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A MISSION AMONG CITY SAVAGES.
OUT-DINNING the din of the Whitecross-street Sunday morning
market, the sound of a bell was heard distinctly - not the measured chiming of a
church bell, not the peremptory clatter of a factory bell, but a fitful and
uncertain ringing, now loud and hasty, and urgent, like a fire bell; now slow
and laboured, like the ringing of a bell-buoy at sea.
A gentleman in the baked-potato interest, however, to whom I applied for information on the subject, ruthlessly stripped the bell of everything in the shape of romance.
"It is the Costers' Misshun bell," said he.
"And whereabouts is the Costers' Mission ?" I asked.
"That's it over there," said he, pointing towards a tall building in the distance that towered above the houses. "Go down Golden-lane and turn up Hartshorn-court, and you'll come at it if you wants to."
I had no previous intention of "coming at" the building in question, but as soon as my attention was fairly directed to it, the idea immediately occurred to me, What a wonderfully fine view of this curious neighbourhood might be obtained from the flat of its tall roof?
Half an hour afterwards, thanks to the excellent gentleman to whom the Costermongers Mission House owes its existence, I had mounted to the topmost storey, and stood on the snow-covered leads looking down.
There was the bell that had excited my curiosity, and at a glance was revealed to me the secret of its erratic [-13-] behaviour. It is a large and handsome bell, but the way in which it is set ringing is singularly of a piece with the make-the-best-of-things-as-we-find-them system that prevails throughout the whole establishment. It is not hung after the orthodox fashion. It is humbly gibbeted on a rough-and-ready arrangement of wood and iron, and in season two boys of the school, who by their exemplary behaviour have earned the glorious privilege, ascend to the roof and swing the bell to and fro while its great clapper bangs against its brazen sides.
Golden-lane, seen in looking down from an elevation of eighty feet or so, is very different from Golden-lane viewed from the pavement. In the latter case all that may be seen is the bare lane itself and let the explorer beware that he uses his eyes not too diligently in this beyond compare the very ugliest neighbourhood in London - in all England. I know something of the "shady" parts of London and its environs. Spitalfields is very bad. Probably, in the event of a ruffian show, Flower and Dean-street, and Keate-street could produce specimens that would leave all other competitors far behind; but Spitalfields produces only ruffians of a certain type. Mint-street and Kent-street - those old plague-spots that disgrace and disfigure the fair face of the Borough of Southwark - teem with blackguardism and vice; but here, too, you find that the birds who here flock are strictly of a feather. Cow-cross, again, is a terrible place; but it is chiefly the hideous habitations and the extreme destitution of the inhabitants that make it so.
Golden-lane, however, with its countless courts and alleys, left and right, may truthfully boast of exhibiting each and every one of the objectionable characteristics above enumerated. Its thieves are the most desperate [-14-] and daring in the world; it is rich in examples of that even more dangerous scoundrel, the "rough." Annually it yields its crop of coiners and smashers; it is the recognised head-quarters of beggars and cadgers ; while, as for costermongers, they must be three thousand strong at the very least. It is the "slummiest" of slums. There are China-yard, Cowheel-alley, Blackboy-court, Little Cheapside, Hotwater-court, and many a dozen besides, and as quaintly named, nestling closely about the feet of the gaunt and exteriorly uncomfortable-looking Costermongers Mission House- originally intended for a model lodging-house; whose tall head and high shoulders of raw bricks rear high above the houses, by comparison dwarfing them to the dimensions of pig-sties and rabbit-hutches - hutches which such elegant bucks and does as are exhibited at fancy shows would erect their silken ears in horror to behold.
Awful places! As far as the eye may reach - not very far, for high up as the roof of the Golden-lane building may be, the supply of pestilent mist from below is constant and steady - east, west, north, and south, is to be seen nothing but an intricate network of zig-zag cracks, chinks, and crevices, which really are courts and alleys threading among houses teeming with busy life, making it look as though what was once a solid block had been worm-eaten and burrowed and undermined like a rotten old cheese, and were now falling to pieces in misshapen ugly lumps.
