[back to menu for this book]
In an inquiry like this, it is good to
have something definite to fix on. We will, therefore, begin with the Parish of
St, Giles. In common parlance, St. Giles's and Billingsgate are types - the one,
of the lowest conditions under which human life is possible, - the other, of the
lowest point to which the English language can descend: and yet, when we look
back, there is nothing peculiar about the situation of the former parish; it is
not on the banks of a river, connected with shipping, and therefore affording a
harvest for crimps, thieves, and abandoned women; it never had the privilege of
sanctuary, as far as we can learn, and thus degenerated from a refuge of the
unfortunate, to become a rendezvous of the scum of society. About the time of
the Northern Conquest, it was not built on, was scarcely even a suburb, and but
thinly dotted with habitations.* [*Vide Aggas, Stowe, and Dobie's History
of St. Giles's, published in 1834. ] The parish derived its name from the
hospital dedicated to the saint, built on the site of the present church, by
Matilda, Queen of Henry I., before which time there had only been a small church
or oratory on the spot. [-20-] It is described in
old records as abounding in gardens and dwellings in the flourishing times of
the hospital; it declined in population after the suppression of that
establishment, and remained an inconsiderable village till the end of the reign
of Elizabeth, after which it was rapidly built on, and became distinguished for
the number and rank of its inhabitants. In the reign of Henry I., the hospital
mentioned was founded for the reception of lepers,-and in that of Henry V., the
famous Lord Cobham, the founder or patron of the Lollards, was executed here,
after much barbarous treatment. After the suppression of the hospital, the
parish, called of old "the verie pleasaunt village of St. Giles's,"
was built over, and a cluster of houses erected there; and, in the reign of
Elizabeth, the Lord Mayor visiting the conduits at Tyburn, hunted the hare in
the great black forest of Marylebone, and, after dining, killed a fox at the end
of St. Giles's. Towards the end of this reign, Holborn had extended so far
westward as nearly to join St. Giles's, which was increasing rapidly. In the
reign of James I., Drury Lane was built on, and, in 1628, the whole number of
houses rated, amounted to 897, and more than twenty courts and alleys are
mentioned by name. Soon after this, mention is made of the erection of fifty-six
houses which, it is supposed, were inhabited by people of rank and wealth. Thus,
more than two hundred years since, a nucleus for Rookeries was formed in these
very courts and alleys; they must have been built as the dwellings of the poor,
and we are not [-21-] surprised to find that the
larger houses in the vicinity were gradually deserted by their inhabitants, as
the tide swept westward. But we cease to wonder at the size, internal
decorations, and external ornaments of many of the houses tenanted by the very
refuse of the population. There is yet standing in Great Queen Street, a very
fine old dark red brick house, the front well ornamented with carving; and,
though it has been somewhat defaced, still giving us a fair sample of the
residence of an opulent man two hundred years since, which is believed to have
been the residence of the eccentric Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and afterwards of
Sir Godfrey Kneller;- the back of this mansion is surrounded by some of the
lowest houses in the parish of St. Giles's. Great Queen Street seems to preserve
some share of its ancient importance, whilst the surrounding neighbourhood has
gone fast to decay. In the reign of Charles II. the place, afterwards called
Seven Dials, was erected, in expectation that it would soon become the abode of
the gay and wealthy. Soho Square, and Covent or Convent Garden, were the
residence of the aristocracy,- the Spectator telling us that " Sir Roger de
Coverley, a baronet of good fortune and ancient family, lived in Soho
Square," which is in the immediate neighbourhood of Seven Dials. In the
reign of Queen Anne, the whole parish of St. Giles, except the neighbourhood of
Bedford Square and what is now called Bloomsbury, was covered with houses. In
the days of the Commonwealth, an attempt was made to promote [-22-]
the better observance of Sunday, and victuallers were forbidden to open
their houses on that day. Seven Dials, even then the resort of questionable
characters, became the rendezvous of what the writer calls "oppressed
tipplers." A Doric pillar was set up by a person whose name was Neale, who
introduced lotteries into this country; this was afterwards surmounted by a
clock having seven dials, and hence the name by which this neighbourhood is
known. Many hundreds of French refugees, driven to this country by the
