each side of the channel. Now, thanks to the efforts of the parochial authori-[-132-]ties, and in defiance of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who could never be brought to any sense of their public duty, although they have repurchased the property, Agar Town possesses lamps and pavements. Still, for all this, it forms a melancholy social picture--a sample of St. Giles's really in the fields--a collection of the very lowest order of labourers' cottages. There is no occasion to hunt all over the country for samples of overcrowding, dirt, discomfort, and even vice in rural dwellings--here is a Dorsetshire under our very walls, almost within a mile of Temple Bar.
The inhabitants of the lower part of this district are chiefly poor labourers and the poorest class of costermongers, or men, as they are called, "who follow the markets." The women, if not laundresses, of which there are a great number, are nothing at all, and a "mother's society" strives hard to teach them the commonest home duties. It is doubtful if they know how to cook the simplest eatable, or wash a child; and the public soup-kitchen finds full employment in making up for their domestic shortcomings. In the upper [-133-] portion of the town, near the railway, the inhabitants are of a higher class--hard-working mechanics and railway men. Their houses are houses, not hovels, and not unlike those at Wolverton, Crewe, or any other railway settlement. Much soup is given away, under the superintendence of the local clergyman, the Rev. R. P. Cleminger, and his assistants; but the place is largely used as a cheap eating-house, where men and woman come or send to get their dinners. The soup is generally sold at a price which leaves one-half of the cost to be defrayed by voluntary contributions. When the inhabitants are ill, they can send to this benevolent cook-shop, and get a pint of beef-tea for threepence, a pint of mutton broth for the same money; a basin of gruel for one penny; a basin of arrowroot for threepence: a jug of barley-water for twopence; a jug of lemonade for sixpence; a ration of corn-flower blancmange for sixpence; a sago pudding for the same money; and a tapioca pudding or a ground rice pudding at the same charge. This institution was started by Miss Margaret Howitt, and [-134-] though it is excellently managed, and reflects great credit upon its originator, it shows the utter helplessness of the low resident population.
Agar Town, by those who knew it best, has long been regarded as the stepping-stone to or from the workhouse. People use it as a sleeping-place, within the meaning of the act, to entitle them to poor-law relief in St. Pancras, or they go from it direct into that stately pauper palace which looks down proudly upon this withered portion of the parish. When they are sent from the union--even other unions besides the local one--they make Agar Town their first residence, while they wait for something to turn up. They must have some hole or corner to go to, as the law will not allow them to huddle together in the gutters, and an open settlement where friends may be found, or where no questions will be asked, is what they naturally look for. One half the houses are cottages or huts, standing in black yards that grow nothing but splintered tubs and palings. There are seldom any apartments but what are upon the ground floor. In [-135-] some rooms there are no doors, in others no windows; in others the garden walls, moist, soft, like wet gingerbread, have fallen down from very rottenness. The water-pumps in some places have long since been destroyed, and the water is kept in a hole. Dust-bins are unknown in that portion of the old town named Cambridge Crescent, and the usual public privies are another rarity. The tiles of the huts are broken off; the interiors represent the lowest condition of poverty and filth; the yards often contain clothes-lines, on which a few wet sole-skins, used by brewers, are drying for sale; the children are barefooted and ragged; the women seem to know no better way of closing a hole in a dirty garment than with a pin or a bit of string; donkeys roam about the place as clean and as well housed as their masters; and under the broken flooring you can often see the rough uncovered earth. The whole population of this district may be six thousand or seven thousand, and the rents vary from one shilling and sixpence to three shillings a week for a room. Of course in this, [-136-] as in all the neighbourhoods I have been visiting, the apparent high rents must be taken to include rates, taxes, drawbacks, irregularities, losses, and cost of collection.
