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Juvenile Vagrants - Known to the Police - The Advantage of becoming a Thief - There and back again - From School to College - ' Wild Boys of London' - The Devil's Primers - Last ' New gate Calendar' - The Unions that empty the Gaols - Sheer Destitution - Homeless but not Nameless - Polynomination - Sensational Appeals and spasmodic Responses - The most terrible Sight in the World - A Cure for some of London's Curses - Heave Ho! - The noblest Ship on the silent Highway - A new Land Question - Over Seas - Brother Jonathan's long Arm and warm Heart - Two Dinner-Parties in two Great Cities - Absent Friends - Soho-way - Newport Market - A Club-Token - Little Sisters - Lost/ - A dark Door in the ' Dog Row' - Homeless AND Nameless - Rescue and Rest - The Woodhouse Dovecot.
IF the question, ' What shall we do with our roughs?'
is difficult to answer in reference to the adult criminals
of the metropolis, it offers a still less soluble problem if
we include among the ' dangerous classes' those juvenile [-212-]
vagrants who are graduating in ruffianism, and eventually join the ranks of the recognised felons. The
difficulty in their case is greater, inasmuch as they cannot as a rule be classified; and the law which commits
the miserable little street Arab who pilfers an apple
from a market-basket, or picks up an oyster that has
fallen from a porter's sack, to the same punishment
which awaits the most forward pupil of some school for
youthful pickpockets, gives us few data for any methodical calculation. Of the thousands of wretched children
who every year pass through our metropolitan prisons -
many of them to be re-committed for a more glaring
offence as they improve upon the lessons taught them
by the law itself - it is certain that a large proportion are
scarcely responsible for the crime which has brought
them before the magistrate.
They are a drifting, destitute part of the floating population, living anyhow, sleeping anywhere, moved on, moved off, eating any kind of refuse when they are hungry, begging when they cannot afford to spend two- pence on a few boxes of cigar-lights as their stock-in- trade. Sometimes they are employed by male or female cadgers, who furnish them with lucifer - matches or bunches of faded flowers, and set them to whine for alms in the more frequented thoroughfares, watching from some remote corner, to which they are compelled to take their gains every hour, and where they receive a scanty scrap of food and the promise of a sack of shavings in the corner of a foul room where they may rest their weary little limbs for the night.
[- 213-] Of two facts these destitute creatures are always conscious - that they are sure to be hungry to-morrow; and that nobody would give them work to do even if they knew how to do it.
They live under a perpetual sense of being a superfluous part of the universe.
The mother who left them long ago to the tender mercies of the streets, the unknown father who deserted her or died in some hospital ward, never revealed to them that they were outlawed by society from their very birth; but the knowledge that they are suspected, hunted, perpetually warned off from the very influences of respectability, neglected, starved, tempted to crime, and finally caught and sent to prison, grows with their growth and ripens with their years.
The first remarkable stage of this knowledge is that they are of no importance whatever until they become known as criminals. Let society, in the shape of the police and the representatives of law and justice, once recognise them as hardened offenders, and they are treated with a consideration which, had it been accorded to them while they were innocent and merely destitute, might have done them and the State some service. The prisoner, whose head scarcely reaches to the top of the dock, finds some sense of personal dignity swelling his infant breast when he hears that he has been long ' known' to that body of stalwart men to whom the care of the Great City is intrusted.
He knows very little himself except that, for the few years that he can remember, he has slept under arches, [-214-] in the markets, and beneath deserted doorways; and on rare occasions has paid twopence for a bed at a common lodging-house, where he learned a little of his probable future, and was taught how to matriculate for the career upon which he has entered. We have not long done wondering at the deeds of a band of young desperadoes who have been infesting the neighbourhood of Kent- street under a leader sixteen years old. The police, active and intelligent as they are, and authorised to perform all sorts of arduous and sometimes contradictory functions, acknowledged themselves baffled by this company of mere boy thieves, and with difficulty succeeded in capturing their commander. What lesson could be taught to the thousands of ignorant destitute lads who are to be found in London streets that would be half so potent to induce them to set the law at defiance?
They may be hunted hither and thither, moved on from doorways, refused at workhouse gates, warned away from tradesmen's counters, cuffed off the pavements lest they should injure the respectability of the shoe-black brigade-kicked hither and thither, like the worthless things they are, until they break the law more definitely than by mere vagabondage. Once pass the boundary of mere petty pilfering, and they become persons of consideration, with no heavier punishment and a more ample diet than the smaller offence would involve, and with all the circumstances of their lives made comparatively easy: warm lodging, tolerable food, comfortable clothes, and even the elements of that education to which they have hitherto had no claim, and which comes to them [- 215-] now as a part of the premium for which they have abandoned their absurd desire to belong to the society which never tolerates them until it can formally cast them out.
Talk of the literature of crime - of the penny numbers containing the histories of boy highwaymen and pirates, and smuggler kings in their teens! This sort of cheap trash is pernicious enough, no doubt, and I shall have to refer to it in another place; but it is only hurtful where the soil has already been prepared for its reception, and it falls into utter insignificance beside the acknowledgments of the police and the evidence of the depredations committed by the Kent-street gang.
' Send me to a reformatory,' said the captain of this redoubtable band to the magistrate. But he was too old for either of the. four Government reformatories, which deal only with boys who are convicted of crime; and probably there was no vacancy; since the care of the State, even for the juvenile criminal, does not exhibit itself in reformatories so much as in penal discipline; and the results of penal discipline may be estimated by the numbers of the criminal population which float in and out of our prisons. The establishment of reformatory institutions for young offenders is perhaps a duty of the State; but more than that is required. The blot upon our whole present system is, that no claim can be made on behalf of any wretched child whose home is the streets, whose companions are many of them the worst class of the community, until he shall have broken the law in a manner so marked that he becomes an object of interest.
[-216-] In some neighbourhoods of London this boy-and-girl population, which is continually, as it were, on the borders of crime, may be constantly observed. In Club- row on a Sunday morning; in the neighbourhood of Spitalfields, where a labour-market is held under a railway arch, and juveniles wait in a kind of revolting statute-fair to be hired by the week to help weavers at their work; about Friars-mount and Old Nichols-street; in Southwark, in Westminster, and a dozen districts which should be marked black in any missionary map of Loudon,-you may listen to their foul words and see their crouching shuddering bodies, their wasted limbs and old-young faces; worn with the want of food, and the wild wistful wonder of how they are to keep on living, or whether it would be better to die.
What can be done with these?
At present it seems that only voluntary effort can effect anything for them, and even such effort is useless unless it can bring itself into immediate connection with its objects. There are thousands of these hopeless, destitute children of the State in London alone; and only voluntary benevolent institutions deal with them on the broad principle of free and immediate admission to a refuge, where they may enter upon a better life - where they may be first fed and clothed, and may rest their poor worn little bodies and start from their broken sleep with the unwonted shock of a kind word; and then may learn to work and to play, and so be taken out of that bad dream of life, and enter on a reality worth living for.
It is by institutions like the Refuges for Homeless [-217-] Children, of which I have presently to speak, that we may hope to mitigate some of these evils by beginning with the children. But we want half-a-dozen ships, a score of homes, to rescue these young vagrants from the streets, and prevent them from growing up into abandoned women and desperate lawless men.
KNOWN TO THE POLICE.
The relation between the juvenile criminals of London and the police is peculiar, since it would appear
that the chances of a boy-thief matriculating for a career
of crime, and ultimately taking honours in burglary or
highway robbery, depends very much upon the estimation in which he is held by those members of the force
who happen to be acquainted with his companions.
After a long and not altogether careless study of the police-reports during some years, most people would have a suspicion that, as adult experienced thieves are left till they are 'wanted' - which is as much as to say that small operations are passed over until the perpetrators are guilty of some more striking offence that will take them to the sessions and insure a sentence of penal servitude - so the juvenile depredator who is believed to be working with a gang, or to be under the influence of some principal who employs him, is apparently left unnoticed until he can be convicted of direct complicity with some important offence, or boldly goes in for a more startling piece of business on his own account.
[-218-] I am now speaking, it must be remembered, of known thieves, and not of that juvenile floating population which includes the street Arab, the itinerant match- seller, the wretched little mudlark who begs and whines and turns catherine-wheels in the dirt, and huddles at night in the most painful form of human wretchedness under the arches of the railways, in the recesses of the bridges, or in the parks, where his half-naked body stands a chance of being trodden on by some late passerby, who feels a thrill run through him to note a human being wriggling on the ground, or stealthily slinking away into the shadows of the trees.
These, of course, furnish numerous recruits to the ranks of the young thieves who infest our thoroughfares, and the condition of their lives makes it difficult indeed for them to hold themselves aloof from the influences that impel them to crime. Say that they are independent in their hunger and poverty, and contrive to beg or steal enough to find them in a meal; yet there are plenty of opportunities for petty pilfering; and it takes but a short time to learn the lesson, that the greater the magnitude of the crime the better, in all respects that they deem essential, is the prison life of the convict.
Truly the love of liberty must be the strongest passion in the human heart, or it would be difficult to understand why the enormous juvenile criminal population of London, added to the army of wretched and starving children which mocks our civilisation and our religious professions, should not all claim the only birthright we [-219-] allow them by qualifying for the ' penitentiary' and the gaol!