The life that stirs in these black crooked lanes, not wider than the length of a walking-stick, scarcely seems human. Creatures that you know to be female by the length and raggedness of hair that makes their heads hideous, and by their high-pitched voices, with bare red arms, and their bodies bundled in a complica-[-15-]tion of dirty rags, loll out of the patched and plastered holes in the wall that serve as windows, and exchange with their opposite neighbours compliments or blasphemous abuse; or, shaking their bony fists, shriek down threats and curses on the juvenile members of their kind, who roll in the gutter and bite and scratch each other for possession of decayed oranges and apples that the resident costers throw out in the process of sorting.
Rough and coarse as he is, the costermonger is to be easily distinguished from his dishonest neighbour. There is an ease, a freedom of action about him that distinguishes him at home not less than abroad. His language is not choice, he is not scrupulously clean and tidy, occasionally he gets drunk; but in nine cases out of ten he remains to the end nothing more than a poor ignorant hard-working fellow, always open to act on the most liberal interpretation of that convenient phrase, "trick of the trade," but, apart from this, absolutely honest - which is as much, and perhaps, considering his surroundings and how hard a thing at times it is to resist temptation, rather more than might reasonably be expected of him.
"But," the reader may say, "there is at least this consolation in so wretched a neighbourhood, where all are so deeply plunged in poverty - there can be but very little drunkenness. Intoxicating liquors are expensive luxuries."
Very expensive. A "quartern" of gin costs exactly as much as four pounds of bread. Nevertheless, within a circle of a furlong of the Mission House, the enormous number of eighty-three public-houses thrive and grow fat. It is computed that the same amount of space affords homes and haunts and hiding and abiding places for [-16-] rather over twenty thousand canting beggars, thieves, tramps, costermongers, small shopkeepers, everybody; and one may easily imagine the influence of such a prodigious outpouring of rum, and gin, and whisky on such an inflammable mass. It was in the midst of this sink of vice and drunkenness, and of every conceivable iniquity, that, eight years since, one man, single-handed and almost unaided, dared to set up his tiny tent and commence a crusade of reformation. That man was Mr J. Orsman, and there he is still, encouraged by his successes, and patiently plodding, working at his business in business hours, but giving to the good cause, without fee or reward, his spare hours, Sunday and week-day.
"If you would like to drop in and see us on Tuesday," said my indefatigable friend, "we have a bread and meat supper. It is an annual affair. Our guests are the beggars and tramps from the lodging-houses all round about. It isn't much-merely a little compliment in recognition of their good nature in allowing me to enter their kitchens, and say a few good words to those who choose to listen. I have the privilege of entering several of these places now, and I am glad to say that the owners rather encourage it than otherwise.
Accordingly, on Tuesday evening, I went and found the expectant company assembled. The place was very full. Below there is sitting accommodation for between two and three hundred, and above there is a gallery in which perhaps two hundred more might be seated. Upstairs was fair enough as regards the dress and general appearance of the company, but below, in the pit as it were, it was anything but a pretty show. The seats were crammed, and, such is the amount of respect which the superintendent has won for himself amongst even these, the very dregs of humanity, that the behaviour [-17-] of the "supper party" was simply all that could be desired.
But the faces! It was impossible to look on them without considering the question, How can such as these be good? Of how many generations of neglect, of vice, and unavoidable grovelling at the foot of the social ladder, is this the result? At a glance it was evident that there had been no attempt amongst the members of the supper party to get themselves up for the occasion. The perfect understanding that existed between themselves and their entertainer rendered such a display of talent sheer waste of time.
They came "just as they were," though, if the reader infers from that phrase that they appeared in the Mission Hall just as they appear in public, he mistakes my meaning. They attended without their "business" masks. No face was puckered in pretended hunger pains, no eye rolled in unutterable misery, no jaws chattered an indication of a frozen interior. There was no whining, no make-believe, no humbug. I don't say that they were all beggars-probably not more than a third of them were-but what one in vain looked for was the "jolly beggar," the oft-quoted and steadfastly-believed-in personage who scorns work because he can "make" in a day three times the wages of an honest mechanic by the simple process of "cadging."
