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THE INFANT ORPHAN ASYLUM AT WANSTEAD
unites the care of children of the earliest age with the functions of a
training-school and home. Some baby orphans have been admitted there at the age
of six -weeks; and both boys and girls are retained until they are fifteen years
old, excepting peculiar cases. Six hundred inmates are now receiving the
benefits of this most useful charity, many of them the orphan children of
clergymen, officers in the army and navy, doctors, [-150-] lawyers, merchants,
master tradesmen, engineers, builders, and contractors.
Well may the committee ask that the institution may be its own advertisement, and invite public inspection by visitors, who may obtain cards at the office, 100 Fleet-street, to admit them on any Monday or Thursday. It is only a short and pleasant journey to Snaresbrook by the railway from Shoreditch or the line from Fenchurch-street; and the noble building is just opposite the pretty countrified station. I wish I could convey to any eyes that may read these lines the brightness shining through tears that the sight of that great assembly of little souls will occasion; I wish I could hope to make these pages a thousandth part so interesting in their behalf as the sound of their ringing voices must be to every sympathetic tender heart. Then there would be no fear, even though more than nine-tenths of the yearly resources of the charity are derived from voluntary contributions; and the amount of stated annual subscriptions is by no means equivalent to the outlay. They live almost from hand to mouth, these little ones tiny creatures, lying in their little cribs or stretching out their chubby arms to the great British public, - and looking 'like waxwork;' and yet so much unlike any mere mechanical pretence of' life that you have ever seen, that a great thrill runs through your heart as you give some fair young cherub a finger to grasp in its soft satin-skinned hand. When you get that finger back again, let it join your thumb in clasping a pen to write a cheque, or in taking from your purse a sovereign, a [-151-] bank-note, representing whatever sum you are prompted to give in the name of Love. Two thousand three hundred and eighty-four little ones have entered that nursery, which forms a distinct part of the group of buildings at Wanstead, since the asylum was instituted forty-three years ago. None of them have been more than seven years old, most of them were really infants, and grew up to learn all that is taught there in the schools, of which the Government inspector says:
'I am glad to be able to express my complete satisfaction with the state of all the schools, which, in every respect, seem to be doing very well, and are taught with care and success by their several teachers and assistants.
'The discipline in all the schools is excellent; the Scripture knowledge is also excellent.
'The musical education of the girls is exceedingly satisfactory, and, in common with all the rest of their education, highly creditable to their teachers. The system of teaching French continues to be very successful and valuable in its results.'
There is something more than ordinarily genial in this official language. I have no doubt that the examiner began at the beginning, and went into that infant-nursery. Supposing him to have been the father of a family - well, I don't care even though he may have been a bachelor - they had him at once. He couldn't have been severe after that. Not that I think he could have caught these young scholars tripping many times; the success of numbers of those who, hav-[-152-]ing left that sheltering roof, are now making their own way in the world, is a pretty good proof of the value of their training ; and, were it known, might commend the cause of the asylum, which is in great need of regular subscribers to its funds. For the cost is great: the cost of an efficient staff for cooking and preparing the 13,000 meals a-week, and washing the 10,000 articles that represent the laundry-work, to say nothing of the nursing and all the other duties that belong to such a grand baby-show as can be seen in no other country in the world.
Of the large number of asylums for orphan children now carrying on their useful and earnest work, there is scarcely space to speak with fitting details in the limits of this volume; but, as I said at the outset, I mean no disparagement to any, in selecting as examples those which are here set down as worthy representatives of this Labour of Love.
At the Asylum for Fatherless Children at Reedham, near Croydon, 260 boys and girls are received. At the British Orphan Asylum at Slough, 170 children of those once in prosperity are cared for; and at the Royal Albert Orphan Asylum, Collingwood-court, near Bagshot, 92 boys and 83 girls - destitute orphans - are maintained. Then there is the institution, the Royal Asylum of St. Anne's Society, founded in 1702, in which (at the Home at Streatham-hill) are 340 children, the orphans and other necessitous children of parents who have moved in a superior station of life. Many [-153-] smaller charities are in operation; some of them receiving only boys, and others specially intended for orphan girls.
To the latter, public attention needs to be urgently directed, since, in most of the large institutions, the number of girls is seldom more than half that of the boys; and yet it would surely seem that young orphan girls require more than ordinary care in protecting them from the evils that may surround them in youth, and in preparing them for the part that women must take in forming the future national character.
In the Asylum for Female Orphans at Beddington-park, Croydon, 160 girls are received, the cost per head being about 20l. a-year.
The Coburg Home, at Manor-street, Chelsea, receives 46 destitute orphan girls, from four to twelve years of age; and the Girls' Orphan Home at Kilburn provides for 55 inmates, who are trained for domestic service.
The Female Orphan Home at Elstree supports 50 destitute orphan girls; and that at Grove-road, St. John's-wood, 53 girls who have lost both parents.
Then there is the Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Hampstead, where above 150 daughters of soldiers are received from infancy to the age of sixteen years, maintained and trained for domestic service. The office of this excellent society is at 7 Whitehall.
The Sailors' Orphan Girls' School and Home, also at Hampstead, with offices at 77 Cornhill, maintains, clothes, and educates 70 orphan daughters of sailors [-154-] and marines, and also provides a home for them after they have left the institution while they are out of situations.
Besides these, there are some other small special establishments connected with particular churches and institutions; and one, the Royal British Female Orphanage at Devonport, where a home is provided for 85 destitute orphan girls, children of soldiers, sailors, and marines, especially of those who lost their lives in the public service. The Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum extends the same benefit to 328 orphan daughters of soldiers and sailors who fell in the Crimean ·War; so that its provisions may be considered terminable in the course of a short period, unless they are applied to fresh objects.
One of the most pleasant references in the annals of those general orphanages which have been considered at greater length, is that which relates to the reception, not only of the children of officers in the army and the navy, but also of the orphans of masters and officers in the mercantile marine.
Happily the bereaved and destitute little ones of merchant seamen have now a large and flourishing institution established for them ; and its claims for support should be acknowledged by every one of us who reflects at what a risk of life, and with bow few opportunities for making any provision for his family, the sailor performs his arduous duty. Surely our sympathies should be awakened to the claims of the sailor's widow and her helpless little ones.
When that sweet little cherub who is
traditionally amid lyrically represented as sitting up aloft to look out for the
life of poor Jack, is relieved by the next watch, and makes a short excursion
for the purpose of stretching his wings, it may reasonably be inferred that he
hovers lovingly over the neighbourhood of Snaresbrook, in Essex, and perches
occasionally on the tall spiral tower of that magnificent building, where 136
children, the orphans of merchant seamen, are maintained with loving care.
It may have occurred to the cherub in his flights to that tree-embowered part of the country near Epping Forest, that in this island, whose rightness and tightness are so dependent on time exertions of time sailor, the sailor's orphan becomes everybody's care, and that, of all destitute British babies, the water-baby has, perhaps, the most urgent claim.
This reflection was at least suggested to me as I stepped on to the platform of time new Snaresbrook station, on the Great Eastern Railway; and its force was not diminished when I learned that the building, whose roof and tower I could see above the trees a short distance down the Chigwell-road, had been built to accommodate 250 inmates, and could easily be extended for the reception of 200 boys and 100 girls, many of whom had been left without either father or mother, and all of whose fathers had done their duty in the merchant service, and had died without having been able to provide for their families.
[-156-] The limited number of children which the committee of this admirable charity are able to admit to the asylum at present is scarcely more a matter for surprise than time fact that the institution itself was founded more than forty years ago, when, in an ordinary tenement in St. George's-in-the-East, from five to ten orphan boys were received.
In 1829 a similar house was taken for the reception of girls; and both establishments were increased, until the number of inmates became so large as to make it necessary to rent larger premises. A suitable building for the purpose was discovered in time Bow-road, where boys and girls to the number of 120 were received under the same roof in a large house standing in its own grounds ; but as the place was only held on a short lease, it was deemed advisable to commence a building-fund, in order ultimately to secure a freehold and an appropriate establishment for so useful an asylum. This was set on foot in 1850; and the appeal of the promoters having been liberally responded to by gentlemen, and it may also be said by ladies, connected with the shipping interest in London, a plot of ground at Snaresbrook, seven acres and a half in extent, was purchased in 1858, and the present building was commenced in 1860 ; the foundation-stone being laid by the late Prince Consort, whose name is peculiarly associated with this asylum as the last building of the kind which he inaugurated.
On the 10th of July 1862, the orphans were brought to their new home, and since that time the grounds and [-157-] much of the interior fitting have been completed. The committee, the architect, the contractors, and, the patrons have done their work well. It is not too much to say, that if those who are blessed with the means to help the sailors' orphans will do their part of the work in a similar spirit, the subscription-list will soon warrant the managers of the charity in filling the spare wards with little clean white beds, and in training up twice the present number of children into healthy, honest English men and women.