The huts in Agar Town were built of old rubbish, on a twenty-one years' lease. Some of the builders still live in them, happy and contented, dreading the time--about 1866--when their term will expire. They are always ready to rally round the place, and to call it a "pretty little town." The landlady of one, who was chief architect, builder, and assistant to her husband in raising some of these hovels, was burrowing in a kind of dog kennel at the side of her tenants--living, in fact, upon her property. Her maxim was, "Live and let live," and she avoided the crime of being an absentee. In most of these squat places families of five, six, ten, and twelve, were found, leading a swinish life in one room, even when they rented another. In one cottage was a young girl with an illegitimate child still living with her parents. In the road we spoke to a girl who had been turned out of doors by [-137-] her father and stepmother, and had been found sleeping in privies. To do the miserable inhabitants justice, they are never backward in helping their own class, and here, as in similar places, they share what little they have. They are partial to dogs; probably breeding them for sale; and, at one time, there was scarcely a hut without three or four of these animals. Their answer always is that "A dog keeps itself." No known thieves or prostitutes are found in the neighbourhood--its lowest part is too poor and miserable for that; and what vices it has arise largely from dirt, and overcrowding. Intemperance is one of these, and the clergy and others try to check it--as the Rev. Mr. Maguire does in Clerkenwell-by a temperance society connected with the church and schools. An old inhabitant, who holds property in the district, and keeps one of those comfortable chandlers' shops--which, as I said in a former chapter, always thrive in such places--thought Agar Town would be a delightful settlement "if it wasn't for the drink." The public-houses in this and the sur-[-138-]rounding neighbourhood are certainly very numerous, and they endeavour to attract custom by pleasing signs. One calls itself "The Good Samaritan," standing near the canal, and is largely frequented by coal-heavers from the wharves and dustmen from a neighbouring contractor's. Some of the huts run down to this canal with sloping yards, ornamented with a few laths put together in the shape of an arbour. The better class of houses form part of many short streets, in which three and four roomed dwellings are built, and let to two or three families. Some of the railway men and decent mechanics inhabit these, and some are occupied by the wives of sailors. One attempt to build a superior kind of dwelling, on a ninety-nine years' lease, at the extreme end of the town, has been stopped by the purchase of much of the property by the Midland Railway Company. The inhabitants have one advantage not often enjoyed by persons in low districts, their air is remarkably pure. Though some of the roads and most passages between the huts, are still rivers of mud, and [-139-] receive the slops thrown into them from each ill-regulated household; and though the dwellings are low, the spaces between them are very open, and St. Giles's evidently gathers health by being a little way out of town.
The efforts of the Rev. R. P. Cleminger, during the last ten years, to improve this wretched district, as far as his means and powers go, have been crowned with considerable success. Starting with a temporary church he has gathered round him a maternity society; a national school, with a hundred scholars; a mother's society, before alluded to; a Sunday school, with three hundred and seventy scholars; and a penny bank, whose depositors in 1860 numbered six hundred, and the amount deposited 250l. There is a girls' school and infant school held for the present in the rooms of two of the small houses, and a day nursery, where children are taken care of while their parents are at work. An institution of this kind in such neighbourhoods saves many infants from being burnt to death, or from many serious accidents. The schools are liberally supported [-140-] by Miss Agar. There is a district visiting society, a soup-kitchen (before mentioned), a Church missionary society, a Bible society, a working man's institute, and a lending library, but the latter has not been much drawn upon by the adults of the district. There is a clothing fund in connection with the Sunday school, and one of the scholars, a little girl, was asked a few days ago if she would like to have a pair of socks. "I'm very well off for socks," she said, "and should like something else." "How many pairs have you got?" inquired the teacher. "This pair on my feet," said the child, astonished at the question.
The district employs two ministers, a Scripture reader, and a Bible woman, and the church and charities draw much of their support from the Agar family, Camden Town, and Highgate Rise.
The whole of Somers Town--the adjacent district at the back of the New Road, near King's Cross--is a worthy neighbour of Agar Town.*
[* On Tuesday January 29, 1861, a scene presented itself in the Bloomsbury County Court, Portland Road, that has
[-141-] never, since these courts came into operation, been witnessed before. The plaintiff, Mr. John Hewitt, son of one of the officers of the above court, who carries on an extensive business as a tallyman and draper, in Pratt Street, Camden Town, had summonsed no less than one hundred and fifty-three defendants, for sums varying in amount from 10s. to
2l. and upwards. This vast number of summonses issued at one plaintiff's suit caused the court to appoint a special day for the hearing. The defendants were summonsed at the respective hours of ten, eleven, and twelve o'clock, and shortly after ten the court was crowded with debtors of various grades. No one who witnessed the scene can fail regret that the system of tally-dealing, which affords such easy access for credit to an improvident wife or gay woman, cannot receive some wholesome check to save a working man's home from desolation. Many of the defendants were residents of Agar Town, St. Pancras and its vicinity, a place fertile with filth and rags, and inhabited only by the humblest of labouring men. The court sat till the whole of the cases were disposed of, and gave judgments at 3s., 4s., and 5s. per month, according to the means the parties had for
On Thursday the court again presented a like scene. One tallyman, named Goodwin, of King's Cross, having forty-three on the list, and Clements, of Judge Street, Euston Road, twenty-six, making a total of sixty-nine, averaging more than two-thirds of the causes to be tried this day.]