Is it a simple process? The evidence before me shewed exactly the contrary. Such of the motley company who graced the seats below, and who were beggars, were beggars in earnest - men and women who were old hands and experienced at the trade. How came it, then, that they were so desperately hard up and miserable, so dull-eyed and spiritless, so unmistakably hard-set in hopeless, helpless, conscious degradation? [-18-] Where were the big wallets of broken victuals with which, according to popular belief, the London beggar, after his day's prowling, invariably wends his way home, cursing it for its bulk and weight, and scornfully flinging it aside as soon as he reaches his familiar boozing ken? Where were the pampered ruffians in rags, to whom the sleek landlord of the public house he honoured with his patronage, cringed so servilely while he took his orders for immediate brandy and water and goose with apple sauce to be cooked as speedily as possible for supper?
We read about such things, about cadgers' halls, and the desperate orgies to be witnessed in beggars' "kitchens." I am sure that I don't know where to find any such place at the present day. Judging from the appearance and behaviour of the bread and meat supper party, even the recollection of such splendid times must have faded from the memories of beggars of the present generation. Each and every one of the ragged, squalid, terribly dirty creatures before me - not the dirt of labour, but a smoky, ingrain grime, resembling the tarnish on neglected brass or copper-had come away from the great fire that invariably is kept burning in the common lodging-house kitchen, and had made a journey, long or short, through the snow and the biting wind, in order to secure a meal of bread and meat.
Nor was that all. If there is anything more than another detestable to this sort of people, it is being talked to "for their good." It is no more than natural. They are so constantly in the habit of talking to other people for their own individual good, so distorting facts, and making the very utmost of the slenderest material to win the sympathy of their victims, that they get to regard every kind of exhortation and persuasion as cant, and themselves as too knowing to be taken in by it. Yet, [-19-] lured by the prospect of a pound of bread and half a pound of cold meat, here they sat from eight o'clock till ten, without coughing, or shifting in their seats, or shuffling their feet, or in any other way betraying the yearning that all the tinge was gnawing them. It quite upsets one's preconceived ideas about the sort of life the professional London beggar leads, raising the suspicion chat this much-abused fraternity, like honester folk, are liable to "hard up" seasons, and that occasionally the members of it are really the famished, shivering wretches they appear.
Not that a single penny of mine should ever he bestowed on a bread and meat supper for beggars by trade. They are in constant employment, such as it is, and should learn to provide against the growing wisdom of the age, and the machinations of their natural enemies, the police and the Mendicity Society. But, as before mentioned, the guests at Mr. Orsman's supper were only some of them beggars. Very many were poor wretches driven by hard necessity to seek temporary refuge at a tramps' lodging house, to whom a meal of half a pound of wholesome meat, with bread, was a feast indeed. And I dare say that there were several who were of a worse class, the cultivation of whose good-will was more a matter of prudence than charity with the far-seeing missionary. Until you feel strong enough to take an obstreperous bull by the horns, it may be judicious to give him a handful of fodder for his amusement, so that he may not dispute your peaceful path.
Next day I was present at a "spread" at the Mission Hall of a much more gratifying description. Next day was Wednesday, and for a very long time past, on this day, the good missionary among time savage tribes of St Luke's has somehow contrived to raise from the charit-[-20-]able money enough to give the children-poor, neglected, literally half-starved little fledglings of the surrounding rookeries - a hot dinner, a smoking-hot dinner, and as much as they can eat of it. The reader accustomed to plentiful and regular food can form no adequate idea of what a tremendous boon this is. The poor little creatures look forward to it as children who are better off look forward to Christmas Day. From Monday till Wednesday evening the whispering of it grows and grows until it culminates in a "hooray" that comes from the lowest depths of their little empty bellies, when, morning school concluded, they are informed that they may run home and fetch their dinner things.
On the Wednesday in question the feed was to be Irish stew, and the number of guests expected was about three hundred. Nothing may be said about snowy table-cloths, shining platters, and spoons bright as new shillings. There were no table-cloths - no tables in fact. The funds of the institution will not admit of such luxuries. The worthy promoter of these dinners for destitute little children has not a shilling left after the meal is provided. During this hard weather every twopence he can beg goes into the pot, and comes out a substantial meal for a hungry child. Undoubtedly it would be nicer to see them all decorously seated at a cleanly draped table, with plates, and spoons, and knives and forks, neatly placed before them, and one day this indefatigable caterer for the baby poverty-stricken hopes to achieve that splendid position; but at present his limited means compel him to give all his attention to keeping the Wednesday pot boiling.
