[back to menu for this book]
A ROUND OF THE PARISH "STONE-YARDS."
DOES the reader know what a parish "stone-yard" is? It is the scene
of the "labour test" sanctioned by Act of Parliament. The sorely
distressed mechanic or labourer, unable to obtain work, and with too much
manliness as yet remaining in him to beg, having sold and pawned every available
article of wearing apparel and household furniture, and borrowed of friends and
relatives to the extremity of their means or their patience, as a last resort
applies to the workhouse authorities. Not as a pauper. He is told that if he is
willing to work he may even yet obtain food for his family, and avoid the shame
of pauperism. He is willing to work. Show him the job that he will not
undertake, provided it is possible for him to accomplish it. Nothing is more
easy of accomplishment he is assured; a born fool would find it not at all
difficult to do the work suggested in a satisfactory manner; it is merely to
take a hammer in hand, and with it to convert big stones into little stones, or
to shred into fine threads short lengths of old tarred rope. "What are the
wages?" the eager applicant inquires. But there is no fixed rule ; in some
parishes the stone-breaker receives so much a day, in others "as much as he
is able to earn." These last terms best suit the desperate out o' work. To
be sure, he has heard and read of the idle riff-raff of the casual ward
rebelling against the severity of the task of stone-[-203-]breaking,
imposed on them as an equivalent for their bread and lodging, but that is
nothing to the purpose. He is a man of different mettle. Hard work won't daunt him,
since it is piece-work! - and he spits on his palm, itching to grasp the
Knowing something of this beforehand, I selected the stone-yard as a place before all others where "the truly destitute and unfortunate" might be discovered ; not without the hope that while I fulfilled the charitable mission entrusted to me, I might be able to pick up sundry scraps of information useful to my friend the reader. How far I have been successful in this last-mentioned respect what here follows will show.
I selected the stone-yard of St. Mary's, Islington, as being the first in my route from home. I applied at the workhouse where the "board" was sitting, and the chairman of that august body granted the favour asked with a magnanimity that impressed me favourably. He courteously directed the master to instruct a decent old fellow, who sat in the hall attired in a suit of corduroy, to show me the way.
St. Mary's stone-yard is about a quarter of a mile from the workhouse, and nestles amongst the cattle lairs in the Liverpool Road. On the road my civil guide informed me that the destitution in the parish had been "something awful," so much so that a few days since a hundred and forty men of the district had sought work at stone-breaking. Matters, however, had mended a little since the frost broke, and he did not think that more than a hundred men were employed in the yard at present. He escorted me to the office of the labour superintendent, which was in the stone-yard. "You had better have a pair of shades before you go round, sir," said the superintendent, you may chance to get your eye cut out else;" but as he spoke there entered in at the door a tall, thin gentleman, of pale complexion, who had been the round, [-204-] I suppose, and was then wearing the shades-two monstrous protuberances of woven wire covering his eyes and the greater part of his nose, and secured by strings of broad black tape tied over his ears, and rendering him such a frightful object to behold that I hesitated to avail myself of the superintendent's obliging offer. "Do all the men at work wear the shades ?" I inquired. "Oh no; very few of them." "Then, I think I will take my chance," said I, much relieved.
The "yard" is an open space, containing several huge mounds of granite broken small enough for road-making purposes, and dotted here and there were sheds in which the men worked. They were not enclosed sheds - merely slanted roofs perched on upright beams, and quite open to the snow and rain, the prevalence of which is one of the main reasons why men seek employment there. The majority of the men were busy under these shelters, but a dozen or so were out in the open air engaged at the arduous task of reducing, by means of sledge-hammers, great lumps of granite to sizable pieces for the breakers with the little hammers.