It would, perhaps, be idle to complain of this state of things, since the children that infest our streets are many of them the property of abandoned men and women, who are only occasionally their parents, and by their means contrive to subsist without work.
Watch at a street-corner, where half-a-dozen ragged little shivering wretches huddle on a muddy night and strive to sell their cigar-lights, or to beg for halfpence in the gutter, and you shall see a weedy woman, with a moist and watery - or rather a gin-and-pepperminty - eye not far off in the shadow of some wall or the recess of a deserted doorway. Keep a sharp look-out where two or three bare-legged girls and hoarse urchins fight in the roadway for the right to sweep the mud over foot-passengers with a broom-stump, on the pretence of making a clean crossing, and you will discover a vulpine-faced old scoundrel in shiny threadbare black, and with an expression of evil humility, keeping watch from the nearest tavern-door on the chance halfpence that are scattered among these wretched little Ishmaelites, before the constable, turning that way on his beat, scatters them, yelling and whooping, amidst the carriage-wheels. It is the constable's duty to scatter them, for they represent an evil influence, a vile example; they are a keen and almost unbearable reproach to our boasted enlightenment, a deadly sarcasm on our orthodoxy and high moral example to other nations of the earth. Of course the practice of clearing away these [-220-] offences to public propriety involves an injustice, the weight of which is scarcely to be estimated except by an accident which calls public attention to facts that have some relation to the difficulty experienced by the poor in gaining their daily bread.
In the profound and irresponsible wisdom of the highest police authority (an authority, be it observed, which seems as little amenable to parliamentary questioning as it is to the strongest expression of public opinion) costermongers and itinerant vendors were not long ago forbidden the streets. Such startling results followed, and the revelations of the probable consequences were so alarming, that, for once, the unquestionable sagacity permitted a little relaxation of its edict; but the edict itself was but an extension -a very enormous extension, perhaps - of a system that has been long pursued in the principal thoroughfares; not only in the City, where it is strictly applied to adult vendors of fruit, flowers, or cheap pennyworths; but almost all over London (except in the streets where poverty finds its market), in the case of wretched boys and girls who are allowed neither to buy nor sell. All honour to those noble institutions which, amongst their earliest efforts, organised the shoe-black brigade! I would not be supposed even to hint a depreciation of the results, or of the mode of drilling that corps of lads rescued from misery; still, it must have occurred to dozens of us to ask, What chance has the poorly-clad little vagabond who contrives to start a boot-cleaning apparatus of three bits of board and a half- worn brush or two against the [- 221-] member of the brigade in uniform, and with an elaborate institution of blacking, and a stand all decorated with brass-headed nails, and bad coppers impaled as a warning to evil-doers?
What chance has any boy or girl, who, once becoming known to the police as the ' companion of thieves'- as though they could choose their company, poor little wretches ! -is thereafter prevented even from the pretension of earning an honest living?
Proceeding on the principle that every juvenile outsider is to be suspected of guilt until he can prove his innocence, what chance has the miserable child? Deserted by its natural protectors; used as a medium for obtaining an easy income by infamous cadgers, who spend the coppers of a band of infantine beggars, in the luxury of drink; hunted from post to pillar; driven to share the very offal of the streets with the hungry dogs that go about masterless; left to lie down and sleep anywhere out of the keen cutting wind, or the night rain that soaks their rags and gives them another gnawing pain besides that of hunger - what chance has the London Arab, ' known to the police,' except the one that converts him into the ' well-known juvenile thief on whom the constable has had his eye for some time past'? The threepence that he spends some bitter night for a bed at a ' common lodging-house' may introduce him to an instructor, who will ' make a man of him' - such a man as fills our convict prisons, and helps to tax us beyond what we can bear, and scandalises our whole social system, and is at once our terror and our despair. There [- 222-] is an individual now in London, if he be not lately dead, who is ready to make half-a-dozen such men out of six boys with sharp eyes and nimble fingers. He has, or had, a gang of them under his paternal control; and being a benevolent old gentleman, like the late Mr. Fagin, is known by the name of' ' Father.' It was in a common lodging-house that I first heard of him - a common lodging-house which the police call a 'thieves' kitchen,' and affect to speak of as a place rather dangerous to visit, but a place where the regulations of the lodging- house inspectors hang on the walls, and which can only be described as a perilous haunt on the same principle that, according to Selden, led the old Crusaders to paint the Saracens' heads with ferocious looks as they appeared on ancient signboards, in order ' to gain credit to themselves.'
' You are well acquainted with the Bible?' said I, to a slender, shrewd, delicate-looking, closely-cropped lad in a ragged school, who could repeat verse after verse from the New Testament in illustration of my questions.
' Well, yes, sir; you see, we don't have nothing much else to read where I've been,' was his reply.
' Isn't it a great pity, knowing so much of it as you do, that you don't try to live as it teaches you?'
' Well, you see, sir, that's just where it is with all on us, ain't it?'
Is the reader surprised that I felt this retort as a fearful rebuke, not to myself alone, but to that ' society' of which I was but a member - the honest or ' respectable' class? I will only give the reason for my feeling [- 223-] as though I had received a blow from that thin, little, supple hand. You can think of all it means, and that will be as good as a sermon. The boy had learnt to read in prison as a child, and had been so often com mitted that he had the New Testament almost by-rote!
There is no need to follow such a lad as this in his career, from the trifling theft to the regular trade of filching, and so on to petty larceny, robbery, burglary, or the various degrees of crime, in which he has no lack of preceptors, in and out of prison, where he costs us more than if we had sent him to a good public school till he had acquired ' the usual branches of English education.' Regarded as part of the mere question of profit and loss in the national account, as fractions in the sum of political economy, what an awful row of integers do he and his like represent What when we think of him as a living soul - one of the children of the State - of everybody's children? But there are other boys - boys who have grown beyond mere children, and though known to the police, have not yet been actually registered as thieves. It is only those who know the darkest shadows of the Great City and its suburbs who can tell what lives some of these wretched creatures lead. Those who know it best, and know too of what they might be capable, are ready to weep bitter tears at the thought, but know not how to set about the remedy. There is so much courage and endurance, such activity and shrewdness - call it cunning, if you like; shrewdness is often only cunning developed to higher action - ay, and there is often so much honesty and truthfulness, [- 224-] where you least expect to find either, that we must be blind indeed not to see that one hope for the future of England lies among these very outcasts, whom we are so rapidly training to be a curse to the city that fears to bless them, lest some should cry 'centralisation,' and others ' secularism,' and others, again, priestcraft.'
While I am busy over these sheets, a strange discovery is made - that beneath an unfinished arch, deserted in progress of building by a dubious railway company, a band of boys has been discovered, whose depredations in the neighbourhood have for some time been notorious. Singularly enough the police-officers, who at last contrived to disperse this association of juvenile thieves, keep alive the report that their place of concealment had been for some time suspected and watched. We all want to know why? Was it for the humane purpose of obtaining a longer sentence, and so a better provision, for the wretched young criminals; or are the active and intelligent officers unwilling to let us think that they could be outwitted by such novices, or to leave us to suspect that the deserted railway arch was no part of any constable's beat?
It is only now and then that some sudden revelation of the lives of these wild boys of London' reaches us, even through the press a few of us know a little about it, and are less surprised than others; but there are hundreds of quiet, well-to-do, easy-going folks-jogging on day by day, and marking a stage on each day's journey by a comfortable meal-who know nothing of this phase of the Great City in which they dwell, and [- 225-] yet stare with horror at the account of a family in Devonshire living a sort of secluded savage life in a ruinous cottage, and refusing either to go to church or to be visited by the parson; returning all such civilities by pelting anxious inquirers with dirt. Supposing some of them happened to take up a newspaper on the 9th of last September, I wonder what they really thought of this:
Yesterday Dr. Lankester held an inquiry upon the bodies of two boys, aged respectively nine and a half and twelve, who were found suffocated in a brick-kiln in Holloway. The first boy was named Alfred George Triggs, whose father, a respectable man living in Kensington, was called. He stated the deceased went away on the 25th ult. from home, taking with him 1l. 16s. 6d., which he had stolen from a drawer, and witness heard no more of him until he saw the body the previous day. James Strid said he was the man in charge of the brick- kiln where the calamity occurred, and it was in the Hornsey-road. He then described in a light off-handed manner the way in which the calamity was discovered, and in doing so opened up a terrible story of life among boys. He saw something on the kiln, and getting on a heap of ballast he saw the something to be two boys. A ladder was brought, and their bodies were recovered. "How could the boys get up there?" "Why, they climbed up there as they would climb anywhere - in at your window, over your hedges, where they would ' nick' [-steal-] the taters, or apples, or onions, or anything else, and roast them in the kiln. As to stopping them, it was [- 226-] impossible; they ran like hares. The boy who had ' nicked' the money from his father (Triggs) had been there a little time; but there were twenty altogether in the fields, and the second boy (whose name was said to be Joy) had been about there all the summer." "How did they live?" "By the taters they nicked and roasted in the kiln. They could cook anything in the kiln as well as in an oven. The boys had not been there more than one night, or else they would have been ' frizzled' more." Medical testimony was then given that both boys had been suffocated on the kiln, and their bodies scorched by the heat. There was no food in the stomach of either boy, but there was undigested vegetable food in the large intestines of both. Potatoes were found in their pockets. Some testimony was then brought to prove the name of the second boy, whose parents were said to have lived in Cottenham-road, Upper Holloway, and to have gone away "hopping" a long time ago, leav ing the boy to his own devices. The boy, it is said, took to sweeping a crossing in Holloway, and "roosting," as he was said to have termed it, on and about the kiln, in the open air, at some periods of the year, and in empty houses at other seasons. A verdict of accidental death was returned.'