And at stroke of one o'clock here they come trooping in, their young eyes twinkling in blissful expectancy as their young noses sniff the savoury stew seething in the [-21-] cauldron below, and just done. I have not yet seen the cauldron; and as they come swarming in, their tiny, ill-shod feet and their uncovered arms and legs blue with cold, faster and thicker yet, till the doorway bids fair to be blocked up, and there is still a mob behind, I have misgivings as to my friend's declaration that there will be enough for all and to spare; and what an awful thing it would be if, say, only a dozen of these poor, narrow-chested mites of things, who passed last night in a delicious dream of Irish stew, who smacked their lips over the breakfast slice of dry bread flavoured with the promise of it, should be sent empty away! I do not believe that they would survive the shock. They would faint and fall, still clutching the basin that was now a mockery and a snare; they would go mad and run muck among their more fortunate stew-consuming brethren. Here they come, each one bringing his or her "dinner things." I wish the reader could see the choice collection! Handless jugs, milk cans, baking dishes, sauce tureens, small-sized tin saucepans, publicans' beer-cans, tin washing bowls-anything. They come of all ages, from the sturdy street boy of ten to the tiny six-months-old baby in arms. There were scores of babies under two years old, brought by their sisters and brothers. They came singly, and they came in families.
One family in particular was a sight to behold. A fortnight or so back a woman had died in one of the alleys, and under such suspicious circumstances that it was at first supposed that she had been murdered. A coroner's jury thought otherwise: so she was buried, and the matter dropped. But she left six little children behind her-a boy, the eldest, of twelve, and a girl, a patient, shrewd, poor little thing of nine, who now had [-22-] to be mother to the remaining four. She had brought them out to dinner, and carried the motherless baby, four months old, in her mites of arms; and there being no room on the forms, and finding, perhaps, that so sitting she could best feed baby and the next-sized youngster, who was little better than a baby, she squatted on the ground with the little brood round her, distributing Irish stew as grave and solicitous as a matron of thirty.
The elder children sat up in the galleries, with their vessels on their knees, and their shoulders bowed, and their countenances beautifully bedewed under the combined influence of savoury steam and energetic "blowing" to reduce the thick soup sufficiently below scalding point, to admit of its being swallowed. Waiters there were none, except the schoolmaster. With his cuffs turned back and his coat buttoned, he faced his herculean task like a man-like a kindly Christian man with a heart that yearned towards little children, and collected "empties" and brought them back replenished, with an amount of alacrity and good-humour that visibly touched the elder boys' hearts as their stomachs filled and their appetites slackened.
The "youngsters," the ragged little flock of toddlers in small frocks and pinafores, ate by themselves in a place set apart. It was not a pretty sight: it was, indeed, a painful and distressing sight, if you made merely a sight of it. The forms round the sides of the room were filled, and the floor was literally covered with a swarm of children greedy for food as little pigs, and, now that they had the rare chance, partaking of it pretty much as little pigs would-literally so in some cases; and if one has a pie-dish full of stew and soup and no spoon, what is there but to use the fingers or lap at it? But at least there was this consolation - [-23-] when swallowed it had precisely as beneficial an effect as that of Irish stew eaten off china with a spoon of silver. It satisfied the famished three hundred heartily, completely, as was clearly manifested by the mellow way in which they sang their simple grace after meat, the good missionary accompanying them on his harmonium.
The institution in question does wonders with the small amount of money placed at its disposal, and many of its dealings, besides those already described, are as quaint as they are useful. One of its most popular features among the fraternity from which the mission derives its name is a "barrow club."
It is impossible for a costermonger to do without a barrow; and not a man in twenty possesses one of his own. There are regular "barrow farmers," who charge a shilling a week for the loan of the humble vehicle- more if it is not a "constant hiring;" and in the latter case the hirer is supposed to do his own patching and painting, calling on the owner only when new wheels are required. There are men who have had the same barrow five, six, and seven years; and, as a new barrow does not cost more than fifty shillings, it will be at once seen that barrow-farming on a large scale is by no means a profitless speculation.