To think of the fathers of these orphans meeting their death while in active service, is at once to try to realise what the life of a sailor really is - of the tedious voyage, the long parting from children, friends, and home, the hard wearying work, the unchanging monotony, the frequent suffering from hunger, thirst, and cold, the misery of a ship ill-found and under-manned, the silent longing for the return-passage, the constant toil, the more terrible occurrence of sickness or disablement, with only a damaged medicine-chest and a captain's remedies.
It is to remind ourselves that for almost every one of those luxuries which we have learnt to regard as necessaries and take at every meal, we have to depend on our merchant seamen; and it is to reflect how many brave fellows are lost every year within sight, as it were, of the very homes where they have left their little ones waiting.
Surely, if any children are a national charge - and all poor children have that claim - these poor orphans of the [-158-] sea are specially committed to us. How much remains to be done before we can say that we have tried to fulfil this trust, may be learnt from the fact that in time last ten years more than 30,000 British seamen have died from various causes while in active service; that two- thirds of this number left widows and orphans ; and that at least one-fourth of the deaths occurred from drowning; while another fourth may be directly attributed to accident or privation.
Imagine for a moment 70,000 children left fatherless from one section of our community - a section the very nature of whose calling is at once eminently hazardous, and not so remunerative as to render the making of any provision an easy task! Take off as large a percentage as you reasonably can of children not even comparatively destitute, and what a startling number will be left!
Let all the resources of this great building be made available, and the 300 little ones, of ages from seven to fifteen, be gathered within its walls, the light lofty dormitories be furnished with their complement of tiny white beds, and there will still be work to do.
As it is, there has been added to the building only a large dining-hall, the first stone of which was laid by time Prince and Princess of Wales in 1866; but the wing- occupied by the boys has yet to be completed; and the infirmary, now occupied by healthy inmates, would be required in case of its provisions being rendered necessary by the serious sickness of many of the children a calamity from which they have hitherto been mercifully [-159-] preserved. As it is, only 250 inmates can be received, until the funds are increased. The original patrons, time committee, and the subscribers have done their work well; but they want help.
That they have done their work, witness the building, which they determined to raise in the hope that it would soon be filled. The building-fund was formed from special contributions; and those who formed it determined that it should be worthy of the object for which it was designed: not by costliness, but by convenience; not by pretentiousness, but by beauty. To use a good old seafaring phrase, they would not 'spoil the ship for time sake of a ha'porth of tar;' and they have been justified by the result.
As I stand here by the iron gate in the high railing enclosing the grounds, I am convinced that the managers have begun well by the exercise of a wise liberality with regard to their building. It is certainly a splendid edifice, its broad frontage and North-Italian architecture being relieved by the handsome stone dressings and courses of coloured bricks, which are scarcely likely to be turned to a dingy hue in that pure forest air.
Standing inside the gate, and, in answer to my summons, requiring to know my business, is an 'ancient mariner' of about eleven, in a pilot jacket and a cloth cap. He fixes me with his glistening eye like that other ancient mariner in the poem; but it is a very pleasant eye - a quiet, roguish, but yet respectful eye, which seems to wonder why I am staring so earnestly at [-160-] his house. He is evidently quite accustomed to its magnificent proportions; and after a farther scrutiny, admits me, and runs away to call the matron to receive me at the door.
In the open space beyond, and a little behind, the building, a swing or two and a trapeze hanging from a tree denote the playground; and beyond that a level space for cricket awaits the return of summer weather; but under the schoolroom is a covered cloister, making a famous sheltered space for a score of games, and a drilling and practising ground for the band of fifes and drums. For they are eminently harmonious at Snaresbrook, and the child who has a taste for music is taught it without much ado.
I hear the sound of music as I enter the hall, and find that it proceeds from one of time rooms, where, in her play-time, an elder girl is practising the harmonium, hoping, no doubt, to become some day as proficient as one of her late schoolfellows, who, besides being a school-assistant, acts as organist in the beautiful chapel, which has been built entirely at the expense of Lady Morrison, 'to the glory of God, and for the use of the Merchant Seamen's Orphan Asylum.'
This chapel, with its high roof of glistening pine, its polished granite lectern, and its plain but perfect appointments, is but the record of the constant care and support which that benevolent lady has given to the institution, of which she may be called the mother. I am not sure that the children do not speak of her tenderly and respectfully under that endearing name.
[-161-] I am sure that some of them love her well enough to use it with all the strength of their little orphan hearts.
It is very pleasant to go to the schoolroom where the boys are at work, and to notice how they rise - more to the matron than to me, I'm sure - with a sort of manly courtesy very different indeed from the half-servile 'manner' that belongs to the teaching of some institutions. I am no less struck with this than with the grave and unembarrassed modesty of the girls.
About 100 of the 130 boys now in the institution are occupied with their slates under the care of one of the masters, himself with a sea air upon him, and a salt-water cut about his dress. In the girls' school, in another corridor, about fifty out of the seventy-nine blue-clad lasses are busy with their needles, the youngest of them pretty little creatures of seven or eight years old.
In all the rooms, wards, and corridors, except the committee-room and some of the private apartments, the walls are left just as they were built, evenly faced with gray-stock bricks, without paint or plaster, the uniformity being relieved by bands of bricks of purple tint, and cut red-brick mouldings and window arches. The great height and noble size of the different apartments render this arrangement far preferable to any attempt at plastering or colouring the walls; and the large light windows, combined with the toned hue of the brick, give the whole place a delightful effect of [-162-] cleanliness and ventilation without the chilly sensation which is somehow always connected with wall composition, and even with any but expensive and richly-coloured papers, in such large spaces.
The corridors, both on the ground-floor and in the upper stories leading to the dormitories, are brick-vaulted and fireproof; the woodwork throughout the building being of varnished pine, without paint of any kind. The dormitories are the most airy and spacious, and at the same time the most easily regulated with regard to temperature, that I have ever seen in any similar institution, and are fitted with capital baths and lavatories, beside a series of foot-tubs, known to the boys by the expressive name of 'trotter-boxes.'
The hospital is at present only a large apartment on the upper floor, with a nurse's room, and detached or enclosed beds for severe cases of illness; but it is well contrived for the completeness of its arrangements. This hospital, however, has not been used in any case of epidemic or other infectious disease.
The children here are singularly free from even small ailments - a condition which the pure air of that open country, the perfect ventilation, and the abundant supply of good food and good water, will very well explain. Pure air, pure water, and ventilation may all be appreciated by a visit to the top of the building under the main spire, where the two great tanks are placed - for the supply of the establishment; and where I stand, as it were, in the lantern of a lighthouse, looking out, not over sea, but above the tree-tops of that [-163-] woody country towards Chigwell, Woodford, Wanstead, and Epping: open spaces of green fields and embowered deeps, soon to be rustling with billows of green leaves, but now only a tangled mass of bare branches. The boys occupy the south wing, and the girls the western portion of the building, separated by the apartments of the matron, and reached by distinct staircases. The girls have a large space for out-door games in front of the building; and the boys a cricket-ground and play-field at the back. Besides these, however, there is an arched cloister under the boys' schoolroom, which is a famous play-place for wet weather, and where their band of fifes and drums has plenty of marching-room; while the girls have a covered playground beneath the dining-hall.
The chapel, at which I have already peeped, is in the same exterior style as the main building, although detached from it, and all its beautiful appointments are evidences that, besides the large sum of 5,000l. which she has devoted to the general fund, Lady Morrison has added the chapel as a fitting crown to that labour of love which has constituted her the mother of these little orphans, who regard her with so much gratitude and affection. From the high-polished pine roof over the altar to the sparkling granite and marble of the lectern, the fittings of this sanctuary are in complete harmony with the rest of the institution, which has been raised by the special contributions of those who desired not to withhold their hands.
I should like to stay here and dream a little; but [-164-] it is dinner-time, and I have yet to look in at the great dining-hall, where the long tables will soon be spread.
Of the kitchen, with its lifts to the great refectory and other rooms above, there is at least this much to say - that, with a tolerably wide experience of kitchens in public and charitable establishments, I am delighted to see that there is obviously no desire to substitute the mere cold unmeaning mechanical appliances of modern culinary science for that air of comfort, that whisper of home, which is the chief charm of any kitchen worthy of the name. There are, it is true, great iron steamers and boilers with patent lever-fitted lids; but there is no terrible evidence of everlasting boiling; and there are evidences of pies and puddings as well as roast meats. Above all, there is a glorious dresser, bearing a still more glorious dinner-service, which, although the children are served on neat metal and white-enamelled bowls and platters, such as one sees in the windows of outfitters' shops, must be a cheerful, homelike, pleasant piece of furniture to every boy and girl going in and out.
Only two more parenthetical remarks, which should be as suggestive as anything I can say on behalf of this admirable asylum. It is fortunate in the services of Mr. Hackwood, an energetic, assiduous, and experienced gentleman, who makes his secretaryship itself less an official duty than a labour of love. It spends all its subscriptions and contributions from wealthy patrons, from sympathetic friends, from captains and officers and [-165-] passengers of ships far out at sea, and from former scholars who have succeeded well in the world, for the purpose of maintaining as many present inmates as can be received; in other words, it has no endowment fund except that already referred to, especially given on that condition, and devoted to special objects.
