Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Toilers in London; or Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, [Anon] 1889 - Chapter 6 & 7 - Slaveys

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IT is stated that one-half of the three and a half millions of women and girls engaged in industrial employment throughout the United Kingdom are in domestic service. How many of these domestics are "slaveys" it is impossible to say. By a "slavey" we mean a child-servant, a Maria, Jane, or Susan, who drudges from morning till night in some house where "only one servant is kept." Of course we are speaking here of metropolitan slaveys, those, for instance, who come under the notice of societies like the M.A.B.Y.S. How many slaveys there are in London at present it is impossible to say but the M.A.B.Y.S. (Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants) has under its care at least 8,000 slaveys, and other societies such as the Girls' Friendly Society, the Young Women's Christian Association, the Girls' Helpful Society, etc., etc., have the names of many girls on their books.
    [-80-] Readers must not think that our inquiry into the condition of slaveys has been confined to the work of these societies. Our Commissioners have worked independently of any organisation. They have visited the girls in their homes, and in their situations. They have even made the experiment of placing a slavey in a gentleman's house, in order to see for themselves what can, under the most favourable circumstances, be made of a child-servant. But as more seems to be done by societies and charities for slaveys than for any other class of young women in London, we think it advisable to notice the work of the M.A.B.Y.S. before we pass on to particular cases. This Association is worked upon such excellent principles that scarcely any other agency would be needed for slaveys if only it were in communication with the Board schools as well as with the pauper schools of the metropolis.
    It divides the girls under its care into two branches. One class embraces destitute and friendless girls, who are handed over to the care of the Association when discharged from the pauper schools; the other class consists of local girls who apply to the various branches of the Association for situations. The pauper girls are friendless and homeless after they leave school.
    [-81-] Our Commissioners report the case of a pauper girl whose history we give by way of illustration. This girl was fetched from the workhouse by a lady, and kept for half a year as a slavey. Then the lady gave up her house, sold her furniture, and went abroad. She put an advertisement in a paper before she went to find the girl a place. This was answered by a lady at St. John's Wood The girl was sent there with her box. It was a bad house. The girl got away with difficulty. She applied for a situation at the --- Hotel, where servants are taken without characters. When the proprietor heard that she was "in trouble," he dismissed her at a moment's notice. She then went to the --- Hospital. There a young doctor took pity on her. He gave her money to find a lodging, and put her into communication with a lady who is interested in such cases. This lady found the girl in a house near Baker Street, and wrote to her former mistress. The mistress was horrified when she heard what had taken place, and sent money to help the girl through her difficulties. But she did not seem to see that her negligence had brought about the mischief, or to realise that a workhouse girl is one of the most friendless creatures on the face of the earth if the M.A.B.Y.S. does not happen to make her acquainta nce.
[-82-] The M.A.B.Y.S. has branches all over London; and mistresses who have child-servants should communicate with the Association if they have not time to find places for discharged slaveys. Small charities, too, would do well to put themselves in communication with the Association.
    A Commissioner reports the following case, which came under her notice last December. She was walking through Onslow Gardens at 5 p.m. one evening. There she saw a girl crying on the doorstep. This girl had been dismissed from a small Home for striking a companion, and had been turned out into the street with a shilling, and the address of a convent at Shepherd's Bush. The Commissioner took the girl back to the Home, and begged the superintendent to receive her for the night, as it was getting dark. The superintendent refused, although the girl was a stranger in London, and did not know her way to the Metropolitan Railway. The Commissioner then went with the girl to the clergyman of the parish, who handed her over to the workhouse authorities.
    The metropolis is, as every one knows, divided into thirty-two unions. The guardians of most of these workhouses send the names and addresses of the girls who leave the pauper schools to the Association. The girls are then placed in com-[-83-]munication with one of the branches of the Association, and generally under the care of a lady visitor. No one can say how much good has been done by the intimate relationship which exists between these lady visitors and the friendless pauper servants.
    An excellent pamphlet on the subject, entitled "The Work of the Lady Visitors," has been written by Mrs. S. A. Barnett. She speaks of the dislike which some mistresses evince towards lady visitors, and advises the visitors to write to the mistress for permission to call on Mary Jane or Susan, instead of knocking at the door and demanding to see the slavey. She says that the first visit should always be paid to the mistress.