The monopoly, however, suffered a severe check when the "club" in question was started by Mr Orsman and his friends. The barrowless costermonger pays in a shilling a-week, and, to encourage him, a bonus on his savings of four shillings in the pound is paid him. Or, if he shows himself an honest man, and cannot spare the shilling in addition to the one he is already paying for hire, a friend may "stand security" for him, and in a few months the saved hiring-shillings make the barrow his own. It is a highly respectable club, and no [-24-] costermonger need be ashamed to belong to it. In fact, it is a "swell" club. Lord Shaftesbury is a member, and, having paid his shilling, he has his barrow. His Lordship speaks of it as "my barrow;" but I am not sure that it is blazoned with the proper heraldic device for so distinguishing it. This I do know, however, that it is kept in the shed with plebeian harrows, to meet cases of emergency; and that it is very common for a poor fellow in difficulties to make humble application for the loan of the "Earl," by means of which he vends his fresh herrings, or whatever else he may have to sell.
A soup kitchen is to be found on the premises of the costermongers' mission, with a sick and burial club, and a clothing fund. Likewise there is a maternity fund, which yields a little help in the way of baby clothes and nutritious food to poor women in their greatest need. There are also a "penny bank," a sewing class, and a free lending library, to say nothing of the daily ragged school - as ragged a school as ever was seen, the Sunday school, the evening reading and writing classes for young people of both sexes, and many other branches of instructive and religious entertainment.
But I think that the most original class of all is the "patching" class for boys. The use of that potent little weapon of civilization, the needle, is not particularly well known to many of the mothers of the neighbourhood: there are many boys whose mothers are dead, or so habitually dead-drunk that their conveyance to the cemetery would be little loss from a domestic point of view. So, some time ago, it was proposed to the youngsters that if they had a mind to patch up their rags a bit, patch-pieces would be found, and a good-natured matron would show them the way to [-25-] stitch. The proposition was agreed to with alacrity, and is still in high favour. The "class," through the limited accommodation, is restricted to thirty; and as in no case are the boys found to be in possession of a spare garment of the sort that so sorely needs repair, it is a strictly private class, to which nobody is admitted except on business. Any boy guilty of "larking," or in any way disturbing the sober propriety so essential to the existence of the class, is instantly banished ; and to the credit of the poor, little, ragged tailors, it is said that such expulsions are rare.
It is, perhaps, only natural that the care and perplexity attending the stitching together of rags that will scarcely bear the weight of a needle should at times incline the operators to meditate on the advantage of being altogether independent of artificial covering.
"Wouldn't it be fine to do without altogether, Jack!" Mr. Orsman heard an enthusiastic youth of eight remarking to his friend. "Couldn't you get lots of browns from the coves on the homblibustes! They allers pitches at yer where your trowsis is tore. They'd pitch more if you give 'em more to pitch at, I'll be bound."
"Ah!" rejoined the other, "so they might; but where'd you put the browns wot they pitched yer, if you didn't have no pockets on?" An argument that effectually silenced the young philosopher, and reconciled him to his job of adapting the sleeves of his father's old jacket as legs to the still trustworthy "upper part" of his corduroys.
If has been said that such was the confidence reposed in the missionary, even by the very worst of the inhabitants, that even the "tramps' kitchens" were open to him. This statement, however, should be qualified. There are lodging dens in this lane of horrors which no [-26-] decent man dare enter. In one such place, on some desperately urgent occasion, the attempt was made, and swiftly followed by the expulsion of the rash peacemaker, roughly handled, and with his hat smashed. Two policemen were outside the door, and witnessed the ejection; and one of them remarked, "Hallo! you like it better than we do: you wouldn't catch us in there for a trifle!"