I should judge that my informant was rather above than under the mark when he guessed the number of men at work to-day as numbering a hundred. Possibly there were eighty, and a glance was sufficient to convince the observer of the kind of men they are. Every craft has its livery. The stone-mason, by the white dust that still lurks in the crevices of his dirty trousers and jacket the sawyer, by the handkerchief about his waist to support his unmentionables in lieu of braces, and by the curious bagginess of the fore part of the last- mentioned article of raiment (he "pads" when at work, to save himself from injury by an accidental slip of the big saw) and the worker in iron, by his blue shirt and the greasy blackness of the sides of his fustian trousers and by his "rule pocket." There were men of these trades present, besides bricklayers and plasterers, and such other trades as effect the cap and [-205-] jacket, while not a few, even in their present strait, stuck to the tall hat and the black coat - out at elbows, and frayed, and darned, and threadbare, but still a black coat, and a badge distinguishing them from the horny-handed out-of-door operative - and which, together with the tall hat, made the wearers look preposterously out of place, squatting on the ground smashing stones. Under other conditions, I believe that the rough-reasoning men in caps and jackets would have resented this affectation of gentility in men seeking work with them; but, poor fellows, there did not appear to be in them any spirit for anything beyond brooding silently over their heaps and banging away at a particular stone, as though viciously actuated against it, and with their hats and caps pulled far down over their eyes to protect them from flying fragments. I began to wish that I had accepted the wire shades. Before I had been in the yard five minutes I received a stinging blow from a spiteful chip that caused my eye to smart throughout the remainder of the day, and, besides this, I saw one man with a lump on his forehead as big as a pigeon's egg and another with a gash extending right across his ear and trickling freely.
I entered into conversation with several of the stone-breakers, and made myself acquainted with the system here adopted by the parochial authorities of St. Mary's, Islington. I found that the rate of pay for "willing workers" was three-halfpence per bushel for the stones broken, until a shilling was so earned, and a penny a bushel afterwards, and, in addition, one loaf a week for every child the man may have. "I spose they think that the stones get softer after eight bushel have been broke, an out-of-work engine stoker remarked ruefully. I learnt, however, that it was not until a man had had some experience - a month, at least - that he could break as much as eight bushels a day. "Some of them," said the stoker, who was an intelligent young fellow, out of work since March last, and having [-206-] a wife and six children - "some of them, when they first try it, can't break two bushel a day. They get a stone, and they nibble and nibble at it with the hammer, knocking it as round as an apple, and doing no good at all. Many and many of them leave of at the end of the day with fourpence-halfpenny to take. A goodish many come and have a try at it, and lose heart before they've broke a hatful. That's one of 'em, I reckon; I haven't seen him since about eleven o'clock." As he spoke he pointed to a tiny heap of broken stones, about a peck, perhaps, with a block of wood used as a seat, and a hammer idly lying. On the centre of the small heap was a jagged stone, the size of a Bath brick, all dented and spotted, showing where it had been ineffectually hammered. While we were yet speaking, the stoker remarked, "Oh, here he comes back again ;" and, turning about, I saw a young man of the tall hat and black coat order, pale looking and wofully dejected, and with his right hand bound round with a bit of rag. "What cheer, mate? you're come back-to it, then?" said the stoker. "No, I haven't," replied the young man ; "I can't go on with it. I've got a great blister on my hand through trying, and it's broke. Can't you give me something for what I've done, and put it with your heap?" "Not I." "Can't you give me a halfpenny? it's worth that. Come!" "It's against the laws, old boy," returned the stoker, going on with his work, while the disconsolate one walked slowly away. He was a grocer's assistant, he told me, and had a wife and two children. He was unable to get a job because of his shabby clothes, and was still weak through lying several weeks at St. Mark's Hospital. The good lady whose almoner I was would like to have seen the expression of his white face as he received one of her half-crowns.
Amongst the stone-breakers I found very few grumblers- concerning the rate of pay, that is to say. What they chiefly complained of was the bitter cold-for, work never so hard, it [-207-] is difficult to keep the blood in brisk circulation squatting in an open shed, with a nor'-east wind blowing, and the fact that they were not allowed to work after about half-past two o'clock in the day. The stoker had been at the work for about three weeks, and by this time was able to earn about tenpence in the day. When he first tried it he earned three and fourpence halfpenny in a week. He thought that ninepence a day was more than was earned on an average-not reckoning the bread, of course. I asked him why he did not, after a lapse of three weeks, have another look round after a proper job of work. "Well, so I will, is what I say every night when I get home," said he; "and so say many working chaps that have come here, but you see, sir, the missus has got used to the few regular halfpence at night and the loaf, though it's only a half a one, in a manner of speaking, may be depended on, and I'm loath to throw it away on the small chance of getting a job at stoking. That's the case with dozens of fellows working here."