What could have given the first bad impulse to the poor wretched child, Alfred George Triggs, aged nine and a half, whose connection with these wild boys of Lon don led to his death? We are not obliged to guess; but doubtless if he could read, and we were to make inquiry, we should be told that he had been led into evil com-[- 227-] panionship by the influence of some of those ' penny numbers' which are printed and sold as romances for boys, and almost invariably have two or three criminals for their heroes.
I may mention here, that I believe more has been made of this as an excuse by demoralised boys themselves than will quite bear out investigation. Mr. James Greenwood, in his Seven Curses of London, has well indicated how sharp youthful convicts are at catching up and taking advantage of pet theories held by governors of prisons; and I am inclined to think, that while the evils of this criminal literature are undoubtedly wide-spread and mischievous, they are less definite than might be supposed from the ' confessions' of depraved boy - thieves - confessions, alas, too often founded on what the penitents (?) think their listeners would like to hear.
Having said this much, I may add that the pernicious influence of such publications in deadening the perception between right and wrong, and in making the contemplation of crime less repulsive because of its specious veil of romance, cannot for a moment be doubted; at the same time that the whole tone of a boy's moral nature is debased and his imagination degraded by the vicious. and yet absurd narratives that appear in these publications.
' I say, Joe, ha' you read the last o' the Boy Smuggler?'
' Yes-leastways I b'lieve so.'
' About where he's in the cave?'
[- 228-] ' Yes, ain't that ?fine! But ha' you read that other ? fine book - what d'yer call it - Red Hand, ain't it?'
' Ah, ain't that ? good!'
' I b'lieve yer; specially where he stabs the other one, and says, "They may hang me," he says; "but I've kep' my word, an' killed the ? cove;" and says he, "I'm Red Hand!" O, ain't that ? fine !'
This conversation I overheard not very long ago between two boys, to the edification of a third. I have no reason to think that they were dishonest; they were both known to me by sight, and were as usual standing about a railway station in the chance of obtaining a bag to carry, or a message to deliver, or any casual job that would bring a penny or twopence; out of which it seems even they could spare an occasional halfpenny for the pernicious trash of which they spoke. I doubt whether they had not already learned to swear by reading these Devil's Primers; and certainly the frequent recurrence of the ugly word for which I have substituted a ? was directly referable to the stimulus of the unhealthy expletives put into the mouths of the fictitious personages on whom they had learned to found their heroical style of declamation.
It is now more than four years since I first endeavoured to draw attention to the abuse of which I am speaking, and others have ably taken up the subject; but the evil remains, if not undiminished, at least without immediate prospect of extinction.
These cheap serials have an advantage over the regular three-volume novel which must be a source of [-229-] great satisfaction both to the publisher and the reader. They run on to any length, and frequently end with an entirely new set of characters, long after the original dramatis personae have been disposed of by various deeds of violence, or by the influences of broken hopes and blighted affections.
There may be readers who complain even of three volumes recording the workings of crime tempered with gross stupidity; but then they have all three volumes at once, and it is obviously quite a different thing to get a number every Saturday, and to sit down to one's Sunday- afternoon reading with the certainty that the hero who was falsely imprisoned last week will be out again, and, after confronting and braining his accuser, will jump into a hansom, visit the woman who desires to work his ruin, and be in time to rescue the suffering and devoted heroine from a house on fire and the persecutions of a drunken theatrical manager, all in the space of an ordinary tea - time and in eight pages of largish print.
Some of these marvellous works of fiction have been going on for years, in nobody knows how many series, and they have most of them the extraordinary advantage of answering nearly as well whether you begin their perusal at No. 1 or at No. 999; for whenever the original hero has been disposed of by being united to the girl of his affections - who must, according to ordinary experience, and considering the amount of ill-usage she has undergone, present the appearance of a ragman s doll - another combination of courage and misfortune [- 230-] takes his place, and the inheritance of vice is never left without some beautiful but unscrupulous criminal to come into the property.
Where do these stories go? For what market are the descriptions of gross immorality, the jaunty allusions to debauchery, and the common reference to some of the worst sins with which the reader can be familiarised, made up? Of course, a large number of copies are sold in London - sold to boys and girls who will learn too soon what are the evils that beset them in their real everyday life, and will certainly be none the better for that sort of hazy paltering with crime which makes the great effect of these choice productions; - sold to domestic servants, who spell over the delicious dangers of a heroine, who is saved only, as it were, by an interposing miracle from ' a gilded fate,' which, if she hadn't loved the young man who could only offer her ' a humble but pure and virtuous home,' wouldn't perhaps seem so very dreadful after all - especially to one who hadn't a young man of her own for whom she had a very overwhelming partiality.
There can be no doubt either, that if the British workman himself does not read such trash, the wife of the British workman very often does. Yes, and she is perhaps the only person of all its widely scattered subscribers to whom it does comparatively little injury; for she reads it innocently, from the great vantage- ground of her own practical life, her maternity, her household duties (which may sometimes suffer a little through the enthralling interest of a very ' cutting' [-231-] number), and the strong sense of reality, which must always supersede the glamour of the merely imaginative where there are half-a-dozen children.
It can only be hoped that, when the number is done with, she locks it safely in some upstairs drawer if any of those children have begun to read.
But there can be no doubt that by far the largest proportion of these publications are sent into the country; and anybody who knows the country well, will long ago have ceased to believe in the necessary connection between an agricultural or pastoral society and complete innocence. Rustic simplicity is not the inevitable result of fresh butter and new-laid eggs; and while Molly the dairymaid is skimming the milk before it 'freezes in the pail,' what time Hodge the ploughman is so sensible of atmospheric influence that he ' blows his nail,' they may both be engaged in a little mental plot of their own, which may or may not have been assisted and stimulated by their knowledge of life acquired from the highly - spiced pages that have helped to relieve the tedium of the long winter nights.
It is in the manufacturing and the smaller towns, however, that these pages find their greatest admirers; in almost any of the back streets of these places some purveyor may be found to supply the tempting penny- worth to lads, who some of them long to emulate the theatrical ruffians and robbers of the narrative, or to see for themselves, just for once (after which they will of course return to the paths of virtue), some of that easy vice and common debauchery so admirably [-232-] depicted by the gay rattle who records the rather dreary vagaries of billiard-sharpers and ' flash' thieves.
I have here put down my pen for a few minutes, for the purpose of examining some choice examples of this # boy's literature' which I happen to have by me, in order to introduce some of the less revolting specimens; but I feel that it would be better to leave them out, even as illustrations of the subject. They are too disgusting. No reader of these lines would be likely to take much injury from their perusal; but I have not the excuse of their rarity to urge for inserting them. Any quantity of such trash may be obtained a street or two off if you care to look for it. I feel that I should have less excuse for reprinting them than for quoting the Newgate Calendar.
Indeed, there is a Newgate Calendar which may be fitly referred to in this connection. It is the recent report of the Ordinary of Newgate (Mr. Lloyd Jones), who in his record of the gaol in 1869 says:
In my report to you last year, I stated as my experience that crime presented itself from year to year in some new aspect, standing out like a hideous excrescence upon an unsightly surface, provoking observation and demanding serious attention of legislators, how to check it by the strong arm of law; and of Christian teachers, how best to proclaim the danger and to avert the peril with which it threatens the happiness of the unwary and inexperienced. Last year I pointed out the mischief to the young of both sexes which I believed was caused, and I still believe is caused, by cheap [-233-] periodicals. I am thankful to find that my observations met with much attention, and with the unqualified approval of several Christian men and societies, who are endeavouring to point out and to provide wholesome literature. The truth of this statement, which I made last year, has just been corroborated by the chaplain of the House of Detention, in his annual report to the magistrates for Middlesex. Such independent and confirmatory evidence surely establishes the fact, that certain literature is inducing respectable lads to contemplate and commit crimes, and is a great and serious evil.'
THE BEST LONDON UNION.
I have already referred to the hopeful project of
forming such an organisation for the relief of distress
as shall eventually combine in one definite and mutual
effort all the valuable agencies now employed to carry
on our Labours of Love on behalf of the poor, the suffering, and the destitute.
To learn what may be accomplished by hearty cooperation, and how surely the systematic and patient endeavour to effect an improvement in the condition of the neglected and ignorant of even one district will be followed by extended means of usefulness, it is only necessary to refer to the great Ragged-School scheme.