revocation of the edict of Nantes, fixed their abode in the neighbourhood of
Long Acre, the Seven Dials, and Soho. On the site of Wylde Street, or, as it
used to be spelt, Welde Street, resided the family of the Welds of Lulworth
Castle. Bainbridge and Buckeridge Street were built prior to 1672, and derive
their names from their owners, who were men of wealth in the time of Charles
II.; as Dyott Street does its title from Mr. Dyott, a man of consideration in
the same reign. On the spot occupied by these very streets, in fact formed out
of these streets, was the famous Rookery, pulled down to form a continuation of
Oxford Street: from a comparatively early period, this was the resort of the
Irish, and the place they first colonised. It has long been remarkable for
poverty and vice; for, in Smollett's novels, we read of one of his heroes, whose
rescue from the hands of the soldiers was attempted by " two
tatterdermalions from the purlieus of St. Giles's, and between them both was but
one shirt and a pair of breeches." Allowing for exaggera-[-23-]tion
in this sketch of 1740, we have the place and the class which we are at present
These Rookeries then were haunts of crime in days of old, - are they more select now? Or, do you suppose that they only conceal the accomplished felon, - that the labourers amongst whom he takes shelter for a while connive at his hiding place merely from mistaken compassion ? Do you suppose that such a man can live among them, without a fellow feeling between him who hides and him who is hidden? that the plague spot does not spread, and that the very sight of the excesses in which one so abandoned revels when his trade is flourishing, has no temptations for him who, by hard labour, can barely earn a precarious subsistence? Suppose that felon colonies were tolerated among us; not penal places of banishment, but licensed Alsatias, and that thus the dwellings of the industrious poor were separated by a marked line from these gulfs of infamy;- would not crime be fostered of itself by the very recklessness which Rookeries produce? If they who make a gain of the necessities of the poor break one of God's commandments, will the victims be more fastidious? You reduce men well nigh to the level of the beasts of the field, - can you expect them to be careful of nice distinctions, or not to glide by the slippery gradation of habit from less to greater delinquencies?
In the time of the Commonwealth, then, St. Giles was the sanctuary for the vagabondism which seems the necessary curse of great cities; there were even then [-24-] dense and skulking places where evil doers could lie hid till the hue and cry was over. The scene of some of Hogarth's most celebrated prints lies in this parish :-thus his picture of Gin Lane has for its back-ground the Church of St. George, Bloomsbury, the date is 1751. "When," says Hogarth, "these two prints were designed and engraved, the dreadful consequences of gin drinking appeared in every street in Gin Lane, every circumstance of its horrid effect is brought to view in terrorem, not a house in tolerable condition, but the pawnbrokers, the gin shop, and the coffin makers in the distance." St. Giles's, then, was not in any degree behind what it is at the present day, if we may take this and other prints as fair types of its appearance; for the present Church often forms the background, or is introduced in the distance into his paintings; the houses seem as mouldy and dilapidated, more so, even, than they do now. A hundred years since, there was a large pauper colony in St. Giles's; this increased year by year, till, in the beginning of this century, it swelled to most alarming proportions.
In a work, by the celebrated Fielding, called "Crimes and Offences," written in 1749, occurs the following notice of St. Giles's in his time:-
"Thus in the parish of St. Giles's there are a great number of houses set apart for the reception of idle rogues and vagabonds who have their lodging there for two-pence a night; and in the above parish, and St. George's, Bloomsbury, one woman alone occupies [-25-] seven of these houses, all properly accommodated with miserable beds, from the cellar to the garret, for such twopenny lodgers; in these beds, several of which are in the same room, men and women, Often strangers to each other, lie promiscuously, the price of a double bed being no more than three-pence as an encouragement to them to lie together: gin is sold to them a penny a quartern: in the execution of search warrants, Mr. Welch rarely finds less than twenty of them open at a time. In one of these houses, and that not a large one, he hath numbered fifty-eight persons of both sexes, the stench of whom was so intolerable that it compelled him, in a short time, to quit the place; nay, I can add what I myself saw in the parish of Shoreditch, where two little houses were emptied of near seventy men and women."