Before another year is past, may the long tables in the great dining-hall be full, and more sailors' orphans now destitute find parents in a nation whereof the people have sea salt in their very blood!
The offices of the Merchant Seamen's Orphan Asylum are at 117 and 118 Leadenhall-street.
The glory of the large number of
charitable institutions for which England is distinguished is so generally
represented to consist in their voluntary character, that people have come to
regard with something like indifference those provisions for the relief of
distress or the assistance of honest struggling poverty which are secured, or
should be secured, by endowments left in the hands of almoners and trustees.
Yet, if a correct statement were to be published of the nature and amounts of
all the charitable trusts which have either been allowed to accumulate for want
of recipients entitled to the benefits derived from them, or have been
altogether misapplied by the successors of the original trustees, we should be
startled at the large sums re-[-166-]presented by charities which either 'go
a-begging,' or are allowed to answer no useful end, because the precise letter
of the intention of the original founder can no longer be carried out.
In many instances the accumulations of years of improvement are permitted to lie idle because a definite sum to be divided between a stated number of people was all that could be realised from the land left by the charitable old testator, who never foresaw that every foot of ground would one day be worth a small annuity. In other instances money left for the benefit of poor persons in certain parishes is unclaimed because there are no residents in the parish who can reasonably demand it; while in more than one little district the sum represented by the original bequest is quietly disposed of at parochial meetings, and no questions asked, simply because there is nobody to ask questions, except those who wrongfully participate in the distribution.
These are the parishes where it is as good as a little legacy to be appointed one of the board, or to serve the office of church-warden ; where the accession of a tradesman to such an office is almost immediately signalised by the putting in of a new shop-front; and is often followed in a year or two by a relinquishing of a petty retail business and a promotion to the dignity of a wholesale dealer.
In numerous instances considerable sums of money have been for years increasing in amount, while the original intentions of the testators have been superseded by the changes that have taken place in society [-167-] or in particular alterations of the laws ; and money, which is at once urgently needed and might be most usefully applied in the spirit of its original donors, if not in exact accordance with the dead letter of their last wills and testaments, is being held over until some legal enactment shall release trustees from the possibility of being sued hereafter for any seeming breach of privilege in disbursing a penny for any other object than one which no longer exists.
Doubtless the voluntary system has reared some of the most useful and admirable institutions which bless the country; and there are few forms of distress which may not be relieved by one or other of the noble charities that are increasing in scope and usefulness every year; but it should not be forgotten that the old bequests were voluntary gifts for the relief of such forms of misery or the assistance of such manifest difficulties among the poor as were most obvious at the time they were made, and that the acquisition by some of the best existing institutions of the large accumulated funds intended to promote similar objects to their own, would enable many of them to extend their operations so materially as to make a serious diminution in the general amount of suffering.
The great objection urged against the administration of those charities that are vested in trustees is, that they are susceptible to private influences and liable to become the mere properties of members of the board, who can promote the interest of any particular candidate without reference to the higher claims of the [-168-] greatest necessity. This objection might possibly be obviated by an amalgamation of existing boards of trustees with the members of the committees of voluntarily supported institutions, or by electing a certain number of members of such committees as special sub-committees for the management of those particular funds apart from the money contributed by subscribers. Before any such scheme as this amalgamation can be so much as thought of, however, it would be necessary for some of the largest institutions that are supported by voluntary contributions to use strenuous efforts to abolish that practice of charitable gambling which at present threatens both to destroy the sentiment that can alone sustain any benevolent work, and to make the application of the funds of the institutions themselves ineffectual, by devoting them to cases not contemplated on the original foundation, and entirely ineligible except by a straining of its provisions.
It may be that the purchase of votes by subscriptions, and the election of candidates for the benefits of the charity by the supporters of the charity itself, is, if not the best, the most expedient method of selecting the objects of relief; but no one who goes a couple of hours before the appointed time into the room where a charitable election is to be held, can fail to see that this system has been perverted to such an extent, that it will soon be necessary to go to some of the worst-administered of the old charitable trusts for a parallel.
The whole preliminary business of the occasion [-169-] seems to resolve itself into a mere sale or bartering of votes. As each supporter of the institution ascends the staircase - say of the London Tavern - he or she is assailed by touters, who offer benevolent suffrages in exchange for the particular proxies they require, although the same kind of gambling has been going on in the entire circle of all similar institutions for months before. It is a great game of speculation; and votes for hospitals, working schools, orphanages, asylums, and refuges, change hands with a celerity that fills the inexperienced mind with wonder as to who will be the final recipients of the various bounties, and what ultimate guarantee can be secured of the proper administration of the funds of any of them.
It is wonderful to witness the arts that are used on such occasions to exchange a doubtful voucher for one more immediately useful, and to listen to the premiums offered for those that rule highest in the market.
'I can give you two orphanages and an asylum for three aged pensioners,' says a fair siren, with a coaxing look, as some benevolent old gentleman reaches the landing breathless. 'Do you want a refuge or a female home?' quietly insinuates a blooming matron, as she displays a number of tickets like a hand of cards. They are so eager that they throng the staircases, and waylay the victims as they toil painfully upward. It is difficult to withstand their beseeching glances and their innocent endearments, but you feel like a loser at a game in which you are at a disadvantage ; you see [-170-] the very spirit of gambling in their eyes, and hear its hard ring in their voices as they cry like female croupiers to the next comer, and offer their vouchers for sale on the chance of backing time winning candidate when the hour arrives for the poll.
A great deal might be said about another kind of charitable gambling, of the legality of which there is great doubt. The method lately employed by certain institutions of sending out neat little packets of lottery- tickets, giving the chance of winning a grand piano, a pony-chaise, a piece of Irish linen, a collar of brawn, a Westphalia ham, a sack of potatoes, a china tea-service, a silver dressing-case, or a dozen of socks, for the small outlay of half-a-sovereign, is demoralising, truly; but the charities which adopt these means are mostly distant, and belong to a certain section of Roman Catholicism.
They are scarcely worse in their impersonal and unbenevolent character than those which are subject to the full influence of the sale and barter of votes.
Imagine, if you can, the bitter disappointment of some earnest worker, who, after wearying efforts to return a candidate whose case has been personally inquired into and its urgent need acknowledged, discovers that months of endeavour have been superseded by the ability of some wealthier patron of a comparatively unknown claimant, who, at the eleventh hour, can buy up a large holding of proxies, or promise any number of votes for other institutions in exchange!
Imagine the still more painful heart-sickness that [-171-] comes of deferred hope followed by unfulfilled expectation, when a poor creature, the mother of orphan children perhaps (though it is not orphanages alone that suffer from this evil practice), who, resting from her anxious striving only on the morning of the election, and with a kind of fluttering triumph at her supposed success, learns that all those unregistered votes, of which she had scarcely heard, have been secured by the power of the purse. Hers is more than a disappointment it is an agony.
I venture to assert, that whoever gains an election by the purchase of votes in this way, is an accomplice in gross and unfeeling fraud, and is guilty of profaining the very name of charity.
But it is not always that money passes on the occasion. The arrangement is, indeed, generally concluded by barter. No matter whether the purchaser of votes for that particular institution actually has in hand the commensurate value in proxies for any other charity, the election to which is to be on some later date; an IOU is sufficient, and all that remains to be done is to set to work to obtain them in time to repay the obligation.
1t will be seen, therefore, that the seller parts with votes, entitling to the benefits of the charity, some person of whose qualifications he knows nothing, on condition that the buyer shall requite this service on precisely similar terms.
Can we wonder that the provisions of many of our most eminent benevolent institutions are sometimes [-172-] abused, and that even careful inquiry on the part of time secretary or time visiting members of the committee occasionally fails to prevent the admission of unworthy candidates?
Sometimes timid people, despairing otherwise of success, are led into this sort of arrangement, and when settling day comes (the day of some other election), discover that they cannot make up the number of votes for which their acknowledgments have been given. Then there is nothing for it but to pay their money value, that the creditor may go and buy them elsewhere ; a demand which falls heavily indeed on any poor creature who has been induced by a bad example to adopt this expedient in order to gain the election of her orphan child, her aged parent, or her destitute relation.
It may easily be understood what facilities such a system gives to unscrupulous persons who make the traffic in votes part of their business ; how they may become large holders in one institution, or may do a jobbing trade in several.
In order to cheek the worst evils of these nefarious schemes, the purchase of votes should be strictly forbidden, and any election gained by such means should be declared invalid.
No person should be allowed to obtain votes, except by application as a subscriber or contributor to the institution; and then the purchase of a sufficient number to return a candidate would probably amount to a sum which, if paid in a lump for the purpose, might insure the admission of a candidate as an endowed case, [-173-] and so not prejudice the result of time forthcoming election. To effect this object, it would be necessary (and I think the rule would be judicious) not to issue proxies for any election in return for subscriptions or donations paid only within a certain number of days of such election being held.