It is a scheme no longer, but an accomplished Institution. The effort that a quarter of a century ago was begun as an experiment, and regarded as doubtful in its operation, not only because of the supposed difficulties [- 234-] in the way of voluntary support, but in consequence of its very name, is now a mighty power in this Great City, as well as in some of our large towns; has extended far beyond its original scope of operations; and, could it be possible for us to hear that ragged schools were to be at once superseded by a government system based on an entirely different method of proceeding from that so long successfully adopted by the Ragged-School Union, we should most of us shudder at the probable recoil that must inevitably occur not only in a hundred charitable agencies, but also in the moral and mental advancement of the classes who are in most need of the elevating influence which this institution has so successfully maintained.
This is the very mildest way of putting it. To speak in plain terms, there has been no other system presented to us which could have effected any such widely extended changes in the most depraved and miserable part of the community; and wherever the Ragged School has been founded - and the boys and girls who are to make the men and women of the future have been the first consideration - help, encouragement, and some means of relief to the men and women of the present have almost simultaneously taken some definite and useful form. It is not difficult to understand. To begin with the destitute and neglected children of the streets, difficult as the enterprise appeared, was to set to work with a hopeful promise of seeing an immediate result in the training of those who were as yet susceptible of some abiding impressions, and also of establishing actual centres of useful work, [- 235-] where all who lived in the neighbourhood must be sensible that a process of redemption was going on, and so would be constrained to acknowledge that there is a living Gospel that might reach them too.
Had the spirit of the promoters of Ragged Schools been more zealously acknowledged - had theoretical as well as many practical philanthropists exclaimed with one voice, ' Let what may be left undone, this shall be done: whatever difference of opinion we may hold about methods of dealing with adult criminals or relieving adult paupers, this new generation of neglected children shall, God helping us, not grow up to be a terror to our sons and daughters, and a reproach to our own professions' - we should not now be standing aghast at the still unsolved problem presented by the dangerous classes.
If I need to apologise for the large proportion of these pages occupied in considering such Labours of Love in this Great City as are directed to the maintenance of institutions for London's lost and wandering little ones, this is my excuse: our only hope is in a vigorous determination to stem the tide of poverty and crime at its source; to divert each rill as it wells up comparatively pure into a broad and noble channel, so that, instead of lying foul and full of noxious influences in our midst, the stream will flow forth to the healing of the nations. Begin with the children. Of their need or of their claim there can be no question. Whoever may have been their parents, they are ours - everybody's children; and we cannot put them from us if we would; they be-[-236-] long to us: whether they shall be a source of strength or weakness, of glory or of shame, It must be for us to determine.
To return for a moment to a consideration with which we started, however, it is a suggestive, and yet an easily understood, fact, that wherever a Ragged School has been established in a forlorn and wretched neighbourhood, its influence has extended far beyond the scholars - nay, even beyond the circle of their own relatives or reputed guardians. God forbid that it could ever be otherwise! God forbid that even those whom we regard as ' abandoned' men and women should always be inaccessible to some emotion, to some slight stirring of the heart, at sight of a little child; or that men and women, however hardened and debased, should cease to wish for that young soul a better hope than to become as seared and deadened as themselves!
The truth is - and may we be forgiven for it! - that we are often too ready to forget how the influences amidst which such people live tend to seal up any expression of sympathy or tenderness; how in the very desperation of their poverty and vice they present to us only the worst side of their foully incrusted characters, and defy our estimate of them at their own lowest valuation of themselves. At any rate, wherever these healthy stirrings of the children's hearts are effected,-in the sordid room or the recently-erected neat building, where those little voices make the rafters ring, or raise a shout in the alleys as they troop away from school, - something is likely to grow out of the effort that is successful in [- 237-] making better the condition of mothers, of sisters, of bigger brothers, and even of such neighbours as begin by being contemptuous, go on by becoming curious, and often end by remaining zealous.
Thus actually in operation as distinct, but inseparable, branches of the work now carried on by the schools in connection with the Ragged-School Union, we find mothers' meetings, penny dinners, sewing classes, clothing clubs, coal clubs, sick clubs, blanket-loan clubs, barrow clubs, and burial clubs; blanket-lending societies, maternity charities, penny banks, bands of hope, drum- and-fife bands, choral classes, lending libraries, flower shows, country excursions, and various juvenile industries, including the guilds of shoe-blacks, rag-collectors, and street-cleaners. There is even a ' swearing club'- which, in spite of its name, is really an anti-swearing club, established by a lad in a district where he and some of his companions determined to make a personal effort to discourage the use of profane language.
To some of these I hope to call your attention presently; but it is in connection with its first great work that I have now to speak of this Union: its work of helping in the support of free schools for the destitute poor of London and its suburbs.
By the rules adopted on the formation of this society, it was decided that its area of operations should be within the metropolitan circle, the radius of which extended for twenty-four miles round Charing-cross; and though, of course, by far the larger number of schools with which it is connected are in the Great City itself - [-238-] that is to say, within the five miles' radius - there are five more distant districts where the need for instructing the poor and destitute has led to the formation of auxiliaries - that is to say, at Hill-street in Croydon Old Town, at Gravesend, Brentford, Kingston, and Woolwich.
The objects contemplated by the Union are to encourage and assist those who teach in Ragged Schools; to help such by small grants of money, where advisable; to collect and diffuse information respecting schools now in existence, and promote the formation of new ones; to suggest plans for the more efficient management of such schools and for the instruction of the children of the poor in general; to visit the various schools occasionally, and observe their progress; to encourage teachers' meetings and Bible-classes; and to assist the old as well as the young in the study of the ' Word of God.'
All teachers, and superintendents representing ragged schools, and all subscribers of ten shillings per annum and upwards, may become members of the Union, and have the privilege of attending its meetings.
The financial affairs are solely conducted by the managing committee, treasurer, and honorary secretary (to be elected at the annual meeting of the members), whose services are entirely gratuitous.
The Union does not interfere with the financial concerns or the internal management of particular schools, farther than to ascertain that any money granted by the union is applied to the purpose for which it is given; and those schools only are in union with this society [- 239-] where the admission is entirely gratuitous, the authorised version of the Scriptures used, and those children alone admitted who are destitute of any other means of instruction, while no denomination of evangelical Christians is excluded from its provisions.
The present office of the institution is at No. 1 Exeter Hall, Strand, where the secretary, Mr. J. G. Gent, receives subscriptions. Subscriptions or donations may also be forwarded to Messrs. Hatchard & Son, Piccadilly; Messrs. Nisbet & Co., 21 Berners-street; to the bankers, Messrs. Barclay, Bevan, & Co., Lombard-street; or to Mr. W. A. Blake, the collector, at the office of the union.
This association may be said to have commenced from the foundation of the first Ragged Schools, under the active presidency of Lord Shaftesbury, twenty-six years ago; and whatever may be the opinion held of his lordship in any political relation, those of us who have watched the progress of the work which he inaugurated and has ever since strenuously and constantly supported, can do no less than accord to him the honour of having instituted a work of greater national importance than that secured by any single effort of statesmanship during the whole period of his long and undiminished interest in this cause. He set the noble example of personal effort, and with an energy and singleness of purpose which sustained doubts, smiles, and even sneers, set himself to work in earnest not only to establish schools for destitute and neglected children, but to improve the wretched dwellings and the means [- 240-] of decent living of the inhabitants of the foul districts to which that work was first applied.
When once the success pf the endeavour was proved, the movement was taken up in many large towns of the United Kingdom; and in the fifth year of their operation, the pioneers who devoted themselves to the work had established in London 82 schools, where 8,000 scholars were taught by 900 voluntary and 120 paid teachers.
In the tenth year the number of schools had increased to 129, the scholars to 13,000, with 1,700 voluntary and 240 paid teachers. In the fifteenth year there were 150 schools, 22,000 scholars, 2,600 voluntary and 360 paid teachers, beside 371 paid monitors or assistant- teachers. The twentieth year showed an increase to 163 schools, with 24,000 scholars and 2,800 voluntary teachers; the number of paid teachers remained at 360, but the number of monitors was increased to 450.
At the present time there are 191 schools, with 32,334 scholars under the charge of 3,448 voluntary and 424 paid teachers and 585 paid monitors.
The operations represented by the various schools included in the union are 272 Sabbath afternoon and evening schools, with an average attendance of above 32,000; and 194 day-schools, 40 of which are for boys, 33 for girls, and 121 for both boys and girls. In these the number of scholars on the books are over 33,000, and the average attendance 23,992; that is to say, 3,880 in the 40 boys' schools, 3,186 in the 33 girls' schools, and 16,976 children in the 121 schools where boys and [- 241-] girls are taught together. The average number of day-school children to each paid teacher is over 100, and these teachers are assisted by monitors whenever there are funds to render them this aid.
Then there are 209 week-night schools: 84 for boys, where the average attendance is 3,573 ; 71 for girls, of whom 2,935 attend; and 54 for boys and girls together, in which the number of attendances is 3,006, making a total of 9,514.
In 112 industrial classes - 12 for boys, and 100 for girls - 279 boys and 4,058 girls are taught some kind of work, the preponderance of girls being of course referable to the fact that most of these classes are for sewing.
The London Shoe-black Societies, however, employ an average of 377 boys, who during the year just past earned 8,830l.