"As a rule," says Mrs. Barnett, "when properly prepared by a judicious note, the mistress receives the lady visitor cordially, looks upon her as an assistance in the management of her servant, pours into her ears (we hope not such unwilling ones) a tale of woes as long as the Ancient Mariner's, and asks her to rebuke her servant for all the faults which she either has not the courage or the force of character to attack. In many cases she receives the lady gladly, as a friend to her girl, as one to whom she can turn to bring some brightness into the life of the hard-worked [-84-] little maid, for whom the mistress has an honest liking, and whom she herself would make happy, if her means were not limited by poverty, ignorance, a large family, and much work. In either case, permission for the girl to visit the lady, or for the lady to repeat her visit to the girl, is generally given, and that granted, the work is - only to hold the girl, to win her heart.
    " It is not a difficult task this, to win a girl's heart-in the case of the pauper girls a touchingly easy one. The girl, brought up in an enormous school, with teachers to teach, nurses to nurse, mistresses to order, no one to love ; launched into the world at an age when the heart and mind are awakening into life, when the capability for joy or sorrow is most keen ; sent out into a bewildering world, as Mrs. Browning says,

"'Suddenly awake to full life and life's needs and agonies,
With an intense, strong, struggling heart '--

so ignorant of life's common ways and ordinary conditions, that right gets confused with wrong; so painfully new to all the surroundings that the newness hurts ; with no past to help the future no memories of a wise tender mother, whose words of counsel must now be taken, having before been proven true with no practical knowledge of principles which must be clung to what-[-85-]ever is abandoned ; with no friend bound up with girlish joys - only a school in the past. It is the heart of such a girl, empty because no one has cared to fill it, which is given over to the lady to win, and it is this girl, whose character comes to us as 'sullen, obstinate, and sly,' whose eyes at the first word of kindness fill with tears- tears hitherto rarely summoned, except by physical pain-it is this girl, whose interest once awakened, lives on the memory of your words, to whom you can become, in an awe-inspiring way, a conscience."
    Mrs. Barnett goes on to speak of the methods which a visitor should use to help the girl and win her friendship. Savings can be discussed, and the girl can be taught to "lay by" a little money; difficulties in the way of work can be talked over, also the management of the children who are entrusted to the slavey.
    "But it is not well always to talk of the girl's own affairs," says Mrs. Barnett. "It should, I think, be the visitor's duty to give the girl a wider view of life, to interest her in other people's aims, to teach her to care for those whose lot is sadder and more full of pain than her own."
    Thus books can be lent and magazines, and the girl is interested in and induced to spend odd minutes working for others.
    [-86-] Mrs. Barnett recommends the visitors to procure holidays for the slaveys, and on these rare occasions to invite the girls to their own homes, and to take their protegées to the Crystal Palace, or some other place of amusement. People little think how the memories of such days live on in the minds of slaveys.
    Our Commissioners report a little servant in South Hackney who was taken to the National Gallery, and then to a house in Chelsea. When the child reached the National Gallery her eyes remained fixed on the floors, and she did not look at the pictures. "My how these 'ere floors must make some one's arms ache," she said. "It would kill me to scrub 'em entirely."
    She was so overwhelmed by the amount of hard manual labour those floors represented that the pictures failed to attract her notice. When she was asked at the end of the day what had pleased her most, she said, "I liked that museum best, the one your friend lives in."
    This was the drawing-room of a lady in Chelsea where she had tea. She talks still of that "museum" to her brothers and sisters, also of the floors at the National Gallery. Her mother pulled her right arm out of its socket in a drunken fit when she was an infant; conse-[-87-]quently she finds scrubbing a painful occupation, even in the small abode of her mistress.
    Mrs. Barnett gives advice to visitors on the subject of "sweethearts," which all should read who are interested in young servants. The pamphlet can be obtained from the Secretary of the Society, or from Messrs. Sothern and Co., 36, Piccadilly. Few ladies know more about slaveys than Mrs. Barnett, who has interested herself in them for years. In fact, the work of sending young girls into service is carried on to such an extent in St. Jude's parish that the mothers have more than once complained to our Commissioners of well-meant interference.