Terrible stories are still whispered about the worst of these Golden-lane lodging-houses, of which there are seven that, in the aggregate, "make up" about five hundred beds every night. I am informed on good authority that occasionally the scenes to be witnessed in at least one of these houses - I should be happy to tell the police authorities which one - are appalling. This is after the police have made their last inspection for the night, in accordance with the terms of the Lodging-house Act. The most favourite entertainment at this place is known as a "buff ball," in which both sexes - innocent of clothing - madly join, stimulated with raw whisky and the music of a fiddle and a tin whistle. The proprietor of one of these tramps' lodging-houses is a blind man - a terrible fellow, fierce, and old, and Irish. He was the principal figure in a pretty picture that might have been seen in Golden-lane some time ago. His old domicile had grown so ruinous, that it was found necessary to turn him out, and pull it down. But "Blind Con" had an affection for the venerable pile, and was loth to budge. Drunk and furious he seized the leg of a bedstead, and, standing on his imperilled threshold, swung the formidable weapon round his sightless head, shrieking forth his determination to dash out the brains of any blank, blank, double blank policeman who dared approach him.
Improved as these places are said to be of late, the [-27-] best of them are still far from perfect. Accompanied by my friend, at ten o'clock at night I visited one of the most creditably conducted. It was as easy of access as a common public-house. The street-door was wide open, and at the end of the long passage we found the "kitchen," a room between thirty and forty feet long and, say, fifteen wide, provided with a few forms and tables, and with a vast fire-place, round which were clustered a crowd of supper-cookers, each one superintending his own fork or skewer, and "doing" to his liking his rasher or "bloater." About thirty persons were present - a few girls and women, but the majority of the male sex; and there was not very much objectionable behaviour visible. Of course the place was evil smelling, and the floor was not quite so white as driven snow; but it was easy enough to see how, under lax supervision, it might in a week become ten times worse. The common lodging-house is not like the casual ward, although, perhaps, the class of lodgers is pretty much the same. At the former place, before an applicant for a bed is admitted to the sleeping ward, he must undergo the ordeal of the bath; moreover, his clothes are taken from him, and kept in a closet till the morning; but at the Golden-lane establishments a lodger is privileged to go to bed as dirty as he likes, and as a rule he avails himself to the full of the considerate arrangement. In this one lodging-house ninety occupants of beds were nightly provided for.
I went upstairs, and into the many floors of the great rambling old house - at one time a mansion of considerable pretensions, judging from the width and rich carving of the oaken stairs - and peeped into the various dormitories. Paid inspectors visit these places now, and it is to be presumed that they properly attend to [-28-] their duties, and that everything is as it should be. I very much question, however, if Mr. Inspector would care to pass a night there himself. To be sure, we were unfortunate in happening on a night when clean sheets were over-due, in consequence of the landlady's indisposition; but there were other matters to which a scrupulous person might object-an accumulation of black grease covering the head-board of his bedstead, for instance, and the existence of eight bedsteads in an ordinary-sized room.
The different floors are apportioned to single men, single women, and married "couples;" and I certainly cannot approve of the "partitioning" system which, as I am informed, is universally practised in these places as regards the sleeping accommodation of the "married." Economy of space is the first and foremost consideration with the Golden-lane lodging-house keeper: at the same time, he should not too flagrantly defy the law which declares that every married couple must be accommodated with a chamber in which to sleep by themselves. He does not actually defy this decent enactment, but he holds on by the feather edge of it. He slices up a big room into six, say - each compartment being just large enough to contain the narrowest of truckle bedsteads, and may be eighteen inches to spare for standing room.
But the partitions, which are mere matchboard, do not extend from the floor to the ceiling. They are no higher than those which divide box from box in an ordinary coffee-room, and at bottom there is a space through which an adult could pass with perfect ease. It is a farce to call them separate chambers. Eight-pence is the price of one of these double beds, and "children must be paid for." "But supposing the child is a mere baby?" "Well, it counts as one, replied [-29-] the obliging young person who "showed us over" - a regulation that must come very hard at times on an outcast young couple, with their only ragged fledgling.
But the licensed lodging-houses of Golden Lane, with all their ingrained, home-bred nastiness and unwholesomeness, and the undoubted facilities which they afford the predatory tribes of London for continuance in their nefarious ways, are by no means the most abominable sleeping-places to be found in this delectable neighbourhood. Here may also be obtained for the seeking a kind of accommodation that, so far as my experience goes, is unknown even by name in any other of Squalor's head-quarters.