[-141-] It is filled with courts and alleys; it puts forward a gin-palace built in the true Seven Dials' style, even to a clock in the wall near the roof; and is crowded with cheap china-shops, cheap clothiers, and cheap haberdashers. Its side streets have a smoky, worn-out appearance; the gas-lamps pro-[142-]-ject jauntily from the walls, the iron posts at the end lean towards each other as if for mutual support; every street door is open; no house is without patched windows; and every passage is full of children. Back views of dingy public-houses make the scene more dismal; and wherever there is a butcher's shop it contrives to look like a cat's-meat warehouse. Chapel Street is the chief centre of business, and Sunday morning is its most busy period. It is very much like Shoreditch or Tottenham Court Road on a Saturday night, or the streets at the back of Clare market. There is a popular notion in the neighbourhood that things are sold a little cheaper on a Sunday morning, and many of the shopkeepers encourage this idea. The stall-keepers who crowd in the gutters with fish-stalls, vegetable-stalls, and hardware-stalls, are mostly residents of Agar Town; and when they have done their business for the day they go home to their huts like merchants to their villas.
MARYLEBONE AND THE OUTSKIRTS
If large factories and centres of industry invariably attract a crowded, dependent population, terraces and squares of private mansions do the same. From Belgravia to
Bloomsbury - from St. Pancras to Bayswater - there is hardly a settlement of leading residences that has not its particular colony of ill-housed poor hanging on to its skirts. Behind the mansion there is generally a stable, and near the stable there is generally a maze of close streets, containing a small greengrocer's, a small dairy, a quiet coachman's
public-house, and a number of houses let out in tenements. These houses shelter a large number of painters, bricklayers, carpenters, and similar labourers, with their families, and many laundresses, and charwomen. Each room, with a few exceptions, is the home of a different family, and
[-144-] the kitchens are often more crowded than any other parts of the house. This is particularly the case in old and faded
neighbourhoods - as I stated in my chapter upon St. James's, Westminster -- and it is also the case in Marylebone, near the Regent's Park. Squares and terraces that are scarcely thirty years old are still surrounded by hopelessly faded streets--some of them builders' mistakes, and others designedly built for the class who now occupy them. They all bear a melancholy family likeness to each other. Their street doors are always open; a few trucks are generally standing in the gutter; a marine storedealer's coloured placard sticks out prominently from one of the houses; and a flock of chickens are always strutting in the road. They often contain more uncomplaining poverty than some of the courts and alleys I have just been describing, or may be going to describe. Many of their inhabitants cherish a spirit of independence which a long course of intrusive visiting charity has not been able to crush.
In the district of St. Paul's, Marylebone - [-145-] a neighbourhood lying to the right of Lisson Grove, as you enter from the New Road - there are many streets that answer to this description. Byron Street, Brand Street, Bridport Street, are all filled with houses let out in tenements, each room fetching a rental of three shillings or three shillings and sixpence a week, and containing a large family. Externally the two latter streets look like what are called "genteel thoroughfares." Several families will be gathered under one roof; most of these families will have six members of both sexes--some grown to the age of youth--and each house will thus contain a dense population of poor working people in a very small space. Many of these poor lodgers, when periodically pressed, will sell everything saleable, even to their clothes, rather than ask for a sixpence from the local charities. The Rev. Mr. Keeling, who watches over the district, assures me that one half of his parishioners-or about five thousand people--have nearly all their garments in pawn at the present moment.*
Many [-146-] have told the visiting clergyman that a year's constant work, with the greatest thrift on their part, will hardly raise them out of the distress into which they have fallen.