    As we said before, the M.A.B.Y.S. does not only look after pauper girls, but all those who apply to it for assistance. Each branch has a free registry office, to which local girls can come who want situations ; and when they are once settled in service a lady visitor is appointed to look after them. Friendship is the principle of the Association, not profit. Clothing clubs are also attached to the branches, and the girls receive outfits for service, which they repay by instalments from their wages. Training and lodging homes are also in connection with the Association, for the assistance of friendless girls and strangers to the metropolis. The organisa-[-88-]tion of the Association is very thorough, and could include the whole of London. As the Bishop of Chichester says, "The multiplication of charitable institutions is in itself an evil. There ought to be a better organisation of existing charity." This is especially true with regard to young servants. For no class of girls in London is so much done as for "slaveys ;" and if the charities were better organised, if they worked with that charitable feeling which makes all men brethren, no slavey need feel herself neglected. One step in the right direction would be to affiliate all the Board schools with the M.A.B.Y.S., as most of the pauper schools are affiliated. Each school-mistress should send a list of girls leaving school to the branch of the Association in her district. Then the girls would be visited before they have time to drift into day-maids (about whom we shall have more to say presently), to become "hands" in factories and shops, or to begin the hundred and one small occupations which lead to nothing. A girl who applies for a place on her own account has a poor chance in service. She needs clothes and a character.
    "The chap I keep company with will speak up for me," a girl told a Commissioner the other day. She was quite surprised to hear that this [-89-] was not likely to win her a place with an ordinary mistress.
    The situations which slaveys can get through the small metropolitan registry offices are not generally very satisfactory ; and even in these want of clothes prevents many a girl from getting any sort of situation.
    It has been suggested that registry offices and clothing clubs might be attached to Board schools, and that if the mistresses were too busy to attend to such things, the clergyman's wife or the district visitors could do the work. It would be much better to send a list of girls about to leave school to the local branch of the M.A.B.Y.S. at the end of each term. If this were done by all the Board schools, the girls would be looked after and prepared for service.
    Many mothers, however, like to keep their girls at home for a year or two before letting them go into service. Such people think, "If I've got a daughter I may as well get the benefit." They say that the School Board is hard on mothers; and directly the girls are old enough to leave school they make them into home drudges. But the girls often rebel against this, and sometimes give their mothers " notice. Or they get into bad company, and the mothers think that they would be safer in service. The mothers [-90-] then take their girls to the M.A.B.Y.S., if they know of it, and ask the ladies to find their daughters places. Of course the girls who pass straight from school into service make the best servants.
    We have spoken at length about the M.A.B.Y.S., because it is the slaveys' Association par ezcellence, and there is no doubt that if its branches were affiliated with the Board schools, properly organised, and well supported, the Association could easily cover all the work that has to be done among this class of young women in London.





LONDON girls of the lowest class have a strong prejudice against domestic service. Mothers are, as a rule, glad to see their girls in "a tidy little place." They realise that good food is necessary for a girl while she is growing, and that street life is very pernicious. But the girls often prefer to live at home, even if it means drudgery that keeps them occupied from morning till night, blows, and drunken parents. The routine of service tries them very much, and they miss the companionship of school friends, brothers and sisters. They complain of "lonesomeness."
    A girl was visited lately by our Commissioners who had run away from her first place, and entered a factory. When asked why she had done this, she said, "Well, missus always sat in the parlour, and I always sat in the kitchen, [-92-]  and I felt lonesome. Then missus used to go out at night, and leave me all alone in the house, and I got scared, and runned away. I won't go back," she added, "no, not for nobody."
    Girls of this class are accustomed to live in one or two rooms, with father, mother, brothers and sisters. So when they suddenly find themselves in a strange place at night, alone, in the dark, they become nervous ; and if the mistress places an impassable barrier between the parlour and the kitchen, the child-servant mopes, gives notice, or runs away, unless she has the true soul of a slavey.
    Pauper girls make, as a rule, very good servants. Their spirit is broken by long and severe discipline before they leave the workhouse. They seldom complain of anything. But the girl who has tasted the sweets of liberty is apt to run away, if she becomes a slavey. It is not the work which she minds so much as the "lonesomeness."