It is indeed cheering to learn, that during the year ending March 25th, 1869, 50 scholars were placed in the Central Shoe-black Brigade (red uniform), of whom 7 were without father or mother, 12 fatherless, and 11 motherless; 10 in the Marylebone or North-west London Shoe-black Brigade (red-and-black uniform); 6 in the Islington or North -London Shoe -black Brigade (brown uniform); 11 in the City of London Sewers Street-Cleaning Brigade. Seventy-seven poor destitute boys were thus rescued from their street life, with its evil associations and temptations, and placed in positions of honest usefulness. They were holders of horses, crossing-sweepers, hawkers of cigar-lights, &c. Several [- 242-] being parentless, homeless outcasts, were admitted into the refuges attached to the brigades, and still reside in them, doing well. The greatest portion of these boys lodged in some of the poorest and most crowded parts of St. Giles's parish, viz. Lincoln-court, Orange- court, Princes-court, Wild-court, Wild-passage, all in Great Wild-street. Also in King-street, Charles-street, Parker-street, the Coal-yard, Short's-gardens, &c., in Drury-lane; and Church - lane, George - street, Dudley-street, Nottingham-court, the Five and the Seven Dials, and other places.
From one little school alone as many as 167 of the before-mentioned class of boys have been placed in the Central Shoe-black Brigade (red) within the past few years.
But the employment found for lads in this brigade is not final, nor is it the only situation open to those who are steady and of good character. Situations are frequently offered to such boys, and employment of a superior kind discovered for them. The year's reports mention that 1,924 scholars have been sent from the schools to situations, while 242 have become teachers, having probably first filled the post of monitors with credit. The payments to monitors is of course very small; but it encourages a steady boy of fair ability to study if he displays any aptitude for teaching. Day-schools, with 70 to 100 scholars in daily attendance and employing four monitors, are empowered by the Union to pay for division among the four two shillings a-week; those with 100 to 150 children and six monitors four shillings [- 243-] a-week; and those with 150 scholars and upwards, and eight monitors, six shillings a-week.
Before leaving the educational work, which is of course the principal operation of this great association, there must be mentioned 98 ragged churches and City- mission meetings, with an average attendance of 6,368; 68 Bible-classes, with 1,339 members in attendance; 116 teachers' prayer-meetings, with an attendance of 2,713; and 95 parents'-meetings, where 3,425 fathers and mothers are directly under the influences to which allusion has already been made.
To the Bands of Hope, with their 4,000 members, and the school-libraries with over 15,000 volumes, there is no need to do more than refer; but the 110 penny banks number 28,685 depositors, the balance in hand at Christmas last being 1,534l., which means, it is true, a ridiculously small sum for each; but yet is remarkably suggestive as being the residue after the year's fluctuating deposits had been withdrawn-deposits which amounted to nearly 11,000l. in the twelve months, or about eight shillings a-head; by no means an insignificant sum when we remember the extreme poverty of the people for whom they are designed, and the lesson these people must already be beginning to learn in the praetice of a difficult economy.
One of the most illustrative of the institutions for the benefit of adults which has grown out of Ragged Schools is the barrow club, to which I have already alluded. In one district - a very representative neighbourhood called Perkins's-rents - as many as forty-three [- 244-] barrows have been built, and then supplied to members who have paid a shilling a-week for fifty-five weeks. It will be readily understood how hopeless a task it must seem for a poor costermonger or a street hawker ' down on his luck' ever to accumulate the money for purchasing a real handy barrow of his own, without some help; and where can he obtain a loan of nearly three pounds for such an investment without incurring obligations which will make barrow and stock and his very personal liberty the property of the lender till it is repaid? Could he only put by a shilling a-week! But he can't. There's nowhere to put the money but where he can't make up his mind to take such a small sum as a shilling, and so, ' going to the public to think it over, with a pint of beer,' shilling and resolution are alike dissipated. But here is a way open to get a regular first-rate barrow, built on the latest scientific principles, and with all sorts of improvements ready to his hand, if he can but get along for a year or so with hiring. One can well imagine the joyful satisfaction of the member of the barrow club as he goes out in the morning trundling that representative vehicle before him, and thinks perhaps of having his name painted on it with an appropriate motto.
That the barrow club exercises a real moral influence need scarcely be insisted on; but as an illustration, I will here, reprint an anecdote told by its promoters, who thus record an incident in its history:
' It is very remarkable, considering the wandering life of some of the barrow-holders, that none have ever [- 245-] been lost to the society, and it reflects great credit on the management. We were much amused at the history of a narrow escape some two years since. It was about half-past ten one cold snowy night that tidings reached the club that a holder of a grinder's barrow, who resided in the neighbourhood, had been sent home helplessly intoxicated in a cab, and minus his barrow, and that he had been last seen in company with a man of very bad repute, who purposed leaving London early the next morning. The secretary of the society, accompanied by two volunteers, members of the barrow club, determined to start off at once to save the barrow, if possible. Being well acquainted with the various haunts of the suspected person, they visited numerous places without getting any tidings of the barrow. At length they reached Hammersmith, and entering a court they came upon the barrow standing in the yard. Knocking up the man whom they suspected of having carried it off, but who protested that he had found it standing without an owner, and had placed it there for safety, the secretary claimed it as the property of the society; and as a policeman was standing by no opposition was offered, and the barrow was wheeled away in triumph, the persevering pedestrians not reaching Westminster till nearly two in the morning, wet and weary enough. The satisfaction of having done their duty, however, was their only reward, as they received no gratuity whatever, and the occurrence was only casually mentioned some time afterwards.'
If the barrow club may be taken as a good illus-[- 246-] tration of the external work in connection with ragged schools, Perkins's-rents, where the largest of these branch societies is held, may be regarded as a neighbourhood well representing the places where the schools themselves have been established, and the glorious work that they are accomplishing.
To say that Perkins's-rents is situated in one of the lowest parts of Westminster is to say no more than that it was once, if it be not now, amongst those ' worst parts of London' that have become proverbial for ignorance, vice, and misery. After having spoken of Spitalfields and Bethnal-green, and threaded the mazes of Southwark, and been lost in the tangled webs that characterise some other wretched localities to be spoken of presently, Westminster still presents to the wayfarer in the slums of the Great City its own specially terrible characteristics - its own long - disregarded warrens of crime, and long-undisturbed burrows of poverty and wretchedness. Why it should so long have been known as the ' Devil's Acre' it is not difficult to imagine; how it should have been so long left in possession of such satanic tenancy is matter for humble repentance and hopeful, prayerful determination with regard to other places where less has been done to issue a writ of ejectment. In this traditional haunt of the wretched and the vicious, the One Tun was the favoured tavern to which thieves and ruffians resorted; and it was in that very One Tun - long ago converted into a ragged-school building, but retaining the name of its old sign - that the labour of love was commenced. Never was there [- 247-] any traditional tun - no, not even that of Heidelberg - which contained so much. The children who were first gathered within its sheltering walls have grown into men and women, and the work has increased too; so that with the new generation there has flowed out upon the neighbourhood the very wine of life. Day and evening schools, Sunday schools, Mothers' Meeting, Band of Hope, Blind Bible Reader, Penny Bank, Lending Library, a Clothing Fund, a Sick and Destitute Fund, and the Fathers' Home (known as the Westminster Working Men's Club and Beading Rooms, Old Pye-street, late Duck-lane), with its separate efforts of Bible and Educational Classes and Prayer Meetings, Penny Bank, Loan Society, Barrow Club, Temperance and Sick Societies, and Lending Library - all have had their rise here; and associated with it, if not a part of its unfailing effort, the dwelling - house for sixty - one families, Westminster-buildings, Old Pye-street. The annual sum for which these are carried on is 231l. 5s. 4d.; 203l. 7s. 11d, being required - and more being needed, now that the work is growing larger still - for the schools only.
This chain of institutions at the One Tun is, however, but an example of various efforts in the most benighted corners of the Great City; some of them in districts with which we are all familiar, others in neighbourhoods through which few of us pass, and the very existence of which is almost unsuspected by hundreds of people who yet have spent their lives in London. For instance, how many of the readers of these lines [-248-] have been up and down the zigzag courts, and in and out among the foul maze that is fitly named after
You know Chiswell-street. So do I. You know
Aldersgate-street, and Whitecross-street (the outside of
the prison, I mean), and Barbican, and Bunhill-row,
with its celebrated burial-ground recently restored from
wreck and ruin to comparative order. So do I. You
may even go so far as to say that you know Golden-
lane; but unless you are a robust and practised observer, your knowledge of that desperate byway is of a
very superficial character. For Golden-lane is in vice
and squalid poverty scarcely to be equalled in London.
There are few places where, in so short a walk, so many
evil-looking taverns find customers all day long; few
localities where on Sunday mornings the opening of the
public-house doors is looked forward to with such dogged
expectation by the ' roughs' who lounge about the
causeway, or sit on the kerb-stone or the door-steps,
that they may be ready to take advantage of the first
withdrawal of the bolts of those doors that are ' on the
swing' for eighteen hours out of twenty-four on every
day but Sunday. Women with children in their arms,
or draggling after them in the mud-women loud-voiced,
wild-eyed, evil-tongued-are to be seen at any hour in the day at the foul sloppy bars of these places-more
women than men during the mornings and afternoons
of week-days. At night the inmates of those dim rooms,
into some of which you may just peep as you pass, add [-
249-] their custom to the demand for drugged drink and rank
tobacco. Those rooms belong to the lodging-houses
where the ' tramps' kitchens' are to be found - places
far less safe for an amateur to visit than the so-called '
thieves' kitchens,' about which the police sometimes
pretend to have so much difficulty.