Boston Place is an example of a lower class of settlement, lying half-way between the position of a court and a street. The houses exhibit every stage of squalor and wretchedness: the rooms are let at about two shillings or two and sixpence a week; the huddling together is even more extreme and unwholesome, and the place is a harbour for a few thieves and prostitutes. A common mews let out to cabmen-very often a decayed collection of private or livery stables--is a very usual feature in such neighbourhoods as this; and Huntsworth Mews, in this district, is a fair sample of these places. The yard and stables are dirty and neglected, the stablehelps are brown with filth, and over each stable is a low, close room, containing a family more or less numerous. The stable population in this district numbers about one hundred families.
[-147-] This is the side of Lisson Grove which is supposed to contain the decent poor; and on the other side, in the streets leading into the Edgeware Road, is a more densely crowded and even lower population. Bell Street, now famous in history as the spot where Turkish baths were first established, is the main stream of a low colony, with many tributary channels. There is no particular manufacture in the neighbourhood to call the population together; a great number are not dependent upon St. John's Wood or the Regent's Park for a living; and they come together simply because they like the houses, the rents, the inhabitants, and the general tone of living in the settlement. Somers Town, Shoreditch, and the New Cut, Lambeth, are here repeated in their principal features, and the whole place looks like a flourishing branch of some great central bank of costermongers, dingy brokers' shops, and Irish labourers. The Irish have a marvellous power of lowering the standard of comfort and cleanliness in any court, street, or colony in which they appear; and certain sewer-[-148-]like alleys near the Islington turnpike, certain back streets in the neighbourhood of Manchester Square--not to go "over the water," or to the east of London - are exactly like certain "gardens" or places in this part of Marylebone. Some of these "gardens" - Smith's Gardens for example--contain dwarfed cottages, very battered and dirty, standing in black yards, and are the evident remains of Marylebone as a village. In such places you will generally find a sweep or a dustman, and the bit of ground in front of each hut is more convenient to receive saleable refuse than a kitchen or a back parlour. Some of the streets (I may mention George Street) are notorious haunts of thieves, prostitutes, and the lowest threepenny lodging-houses; and in this case, the blot upon the district is not made more foul by being the property of a parish officer. Rate collectors, registrars, and active vestrymen are too often the proprietors of these places, making an extra profit by their local knowledge. Sometimes the land such pest-houses stand upon is Crown or Church property, and [-149-] the rent, and more, has to be expended in the work of counteracting their influence! There are no courts and alleys in this neighbourhood such as disgrace the east of London. The avenues are so broad that they may be almost classed as streets; the roadways are paved; there is no open drain trickling down the centre, and none that I saw were disfigured with public privies. The entrances, in one or two cases, were low archways, with pathways covered with various kinds of filth, but the interiors were open and fairly ventilated. I should prefer living in a hut in Smith's Gardens to living in a kitchen or back parlour in the St. Paul's district.
The Christ Church division of Marylebone, in which Bell Street and all its ramifications stand, is watched over by the Rev. Llewellyn Davies. The whole population of this crowded district is estimated at thirty thousand, and it embraces the worst part of the parish. The parochial work in such an area, which contains at least sixteen thousand idle and industrious poor, is necessarily [-150-] very heavy, and, on the whole, it appears to be conducted sensibly and energetically. The principle of self-help--the only principle that tends to assist the poor without demoralizing them--is adopted in every practicable way; and the pure charities are numerous and well conducted. There are four classes of schools for boys, girls, and infants, where a small weekly payment is exacted; there is a special Sunday school for children not attending the day schools; there are free evening classes in connection with the Sunday school, and similar classes at another school for lads, men, and girls. A working party is held weekly to which mothers of families may bring work, and at which they will receive friendly advice and assistance as to household management. No healthy educational agency is neglected. Amongst the self-supporting institutions is a provident fund, which numbered one thousand two hundred and fifty depositors of small sums in 1860, and an amount deposited of 1,000l. No money paid into this fund is returned in any form except in tickets for necessaries. There is [-151-] also a benefit club coming under this head, where members are entitled to receive certain payments during illness. Amongst the charities is a relief fund, the chief objects of which are to lend blankets, money (in small sums not exceeding 5l., without interest), to make allowances to the sick, and to supply linen and other comforts to women lying-in. The number of in-door poor at the Marylebone Workhouse (January 18), amounting to two thousand and thirty-nine, would people a small town; whilst there are three thousand three hundred and thirty-two "on the books" receiving out-door relief; and, in addition to these numbers, two thousand eight hundred and fifty-one have had casual relief during the last week. The cost of the relief of the poor during the year has been 53,500l.