From St. Mary's I went to St. Luke's Workhouse, in the City Road, and to the stone-yard, which is in the rear of the main building. I had thought that nothing could be much worse than the condition of the industrious poor fellows at the Islington yard, but I was sorely mistaken. I found that, although a stone-yard, the labour of breaking granite for road- making had been for some time suspended at this establishment, oak-urn-picking taking its place. I have no doubt that St. Luke's is a poorer parish than St. Mary's, including as it does Whitecross Street, and Golden Lane, and the squalid neighbourhood surrounding the parish church. If I had any doubts on the matter they were set at rest the moment I entered at the heavy wooden gate of the labour-yard.* [* Improvements have been made at the establishment in question since this article was written.]
Extending along a wall, to a length of a hundred and fifty [-208-] feet I should judge, was a long shed, fairly open on its outer side, and no loftier than the height of a tall man. Employed beneath this open shed, huddling and crowding together, were about a hundred individuals picking oak-urn. In the midst of some of the groups there was a bit of a coke fire in an old saucepan, or some similar vessel, at which it seemed the oak-urn pickers took it in turns to warm their benumbed fingers. Even in a casual ward I think I never saw such a crew of hopelessly poverty-stricken ones. Their clothes were, as a rule, tattered and dirty, their faces bristling with neglected beard, while their unstockinged feet peeped out of their broken and worn-out boots. There was a mildewy look about the wretched company such as I never before witnessed, a mildewy look about their faces as well as their clothes, and an effluvia sickening to think of, as though the forlorn hundred had that morning crawled out of a damp cellar in which they had long been incarcerated. Every one of the hundred had his bunch of oakum, over which he employed his dull fingers, melancholy as men working for their death rather than their living.
There had been no stone-breaking, they told me, since a month before Christmas, and when I inquired did they not find it easier to sit down by the fire and pick oakum, the universally expressed opinion was that they did not, "because it gave one the horrors sitting still a-thinking." As to the fires, they, I was informed, were their own, several men contributing halfpence, and bringing in the coke in their pockets. "It seems to me that if you were to move your fingers a little quicker you would be all the warmer," I ventured to remark. "What's the good of doing that, sir, and sitting still half the day?" was the reply; and this was the explanation given. The guardians of St. Luke's Workhouse have a fixed rate of pay for everybody expressing himself able and willing to work. This rate is sixpence a day for men and threepence for lads, with [-209-] the same weekly allowance of bread as at St. Mary's. As for the work they perform - that is a minor consideration. It would be possible for the hands to pick five pounds of oakum daily, but so long as a couple of pounds are picked properly, and that without fuss and bother, nobody grumbles. This at first sight might pass as kindness, but that it arises from sheer dilatoriness and a shirking of trouble is sufficiently shown in the fact that a worker is expected to be the whole day - from nine o'clock till dark - over his little job; and even though he executed it by dinner-time, as often he might, he would be compelled to stay with the rest or forfeit his pay. The willing men, and I found very many here, as at St. Mary's, complain loudly of this. They say if sixpence is the worth of picking two pounds of oakum, why not pay them when the work is done, and let them out on the chance of finding a job, or give them four pounds to pick and a shilling for picking it?