However, supposing even that you have a passing acquaintance with Golden - lane, have you penetrated farther still in your explorations, and been in and out, here and there, among the Chequers? In a word, do you know Chequer-alley?
Don't pretend that you have an acquaintance with it because you have seen the name painted up over a narrow, squalid, forbidding entry to a dark court, and have concluded that it was a mere foul cul de sac, or a neglected byway to some adjacent street. If that has been your conclusion, you were never more mistaken in your life. Chequer-alley means a whole zigzag neighbourhood, an agglomeration of alleys and courts, intersecting as wretched and poverty-stricken a district as can be found in all London-a puzzle-map of poverty, a maze of misery, in which the unaccustomed visitor might grow heart-sick and dizzy in the effort to find his way amidst the tangle of hovels and close yards; of which a key is not to be found in any map that I know of; the names of which are probably unsettled by any board of works, local or metropolitan; a vast sty in the midst of this Great City where 20,000 human beings herd together in a condition so wretched, that had a traveller to some distant land sent back a description [-250-] of a native colony disclosing such destitution, vice, and ignorance, we should at once have asked why no missionaries had been despatched to remedy a state of things more repulsive than many narratives of heathen life which have claimed and found immediate response from Christian effort.
I think I have some acquaintance with what are called the worst neighbourhoods of London. I have made many a journey down East; have studied some of the strange varieties of life on the shore amidst that waterside population that edges the brink of the Thames; have lived amidst the slums of Spitalfields, and passed nights Whitechapel-way; but never, in any single unbroken area of such extent, have I seen so much suggestive of utter poverty, so much privation of the ordinary means of health and decency, as in a journey up and down the Chequers. About Bethnal-green, as I lately tried to show, there are foul spots lying hidden behind sordid streets, and on the back yards of houses on which hovels have been built; but here is an entire district all hovels and yards - small dirty spaces, where water-tap and drain, in close proximity and conveniently near the front doors, serve for a score of families; each court or blind alley with the same characteristics, the same look of utter poverty, the same want of air and light, the same blank aspect of dingy wall and sunken door-step, the same effort to make common use of the only space there is by stretching lines from window to window on which to dry the few poor articles of clothing which have been washed - [-251-] goodness knows where - and are unstirred by any breeze that blows, shut in, as they are, in close caverns, only to be entered by narrow passages between blank walls. It is the extent of this area of poverty, almost in the very centre of City life, that is so bewildering; and therein lies its terrible distinction.
Any one unaccustomed to such places feels a kind of fear steal over him as he threads the windings of the place, and amidst the depressing stillness that is peculiar to such neighbourhoods when no shrill brawl or drunken clamour breaks the usual silence, wonders if it would be safe to wander there at night; whether some contagion of disease may not make it unsafe to breathe the tainted air by day; some sudden caprice of ruffianism await his faltering footsteps as he lingers in a narrow inlet, where there is scarcely room for one to pass.
There was a time when this latter fear would not have been groundless; a time when crime as well as vice and ignorance ran riot, and the ferocity as well as the heathenism of such savage life was made the more dangerous by its casual contact with civilisation: but that time has passed away. To an observant eye there are many efforts after cleanliness and order, which are amongst the most pathetic evidences that a work is in progress there. Just as the unbroken extent of the miserable neighbourhood is its evil distinction from the worst parts of Bethnal-green, so this is its more hopeful characteristic.
Yet how is it that the effort should not be made to [-252-] meet the wide need of such a benighted spot? Who can avoid asking whether it would not be a noble and useful achievement to attack this one stronghold of Satan, and to let in air and light to those imprisoned souls? Slow as the processes may be by which such results are completely attained, would it not be well if we could at least provide for their thorough accomplishment? Alas, it rests with us, with you, with all who themselves profess to walk in the truth, to give the necessary aid. The labour is begun, but the labourers are few; the field full of promise, but the work deferred for need of reapers in the harvest.
What has been done by the ' authorities' may be summed up in a short paragraph.
It is about thirty years since the first organised voluntary effort was made to improve the moral condition of the neighbourhood. It was in April last year that the sanitary surveyor reported on one of the courts of this foul district, recommending that the premises therein should be demolished under the ' Artisans and Labourers' Dwelling Act.' That report states distinctly enough that the floors and ceilings are considerably out of level, some of the walls saturated with filth and water, the others broken and falling down, doors, window-sashes, and frames rotten, stairs dilapidated and dangerous, roof leaky and admitting the rain, no provisions for decency, and foul and failing water-supply. This is a picture of a locality where the only model lodging-house built for the inhabitants stands unoccupied, except by a mission and ragged school, since, like all the model lodging-[- 253-] houses, the provision was not adapted to meet the needs of the poorest; a locality where whole families occupy single rooms at a rental varying from 1s. 6d. to 5s. weekly.
Nearly twenty-nine years have passed since the first regular effort was made to throw light upon this dark corner of the Great City; and that effort, as far as any direct system is concerned, was due to an active and zealous woman, who still lives to see the work that she inaugurated yielding hopeful wages. It was in 1841 that Miss Macarthy, with an earnest desire to join in some work of charity and mercy, applied to the secretary of the Tract Society connected with the Wesleyan Chapel in the City-road to become a 'distributor;' and the neighbourhood she chose was this same foul tangle of courts and alleys to which I have asked you to accompany me. She was supported by Mr. Richard Josland - a gentleman whose quiet unostentatious benevolence was long exercised in and around this plague-spot of London, both by personal effort and missionary exertion, maintained at his own expense. Bad as the whole district is now, it was far worse then. It was never decidedly a thief quarter; but many juvenile thieves haunted it, as they do now; and the men and women were as debased and brutal as could be found in all London. Instead of being paved, and partially, if insufficiently, drained, it was an agglomeration of filthiness, with here and there a fetid pool where ducks swam, and the stench of open cesspools added to the foul odours of the miserable houses. No policeman dare venture there alone.
[- 254-] It is not difficult to imagine what sort of reception the tract-distributor encountered; too easy to conclude how hopeless it seemed to fix the attention of the wretched dwellers in this great foul sty, even when an epidemic of typhus, known as the ' courts' or ' poverty' fever, was raging, and Miss Macarthy herself was smitten down in the midst of her work, just as she had begun to make her patient kindness felt.
The interruptions of those religious services that were commenced in a ratcatcher's front parlour - the joining in the hymns with scraps and overwhelming choruses of songs; the personal assaults, and premeditated insults to which those were subject who joined in the work-have been told in a little book, entitled Chequer Alley, published four years ago; a book which any one who desires a genuine relief from 'sensation' articles, and can still estimate a plain statement and a truthful description, should read for himself.
To-day as we thread these dirty mazes, and note the people standing at their doors, we are aware of a change brought about by a living influence; especially as we look at the groups of children here and there, with something of quiet purpose and childlike pleading confidence in their little faces, we feel that some great work is really going on.
Well, Miss Macarthy is still busy there-busy with the school that she founded, busy with children's dinners, with class-meetings, week-night services, agencies for relieving want, as well as for instructing the ignorant in the way of life-and since she laid that first foun-[-255-]dation, others have taken up the work; distinct, but not separate, in their endeavours.
For instance: standing here at the very beginning of the alley itself, we can hear a buzz and murmur of children's voices; and on inquiring of a juvenile native, who is evidently striving to interpret our intentions, learn that, it is ' our school; and you kin go in, sir; anybody can.' ' Hope Schools, for All,' is the name of the place; and a good name too, if we are to judge by what is to be seen at this moment: for to begin with - and a blessed beginning it is - here are fifty or sixty ' infants;' many of them such bright, rosy, chubby little creatures, that we wonder how it is possible for so much beauty to bud in this neglected corner of the Great City. Some, on the other hand, are pale, and with that wistful, under-fed look that goes to the heart; but there are few of them who have not got clean faces, and who do not show in their poor and often scanty little dresses some attempt at decent preparation for meeting ' the guv'ness.'
She has hard work, poor lady-hard and sometimes almost overwhelming work, she and her assistant-teacher; far beside these little ones some 150 of the elder scholars are just now in their classes, and as the afternoon school is nearly over for the day, there is some difficulty in keeping silence. No difficulty in gaining a ready but shy answer from any one of the pupils, however; no difficulty either in obtaining a youthful guide, who, being a resident in the outlying precincts of Fore-street, volunteers to conduct us through the Chequers without [-256-] stipulated reward. You may have noticed as you came in, that three girls were busy scrubbing the gallery of an outer room, generally used for the infant-school, but now in process of cleansing; you may have observed a kind of covered yard too, where there is a huge copper and some cooking apparatus. This copper has just been doing good service, for besides furnishing eighty to a hundred penny dinners' a-week, it has yielded I know not how many gallons of gratuitous soup. Then on Christmas-day! What a Christmas! Fancy 600 little hungry mouths ready to be filled with juicy cuts from prime roast legs of mutton, followed with such a pudding as leaves its unctuous steam in nooks and crannies of the place for a whole month afterwards!