For all this such a public scandal as the death of an old woman from starvation on the workhouse steps on Christmas day, 1860, has not been avoided; and the following case presents even more painful features: I quote the newspaper report:-- "Some excitement was occasioned " yes-[-152-]terday, December 25, 1860, in the neighbourhood of Lisson Grove, by the discovery of a poor deaf and dumb man in a dying state, from shocking neglect and destitution, in one of Hedge's Cottages, Chapel Street, Edgeware Road. The discovery was made, it appears, by Ann Dunn, a resident of No. 3, Hedge's Cottages, who at once called the attention of the police to the unfortunate man. He was found in an almost naked state, frightfully dirty and emaciated, presenting the appearance of long-standing neglect, and of not having tasted food for days. He was removed in a helpless, but sensible condition, upon a stretcher to the St. Marylebone Workhouse, where he was immediately admitted, and evinced much delight at the kind treatment and attention which was readily given him by the officers of the house. Mr. Fuller, the resident surgeon, immediately attended him, and at first some hopes were entertained of his recovery, but he expired about two hours after his admission. His name, it has been ascertained, is Robert Hussey, aged forty-five; and his death is a [-153-] melancholy instance of the shocking destitution of the metropolis even at Christmas."
The Rev. Mr. Davies, writing upon metropolitan distress in Macmillan's Magazine for February, 1861, has the following remarks in defence of the parochial administration of this workhouse :--
I admit, however, that notwithstanding the good intentions of the board, the results of their administration are by no means of a kind that would defy criticism. Not to speak of the insuperable difficulties of a constant weary struggle against vice, and idleness, and fraud, the management of so vast a business as that of the St. Marylebone Workhouse requires great administrative capacity and constant vigilance; and a board of thirty perfectly equal members, elected every year, does not promise much efficiency in government....
But even if such blots were more numerous and discreditable than they are, it is obvious--and no well-informed person could forget it--that the substantial relief of the poor [-154-] is, and must be, the work of the guardians, and that the better this work is done the less the public hear of it. At the same time, the public have ample opportunities of knowing what is going on at the workhouse, through the meetings, open to ratepayers and reporters, at the workhouse and the vestry, and through the reports in the local newspapers. But the poor law administration does not exterminate distress, nor pretend to do it. No system of relief, however charitable, could possibly put an end to distress. The causes of physical misery, whilst they remain, make that misery inevitable. In those instances of undoubted destitution which have been detailed before the magistrates and elsewhere, we do not know how much is due to drunkenness, that plague and curse of our poor. And how can you keep a drunkard out of want? Another cause of distress is scarcely less difficult to cope with--the imbecility and want of energy which infects some persons like a disease. Then there is the downright idleness of not a few, which keeps them from seek-[155-]ing work, and throws them out of occupation when they get it. The destitution which arises from sickness and misfortune--the character of the sufferers having been reasonably good--ought to be relieved humanely by the workhouse, if not more indulgently cared for, as one might surely hope it would be, by the kindness of friends and by Christian charity.
Passing out of Marylebone and the north proper, through the adjacent district of Paddington, on my road to a notorious western locality at Kensington called the Potteries, I looked at some old almshouses standing opposite the Vestry Hall, near the Green. They belong to the parish, according to the inscription on the front, and are, to all appearance, in as low a sanitary condition as some of the worst huts in Clerkenwell. They lie below the level of the road, are small, ill-ventilated, and dirty, and afford a very poor shelter to their wrinkled inmates. A tall man can almost touch their roofs from the pavement; and their continuance in the present position and condition must arise from [-156-] what Jeremy Bentham called an absurd regard for the directions of the dead.