This plan should of course include a refusal to acknowledge any IOU or promissory note relating to exchange of votes, by declaring such arrangements to be illegal, and refusing to admit any candidate on whose behalf such a transaction had taken place.
While this would help to put a stop to the unmitigated evil of these impersonal returns of unknown candidates, it would not operate to prevent friends from exchanging actual proxies, each owner of which had confidence that the votes would be well bestowed on a case the claims of which had been subject to personal inquiry.
It must be understood that in the institutions my visits to which I have recorded, vote-hawking and proxy-mongering are entirely discouraged; but in order to render this discouragement more effectual, it would be well if all the influential charities would agree on some decided course of action, and make definite and stringent rules with some organisation for mutual protection.
These rules should be plainly printed on each voting- paper, with an emphatic request to the subscriber to whom it is issued, not to suffer the document to leave his possession until he had placed on it the name of [-174-] the candidate, which would be regarded as his guarantee that he had made personal inquiry, and was satisfied of the genuineness of the case.
This precaution might be combined with a regulation that every candidate should send in to the committee a petition or application, signed by two householders, one of whom should be a governor of the charity - a rule which has been adopted in some institutions apparently with satisfactory results.
But, after all, the principal remedy must be sought in endeavouring to awaken the conscience of the 'benevolent public;' for in truth there are few things in which good and kind-hearted people are so unprincipled as in this kind of charitable aid.
Without declaring that many of the contributors to prominent institutions are actuated by no higher motive than the appearance of their names on the subscription list - a charge too frequently brought against them by persons who make the assertion an excuse for never giving even an anonymous shilling to any benevolent association whatever - it may be feared that only a minority of the supporters of these institutions take a real personal interest in their working, or trouble themselves to be responsible for the qualification of the candidate for whom they give their votes, even to the extent of inquiring the name and learning the degree of necessity of the person for whom their interest is solicited.
We may contribute our guinea to be rid of an obligation to a friend, or ·to escape the repeated solicita-[-175-]tions of some active supporter of the charity, in whose hands we are satisfied to leave our vote; or we may devote a certain annual amount of charitable conscience-money to subscriptions, in the carelessly expressed belief that 'it is sure to do some good;' while we exhibit no real interest whatever in securing the usefulness of its application; or we may be intimate with a circle of people concerned in supporting a particular asylum, and pay down our contributions as a sort of entrance-fee to their society.
Beneath all these ways of contributing, there is doubtless the feeling that it is our duty to aid works of charity and mercy, and an endeavour to promote what we believe to be a desirable alleviation of distress. Taken in the rough, there is still a nugget, or at all events a few grains, of golden love within the external sordid crust of stone and clay. But it is not a labour of love in which we are engaged. We can claim no personal share in that work, the results of which are so indifferent to us that we do not even take the trouble to follow the ordinary worldly rule - of seeing that, for our money, we have our money's worth.
I have already spoken of the vote-hawkers and proxy-mongers; it is this negligence on the part of subscribers which enables them to follow their calling. I have mentioned the scenes displayed in the committee-rooms on election-days, where such transactions are openly carried on.
Those of my readers who are familiar with these occasions will have heard of, even if they do not know, [-176-] two persons at least - a lady and gentleman; the latter distinguished by a very familiar name, conferred on him because of his facial peculiarity; the former, an example of a kind of weedy gentility - who always have votes on hand, or can engage to obtain proxies for almost any popular institution. It is very well understood that they do not subscribe so liberally as to secure so large an influence; but they are indefatigable canvassers, have an intimate acquaintance with the market, and know where to find the loose unsettled contributors.
In many instances a candidate's only hope of election seems to be the chance of securing the offices of these individuals. They can influence the fate of an applicant at the very turning point of success or failure; - they best know for what consideration; but even if it be for no consideration whatever, and only in pure good-nature, the state of things that makes such a power possible should no longer exist. It is a bitter satire on any professedly voluntary system.
When a charitable institution lacks sufficient funds, or begins to suffer
from that diminished interest which even regular subscribers will sometimes
display, and supporters, who suffer from the reaction which comes after the
benevolent gambling that consists of staking votes and vouchers, cannot avert,
there is one method to which secretaries and committees almost in-[-177-]variably
resort. At present, although some innovations have been tried - and one or two
of them have been exceptionally successful - the old organisation of a charity
dinner is perhaps the safest, and best answers the purpose of increasing the
list of subscriptions. We no longer call it a 'charity dinner.' It is a
'festival,' mostly an 'annual festival,' and in some instances a little regard
is had to the new title by some arrangement by which the dinner may be followed
by - well, not by a ball exactly, but by dancing; - the partners of the flushed
and seven-coursed gentlemen being the ladies who have been witnessing their
performances from a gallery to which they have been condemned, after a
five-shilling cold collation and a few glasses of wiry champagne, that they may
hear the speeches, be led to sympathise with the 'objects of the charity,' and
criticise the professional singers who accompany the dreary post-prandial
oratory with more or less inappropriate melodies.
In the whole range of modern society there is nothing so astonishing as the continued belief in the efficacy of these festivals for reviving the doubtful interests of the philanthropic public, except the fact that they do operate to that end in some occult and hitherto unexplained manner, and by means which the cynic refers to personal vanity, and the optimist to emulation in well-doing and the enthusiasm of united beneficence.
No sooner do the first truly vernal shoots appear upon the trees, than societies which have been hybernating start into perceptive life, and see the necessity [-178-] for new funds; while those that have made their influence felt when it was needed during the adverse months of the year, seek for an occasion to assert their claims.
In either case there is but one method that commends itself to the serious attention of the committee.
Whether the balance at the bankers' is so low that arrangements have to be made to pay for the dinner itself out of the very subscriptions that it is hoped will be handed to the secretary before the end of the dessert, or the condition of the institution is so flourishing that rival hotels compete for the honour of providing a sumptuous entertainment at a guinea a-head, with a handsome discount by way of a contribution, the only way to mark the sense of the committee that the public has behaved with noble generosity, or to give to a public waiting to display a generous nobility the opportunity which it covets, is to 'organise' a festival.
The most extraordinary part of the whole business is, that everybody concerned - the secretary, who declares that the work it entails on him is nothing short of slavery, the committee who represent the institution, the stewards who represent the irrepressible delights of dining together at a guinea a-head, the subscribers who are invited to partake of the elaborate repast, the general public, which is represented by one or two weary-eyed and white-waistcoated 'visitors,' - all unite in declaring that if there is one thing in the world to which they have a rooted and invincible antipathy, it [-179-] is a charity dinner, even though it be disguised under the name of an annual festival.
The assertion is borne out by the appearance of the guests when the looked-for occasion arrives. Each individual, as he gives up his hat and overcoat to the attendants (who already have speculation in their eyes, and seem to his disturbed mind to be clairvoyantly looking at the small change in his waistcoat-pocket), appears as though he had been specially selected for an unpleasant duty.
Some of the younger or less accustomed begin to ascend the stairs with a jauntily-depressed air ; but even they are toned down to the proper level by the time they smell the haunch of mutton, and catch preliminary whiffs of mock-turtle on the landing.
Left to wander helplessly in the dingy room, where four stewards, with their legs wide apart, are pretending to discuss a subject about which neither of them cares, while they await the arrival of the chairman, who does not come; the aimless and faint, but not hungry, subscriber has ample opportunity to wish that he had sent his guinea and taken his usual chop in the City.
He looks round the dingy room with its renovated hangings, its ineffectual clock, its neutral pictures, and faded carpet, from which the faltering feet of armies of sickening guests have worn out the pattern, happy to find an acquaintance who will at least give him the excuse of taking wine at dinner. He hears a bustle at the door, sees that the room is filling, notices that the stewards have taken possession of somebody in a white [-180-] neckcloth (whom he at first mistakes for the head-waiter, but on inquiry discovers is the chairman), and then finds himself hustling, like a member of the House of Commons going up to the bar of the Lords, towards the room where, on the great expanse of tablecloth, shines the service of plate of which the centre pieces are polished till the copper shows through, and the calico and muslin flowers in the épergnes almost rival the real plants that fade before the odours of strong meats and the steam of the usual soup.
There is no need to dwell on the merely material part of these 'festivals.' The festa is too often to a regulation pattern - the same thin hock and fiery sherry and peculiar metallic-flavoured Bucellas; the same dense puttified cutlets and lardy patties, and cold plates for chilled mutton; the same tepid melted butter and stringy guinea-fowl; the same compensating champagne and ice-pudding - what time the grand piano is wheeled forward and the songstress tunes her lays; the same spasmodic announcements by the secretary; the same replete eloquence interrupted by a nutcracker accompaniment; the same applause that salutes by a crescendo movement the big contribution, and recognises by a corresponding decrescendo the subscription of a guinea. Above all, the ladies in the gallery, seen through a haze composed of the vapours of all the courses, and blurring them into a mechanical waxwork expression, especially when their toast is proposed, and a youth of great promise but ineffective utterance is called upon to reply.
