Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Toilers in London; or Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, [Anon] 1889 - Chapter 11 - Registry Offices

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     WE are indebted to Mr. Coote, Secretary of the National Vigilance Association, for the information we are able to give on the subject of Registry Offices. Mr. Coote has throughout our inquiry done all that he can to assist our Commissioners. In this he has acted very differently to some of the religious and philanthropic societies and associations with which our Commissioners have come in contact. "What is the use of writing on such subjects?" they were asked again and again. Sometimes doors were slammed in their faces, sometimes they were kept waiting for hours, sometimes it was said "the press is so conceited."
    The National Vigilance Association has removed to 267, Strand, and there its secretary may be found at work all day, and sometimes all night. Servants' Registry Offices, he says, may be divided into three classes: 1. Those which take [-132-] fees from both servant and mistress ; 2. Free registries, where the mistress pays the fee and the servant pays nothing, or something after she has entered into the situation; 3. Registries for foreign servants. At many of these registries girls are provided with lodgings until they obtain situations, and here they sleep five or six in a room, two or three in a bed, for sixpence a night.
    Of course some of these registries are respectable places, but many are very pernicious, and not a few are wholly bad. Registries are commercially difficult. If the proprietor is anxious to safeguard servants, his business generally comes to nothing. Those registries which are conducted on the merchandise principle, where the interest of the proprietor begins and ends with the fee, arid girls are bundled off to situations without inquiries as to where they are going, or who is to be their mistress, will bring in money ; but registries conducted on philanthropic principles seldom pay, and certainly do not make much profit.
    Girls cannot be too often warned against the advertisements of registries which offer situations with high wages and little work. These are generally held by scamps, who advertise freely to attract customers, and then clear off, sometimes [-133-] to begin again in a new place, with a new name. One such man, who had previously been a police-detective, carried on a notorious business for swindling servants. His office was closed by the police. He changed his name and began again. He even went to the Vigilance Association, and offered to go on their committee, saying that his experience as a detective would be useful to the Association. One of his tricks was to keep a dozen good-looking girls on the premises to see mistresses. An engagement with one of these girls was made in his office by the mistress, and the fee was paid. But the girl did not enter the situation. Some excuse was made, and when the mistress reclaimed the fee, he said it was not his fault that the girl would not keep to the engagement. Many such scamps start registry offices for servants ; in fact, the Vigilance Society has a book filled in with the names of "suspected" registries. These cannot be published, but we shall give at the close of this article the names of the safest and the best metropolitan registries. From "suspected registries" girls are often sent into bad houses. Dozens of complaints have been brought to the Vigilance Association about situations entered into by girls in ignorance of the character of the mistress. One case the Association has taken up, that of a girl who was charged [-134-] by her mistress with stealing a pair of boots. It was discovered that the girl was innocent, and that the charge had been brought to punish her because she would not copy the evil habits of her mistress. Servants should be on their guard against entering any house connected with a registry office unless they have taken pains to know the character of the place. Sometimes the proprietors of such houses run up bills the servants cannot pay, and then turn them out late at night to shift for themselves, detaining their boxes. The greatest number of frauds take place in foreign registries. Some of these are carried on by foreigners, and some by English people. They bring girls over from the Continent, or send English girls to European cities. Some have agents in Germany, whose business it is to advertise English situations in glowing colours, promising at the same time high wages and passage money. When girls apply to the agents they are told that an agreement must be signed, and then they can go at once to England. Their boxes are sent by a different route, arriving in London before the girls themselves. These boxes contain all their worldly goods, sometimes clothes to the amount of 15 and 20. When the girls reach the London registries, the proprietor asks for their passage-money, and if [-135-] they wish to go away, saying that according to the agreement there is nothing to pay for the journey, he takes advantage of the fact that they cannot speak English. Eighty per cent, of the girls give in to him, and enter the house attached to the registry. He then runs them up a bill for board and lodging. Bit by bit the girls sell all their clothing, and then in despair they add to the large number of foreign prostitutes.
    The following case was taken into court by Mr. Coote, and the plaintiff received 15 damages.
    Maria Geiger, native of Stuttgart, Germany, brought an action against the keeper of a registry office and home for servants, for the delivery up of her box of wearing apparel, and for damages for detaining the same, and for breach of contract in refusing to obtain her a situation.