Amongst the poor fellows here I discovered many decent mechanics accustomed to earn five and six shillings a day when there was work to be got, and not a few costermongers and hawkers who had lost their "stock money" through sickness and otherwise, and who might be started as free and independent men again at a cost of ten or twelve shillings. There was one unfortunate man, an engineer, who had lost an eye through an accident, and could hardly see out of the other eye. He served his last master fourteen years, and up to the time of his accident. He has six children, and for some time has vainly solicited the guardians to grant him about thirty shillings, so that he may buy a few tools and go to rough ironworking, such as butchers' hooks, &c., which he might be able to sell about the streets. There is another man (well spoken of by the superintendent), with three children and a wife, long an outpatient at the Cancer Hospital, who feels sure that he could get a job if he had something more respectable to wear than the poor rags that now envelop him. But, for that matter, I [-210-] have a list recording at least twenty such cases from this one "stone-yard" alone.
The labour-yard pertaining to the great parish of Marylebone is situate in the vicinity of the Harrow Road, and is a most extensive establishment. I am happy to make known that it possesses features that contrast favourably with many other stone-yards of the metropolis it has been my business to inspect.
The boundaries of the Marylebone yard embrace three-and-a-half acres of land, and three sides of it are fitted with conveniences for stone-breaking and oakum-picking. At St. Mary's, Islington, and elsewhere, as I have already noticed, the stone- breakers work for the most part in confused groups in an open shed, every man squatting down where he pleases, and without in the least consulting the convenience or comfort of his neighbour; whereas at Marylebone each labourer has a compartment to himself, like a "stall" of a stable, in which he may perform his task, "keeping himself to himself;" which must be an advantage of no little importance in the case of poor fellows who resort to the parish yard only after every stone in the outer world has been turned to no purpose.
This may seem a fastidious view of the matter. Hardheaded, matter-of-fact people may urge that a man should throw overboard everything in the shape of squeamishness when he is compelled to bring his labour to the stone-yard, as being the best market presenting; that he should abolish from. his thoughts all sentimental regrets, and regard himself for the nonce merely as a machine useful to smash stones. With all respect, I beg to differ from matter-of-fact people who propound such opinions. I have a tender feeling even for those infatuated individuals who so tenaciously assert their right to wear, even in a stone-yard, those badges of respectability, the tall hat and the black coat, although the said articles of raiment mock the baseless pretension, and laugh it to scorn, out of a [-211-] hundred rents and tears. There is hope for him just as long as he thinks there is. Let him retain every grain of that repugnance to stone-breaking that possessed him when first the grim suggestion presented itself to his desperate mind and would take no denial. His squeamishness and sentimental regrets are the salt that keeps his manhood sweet, and they are as such to be respected and encouraged as much as possible. The adversity that merely causes a man to bend his neck does him no great harm; his conviction that it is only a temporary embarrassment will, more than anything, tend presently to his relief from his load; and to-morrow or the day after you may meet him with his head erect as the best ; but contrive to instil into his mind that he is altogether past better things, and that nothing remains for him but to face his miserably-altered circumstances, and accommodate himself to them, and for evermore he will have no more power to raise his head than a dead man.
It may appear but a very insignificant help towards enabling a man to preserve his self-respect, this system of providing him work by himself in a stone-yard, but I feel sure that if the matter were discussed with the unlucky workers themselves, their opinion on it would be very decided. You see, in the eyes of a man who hopes to get back into the world again in a little while, who really and sincerely believes that he shall so get back and be "all right" once more, there is all the difference between doing a job at stone-breaking in a quiet sort of way and making one of a recognized stone-breaking gang.
In the Marylebone labour-yard there is every convenience for the kind of work transacted there. The tools are good, material easy to get at, officers kindly disposed and obliging; but the occupation itself is as objectionable as ever. It seems impossible to elevate this monstrous labour-test an inch above the false and treacherous ground on which it is based, however perfect the machinery used for the purpose. Here, [-212-] as elsewhere, is revealed the wearying spectacle of the sturdy villain - the parish rover and vagabond by profession - earning with ease enough at least to buy him bread to eat, and beer to drink, and tobacco to smoke, while the hundred times more deserving, but weak-bodied and soft-handed out-o'work tailor, or baker, or clerk is sweating under the rags of his old respectability, and straining his unused muscles that he may carry home a dry loaf to his children.
"And what do you pay ?" I inquired of the civil foreman.