It is a dreadful custom, this invitation of ladies to [-181-] the gallery to witness the degraded position to which the want of their presence at the table reduces mankind; but it may be doubted whether the greatest modern innovation of 'the festival' is not more to be lamented, because their admission to the charity dinner itself has dispelled an illusion which it might have been for their happiness to have retained. They had a firm belief that these festive occasions were high holidays, and grumbled sweetly that men had so many pleasures in which poor women were not allowed to participate. There is an end to that happy misbelief, at all events, now that ladies' tickets for fifteen shillings give them all the privileges of charitable festivities.
THE ORPHAN BOYS AT STOCKWELL.
I have already alluded to the extent of
the provision for bereaved and destitute boys as compared with that for the
relief and maintenance of girls; and the mention of it at once leads me to refer
to one of the latest institutions established for receiving orphan children-one,
too, which differs materially in some respects, but more particularly in the way
in which it originated, and in the plan for receiving candidates, from most
other orphanages in London. The institution was commenced by the transfer of one
single large sum of money to trustees as an endowment, and the mode of receiving
children is by selection on the part of the committee instead of election by the
votes of subscribers; urgent cases, in which principal contributors to the
foundation are in-[-182-]terested, having the preference, the greatest necessity
being regarded as the best general recommendation of ordinary claimants.
I do not make any distinction between this and other institutions on the ground of its being associated with a particular religious denomination, because, in reality, no such distinction exists. The original benefactress chose Mr. Spurgeon as the most likely man to be able to carry out her purpose, and he found (as he always seems to find) ready assistance from the leading people of his own congregation. This is, as far as I can discover, the sole connection that the Stockwell Orphanage has with the 'Tabernacle' and its congregation. Its indirect connection with the Baptist denomination consists only in the fact, that some of the Baptist ministers of England have contributed funds to build two houses or cottages (for the orphanage is on the separated or cottage system), and the students of the Baptist College have built another. The foundation of the charity is declared to be completely unsectarian; and indeed I may mention that the resident superintendent and present head-master is, or was, a minister of the 'Independent' body, chosen for the work because of his being suitable to discharge its duties. Mr. Spurgeon himself is chairman of the committee; and at present there can be no doubt that the institution is almost, if not entirely, supported by his people, in as far as its expenses are not met by the original endowment of 20,000l., the interest of which, it need not be said, is less than is required even for the number of children now maintained there.
[-183-] In the autumn of the year 1866 Mr. Spurgeon received a note, apparently written by a lady, simply stating that the writer wished him to call on her, in order to consult on the determination which she had for some time entertained of devoting by far the greater part of her property - no less a sum than 20,000l. invested in various securities - to the maintenance of orphan children. I cannot possibly explain the results of this remarkable intimation better than by quoting what Mr. Spurgeon himself said about it on the occasion of laying the foundation-stones of the first cottages for which the funds had been provided on the 9th of September 1867. A large area of land had been obtained beside the main-road at Stockwell, and a very enthusiastic assembly had manifested its interest in the work by meeting on the ground, where a great covered shed, not unlike an ornamental and highly-finished railway goods-shed, had been erected, to serve thereafter the admirable purpose of a great covered playground, and a convenient, sheltered, but yet open building for future summer meetings.
'She thought,' said Mr. Spurgeon, speaking of the lady whose gift was the occasion of the meeting- 'she thought she had found out the proper individual to whom to intrust her money, and. I received a note from her which, when I read and read again, greatly startled me. That note said: "I have determined to devote 20,000l. to the work of maintaining orphans; would you be good enough to come and see me about it?" Now I thought at first that perhaps the lady had put a "naught" or two too many; and, again, that it was [-184-] just possible that some one desired to play me a trick. However, I thought it would be my duty to see about it, and I went to this good sister; and found her to be a really earnest and practical woman, desirous of having her money expended in the best possible manner, and to have it expended upon fatherless children, with a special view to their souls being cared for, and to their being trained in the fear of God and the doctrines of truth. I, however, objected for some little time to take the work, having too much to do already. However, our good sister said I had many friends who would help me, and she believed the deacons and the church and congregation would take the matter up, and that the work would be done. We talked that over together, and my dear friends the deacons agreed to become trustees with me, and to assist me with their usual vigour.'
Mr. Spurgeon then went on to the history of the work that they had met to inaugurate, and said:
'Hence it is that we are here to-day, upon a piece of ground which has been purchased for the erection of houses for taking care of fatherless boys. Fatherless boys were the objects contemplated by our sister. Why she did not include fatherless girls I do not know; but I believe she leaves that open to somebody else, and we shall be quite prepared to assist that "somebody else" on some other spot, so as to have an asylum for girls also. Now, inasmuch as the funds provided were, in the order of God's providence, fast fixed and locked, so that we cannot get at them at present beyond the interest upon them, an appeal was made to the public to [-185-] assist us in building the houses. The first stones of three of these houses will be laid this afternoon. The first stone should be laid by our sister, Mrs. Hillyard, who has given the 20,000l.; unfortunately the work- people have laid the tackle to the wrong house, and consequently I am obliged to begin. The next house is the house of which she is to lay the foundation-stone. The money for that house is given by a merchant of the city of London, a gentleman who bears a name well known to many, but not to be mentioned now or at any other time. He gives it unto God, and does not desire to have his name mentioned. That house will be called the "Merchant's House." The house of which I shall lay the first stone is to be called "Silver-Wedding House," and is given by a sister who has lived happily with her beloved husband for twenty-five years. About a month before the wedding-day came round, her husband said to her, "My dear, I mean to make you a present on your wedding-day of 500l." "Well," said she, "I have often wished for so large a sum as that to give Mr. Spurgeon for some of his good works." So away she came with her 500l., and now I have to lay the foundation-stone for her. Then the next house, the stone of which will be laid by Mr. Higgs, is to be called the "Workmen's House." The workmen in connection with our esteemed brother, Mr. Higgs, of the Crown Works, agreed, at a little meeting we held there, to build the house, Mr. Riggs agreeing at the same time to give the materials. I believe that the workmen will faithfully redeem their pledge; but Mr. Riggs, think-[-186-]ing it might be a long time before they worked their money out, has at once given the whole of it in the shape of that great shed yonder, which will be a splendid permanent building for the children to play in, and a place to hold such gatherings in as that which we shall hold to-night when we require to have them. Our working friends, who are present, should be reminded of one very solemn fact. A promise was made at our meeting at Mr. Higgs', that we would endeavour, whenever there were vacancies in the house, to take in their orphans, if, unfortunately, any of them should be taken away; and that the men who had contributed should have the first place for their children. Now, mark this. Last Wednesday there worked at yonder counter one of Mr. Higgs' workmen, who is now gone to another world, leaving two boys behind him. He was one of those who had contributed to this house, and I have no doubt that his little ones will share in the benefits of the institution as soon as it is possible for them to do so. "In the midst of life we are in death." I did think, when I mentioned it to our working friends there, that they could not make a better investment, even apart from any idea of benevolence or charity, than subscribe to this institution. Let me say, that though only these three houses are to be begun to-day, yet we have money in hand for more. I only hope that you will bring in money enough to-day to pay for the land, which has cost 3,000l., and then we can go on. There is one family connected with this church whose memory is very dear to us - I mean the Olney family. They have this after-[-187-]noon given me a cheque for 500l., for the building of a house in memory of their sainted mother. Their dear old father still survives* (* I believe the death of this gentleman has been since announced.) as our senior deacon, and may he long continue to do so! It seems to me a delightful thing that before he is taken away, and while his sons are strong around him, they should join together in building this house in memory of their good mother. That house will be called " Unity House," in memory of her.'
This, then, is the story of the foundation of this charity; and the peculiar circumstances of its establishment render it remarkable among recent institutions, of which it can scarcely be said to be representative. That a considerable work has been accomplished, by means of the prompt and earnest response of a few persons to an appeal made for this definite object, will be obvious to any one who visits the orphanage.
From the entrance at the gateway, with its little lodge at the side looking almost like the toll-house on a bridge, to the farthest of the buildings, the aspect of the place is bright and cheerful, the air clear and salubrious. The great covered playground where some of the boys are now engaged in a game at 'rounders,' the series of houses, and the dining-hall and kitchens, form two sides of a quadrangle, of which the garden and the open-air playground with its poles and bars are the central space. The buildings are of red brick with white-stone courses, each of them consisting of a basement and two stories above; that is to say, [-188-] of three dormitories, with their lavatory and bath. These houses are each intended to accommodate thirty boys, who occupy them only for sleeping; the dining-hall being the common room for meals, and the playground for recreation. At present the only place for instruction is the large and lofty schoolroom, which extends over two houses on the upper floor ; but it is desired to occupy the lower rooms of one of these houses as class-rooms as soon as another cottage can be completed.