The houses which affect the peculiar branch of the lodging business in question are known as "hot-water houses;" and, though they drive a roaring trade, it is unlicensed and illegal, and might be put down at a single day's notice, or at no notice at all, did the police authorities think it worth while to move in the matter. They are, as a rule, small houses, some containing only three rooms; and for the benefit of our sanitary guardians who may plead ignorance of the existence of these horrid places, it may be mentioned that they are to be found in Little Cheapside, Cow-heel Alley, Reform Place, and Hot Water Court - the last being a double row of little houses that possibly claims the honour of having originated the cheap and terribly nasty system which I am now about to explain.
They have no sort of special convenience, excepting perhaps that the cooking utensils are somewhat more capacious and numerous than are commonly found in a human habitation, which boasts of, say, a kitchen, and four rooms ten feet by twelve. They are not provided with beds or bedsteads. It would be regarded as a [-30-] shameful waste of precious space to introduce such luxuries. It would be impossible to plant more than two bedsteads in a chamber of the dimensions just described, and equally impossible, even by the most ingenious packing, to squeeze more than six lodgers in each bed. Now this would not pay at a penny each - the sum charged. About twenty in a room is the expected number, and they lie in their own rags on the ground. I say "about twenty," because that happened to be exactly the number discovered under shockingly painful circumstances by a gentleman whose testimony is indisputable. He was called to a hot-water house to comfort a little girl dying, and nearly dead, of scarlet fever. He found the sick child lying in a corner of a parlour; and, the hour being after bed-time, the "hot- water lodgers had made themselves comfortable for the night. "The floor was so thickly strewn with adults, says the gentleman to whom I have referred, "that it was next to impossible to approach the fever-stricken little girl without treading on them. I counted them, and there were nineteen." The child died in the night, and the nineteen jolly beggars set out next morning, with their rags loaded with scarlet fever, to spread it through the town.
The majority of these hot-water lodgers are cadgers and beggars by profession. It is not invariably because they cannot afford it, that they do not patronise the fourpenny houses, but rather because they would sooner "pig" together on the boards than lie on separate beds; and threepence saved is threepence earned. To be sure, they might save the entire fourpence, and obtain, besides, something to eat that night and next morning. The doors of the casual wards will open to their knocking; but in this tribe only your loafing scoundrel, who [-31-] is too lazy even to beg, avails himself of the parochial asylum. The professional beggar finds that it does not "pay." He has his daily occupation, and, if he would make good money, he must follow it industriously. A rich idea, indeed, to be sweating for three hours over a couple of bushels of stones, in payment for a bed and half a pound of bread, when as much time spent in judicious whining and cadging will earn him a shilling or eighteenpence The "hot-water" lodger is expected to be something more than a person who merely pays his penny, selects his pitch on the parlour floor, and next morning takes his departure, perhaps to apply for a bare lodging at the end of the clay. He is supposed to "use the house" in the daytime, and it is this last-mentioned custom that gives these lodging-houses their name. A big pot of water is kept constantly heated on the bob of the kitchen fire, and payment of a half-penny secures the privilege of the loan of a jug and boiling water to make tea or coffee. Lodgers are at liberty to bring in their cooked meat to eat; but, if they require the loan of the frying-pan, an additional half-penny is charged. Except for professional "mud-plungers" - beggars whose harvest-time is when they can wade in the middle of the road and in the pouring rain, with an agonising display of saturated rags and mire-soddened naked feet - wet weather is unfavourable. It is bad for street begging, because the few people about are "buttoned up", or their charitable hands are hampered with the care of an umbrella; it is bad for house-to-house beggars, because lady housekeepers wax wroth at the sight of miry footprints desecrating the purity of their hearthstoned steps ; so it comes about that a rainy day means a crowded "hotwater" house from morning till night. For this day-[-32-]light accommodation a penny a-head is charged, the use of the frying-pan being liberally thrown in.
Once more, as regards the Golden Lane missionary. What it is to labour day by day and week by week, in wintry frost and snow, and summer s pestilent heat, among these dreadful places, must be left to the reader's imagination. It is easy enough, however, to comprehend this much. It is not every man has courage and confidence and patience enough to take on himself, without fee or reward, the tremendous task not only of amending the morals of this great horde of twenty thousand, steeped to their necks in vice and misery-but likewise of feeding swarms of neglected and hungry little children, and providing to the best of his means shoes for their naked feet and shirts for their naked backs, inculcating in them honest and cleanly habits.