"We pay them at the rate of five farthings a bushel, and they are allowed to earn as much as fifteenpence if they are able."
"Do many of them earn so much ?"
"The old hands, those who have had years of experience, do it easily. The new hands make a sad mess of it at times sometimes they will thump away here all day long and earn threepence or fourpence, sometimes no more than three-halfpence."
"Do you give them bread as well? A loaf a week for each child is the rule, I believe ?"
"They get no bread here."
"Do you see the same faces day after day ?"
"In many cases, yes, they are the old and knowing hands, who not unfrequently earn their fifteenpence by dinner-time. A great many of the men new to the work get an order from the house and come here, and give it up as a bad job by breakfast-time, and walk off and never come back again."
Can anything more clearly demonstrate the folly and iniquity of the stone-breaking "labour-test"? It is all of a piece with Mr. Bumble's management of his "casuals." It is firmly fixed in the narrow ways of his small comprehension that the terms "destitution" and "crime" are synonymous, and that poverty is only to be checked by harsh dealing and the in-. fiction of punishment. He sets his test at his workhouse gate as a man sets a mastiff to guard his warehouse, and he [-213-] cries to all corners "Come in - if you dare!" It is his idea that a man should be tested as gold is - with this difference; that having assured himself that the man is sterling, he does not hasten to relieve him of the biting acid that has proved him - he insists on his remaining steeped therein until its corrosive teeth gnaw his bones bare.
Part of the range of work-sheds in the Marylebone yard are devoted to the use of oakum-pickers, and here, as in the stone-yard, the arrangements contrast favourably with those of other parishes, notably with St. Luke's. At Marylebone the pitiful spectacle of a herd of famished ragged men and lads, shivering over their oakum-picking in a shed open to the wind and snow and rain, is spared the visitor. Each shied is built to accommodate about twenty men, and is snugly shut in and has windows. There are benches round the shed, and a block of wood in the centre for banging the oak-urn against, so as to render it easier to shined. Does the reader know what oakum is, or rather what is the material from which oakum is derived? It is the worn-out cordage of ships, saturated with tar, and rendered hard as wood almost by long exposure to the weather. It is chopped into nine-inch lengths. Some of it is as thick as one's wrist, and some no thicker than the little finger; and I observed that, in weighing out the stuff to the pickers, the taskmaster gave to new and inexperienced hands a liberal share of the thicker bits, while the knowing ones got a preponderance of "thin," which they received with scowls instead of thanks, - much to my surprise, for the "thin" appeared to me softer-looking, and easier by far to pick to pieces than the "thick." It was not so, however, as I was informed ; the thin stuff being composed of finer material, and more tightly twisted and completely soaked in tar. Two-pence per pound is the price paid to the pickers, and they are permitted to earn a shilling a day - if they can. They are allowed a long day to work in, from half-past six in the morning [-214-] till five in the afternoon, so that by steadfast diligence even a "green" hand may earn as much as eightpence or ninepence.
It is not a nice sight to see oakum-pickers at work, even under conditions more than ordinarily favourable. Every man has a hook strapped above his right knee to assist him in tearing the rope asunder, and he sits with that knee crossed over the other, all huddled up, and with his back bent over his work. In almost every case the hook strap causes the right trouser to recede up, exposing a foot or so of dirty naked leg, which has not a pretty effect when viewed in conjunction with the rags of the workers and their dull hopeless faces as they pick and rend and tear at their valueless and distasteful work. Monstrously valueless. For every pound of oakum picked in a parish yard the price received by the guardians is little more than a farthing. That is the real value of the work (which could be done ten times better by machinery), and the parish authorities lose seven farthings by every pound of oakum produced by the labour test. At St. Luke's they lose twopence three-farthings a pound by their oakum; but, as before stated, they allow the pickers to produce no more than two pounds.