In 1807, this colony is mentioned, in one of the periodicals of the day; the difficulty of collecting rents, and the drunken habits of the renters being pathetically described. But, as even pauper colonies have their degrees of wretchedness, so the worst sink of iniquity was The Rookery,- a place or rather district, so named, whose shape was triangular, bounded by Bainbridge street, George street, and High street, St. Giles's. While the New Oxford Street was building, the recesses of this Alsatia were laid open partially to the public, the debris were exposed to view; the colony, called The Rookery was like an honeycomb, perforated by a number of courts and blind alleys, culs de sac, without any outlet [-26-] other than the entrance. Here were the lowest lodging houses in London, inhabited by the various classes of thieves common to large cities,- the housebreaker, who did not profess to have any other means of livelihood; the tramp and vagrant, whose assumed occupation was a cloak for roguery; the labourer who came to London to look for work; the hordes of Irish who annually seem to come in and go out with the flies and the fruit, - were here banded together: driven by their various necessities to these dens, they were content to take shelter there, till the thief had opportunity to repair his fortune, and the labourer means to provide better lodging. The streets were narrow; the windows stuffed up with rags, or patched with paper; strings hung across from house to house, on which clothes were put out to dry; the gutters stagnant, choked up with filth; the pavement strewed with decayed cabbage stalks and other vegetables; the walls of the houses mouldy, discoloured, the whitewash peeling off from damp; the walls in parts bulging, in parts receding,-the floor covered with a coating of dirt. In the centre of this hive was the famous thieves' public house, called Rat's Castle; this den of iniquity was the common rendezvous of outcasts. In the ground floor was a large room, appropriated to the general entertainment of all corners ;-in the first floor, a free and easy, where dancing and singing went on during the greater part of the night, suppers were laid, and the luxuries which tempt intoxication freely displayed. The frequenters of this place were bound together [-27-] by a common tie, and they spoke openly of incidents which they had long ceased to blush at, but which hardened habits of crime alone could teach them to avow. Even by day it was scarcely safe to pass through this district! Did not the loathsome sights appal you, it was crowded with loiterers, whose broken hats and ragged shooting jackets were in keeping with their dwellings; round them, lounged boys with dogs, birds, and other appurtenances; these being their only visible means of support, it was possible, though very improbable, that they lived solely by the sale of them : by day, then) you might inspect the dingy alley with its thievish population; women with short pipes in their mouths and bloated faces and men who filled every immediate occupation between greengrocer and bird-catcher. Thieves lurk here now, their very semblances worn to conceal a less reputable calling; dog-breakers, dealers in birds, marine store-keepers, water-cress sellers, costermongers (i.e. small greengrocers), sellers of sprats and herrings, hawkers of prints and toys, street sweepers, dealers in coffee, lozenges, and other kinds of confectionery; men, whom indolence and dissipation unfit for more regular employment, throng these haunts even by day; there the bill-stickers retire, there go the bands of placard carriers who have obstructed the causeway, marching in column shouldering their weapons of offence; there beggars throng to count, divide, and spend their gains,-but night alone witnesses the real condition of our Rookeries. Then the stream of vagrants who have [-28-] driven their profitable trade return to their lair - trampers come in for their night's lodging; the beggar's operas, as they were wont to be called, then open their doors to those whom necessity or crime has made skulkers or outcasts; no questions are asked, it is sufficient that the money is forthcoming, - and they, who are driven to such dens, are seldom in a condition to ask questions. Not in St. Giles's alone, but in most London parishes, are rooms where chance lodgers are gathered at nightfall; these are crammed by those whom poverty assembles, and the landlord derives a large revenue from the necessities of his customers; so that you cannot judge by the daylight aspect of the Rookery, what face it wears by night. In St. Giles's, especially, rooms are opened as night lodgings, where, as a general rule, several men sleep who have never met before; in many cases, there are double beds, where married couples sleep, five or six pairs, in the same room: you would be startled to witness the crowding of inmates even in favoured localities; to see the industrious mechanic, his wife, and his children huddled into a single apartment, - by day, the common sitting room, by night, the common dormitory; you would be startled to find that such is the rule among the working classes, the meed of honesty and diligence, so that it has few exceptions. In the genuine Rookery, even this remnant of decency, this slender rag, which betokens a lingering regard to the proprieties of social life is removed; men and women are brought together in the same apartment whom no [-29-] marriage tie unites, and who have no other bond than that of common want; children of all ages sleep with their parents; and even the miserable boon of laying the head in such places as these, though paid for, is often made of none effect, through the cries of infants, which break the silence of the night. In some of these places, bedsteads are supplied, - in some only straw, - and the charge, of course, varies with the accommodation. In these houses there is generally, on the ground floor, a common room, answering to the coffee room of an inn, or rather combining coffee room and kitchen; this is sometimes hung round with beds at the sine, hut not always; here is a good fire; spirits and beer are brought in, bacon fried, meals prepared; boys and girls are lying on the floor gambling or playing with marbles, sometimes exercising their ingenuity in tricks with dirty cards. Because all are taken in who can pay their footing, the thief and the prostitute are harboured among those whose only crime is poverty, and there is thus always a comparatively secure retreat for him who has outraged his country's laws. Sums are here paid, a tithe of which, if well laid out, would provide at once a decent and an ample lodging for the deserving poor; and that surplus, which might add to the comfort and better the condition of the industrious, finds its way into the pocket of the middleman.