As I enter the gate near the lodge-like building, which is, I believe, the surgery, where the doctor sees cases on his weekly visits, I find that I am free to walk about the grounds without question. That is to say, I lift the latch of the little wicket, and at once go up the broad path leading round to the large building on the left. As the door of this building is open, and a youthful retainer of the institution is engaged in sweeping up the path just in front of the steps, I peep in and discover that it is the dining-hall, and a very large and handsome one too; with the kitchens adjoining and communicating with it by a pair of substantial doors. In these kitchens, so convenient because of their proximity to the hall, and by reason of their being detached, or at any rate distinct, from the houses, and both on the ground-floor (the hall with its high roof having nothing above it), the appliances are calculated to provide for twice the number of children now in the institution.
Of what that provision consists I am not quite aware, [-189-] for I have no 'dietary scale' of the charity before me, even if there is such a document, but doubtless some proper arrangement of this sort will be a very important regulation. I trust, and have no particular reason to doubt, that there is also a margin of paternal liberality on behalf of the inmates, who, as 'growing boys,' can perhaps scarcely be called little eaters.
Indeed, in all orphanages devoted to the class of children now before me, it is most desirable that a liberal diet, and even a liberal meat diet, should be one of the first advantages offered to new-comers. They should even be trained to take it healthily; not greedily, but to take rather more than would be necessary for children under some other circumstances. They are mostly in a depressed physical condition, not unfrequently suffering from constitutional or even hereditary feebleness, that may result in sickness or permanent weakness; and the best economy is to feed them well on plain but nourishing diet, in which a sufficiency of fibrous flesh food is indispensable. I do not say this to call in question the probability of such a plan being already adopted; but I am reminded of it, as I have been at other institutions, by the appearance of some of the boys - even those who are at play and seem tolerably brisk, as well as a few of those in school, and exhibiting an intelligent and lively interest in their lessons.
The course of education will include thorough instruction in English, with geography, history, the lower mathematics, and the rudiments of French and Latin. Drawing is also to be a feature in the school. Boys [-190-] are received between the ages of six and nine years, and. remain till they are fourteen. Of the 160 children now in the institution, the average appear to be from eight to ten years of age. Application for the admission of candidates must carefully specify, on a form provided for the purpose, the name of the child, date of birth, name of parents, and place where they were married; employment of father in his best circumstances ; to what denomination of Christians the father belonged, if any; state of health of child, mother, and the rest of the children in the family; and names and place of abode of three or four nearest relatives, their occupations, and degrees of relationship. This application must also be signed by two persons who are ministers, deacons, elders, or active members in any Christian church.
At present the committee appears to be formed of the leading members of Mr. Spurgeon's congregation; and indeed the institution may be said to be supported entirely through his influence. The receipts in donations and subscriptions amounted to about 170l. during the month from November 20th to December 17th, 1869; and a large number of offerings, consisting of articles of clothing, provisions, toys, and bedding, were also sent on behalf of the poor little fellows, who seem to have found willing and thoughtful friends in the ladies of Mr. Spurgeon's congregation.
Thus among the gifts in kind - surely among the kindliest of gifts - I notice an anonymous 'hundred of eggs,' 'sack of peas,' and half-hundred weight of sugar, [-191-] as well as twenty-six comforters and a can of arrowroot; while 'Sarah' has, as usual with most of her name, displayed gentle housewifery in the gift of twelve shirts. These, with twelve draughtboards and men, iron hoops, pocket-handkerchiefs, braces, gloves, stockings, bags and boxes of sweets, and dolls for the Christmas-tree, are among the seasonable gifts that show how the institution has a place in the hearts of its supporters. May it prosper; and, growing beyond its present borders, help to take 'the church' into the world, and the world into 'the church,' with a wide and unrestricted meaning!
I wish you to go with me to one of the oldest
neighbourhoods of poverty, - a district which has not only become representative
of want and misery, of little work and little food, but is also historical in
its connection with a remarkable colony and an important industry, - a foreign
invasion which was most beneficial in its results at the time, and has
permanently introduced a new element, still to be distinguished in the quarter
where the settlers took up their abode. Alas, the Spitalfields of to-day differs
sadly from the fields of St. Mary Spital, where the French Protestant refugees
founded a poor, but skilful and cultivated, community; and though many of the
descendants of those old families have been scattered, and these who remain in
the district where their fathers plied the wheel ·and loom are too often
depressed with poverty and degraded by [-192-] want of education, there yet remain
a kind of refinement and patient endurance, a dislike of riotous amusements, and
a constitutional sympathy with tasteful and elevating influences, which
distinguish the true descendants of the émigrés who first established
the silk-weaving colony. Even in my remembrance there were green open spaces not
very far from the maze of sordid streets and stifling alleys that had grown
round the original settlement. In some of the outlying cottages where weavers
carried on their trade, the long casements of the upper rooms used as workshops
looked upon small patches of garden-ground, where marigolds and double stocks
and dahlias would grow and struggle into bloom, that made the house-front gay
for some part of the year at all events. This was only on the farthest verge of
the neighbourhood, however; and now I know of no gardens to houses in the whole
of Spitalfields, from Mile-end New Town to Brick-lane, the latter being the
market of the district, - ' Poverty Market,' as it has been well named, and
holding its own in spite of the fine building designed to supersede it in
providing a cheap and convenient supply for the benefit of those who have only
pence instead of shillings to spend.
For Spitalfields is the locality of a superseded industry; a place where a dozen poor and precarious callings are followed by people many of whom were, in their early years, connected with the trade with which that district was once identified.
The 'long lights' of those leaden casements have [-193-] ceased to quiver to the clatter of the loom; the bird at the open window in the summer time no longer emulates the whistling of the swift shuttle as it flies between silken warp and weft. Silk-weaving is nearly at an end in London, and the remnant of those who still follow it are among the poorest and least hopeful of the dwellers in that great poverty-stricken district, which extends on the one side to Whitechapel and Mile-end, on the other to Shoreditch and Bethnal-green.
It must be understood that I am not now speaking of the criminal degradation of this neighbourhood. There are several doubtful streets, and some that are by no means doubtful, the haunts of thieves, and full of that utter poverty and misery which, whatever people may think, belongs to the daily life of the professional filcher. In reality, the wretched shifts, the constantly recurring want, the desperate sense of being always in danger, and the wear and tear of such nervous tremors on a frame not well sustained by nourishing diet, render the life of a thief one of the most wretched in the whole round of poverty. In many of the dilapidated houses about the outskirts of the neighbourhood to which I wish you to accompany me - in Fashion-street, and some of the courts abutting on Whitechapel, as well as in the Nichols-streets and that foul tangle of byways that lie between Shoreditch and Bethnal-green, and are abjured by each-there are both thieves and receivers, the latter being occasionally publicans, or connected with publicans whose houses are a resort for customers who sell instead of buying, and do not number drunkenness [-194-] among their vices; for who has ever seen a 'regular' thief in a state of intoxication?
Even the thieves' kitchens' exist no longer ; the revels of the mock-beggars must be conducted with wonderful privacy if they have any being - in fact, they must have ceased to be revels at all; and the Common Lodging-house Regulation Act has made an end of those old houses which were the infamous dens that made half London terrible. The police know this, and though they affect to call some of these lodging-houses by the name of thieves' kitchens, they do not let us know that on the wall in every bedroom of such places is a printed card, issued by the lodging-house inspector, and regulating matters of light and air and space; that every room in such a house is visited - or should be visited - periodically by proper officials; and that the large kitchen (often a mere cellar) where the lodgers go in to sit by the fire, or to devour such food as they take in with them, is pretty often visited by the City missionary or the ragged-school superintendent.
There need be no mistake, however, about the dreadful character of many of these places. They are still dens, and wretched unclean dens, in spite of the law and the inspectors, both of which are defied by their owners. The kitchens are still thieves' kitchens, and are the scenes, not of noisy lawless riot, but of that miserable depressed kind of amusement which is so characteristic of the London scoundrel.
To spend a night in one of these places - to watch the lodgers come slinking in, and to note from some [-195-] conveniently dark corner their melancholy dissipation, their furtive glances at every new arrival, their ironical suspicion of a new visitor, their affected cheerfulness in the presence of the police, their covert brutal selfishness, which would lead them to snatch a slice of bread from the hand of a starving child, - to witness all this is to get a heart full of pain and a head full of wonder; but it is seldom that more than a quarter of the company in these places is composed of regular thieves. Poverty (ay, and honest poverty too) rubs shoulders with the worst of crime in the common lodging-house.
Worse places than these are some of the wretched tenements where each of the ruined rooms is occupied by a whole family, or even by two or three families, houses which are never brought under the few and not very effective restrictions of the law, and where, from garret to basement, men, women, and children swarm and stifle in the foul and reeking air.
It is here that poverty meets crime, and weds it.