This Hope-for-All room is scarcely ever empty; its echoes are heard from early morn till night, for there are evening schools where forty or fifty older pupils are taught reading, writing, and arithmetic; there are, also, an adult class, a Sunday-evening service, and a week-night prayer-meeting; and beyond that, again, a mothers' meeting, where about fifty poor women assemble once a-week, and from their small savings buy materials, furnished them at wholesale cost price, to make clothing for themselves and their children.
The visiting ' Bible-woman' is agent not only to bring the parents and the children to this Home of Hope, but to report such cases of distress as may be relieved when there are funds for that purpose. During the winter evenings the light and attractive element of refining amusements is added to these widely-reaching [- 257-] influences, - lectures, readings, dissolving-views, concerts; and in the summer, strangest perhaps of all in Chequer-alley, a flower-show, and an excursion into the country.
But our youthful guide is waiting for us at the door, while we have barely exhausted even the mere list of what is being done in this one spot. We go out into the dim courts, and thread their labyrinths with lighter hearts, and yet-and yet-how much remains to do? The candle placed on a candlestick lights that house and all belonging to it-nay, its rays penetrate to scores of these sordid homes where else all would be so dark and drear; but what a depth of gloom still lies beyond! If we could only climb up to some eminence where we could look down on all that dreadful neighbourhood-take a bird's-eye view of the Chequers, and see it like a map below - then we might come to estimate more nearly what is waiting to be done; how much strength and energy and charity is yet required to carry on the work, even though it should not be increased. Nay, if one could only stand in the midst of tills dreadful place, and in a voice of thunder proclaim to the Great City its duty and its shame, and so bring swift aid by firing men's hearts and consciences! Softly! the work is not done that way-not in the accents of thunder, but in the still small voice - not by denunciation and threatening, but by man speaking to his fellow even as Christ spake, is the work to be accomplished. But look here!
We are standing before a great blank brick building, [-258-] with a solid look, as of an edifice meant to last, and yet with a shut-up and, if I may say so, slip-shod appearance, as of one that has not fulfilled its purpose. Reading what is written on a painted board, you will see that it is the head-quarters of the ' Costermongers' Mission;' but come with me. Now you know what this great pile was intended for. You recognise the long barrack-like passages, the square blank rooms right and left, the corridors, the steep stairs, the look of fire-proofness, the rather repellent air of the whole place, and see in all of them the features of one of those model lodging-houses which never yet have met the wants of the poorest - no, nor often even of the poorer-class of labourers. No wonder that this is empty in a neighbourhood of costermongers, casual labourers, workers at poor and fluctuating trades, street-hawkers, and the worst-paid rank of artisans.
Up, and still up, till you wonder where we are to stop, and then suddenly here you are on the flat roof, far above all that maze of squalid houses, and trying to gaze down through its pall of smoke and London fog, to trace the ramifications of the foul web. It is an awful sight-a sight to arouse sad and serious reflections; to awaken thoughts that should not leave us soon, and should bear fruit in action. By your side stands the master of the ragged school, which counts 185 scholars, and is held in the large rooms on the first floor. Suddenly, from an open window in one of the nearest of the houses, we see a group of faces, the sudden brightening of which is visible even from this height, [-259-] and presently a shrill chorus of 'Hullo, Mr. Harwood! hullo, sir! We can see you, Mister Har-wood!' rings up above the streets.
It is one of the pleasantest things we have yet heard; and yet, when we go down into the school we shall hear something pleasanter still. As we stand talking in the boys' schoolroom, the door suddenly bursts open, and a group of little creatures from the girls' and infant school adjoining almost tumble over the threshold with noisy shouts of ' Good-bye!'
' Run away, you rogues,' says our quiet acquaintance, breaking into a ready smile nevertheless.
Such a peal of laughter as greets his threatening gesture it does one's heart good to hear; and when to that is added a shrill appeal of ' Kiss me, please, Mr. Harwood!' many a tougher subject than you or me might give way a little.
This same quiet gentleman, with the determined face, is he who undertakes one of the most difficult parts of the mission work. He goes as a preacher and missionary to the ' tramps' kitchens.' The work among the costermongers is rough and liable to all sorts of boisterous interruptions, but it is plain sailing compared to nightly visits to those dens, the common lodging-houses of Golden-lane and its neighbourhood. But we have only time to speak a word to the female missionary, whose arduous duty is now so appreciated by the poor, the sick, and the suffering, to whom she is the harbinger of hope and sympathy; no time at all to hear of the children's Sunday-evening service, the [-260-] open-air preaching, the sewing classes, the ragged-boys' patching class, the maternity charity, the clothing club, the drum-and-fife band, the choral classes, the penny savings-bank, and barrow fund, the shoe club, the aid to the destitute in the purchase of tools, the supply of food, or in advances for buying a baked-potato can, a sweep's broom, or a hawker's basket, with a shilling or two to stock them. We have only just time to hear that the penny dinners and the children's dinners (with the aid of that most admirable institution, the Destitute Children's Dinner Society) have gone on merrily, but are now, alas, in sore need of help, as indeed the whole work is - help in money as well as in sympathy and personal interest. Still, here too they had their Christmas-day, and a jolly one it was; for a party of 320 men, women, and children were invited to a good dinner, tea, &c. (I like that ' &c.') in the Mission Hall.
In issuing the invitations, care was taken to select the most deserving cases. One poor man went into a neighbour's shop to buy two 'fagots' - a mystical savoury meal made of the # inwards' of a pig - with his last two- pence, for his family's dinner on Christmas-day. He was known to be a deserving man, a painter out of work; so the shopkeeper gave him tickets for the dinner. When he entered the building, he saw the banner, ' Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.' With his eyes full of tears, he turned to his wife and said, ' Ay, Polly, an' that's true, if it never wor before.' At tea-time the party was augmented by seventy of the fusee-boys who throng' round the Post-office, Exchange, and Mansion House.
[-261-] After tea there was singing, with some religious addresses, and a dissolving-view lecture on the life of Jesus. With this information (but stay - don't look whether it is a sovereign or a shilling that you have released from your purse) we take our departure; and at the very door, where we rejoin our young cicerone, hear that ' last night three hundred costers, with their wives, were entertained at tea.'
To return for a moment to those Hope Schools where we were furnished with our young guide - now on his blithe way homeward with a shilling and a couple of rashers, which I fervently hope will be an agreeable addition to the tea of his only surviving parent, a poor woman who ' goes out to wash when she can get it to do' - to return to the ' Hope Schools for All,' well worthy of their name. They began with a Sunday-school, which was opened in Blue Anchor-alley forty-eight years ago, and which remained there till 1850, when the present ground, belonging to the Society of Friends, but for some reason not used by that body, was granted for the present building, - funds for which were mainly collected and contributed by Mr. Greig of the City-road, who first used it for a British day and Sunday-school, and then let it at a nominal rent to the committee of the Hope Schools, until his death about four years ago, when they obtained it in their own name.
It would be difficult indeed to estimate the work that is being accomplished by its various agencies, not only in the instruction and moral improvement of the people around it, but in the direct alleviation of their distress; [- 262-] but the income is still so small that the labourers here are frequently half disheartened: and the treasurer, Mr. Robert Young, of 125 Wood-street, Cheapside, begs that something may be added to the 245l., which was all that they could collect for the efforts of the last official year. Personal help is earnestly sought also; help in the schools and the mission work, both of which are in full operation, but depend solely on voluntary aid.
This admirable effort is perhaps less specific and, I may add, without depreciating either, less demonstrative in its character than the Costermongers' Mission and some of the agencies connected with that institution. It has the quiet definite work before it that has come to it in long years of experience; its report is short, simple, and remarkable for its almost Quaker-like simplicity of language and absence of startling appeal or allusion. Very little is said in it about the peculiar phase of wretchedness presented by the neighbourhood. A very clear summary of what is being done in the different sections of the mission concludes only with the following calm and pious reference:
' To-night, therefore, we present what is substantially the forty-seventh annual report of the schools; and in doing so, we would record our deep gratitude to Almighty God for having raised up a succession of labourers, through so long a period, to hold forth the word of life in this necessitous district.'
Even in the necessary reference to the sort of cases where the visits of the Bible-woman have led to relief being afforded, the facts are stated with remarkable ab-[-263-] sence of comment. They need none; for what terrible disclosures are included in their bare recital!
' M. H., left friendless and helpless, her father dead, her mother in the infirmary.
' T. B. is unable to accept a long-wished-for situation, from want of clothing.
' J. H. is carried off to one hospital, to have his foot amputated; in the mean time his wife, sickening with typhus, is carried off to another.
' J. N., at work as usual at home, suddenly drops down senseless; the mother and daughter, both in bed with typhus, unfit to help even themselves, with the aid of another daughter, just recovered from fever, although unitedly unable to undress the dying man, contrive to raise him into bed, where, after lingering a few days, he dies.
' J. D. is away in the infirmary, her boy in the Fever Hospital; her husband, with little work, has to tend the remaining three, who, one after the other, sicken on his hands with typhus fever.