    Plaintiff said, "Before coming to England I lived with my father and mother at Stuttgart, and while there saw an advertisement in a Stuttgart paper for German girls to go to England for domestic situations. I went to the office advertised, and saw Pfeiffer (who was admitted to be the defendant's agent). He told me to send my box on to England, and gave me the defendant's address to put on it. He also gave me a card with the defendants name and address on it, on [-136-] which he was described as 'Late of the Criminal Investigation Department, Great Scotland Yard, S.W., and also Official Interpreter of the Criminal Police, 2, Official Law Courts, London.' Pfeiffer told me I could have a place from defendant if I came to England. He told me to send my box over in advance, but that I should not have to pay for it. He advanced me forty marks for my journey. I went to the defendant's house the day after I came to London, but he was out. The next day I saw him, and he asked me if I was Maria Geiger, and whether I had my certificates. He spoke to me in a rude manner, and said he would not give me a place. I said again, 'Do give me a place.' He said, 'No, I won't;' and then asked me to refund him 50s. He fixed the sum of 10s. for the carriage of my box, and 40s. for my journey. He has not found me a place. I was without a place some weeks, when I got one from Gordon House (a German Home). I am not paid any money in my place; I only accepted it because I had no clothing or money. I saw my box at defendant's house. It is worth from 15 to 20. I have spent 5 for board and lodging, and have borrowed 1 to buy clothing."
    Cross-examined by Mr. Browning, she said: "I arrived in London Tuesday, 26th October. The reason I did not go straight to defendant was [-137-] because I was warned on board the steamer that many girls were decoyed to London and got into bad places. A gentleman on board the steamer advised me to stay at the Essex Hotel, Shoreditch, while I made inquiries. He came the next day, and took me to the defendant's. He did so again the following day. On the second day the defendant called me all sorts of bad names, and used bad language. I told him I was afraid, and therefore did not go straight to him. He said, 'I will send you back at once ; as to the box, you can pledge your watch and earrings to pay.' I then went straight to the German Consulate, where I was given the address of the German Home and the National Vigilance Association."
    With regard to foreign situations, an English mother writes as follows to Mr. Coote:-
    "Some weeks back a young friend of mine, who is an orphan, came to stay at my house while seeking a situation. She answered an advertisement inserted by a foreign agency office, the manager of which, after some correspondence, instructed her to apply for a situation at Vienna, requesting her to forward her photograph. She did so, and later on received a note telling her she was engaged to go to Vienna, and must call at the office the Monday following. As she was [-138-] an inexperienced country girl, I thought it better to go with her, and found, to my surprise, that she was expected to travel on the following Saturday, without giving references and knowing the address of the lady to whom she was going, the business having been entirely arranged between the agent abroad and the agent here. She was instructed as to her journey, and was told to have her boxes addressed with the name of the foreign agent. Two other girls were to travel with her to the same destination. I set inquiries on foot, which resulted in the girls being saved from a fate worse than death, and I want through you to impress upon all girls to accept no situation abroad through any agency whatever, however apparently straightforward its business transactions may be, unless they have name and address of the lady abroad who engages them, with references to the English Consul and the Chaplain of the Embassy, and time to verify such references."
    The following is a list of trustworthy metropolitan registries for servants:-
    WEST-Miss Bath, 69 Norfolk Terrace, Notting Hill ; Dudley Stuart Registry, 8, Star Street, Edgware Road; Mrs. Faircloth, 106, Regent Street ; The Misses Faithful, 136, Regent Street Female Servants' Home Society, 205, Great Port-[-139-]land Place; Female Servants' Home Society, 21, Nutford Place, Edgware Road ; M. Fitch, 296, King Street West, Hammersmith ; Mrs. Foley (Roman Catholic), 26, King Street, Portman Square; Mrs. Hay, 52, Regent Street; Mrs. Heeld, 38, Westbourne Grove, Bayswater ; Miss Hoyt (Roman Catholic), 47, South Street, Park Lane; Mrs. Hunt, 32, Duke Street, Manchester Square; Miss Maulden, 153, Church Street, Paddington Green ; Mrs. Norman, 77, Great Portland Street; Mrs. Perry, 9, George Street, Portman Square; Servants' Registry, Soho Bazaar, 77, Oxford Street ; Soho Club and Home, 59, Greek Street, Soho Square.
    S.W.-Mrs. Cooke, 64, Fulham Road; Elm Park Registry, 319, Fulham Road; Miss Freeman, 162, Warwick Street; Mrs. Hawley, 159, Sloane Street ; Mrs. Holton, 2, Dartrey Road, King's Road ; Mrs. Lord, 12, Gloucester Road, South  Kensington ; Miss Lovejoy, 32, Sydney Street, Chelsea; Working Women's Home and Registry, 53, Horseferry Road, Westminster ; Mrs. Turner, 361, Clapham Road; Mrs. Curtis, 322A, Brixton Road.
    W.C.-Foreign Women Servants' Institute, 36, Hart Street, Bloomsbury; Miss M. M. Moran, 29, Queen Square, Bloomsbury.
    N.W.-Mrs. George, 42, Camden Road.
    [-140-] NORTH.-Mrs. Hunter, 517, Holloway Road Mrs. Goddard, 228, Liverpool Road, Islington; Miss Franks, 252, Upper Street, Highbury; Mrs. Smith, 1 38, Upper Street, Islington.
    EAST.-Mrs. Burd, 386, Commercial Road Mrs. Winter, 96, Mile End Road. 
    Also the offices connected with  M.A.B.Y.S. (Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants); Young Women's Christian Association, and Girls' Friendly Society.