Who can wonder that, in the dull dead level of wretchedness and want, people should lose that moral sense which at first may have been sufficient to distinguish one kind of misery from another? If the parents are content to starve rather than steal, children soon learn to starve and steal; for the life of the London thief alternates between these two conditions. Those who know what is the 'worst of London,' will tell us that it is where these wretched neighbourhoods are to be found - say in the Nichols-streets and Friars-mounts of Bethnal-green, and in the courts and alleys [-196-] of Spitalfields; about Fashion-street, and that worst den of all, Little Kate-street, known to its inhabitants by the name of a lodging-house which is called the Kate, as though it deserved some especial distinction of infamy.
There is, or was, little chance of the casual wayfarer straying down that place; for it was marked with a signal to show that a moral pest raged there, and passengers who might unwittingly have entered its precincts were warned off by friendly constables placed on duty for the purpose. Whoever desires to see what is possible in this age of civilisation, when agricultural gangs are treated worse than plantation negroes, and the secretaries of great trades-unions hire men to commit murder at 15l. a-head, should go (if they dare) to the Kate, and spend an evening in its most illustrative gin-shop.
Is it any wonder that little criminals, 'whose heads scarcely reach to the top of the dock,' should be such frequent prisoners at our police-courts? Need any one be surprised to see the number of poor ragged miserable children about the streets in the City and eastward-children who, under the pretence of selling half-faded flowers or cigar-lights, hover about the skirts of respectability, and try to pilfer something from its abundance to appease the gnawing hunger which has never been fully satisfied? These wretched children, with their old artful faces and their obscene words and cries as they scud away from the coming policeman, are amongst the terrible sights of London, and troops of them come from about that very district of which I have [-197-] just been speaking. What can be the probable future of the boys? Still more dreadful question - what is the inevitable future of the girls who come out of the courts and alleys, and show themselves in our streets to our reproach, if not to our shame?
Let it be remembered that I am now speaking of children, whose parents are so poor that, even where they exercise any regular guardianship over their little ones, every small pair of hands must learn to work at lucifer-box making, or cheap-toy making, or the light rudimentary labour of some small trade, in order to add something to the daily bread. Some of these little creatures, mere infants, whom, did they belong to ourselves, we should scarcely expect to know right from wrong, have a daily task to perform which precludes their being taught except at the Sunday-school; while in hundreds of cases where there is not even this need, the children live neglected lives, or, uncared for by father-in-law or mother-in-law, are left to roam the streets, and find there a school in which they learn, with precocious rapidity, the lessons that fill our prisons, and make us sigh hopelessly over the figures in police statistics.
But while we wait and sigh the girls are growing daily into women, and swiftly and surely must we reap the evil harvest of neglect and indifference if more be not done for them.
Something has been done; but it is as the threshing out of a single sack of grain when whole fields lie ready in the sun. Still, let us be thankful that we have been shown the way. First, by that great organisation [-198-] the Ragged School, which has spread out branches on every side for the relief of all kinds of distress. Secondly, by the energetic action of those who saw that, amidst all the depressing poverty and crime and in spite of the wretched condition in which the people lived, there was a hope of redeeming living souls from that daily death - a way of transplanting young children from the foul fever-beds, or plucking them from the contamination of the streets, and so renewing their child-lives that they might grow up fresh and beautiful in the garden of God.
DAISIES IN SPITALFIELDS.
In this vast neighbourhood one building
stands out from its sordid surroundings, a striking example of what might be, if
only the great London public could be made to see its deep necessity. Who has
not seen that drop of water in the gas microscope - that one single drop of
water, of which one rapid glimpse makes us recoil in horror, and go home to
order a filter? Were it possible to flash upon the mental sight of the public a
single glance of what one girl-child's life is, and will be, amongst the poor
and depraved in Spitalfields and Whitechapel, we should all cry out to build a
dozen more moral filters like the Girls' Refuge in
Albert-street, and should take a more lively personal influence in a work
intended to save our country from pestilence. Alas, this sight has been given
but to a few; so that the one building, amidst all that teeming population, is
not yet completed, and more buildings of the same kind are needed in order to
carry on the work so successfully [-199-] begun, not by holding out a premium to
negligent and even criminally indifferent parents, but by admitting those
children who are now actually destitute, either through the desertion or the
death of those on whom they were dependent.
Twenty years ago this labour of love was begun by some ardent and yet patient gentlemen associated with Mr. H. R. Williams, the present treasurer of the institution. The commencement of the work was the formation of a ragged school in a dilapidated stable, the first building that could be procured; and after such sanitary improvements as could be effected were completed, that stable - not unsuggestive of a certain manger 'wherein the Infant lay' - was opened for instruction to the children and some of the grown people of the neighbourhood. There is no need to tell how the school grew into an influence; how by degrees funds were accumulated, and the first stone of the King Edward Ragged and Industrial Schools and Eastern Refuge in Albert-street, Brick-lane, was laid; how on the site of the stable a ragged church arose, where above a hundred boys assemble as a day-school, and where a congregation, less ragged perhaps than the first attendants, now go on Sunday evenings to hear something of God's love for them, having become not the less ready to believe it, inasmuch as they have learned a little of the love of their fellow-men. Let those who would see what may be done for the 'worst of London' pay a visit to the Refuge itself, for it is of the Refuge for girls that I now wish more particularly to speak.
[-200-] If the ordinary conditions of life in such a locality as that I have referred to are so distressing, it may be supposed that in times of exceptional poverty, and especially in times of epidemic sickness, they demand our utmost sympathy; and that fresh efforts must be made even partially to alleviate the misery that appeals for immediate aid. It was under these circumstances that the supporters of the King Edward Ragged Schools found themselves called upon to provide for the most urgent wants of the people by whom they were immediately surrounded.
The stable had been repaired, the Ragged and Industrial School had been opened under the presidency of Lord Shaftesbury, and a band of earnest teachers and district-visitors set themselves to the work of improving the condition of the neighbourhood.
Nobody who is acquainted with the value to the owners of the filthy and neglected tenements that disgrace this portion of the Great City will wonder that when those improvements included the demand for better drainage and increased means of cleanliness and decency, the opposition of those who had 'vested rights' in the continuance of things as they were, was aroused; and an organised attempt was made to close the schools, by putting every possible impediment in the way of their success. With a patient determination and perseverance that did them credit, the committee held out; and at length succeeded by an appeal to the Board of Health in obtaining not only the draining but the paving of a large part of the district.
[-201-] This was so sensible a beginning that, accompanied as it was with house-to-house visitation, and the distribution of as much food and clothing as they could obtain funds to purchase, the pioneers of the movement found themselves able to organise a system of relief during that dreadful visitation of cholera which left so many poor homes desolate.
Meanwhile the schoolhouse itself, fast declining to its original ruinous condition was not only insufficient for the pupils, but was surrounded with filthy yards, the receptacles of all kinds of refuse.
In the words of the report, as genial and cheerful as it is brief in its record of these early difficulties, 'the miasma produced by accumulated filth which some of these [-yards-] contained was most prejudicial to the health of the teachers, more especially as "our neighbours were partial to pigs." It became necessary, therefore, to do one of two things: either to build new schools on the site then occupied on a short lease, or to obtain premises better suited to the pressing wants of the locality. The former was beset with difficulties; and after a prolonged search, the latter was given up in despair. The attention of the committee was at length directed to a plot of freehold ground, in the immediate vicinity, then for sale, a part of which was ultimately purchased for 600l.; and a large, commodious, and substantially built edifice of three floors was erected without delay.'
In order to reach this building,- surely one of the most interesting edifices in London, - the visitor may proceed by way of Aldgate to Whitechapel, and so down [-202-] the street opposite the church; or from Bishopsgate along Union-street directly towards Spitalfields, and by way of Crispin-street and Brown's-lane; or from Shoreditch down the new Commercial-street to the same point. By any of these routes we soon recognise the evidences of poverty: the general silence; the neglected appearance of the dwellings; the doors half-open, or only fastened by a latch lifted from the outside by pulling a bobbin hanging by a string, and often leading at once to the foot of a steep stair going up on one side, in the fashion of some of the houses in old French towns. Nay, some of the houses of the old French folk still remain-dilapidated structures with wooden fronts and peaked roofs, where the click of the loom and the hum of the wheel are no longer heard, though perhaps the tenant has a French name, as many of the people have hereabouts.
Let us go down Montague-street - anybody will tell us where that is - then keep to the left, and in another turn we shall find ourselves in Albert-street, standing in a tolerably open space before a brick building, which might be a church, or a modern dispensary, or a school, or a rifle-brigade assembly-room. So little does it suggest its real purpose at first sight, that we look about for some direction, and are only reassured by the ready fingers of half-a-dozen wistful urchins, who wonder that anybody can be so ignorant as not to see at once that the board before their noses proclaims the 'King Edward Ragged School and Girls' Refuge.'