' Such instances are the frequent experience of any one visiting in a locality like this; and they are now given in hope that the recital, meagre though it be, may touch the springs of liberality, in those able to place at the disposal of visitors the means of alleviating, in some degree, the misery that surrounds us.
' It may not be out of place here to mention the good that has been done with the parcels of old clothing, so kindly placed at our disposal by many friends of the mission. Two hundred articles have been given away [-264-] during the year, and many a poor half-naked child has been comfortably clothed. At the end of this report, we record our thanks to those friends who have, by their seasonable gifts, so largely helped us; and we would earnestly beg the kind remembrance of other friends, that we may be enabled to extend a mode of relief so beneficial.'
I am, I think, better pleased with this almost reticent report than with many others that I have seen; there is something consistent in its calm deliberation with the long experience that it has had amidst the district where it hopes on, and, what is better, works on still. And indeed it has reason to hope as well as to work. With its Sunday-school, where 80 scholars go in the morning, 292 in the afternoon, and 350 in the evening for instruction; with its Bible-classes; its ragged day-schools; its adult class, for teaching men and women to read and write; its girls' sewing classes; its parents' library of 160 volumes, where for a penny a-month subscribers have the use of the books, beside a gratuitous copy of the British Workman; and not the least of all its cheerful observances, its soup-kitchen, children's dinners, and parents' tea-meetings, at the last of which about 400 poor people met in social enjoyment,-it represents a movement to which I heartily wish I could add an impetus that would spread its benign influence not only over Chequer-alley, but to all the wretched and neglected places which are the dark corners of this Great City.
Not less useful, however, and, as far as I can judge, not less necessary, is the energy that is devoted to the [-265-] neighbouring agencies of the Costermongers' Mission. There seems to be a certain lively ' go' and, if I may say so without any disparaging intention, self-assertion about this institution, whose report is entitled 'After Office Hours,' which is someway illustrative of the coster himself. He is generally a lively bird, with a good deal of 'slackjaw' and a plucky disregard of obstacles in the way of doing as well as he can, that makes him a distinct part of the London population. I fancy - still under apologetic protest - that there is in some sense a similar distinction about this mission in Hartshorn-court, Golden-lane. He and it are alike in best characteristics; and I am fortunate in being able to take two separate Ragged School and mission establishments, within a stone's throw of each other, and yet serving to illustrate two varieties of the work necessary to carry on the Labours of Love in the worst parts of London.
The success of this effort, as far as its inauguration and continued superintendence are concerned, is due to one gentleman, Mr. W. J. Orsman, who seems to have devoted all his leisure to the work, and has found earnest coadjutors, who, like himself, have contrived to make the comparatively small amount contributed go a long way in aiding the poor creatures to whom they sought to carry consolation. The general expenses are about 200l.; the salary of the Bible-woman, who is their district-visitor, 32l. ; but these cannot include the children's dinners, the help for the sick and for lying-in women, the aid to the destitute and the starv-[-266-]ing, or the means of distributing comforts and secondhand garments to the naked. Mr. Orsman appeals urgently for help of any kind, either in money (which is best) or in cast-off clothes, books, women's garments, flannel, or any commodity available to feed, cover, employ, or teach the poor.
' Our mission,' he says in his report, ' specially aims to benefit the neglected costermongers, a class not easily accessible. They are rarely at home. To obtain the day's vegetables, the coster must necessarily rise very early. He is at the market in time to unload the wagons for the market trade to good houses; and for this he will receive a shilling. He waits for the clearings of the markets, which he obtains at prices varying from 3s. to 20s. for a truck-load. He may dispose of them all by dinner-time at a good profit; but often he pushes his load, varying from 1 to 2 cwt., nearly all day before he obtains a dozen customers. In such cases he will take his stand in Whitecross-street, and sell the remainder of his stock to very poor people at the lowest possible profit. At night he is found in the beer-shop, theatre, or the penny gaff. His home is therefore neglected; and as that home consists entirely of one room, he has none of those sacred associations which cluster around our English firesides.'
Considering that out of some 20,000 inhabitants of that festering locality, within a furlong of the place whence we have looked down upon it, 30 per cent are costermongers or itinerant street-traders, there is work for those who will help in this Labour of Love; and [-267-] when the costers are well attended to, there is another 30 per cent of casual labourers almost in the condition of paupers; 20 per cent of labourers, charwomen, needlewomen, &c.; and 20 per cent of such as follow the occupations of artificial flower-makers, brace and shoe sewers, toy-makers, wood - choppers, crossing - sweepers, bone- pickers, &c.
It is the costers who have given a name to the institution, however, and both they and the very children in the ragged school seem to exhibit that peculiar wide-awake-ativeness which is their characteristic, as well as that tendency to ' jaw,' to which I have already referred.
' What is a prophet?' asked the teacher, addressing one of the pupils in his class.
' Why, it's wot yer gets over when yer sells any- think,' was the reply.
To the question ' Why did Jairus rejoice when his daughter was raised from the dead?' another little fellow ventured to surmise, ' Cos it didn't cost him nothink for the funeral.'
It is not very surprising to learn that these children are frequently away helping their parents. Indeed a good 'barker' - that is, a good boy to halloo - on one side of a street, while the hawker carries his wares on the other, is a great acquisition to a coster; and one little fellow here, a diminutive lad little more than eight years old, takes out and, places his mother's vegetable stall in Whitecross-street daily before he goes to school. Some costermongers do not send their chil-[-268-] dren to school until the morning trade is over, while others after school-hours are vending fusees and evening-papers in the streets. For this purpose a few pupils are allowed to leave earlier in the afternoon.
The children make rapid progress in their elementary lessons; no pains being spared to instruct them in reading, writing, and arithmetic; but it is literally a ragged school. Many of the children are shoeless, stockingless, and shirtless; and such is the force of habit, that even when they become possessed of a pair of boots they ask the teacher to be allowed the favour of sitting in the school without them.
Those who would really know what is the distress of this foul quarter should go with the missionary, or with one of the eighteen voluntary helpers who carry on the house-to-house visitation in connection with this mission. Now, indeed, as they will tell you, metropolitan improvements and railway monopolies have demolished so many small houses in other poor districts, that the courts and alleys are more crowded than ever with human beings. In the plain reports of that condition, of which they are the witnesses, we hear of a family of five persons, four dogs and a cat, who live and sleep in a small room; of an old woman with eight cats; and close by of a room where a family of seven live and sleep together, besides cooking and selling fried fish in the same apartment during the day. Another room is occupied by a jobbing tailor, his wife, and nine children; in another, a cobbler, with eight in family; and in two other small rooms, having only one outer door, [- 269-] are three men, four women, and four children, who carry on their trades, and live and sleep together. A widow, with four children of the respective ages of 13, 11, 8, and 5 years, and a married daughter and her husband lived in a back room ten feet square, and for which they paid 2s. 9d. weekly. When visited all were ill with the fever. The mother and child died shortly afterwards. The room was filthy and desolate it contained only a broken table, four chairs tied up with pieces of string, and a broken looking-glass. The bodies of the dead were like the room, and the visitors had even to supply coverings to bury them in.
Whatever may be the effect of any national system of education on existing methods of instructing the children of the poor, it is scarcely likely that Ragged Schools will be abolished. Their name may be changed, and some of the details with which the present working is connected may undergo alteration; but the success with which they have been attended, and their widely- spread influence as centres of relief and instruction to adults as well as to infants, to parents as well as children, seem to insure their recognition in any scheme that may be adopted. At all events, they have, to a great extent, proved that poor parents are not altogether unwilling to send their children to any school where a genuine interest is displayed in their welfare, and the unsectarian teaching of religion from the words of the Bible alone has been no insurmountable obstacle even to many poor Roman Catholics whose boys and girls attend the classes.
[-270-] In any scheme, however comprehensive, and even should it involve the substitution of some other method than that now adopted by this voluntary agency in dealing with the very poorest class of children, whose parents will be held responsible for giving them the means of instruction, there must be some provision for a class still more destitute-a class to which the first ragged schools carried some hope of relief, and to which the developments of other agencies, of which these schools were the occasion, has afforded a great measure of permanent help and the means of redemption from a life of vice and misery.
When we have so completed our system of national education as to have garnered the very last child into a well-ordered school, with the grateful consent of its proper and legal guardians, what arc we to do with the neglected and deserted little ones of this Great City, who either have no parents or have been sent adrift till they have lost the knowledge of parental care, and can establish no claim?
The only legal guardianship now existing for them is, as I have tried to show, never really exerted by the State on their behalf until they have qualified themselves by crime for legal cognisance, or have gone to the door of some casual ward to whine for a night's shelter, and the uncertain reception of officials, of whom they have a natural dread; to be followed, at the best, by admission to a pauper life, the daily circumstances of which they have heard, and are warranted in believing, are often as penally oppressive as, and more [-271-] destructive of every childish hope than, the punishment inflicted by actual imprisonment for crime.
It is to children more or less in this deplorable condition that Ragged Schools have proved a boon; and should the State ever set itself to work to make the future of England, by beginning at the very spring of national life, and constituting itself the guardian, guide, and parent of these deserted little ones, it will already find some eminent examples of the way in which the work, is to be accomplished.
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