    The girl who was placed six months ago in the house of Major --- ,---- Street, Kensington, is a fair type of the ordinary slavey. Her father rents two cellars near Lisson Grove. He is out of work, and only able to serape along with the assistance of his wife, who is a charwoman. He has six children. The eldest girl works in a factory, and earns four shillings and sixpence per [-93-] week. Sarah is nearly fifteen, but looks like a child of twelve, because she is small and thin, the result of constant starving. Her father is a very respectable man, although out of work, having been employed in a shop for many years. He now does odd jobs and runs errands. He was very anxious to find Sarah "a tidy little place," and delighted that she should go to service. The day on which this was arranged the mother lay in bed with the two youngest children because her clothes were in the pawnshop. The father had applied for relief to the parish. So money was given to buy Sarah some clothes; and the girl was transported from her wretched home to the house in Kensington. At first she was delighted with everything. She worked hard, and tried "to give satisfaction." The father called, and seemed pleased to see the child so happy. But from the first she complained of "lonesomeness. She would not answer the back-door bell after dark, or sleep by herself. She cried when the cook left her alone in the kitchen. Then she began to mope, and said that she wanted her brothers and sisters, that she was sure her mother was ill, and that she felt ill herself. She begged for pocket-money, saying that her mother had given her a few pence on a Saturday night. She asked to go out by herself, instead of with another [-94-] servant. Last of all she ran away, having received a shilling from some one in the house, and permission from the cook to fetch a stamp. She preferred her wretched home, in which she had not enough to eat, to the house in Kensington, and now works ten hours a day in a factory, and gets two shillings and sixpence a week. She received the kindest treatment, and her life in the house of Major was very different to that of most slaveys. But she was home-sick. Let readers picture the lives of pauper servants, who have no homes ; and then think of the little Mary Jane or Susan to whom "the terrors of the night season" come again and again, as they lie awake in the garret or mope in the kitchen. These children are made of flesh and blood, although they are servants.
    There is no difficulty in persuading London girls to go out as "day-maids," namely, from eight o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock at night. Then they sleep at home; they are not separated from their brothers and sisters. If a girl is asked, after she leaves school, "What would you like to do?" she generally says, "Please I'd like to mind a baby."
    Many girls act as nurses to the children of neighbours, or to small shopkeepers, and earn about two shillings and sixpence a week. Some-[-95-]times dinner is included, but generally the girl only receives her tea from the family. Many girls in the East End are employed by well-to-do Jewesses, and pass from house to house, receiving pence and scraps in return for scrubbing and washing up. The M.A.B.Y.S. sets its face against day-servants, for they are out late at night, and under the charge of neither mother nor mistress. But the girls enjoy the position of semi-independence; and it is remarkable to witness how different the manner of a slavey is to that of a day-servant. The latter is much the most independent.
    Slaveys receive from £5 to £7 a year as wages. Out of this they have to buy clothes, boots and shoes, and to provide for a variety of small expenses. Girls in lodging-houses do not receive so much, for they are supposed to have perquisites. It is a commonly understood thing among Irish servants that if their wages are not what they consider sufficient, pilfering has the blessing of the priest, or at any rate he winks at it. The same idea seems to exist in the minds of most landladies. Of course there are many exceptions; but that the ordinary landlady is a parasite who expects her lodgers to keep her in food and raiment, and to pay her rent, is well known to the public Thus she helps herself to the lodger's tea and sugar, she takes a little bit of his butter, [-96-] she shares his bread, and she lets the cat eat his cold mutton. She charges for his coal three times as much as she pays herself; and if he does not complain, she calls him "quite the gentleman." Thus he hears his landlady say to the slavey, "Susan, bring down Mr.-----'s tea-caddy," and if he ventures to remonstrate, Susan says, "Missus didn't know as you were in the house, sir."
    For the sake of peace and a quiet life he allows his landlady to fleece him; and in time he becomes so abject that he is afraid to "give notice." No wonder that he feels for the slavey. He hears the landlady scolding Susan, and afterwards he gives Susan sixpence. Much of his comfort depends on the little maid-servant. She cleans his boots, and brings him hot water; she answers his bell, and prepares his breakfast. Her dirty face and draggled dress seem to be part and parcel of his cheap lodgings; her very curl-papers are familiar, also her dirty apron. Only she is for ever changing! It is always the same tale, "I can't put up with the rnissus." Then another girl takes her place ; and the other girl "gives notice."