Paddington labour-yard is not a great distance from that of Marylebone. I don't know what is the population of Padding ton, or what are its proportions of rich and poor. The limited extent of its labour-yard would bespeak it a well-to-do parish, and one but little afflicted by out-o'-works and tramps. It is healthily situated on the banks of the canal, to which its entire length is open. On the day of my visit there, expecting after my Marylebone experience to discover a swarm of desperately poverty-stricken men seeking to get bread out of stones, I was singularly disappointed. As I entered the yard, which is only an acre and a quarter extent, all was silent as a graveyard, but presently I made out a sound of stone-chipping in the distance, and, following it, found one man at work with his hammer, while close by was another man mending a stone-[-215-]sieve. I could scarcely believe that this was the parish stone-yard, but both men assured me that it was, and while I was speaking with them up came the superintendent of labour, a shrewd-looking, hard-faced man, brief of speech. What he said, however, was to the purpose, and at once accounted for the strange slackness of the business under the hard-faced man's control.
I remarked to him that he did not appear to be very busy, to which he replied that he was quite busy enough. I ventured to observe that it was very different at Marylebone.
"We are busy here sometimes," he answered ; "not often. It ain't the sort of work that suits them. Many of then come and have a try at it, but they give in as often as not."
"I suppose that your system is like that of other yards?"
"What is the system at other yards?'
"To pay so much a bushel, or so much a day, for the stones broken."
"That ain't the system here ; we don't bother over bushels; it's half a yard, or none at all."
"I don't quite understand what you mean by that."
"I mean that I don't measure less than half a yard - nine bushel that is."
"If a man breaks less than nine bushel, then you guess at the quantity, and pay him to the best of your judgment ?"
"I don't guess at all. I don't trouble at all about it. I never pay for less than half a yard."
"But suppose a poor fellow comes here, and is unable to break more than four or five bushels, say?"
"That's his look-out."
"But surely he will get something for his labour?"
"He will if he can get one of the others to take the stones off his hands ; not without."
"And if they consent to do so, at what rate will they pay him ?"
[-216-] "I don't know. They settle it between them somehow, I suppose; they know it's no good calling on me to measure less than half a yard. Bless you, there are fellows who can break a yard - eighteen bushels - in a day, as easy as winking."
"And others who find it difficult to break six."
"More of that sort than the other, a precious sight."
"And they are obliged to make the best terms they can with another stone-breaker ?"
"And if nobody will buy their broken stones they must go away at night no richer than they came in the morning?"
"That's it. But that don't happen often, I should think. There is always somebody ready to buy of 'em at a figure."
And that, good reader, is the delightful shape that the "labour-test" takes at Paddington.
There is a stone-yard at St. Pancras. Seeing that it is a poorer, larger, and more densely populated parish than Marylebone, I expected to find that here the labour-test would be afforded plenty of elbow-room. It is not so, however. I was informed that the stone-yard was attached to the workhouse premises, and I made my way there, thanks to the guidance of the labour-master. I found, however, that this was not the labour-test yard, but simply the place where the casuals who had to work out the value of their lodging and gruel exercised their skill. It being now some hours past the time for discharging the casual host, the stone-yard was untenanted save for half-a-dozen or so of incorrigible young scamps, in-mates of the house, who were set to break five bushels of stone a day as a punishment, but who endeavoured to bear up against the crushing penalty by means of a game at "cock-shy," at which pastime the stern task-master and myself surprised them. On three sides of the yard - a small and gloomy place enough - there were wooden hovels for the men to work in, and at one [-217-] end a shed about the size of the back kitchen of a seven-roomed house.
"This is the oakum shed," explained the labour-master "this is where the casuals who are not set at stone-breaking perform their work." "Then you don't do much in the way of oakum-picking I presume," I remarked. "Oh, they sit pretty close." "But sit as close as they may, such a little place can hold but few; not more than twenty." "Oh, yes, sir, twenty-four ; if you count them you will find that there are four-and-twenty nails driven in round the walls. They are the nails the men tear the oakum on." "Well, twenty-four is not a large number of oakum-picking casuals. I know of workhouses where they so employ fifty daily, and occasionally more than that." "Fifty why we more often have sixty or eighty," remarked the foreman, smiling at my innocence. "My dear sir, you mustn't imagine that the nails represent our average number of casuals." "Then you have another oakum-picking shed?" " No, only this one." But supposing that you have as large a number to find, work for as you just now mentioned-sixty or eighty?" "Then all over four-and-twenty must do their work out here." "What, in the open air, whatever the weather is?" "I can't do more than the best I can, sir." " But have they nowhere to sit; no hook to assist them in tearing up the hard rope? Do you mean to say that the man who cannot find room in the shed must stand out here in the cold, or sit on a stone and so pick his two pounds of oakum?" " That is just so, sir."