The Potteries, at Kensington--a marshy district lying in the hollow behind the villas at Bayswater and Notting Hill--is in nearly the same condition now as it was some ten years ago, when attention was called to it in Household Words. It is like nothing in and about London except Agar Town, and its interior and approaches are even worse than those of that house of call for the workhouse even in its worst days. Most of the roads into it must be what are known as "undedicated roads" --highways not yet given up to or adopted by the public, and, consequently, dedicated to nothing but rivers of mud. The inhabitants are pig-trainers and brickmakers, keepers of ducks and fowls, "fanciers" of spurring gamecocks, and red-jawed bull-terriers, and supporters of the very lowest forms of sporting. The pothouses advertise "Rat matches every Monday night," and the first sight I saw was that of two fowls which were combating in a dreary swamp of black manure-drainage, broken bottles, old [-157-] bricks, and mud. The huts have grown a little the worse for wear, as all things do, and they hold together by some principle not yet discovered or laid down by theoretical builders. The settlement still retains its old proportions. It occupies about nine acres of ground, numbers nearly three hundred houses and hovels, including some of the neighbouring extensions, and contains at least a thousand of its original population. Refuse matter is still collected by the pig-trainers from club-houses and hotels, and boiled down in coppers, that the fat may be separated for sale. This business existed here long before the district rose around it, as it still exists in other outskirts of London; and the old inhabitants defend their right to the place, not only with legal parchments, but with energetic tongues. As a body they are happy and independent, and when sickness seizes one of them, a basin is carried round the huts, and a collection is made. They have a village Hampden, who visits coffee-houses, reads newspapers, thinks for himself, speaks for others, and takes his stand upon the broad fact that pigs [-158-] must be trained somewhere in a Christian land. He boasts that the pig-trainers have always paid twenty shillings in the pound, and is not at all disposed to sit down quietly under what he calls misrepresentation.
"We're not swine," he said; "we don't lie in that there mud. We train pigs and we train children. There's a hut yonder that doesn't look fit for a donkey to live in, according to the editor of the Bayswater Chronicle; but let me tell that man, or any man--let me tell you, sir--that the old woman as has lived in that hut for forty years has brought up as large a family of nice spoken boys as any woman in the Potteries. Let ‘em come to me when they've got anything to say agen the place--let ‘em meet me and talk it out at the temp‘rance-hall, and I'll not shrink from ‘em. There's ignorant people here, people as doesn't know a trough from a brickbat; who doesn't know the proper pronunciation of prudence, as I may say; but they ain't everybody. People as call theirselves Christians ain't got no right to come here and write books about us, [-159-] calling us a lot of pigs; and I'll get that book as I've heerd on and tell Mrs. Bayly a bit of my mind."
This last remark applied to a work recently published about missionary work in the Potteries, called "Ragged Homes, and how to Mend Them," which seems to have hurt the feelings of the village Hampden. The place, he considered, had never been fairly dealt with, either in illustrated journals, local newspapers, or volumes.
"Look at that brick-field," he said, "which we calls 'the hocean;' there's nothing much the matter with that. A brick-field ain't a drawing-room. Well, a gent comes down here and takes a pictur‘ of that brick-field, and makes it look a hawful place. He puts in such a hut as I never see, and makes out that all the roofs of our cottages is covered with cow-dung. Now that ain't the way to go and talk about people, and show people up. We're sure to see these things now, because a working-man goes to his coffee-shop, reads his newspapers, and is not such a fool as he's often made out."
[-160-] Public discussion on the spot, he thought, was the only way of arriving at the truth, and he knew many who could stand up for their settlement. He looked upon the whole land as a grant from a former Bishop of London, and the brickmakers as interlopers and trespassers.
If settlers are wedded to a place like this, where, according to a sanitary report for 1856, the average age at death is under twelve years, and where there is nothing to look at but clay, pools of stagnant water, and the most wretched hovels, there is no help for them. The pig-trainers must be left in possession of their happy hunting-grounds, and what little pity we have may be bestowed upon the brickmakers. These hardworking people are huddled together on the borders of the swine preserves, in huts provided for them by their employer, at a rental of two and three shillings a week. They live here, for the old reason, to be "near their bread," and they get nothing for their rental but the barest covering. The public privy, of course, does duty for a whole row of huts, and there is no more water [-161-] now for this part of the settlement than there was some ten years ago. A school, with a service, is provided by their landlord, but this is hardly a substitute for the commonest necessaries, comforts, and conveniences. The same attempt to supply physical deficiencies by showy educational and spiritual stop-gaps I noticed in Agar Town.
I should like to hear the village Hampden on this topic, at the local temperance hall, with the owner of the huts and brickfield in the chair.