    A Commissioner visited a slavey in a large lodging-house near the City, in which there are thirty lodgers, including clerks who earn £2 a week. This child, aged fourteen, does the whole of the work, with the assistance of an old half-[-97-]daft man who came to the house as a lodger, and stayed on to "give a hand" whenever he was wanted. The girl sleeps in the kitchen, which is downstairs. Her bed is kept in the kitchen cupboard. She gets up at five o'clock, and slaves all day long for the lodgers. She cleans and dusts, she carries up water, she helps cook the dinner, she answers the bells, she never sits down except for meals. She "gets her tea standing." She has no idea who she is, or where she comes from, only a vague recollection of parents down in the country, who gave her to an aunt in London. She believes that she belongs body and soul to the "missus," who also seems to look upon the child as her personal property. She has only one pleasure in life, namely, a white cat who lives with her in the kitchen, and sleeps on her bed at night. The "missus" does the shopping; so the girl drudges all day in the lodgers' rooms, she works from top to bottom, and bottom to top, and then she begins again from the beginning.
    Another girl was visited in Chelsea, who lives in the family of a comic actor. This girl has charge of three children. Her mistress complains that she falls asleep while she is dressing,and the girl says that this comes to pass because the baby is teething She is growing fast, and the heavy [-98-] baby tries her strength. She must wash and dress all of the children, and get breakfast with the baby in her arms. She calls the baby "a comical little customer, and seems fond of the child, although he keeps her awake at night. She has a sweetheart, whose mother is very kind to her, and to this woman's house she goes once a month. For these Sundays she treasures up her money, in order to make a smart appearance. Her mistress is very kind, but slip-shod, and apt to leave everything to the servant.
    It is useless to multiply cases. Every one knows what the life of a slavey is, for fiction and farce have made her famous.
    The fathers of slaveys are generally labourers or mechanics. One of the secretaries of the M.A.B.Y.S. asserts that the girls who do best are the daughters of men who work in the large London breweries. Such men are well paid, and keep their places. "If a father has worked for some years in the same place we can always recommend the girl ; we are pretty sure that she will turn out well, the same lady told our Commissioner.
    No doubt the happiest slaveys are those who work for people with whom they eat their dinner, by whom they are treated as one of the family. [-99-] Those who suffer most are girls "kept at their distance by mistresses who complain that slaveys do not see the difference between themselves and a lady. Midway between these come the lodging- house slaveys.
    The lives of all these girls are dull and hard, unless they happen to have an exceptionally kind mistress, or to come under the notice of a lady visitor from the M.A.B.Y.S., or an associate of the Girls' Friendly Society. Some are sent to Sunday Schools, but mistresses think, as a rule, that girls make undesirable acquaintance in such places, and prefer to take them to church on Sunday evening, when their work is finished. Mistresses say that a visit home will upset a slavey for weeks, and that she never settles into a place if her parents are allowed to pay her visits. There are no clubs for slaveys, no rooms in which they can meet for games and music. Working girls of all sorts have clubs in London but these girls have nothing to break the monotony of their lives except a monthly outing.
    Mr. Ruskin says that a nation is in a bad way when its girls and young women are sad. If he could glance into the many suburban villas in which slaveys sit alone in the kitchen, he would think the case of London hopeless. The pauper girls who have left the workhouse. the girls whose [-100-] homes are far away, may be found there by hundreds, depressed and lonely.
    In conclusion, we would remind readers that a certain class of women takes its recruits chiefly from the class of young servants. Many of these arrive in London as strangers. Clergymen and people in the country who are interested in girls should communicate with the Travellers' Aid Department, i Ga, Old Cavendish Street, W., which has been organised for the benefit of young women coming to London. This Society is prepared to meet any girl of whose arrival they receive three days' notice, addressed "To the Travellers' Secretary." Girls are then conducted safely to their destinations, or placed in homes and lodging-houses known to the Society. The Society has notices up in the waiting-rooms of railway stations; but it is not much known as yet in country districts.