Gentlemen of the Board of Guardians of St. Pancras, are you aware of this uncomfortable condition of affairs as regards your oakum shed? Is space so very precious with you that you cannot avoid a continuance of the present plan? Just reflect on this, come the next chill and nipping morning, when you have comforted your inner man with the roll and the bacon rasher, and the soothing cup of coffee; and the unlucky "casual," [-218-] whom you have harboured for a night, has finished his regaling off six ounces of dry bread and a pint of "skilly." Before he may quit your premises, to try his desperate best to find a job that shall save him from another night of the "ward"- he must shred two pounds weight of hard ship rope till it is as fine as loose flax. Picture to yourselves how difficult this must be even under the shelter of a shed roof, and with a hook to aid in rending asunder the tough tarry wisps, and how unjustly that difficulty must be increased if the poor devil of a picker has to stand or sit out in the freezing air, with his feet in the mud, and with only the nails of his benumbed hands to accomplish the job. Think of this, good gentlemen, and grant your oakum-picking "casuals" a little more shed-room for mercy sake.
The St. Pancras labour-test yard is situate a long way from the workhouse, a mile and a half the stone-breakers told me, which, however, I should think was a slight exaggeration. But if it is no more than a mile, it is too far, considering the small amount of a stone-breaker's earnings. Gillies Street, Kentish Town, is the site of the yard - a mean and inconvenient little place, not half large enough for the requirements of so extensive a parish. I may here remark that at these places the superintendent in charge is almost invariably found to be a civil and communicative person, ready to open his books for a visitor's inspection, and to frankly and freely assist him to a view of the picture from all points. The St. Pancras task-master will be gratified to learn that he is not classed with the exceptions. He informed me that the accommodation for the stone-breakers under his charge was very deficient; that he had room but for twenty-nine, and that if a large number came he was obliged to turn them away. That morning he had been compelled to write "No room" on the back of the relieving officer's order presented by five applicants. He did not know what the disappointed ones got for their trouble of walking between two and [-219-] three miles - an order for the next day, he imagined. The breakers were paid five farthings a bushel, and the majority of the men at present employed were habitual workers there - men who could break eighteen bushels "comfortably," and earn one and tenpence-halfpenny a day. I made inquiries of several of the men at work, and they confessed to working there "pretty constant," as well as to earning about eighteenpence. I asked on what principle the men were taken on, and was answered, "Come first, first served." No doubt these "regular hands" were always in good time, every one of them usurping the place of a poor fellow for whose benefit (!) the test was instituted. What business had men who have settled down to a contented earning of one and tenpence-halfpenny a day, and who regard it as their regular employment - what business had such fellows in a test-yard while there is waiting without one decent man temporarily shut out from his regular employment, and willing rather than beg to take the stone-hammer in hand for a day or so? Scores of lads and young men would flock to London, leaving their ill-paid work in the agricultural districts, if they could make sure of earning eleven and ninepence a week at breaking stones, and undoubtedly they would earn as much after a few months' practice. But it is but one of Mr. Bumble's thousand blunders. Mr. B. considerately finds eye-shades for his stone-breakers, but they are of such peculiar construction that only young men of powerful sight could see through them the weak-visioned old fellows, who have need to take the greatest care of their fading optics, are obliged to work without them, blinking and winking in terror of the flying splinters.