But it is more than this. Before we reach the top of the stone steps leading from the side entrance of the [-203-] building, we hear such shrill shouting, singing, and merriment as should do our hearts good; and there on the left, in a large square paved yard, are two score little ones, mostly girls, running, dancing round in rings to some merry tune, and evidently in the high tide of the play-hour: members of the Infant Bagged School, as you may see if you look at that corner, where a dozen tiny tots are marching in single file, each with a firm clutch on the skirt before him. Turn to the right through this high door, and you will be in the school itself-a large and lofty hall, where 300 children assemble, the elder of them being girls; the younger or infant section both girls and boys.
What is it that you first observe in entering this room, with its broad 'gallery' full of little chubby infant scholars; its long rows of desks, where girls-very few, if any, of whom are ragged, though many are poorly dressed-bright and intelligent, and mostly clean, and with a hopeful look in their eyes, are now engaged in writing from dictation?
It is somewhat of a holiday occasion to-day, for a few ladies have come down to see the schools, bringing with them a number of packages of clothing, made by themselves and some of their kind-hearted friends, in leisure hours devoted to this useful work. These packages, each containing two or three comfortable garments, are ticketed for distribution to the most necessitous cases, and of course consist only of articles of dress for girls or children. It is a holiday occasion; but as I have been here before quite unexpectedly, as anybody may go who [-204-] chooses to pay the place a visit, I may mention that there has been no preparation. The governess, with her patient thoughtful manner, the assistants, who know how to direct the little creatures crowding on the 'gallery' without noise and bustle, are evidently quite at home, and for that matter so are the children themselves. The Rev. Mr. William Tyler is here; but there is nothing to disturb them in his kind face. It would indeed be strange to them if he were not to look in and see them nearly every day, though he has large day and infant schools adjoining his own handsome chapel, beside Sunday and ragged schools elsewhere; over all of which his personal but not interfering supervision serves to keep them united in lively sympathy, and to make the work go on in cheerful response to his own bright and genial temper. It is hard to write of any individual in connection with these pages without seeming to overstep the bounds of that courtesy of which Mr. Tyler himself is an example; but I cannot refrain from saying here that his constant, active, cheerful, and genial presence is one of the mainsprings of the various works in this so long neglected neighbourhood. He is always to be found at some point within poverty's radius; brightening it, and diffusing even among these little children the indescribable influence of a Christian gentleman, whose manner to his little ragged friends is as indicative of refinement as it is of tender sympathy.
Standing just now, and with a genial humour trying to pose a whole school of eager spellers with ome out-[-205-]of-the-way though simple word, he reminds us of some high-bred French curé of the old régime, friend and bishop of this great number of young souls.
The fancy is not altogether unwarranted. For hark! the fresh young voices rise at a note from the teacher, and sing one of their ordinary school-songs. Perhaps I may be pardoned - as having a very definite personal connection with the old refugees - for feeling a kind of thrill when I note that it is to a French tune. Another and another yet, and still the melodies recall those old half-forgotten times when the first émigrés sang such airs as they wrought in their looms. A lady standing near, with tears glistening in her eyes, is actually singing with the children, but putting the tune to the old French words.
On the books of this school there are 304 girls and 196 infants; while at the ragged church, during the week-days, 120 boys are instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic; and large and flourishing Sunday-schools are held morning, afternoon, and evening, with 70 children over fifteen years of age, 42 young men and women in the Bible-classes, and 350 children on the register. As many as 437 have been present at the Sunday-evening school at one time.
Then there is a penny bank, a lending library of 347 volumes sadly in need of replenishing, and a benevolent fund for relieving sick and destitute children, to which the committee implore contributions, either in money, food, or clothing.
True to its character as a centre of benevolent effort [-206-] (which they hold to be the true work of every, ragged school), during the last visitation of cholera in Spitalfields and the locality, the committee made immediate arrangements for administering relief by house-to-house visitation, the means being principally supplied by the Mansion-House fund. 342 houses, containing 1,100 families, were visited constantly during the whole time of the visitation; in this number 340 cholera cases occurred (8 in one house), resulting in 53 deaths. To these families were distributed 1,4491bs. of meat, 693 lbs. of rice, 628 lbs. of potatoes, 414 loaves of bread, 23 gallons of beef-tea, 21 gallons of port-wine, 7½ gallons of brandy, 56 lbs. of arrowroot, 65 lbs. of sugar, 310 yards of flannel, 265 yards of calico, 58 blankets, 2 sets of bedding, 70 pairs of boots, and about 250 articles of clothing.
It is to the Refuge for girls that we intended to devote this visit, however; and what we have already seen is a cheering introduction to that institution. The presence, of the large day-schools, the meetings, and the active human interests that cluster round this building, are of the greatest benefit to the inmates who bear their part in them; though they, of course, occupy a separate schoolroom, and are engaged in learning those household duties which are to fit them for becoming domestic servants.
You may go far before you see twenty such neat, ruddy, intelligent-looking girls as these now sewing at the long tables in their schoolroom, under the superintendence of the governess. They have most of them [-207-] been rescued from destitution, some of them from the threatening shadow of crime, young as they are, and the eldest is not more than fifteen, while the majority are much younger.
Reading, writing, arithmetic, scriptural knowledge, and needlework (some of which, I am told by competent judges, is admirably neat and skilful), are the subjects taught; but, beside that, the whole house is kept clean, the laundry-work carried on, and the general domestic duties are performed by the girls in succession. This schoolroom, which is next the kitchen and dining-room in the basement of the building, is 'as clean as a new pin;' as are also the dormitories, where the beds, on iron bedsteads, are covered with crimson rugs as counterpanes. The lavatory, where each girl has a compartment in a large press for her clothes and bonnet, is also used as a meeting-room occasionally; and the principal teacher has for her bedroom only a partitioned corner in the same apartment, so greatly are they cramped for space. The committee soon hope that this want will be remedied by the completion of the building; and as soon as the necessary funds are obtained, a three-story wing will be added, comprising a more commodious schoolroom, a room for the governess or the matron, and an extra ward. Till this is done, they are compelled to refuse applications for want of room; and though they hope that the required 1,200l. will be forthcoming during the present year, they have hitherto shrunk from making any strenuous appeals outside their own circle.
[-208-] These pages are not intended as such an appeal. I have been hither and thither, as much in the capacity of a doubtful inquirer as in that of an admirer; and I have no personal interest in any particular institution beyond that which naturally proceeds from the conviction that a real labour of love is being carried on by its active supporters. I wish, however, that I could point to numerous charitable efforts the intentions of which were as simply, as cheerfully, and as completely secured as in this Girls' Refuge in Spitalfields. From first to last it is a good and useful work, and there are evidences in the place itself that it is admirably managed: in the progress of these children; in the facts that there have been received, educated, clothed, fed, and placed out at service, above 300 girls since the institution was established; that not half the applications for servants can be entertained, so well do they credit their training; that they are neat, clean, and so healthy, even in that comparatively close neighbourhood, that the last report had not one case of serious illness to record; while the matron declares the behaviour of the girls to be very hood, order being 'kept cheerfully.'
I will not again run the risk of discourtesy, which I find it so difficult to escape, except by saying that the matron herself well represents that particular element of cheerful order which is the characteristic of the place; and that it only requires to see her and speak to her to discover that she possesses that invaluable quality in all who fill her arduous position-a strong sense of [-209-] humour. Those of my readers who have had any experience in such institutions will know how much this has to do both with easy authority and unflagging interest.
On Sundays the girls of the refuge join their little brothers and sisters in the large room, where they all attend Sunday-school together; and it is remarkable how many of the faces here have a refined character, distinguishing them, to a close observer, from the general appearance of children in the same class of life. It is equally apparent in the refuge itself, where some of the little maids carry in their countenances the marks of 'family descent.'
I cannot let you go without referring for a moment to Mr. Matthew Arnold's (the government inspector) report of the day-schools, after his examination of them last year:
'This and the (little) boys' school connected with it are, perhaps, the most trying schools for teachers I know. The great numbers, and the mass of infants, make this an even more trying school than the boys' school.
'A classroom for the infants ought really to be provided.
'Miss Dunkinson's perseverance and management merit the highest praise.
'The Kinder-Garten operations have been introduced for the boys, while the girls sew.'
I may also whisper in your ear that Mr. H. R. Williams, the Treasurer, and Mr. J. H. Lloyd, the [-210-] Hon. Secretary, are both to be found at 3 Lime-street, City.
And, now, before we part, let me remind you to send visitors to see what is being done-to note these daisies of the old Spitalfields, who seem by their ruddy cheeks and lightened eyes, and, above all, by the indescribable change of expression which has somehow come into their faces, to have been called to newness of life. Tell your friends to walk hither and thither about the large schoolroom, where the teachers are at work amidst hundreds of young souls all eager for instruction; and pay a visit to the airy yard, where about thirty little chubby 'tots,' more or less in want of apparel, are assembled in robust play at an 'infant ragged school.' The journey will be worth something: it will expand the heart, bring a well of living water to the eyes which will purge them of such selfish films as too soon gather on our sight in the round of daily personal cares; and if it should tend to open the purse also, it will be well; for let us remember the solemn tenderness of that declaration, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of these little ones, ye have done it unto Me.'
[--nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.--]