Mention was made at the commencement of this paper of a workhouse at the south of London whose labour-test consisted of "crank-work." This is Lambeth workhouse. It is now some considerable the since I applied at that stapled knocker and traversed the chaste ball so scrupulously hearthstoned and bematted. Then it was night; now it was noon; but I verily [-220-] believe I could have found my way from that front door to the one at back that opened on to the yard had I been blindfold. There was the memorable crank shed - there was the identical crank at which for three weary hours I had turned and turned - there was the little bell up high at the ceiling, and even as I gazed on it, it came to life and tinkled as once before I had heard it. There were the terribly dirty and filth-encrusted stones, and I could have walked up to and set foot on the particular one on which my hay-bag lay (I hope hay-bags are no longer allowed to be laid on them). There was the iron pillar where stood the horse-pail at which my nude and thirsty fellow-lodgers rose from their lairs to take a drink.
But there was not the miller whose instant suspension from a sour apple-tree was demanded by the insolent majority of corn-grinders. That long-suffering and patient man is long since dead, a perky and dandified young miller filling the office. There was no one else but the perky young miller to answer my questions, which I was rather sorry for, because, having ascertained my name, he appeared to regard it as his duty to his masters to treat my trespass as unwarranted, and to baulk my purpose, whatever it might be. But the fact I had come in search of was too broad in its bareness for his screening. There it was before me. This was the Lambeth test - this and road-mending. Here was a sited so dark that it was impossible to discern a man's features at half the length of it, and within it eighty men were packed at the crank handles closely as they could stand. There they were, the dissolute with the decent, the hard-working with the inveterately idle, seemingly working together. Seemingly, for such really was not the case by a very long way. Of all descriptions of test labour it would be impossible to show one more monstrously unfair to the bona fide working man than this crank-work exhibits. It amounts simply to this, that the man willing to work is compelled to work twice as hard as he should, while the lazy rascal works not at all. Here [-221-] is an iron bar to be grasped by six men, and by their united labour to be raised and lowered with a circular motion. All that the lazy ones do is to lay their hands on the bar, and let their arms swing with it, while the industrious ones - the poor fellows who are anxious to get the task accomplished, grasp the bar, and bend their backs with a will, dearly enough earning their scanty reward. It is impossible for the keenest overlooker to detect the cheat, and the men who are imposed on can only convict the rascals by suddenly withdrawing their hands, when of a surety the bar comes to a standstill. But there is no use in complaining ; the cheats are liars as well, and ready to take any number of oaths of any strength that they have all along been working like niggers. Besides, it is not the miller's business to examine into individual complaints ; so long as the work is done - and done it must be - it n-makes no difference to him who does it.
So much for the nature of the test-work at Lambeth ; now as to the pay. No worker gets money; he gets bread, and nothing else. A single man working at the crank all day long gets a two-pound loaf for his pains. If he is married he gets a four-pound loaf. If he has children he receives two pounds of bread per diem for each. So that if he has six children, he may carry home the enormous quantity of sixteen pounds of bread, not a penny for coals or candle or a bit of sugar - only sixteen pounds of bread. And why, one would be glad to know ? Why not eight pounds of bread and a shilling in money, or even sixpence? What is the inevitable result in the case of a man who has sixteen pounds of bread and nothing else given him for his famished family? He sells part of it for as much as he can get, and buys other necessaries with the money. Again, why should a man's labour be valued according to the number of his children ; and the man with no family at all, who is probably the most able man of the two, receive of the value of fourpence for his day's work, while the man with a family receives [-222-] of the value of two and eigkt pence? To be sure, the family man may be more in want of two and eightpence than the single man, but to what extent ought this consideration enter into the question of a labour-test? Why, again, should the lazy vagabond be permitted to find harbourage in the crank shed, doing no more than such an amount of mischief as presents for his idle hands to do, and at the close of the day receive the same amount of pay as the painstaking and industrious out-o'-work? It is devoutly to be desired that when reform of the existing labour-test is attempted, the reformers will commence at the crank end of that crying evil.* [* It is but fair to say that the foregoing descriptions were written some three or four years ago, and that for all I know to the contrary some amendment may have taken place in the systems pursued at the various establishments- J. G.