We have lately had an opportunity of visiting the worst district of St. Giles's - George street and Church lane; through this part of the parish runs the New Oxford street, and they are thus the remains of the famous [-30-] Rookery - the still standing plague-spots of that colony. You cannot gain an idea of what The Rookery was without visiting these streets. Rows of crumbling houses, flanked by courts and alleys, culs de sac, &c. in the very densest part of which the wretchedness of London takes shelter. You seem for a time to leave the day, and life, and habits of your fellow-creatures behind you - just to step out of the din and bustle of a crowded thoroughfare - to turn aside from streets whose shops teem with every luxury - where Art has brought together its most beautiful varieties, - and you have scarce gone a hundred yards when you are in The Rookery. The change is marvellous: squalid children, haggard men, with long uncombed hair, in rags, most of them smoking, many speaking Irish; women without shoes or stockings - a babe perhaps at the breast, with a single garment, confined to the waist by a bit of string; wolfish looking dogs; decayed vegetables strewing the pavement; low public houses; linen hanging across the street to dry; the population stagnant in the midst of activity; lounging about in remnants of shooting jackets, leaning on the window frames, blocking up the courts and alleys; with young boys gathered round them, looking exhausted as though they had not been to bed. Never was there so little connection between masses of living beings and their means of livelihood. And then these dens, the fronts of a small court - square you can scarce call it - more wretched, more utterly destitute of all that is needed for the purposes of life, than the lanes of which they are the background. These alleys were thickly populated, [-31-] as though a close atmosphere had more attractions, and drew by a sympathetic cord more lodgers than the open thoroughfares; you could scarcely have an idea of the number of persons crowded together in a single room. At first, when the average proportion of sleepers is stated to you, you feel inclined to calculate the number of square feet contained in the area of the room, to see whether it is possible that so many human beings can lie down there. You begin to fancy that the process so familiar to the prisons of the middle ages must take place here; that persons do not sleep in a recumbent posture, but by leaning against the walls; or perhaps, at night, some purgatory like a steamer's cabin is erected, and men sleep in tiers, as in one of those marine Pandemoniums. Thus in one room, measuring six feet by five broad, we were assured that eight people, some of them, of course, children, slept. You will tell us this must be exaggeration; however, the tendency amongst the inhabitants, was to conceal, or qualify; for the landlords had made wholesale clearances in many houses, where they had reason to believe that information on the subject of lodgings had been given by the tenants. The landlords were alarmed at the inquiries made of late, and determined to elude them. In one house 100 persons have been known to sleep on a given night. In a particular instance we ascertained that three rooms were thus occupied - first room, by eight persons second by fifteen third by twenty-four. We ourselves saw as many as twenty-four persons in the same room; they were assembled there even in the day-[-32-]time, and yet you are assured that night alone affords a fair criterion. In these rooms are piled the wares by which some of the inhabitants gain their precarious living, - oranges, herrings, water-cresses, onions, seemed to be the most marketable articles; and there were sweepers, cadgers or beggars, stray luggage porters, &c. lounging about. In another house, the average number of persons who slept in a room was twelve; in others, of course larger, forty persons are known to have slept in a single night.
In a back alley, opening into Church street, was a den which looked more like a cow-house than a room for human beings - little, if any light, through the small diamond panes of the windows; and that, obstructed by the rags which replaced the broken glass-a door whose hinges were rotting, in which time had made many crevices, and yet seventeen human beings eat, drank, and slept there; the floor was damp and below the level of the court; the gutters overflowed; when it rained, the rain gushed in at the apertures. On a wretched mattress lay a poor young man, with a fearful racking consumptive cough; he was quite naked, had not a rag to his back, but over him was thrown a thin blanket, and a blue rug like a horse cloth, - these he removed to let us see there was no deception. This room was so low, that a tall man could not stand upright in it - the rest of the inhabitants slept on shavings; the ceiling was broken, several of the inhabitants were ill, and had all suffered more or less. In Church lane, it has been computed that from 1000 to 1100 persons live; our informant [-33-] thinks, even at present, there are more than 800; and he has long known it, and indeed, from what we saw, this is likely to be accurate; in another room, about 8 feet by 12, twelve people slept.
We asked several questions respecting the inhabitants, and in one house some information was given us, which, in many points, was corroborated by our companion- that in an upper room as many as seventeen juvenile thieves had been collected, and used to live together; that one of these had been transported, and their ages ranged from six to twelve. It seems unlikely that sentence of transportation should have been carried out in the case of one so young; perhaps sentence was passed, and he was sent to a model prison in virtue of that sentence: but, substantially, the account was no doubt true; the extreme youth of the criminals, their habits, their plan of clubbing together, we fear, cannot be misstated. Many of the houses are so far below the level of the street, that, in wet weather, they are flooded; perhaps this is the only washing the wretched floorings get; the boards seem matted together by filth.
The aspect of these rooms is singular; in some, heaps of bedding - that is to say, blanket and mattress are tied up in a bundle, and placed against the wall so as to leave the middle of the room clear for meals; little bags, containing the whole of their small stock, are flung on a nail; shavings carefully gathered into a heap, Occupy one corner; old hats, reaping hooks, bonnets, another - some sick child moaning in another part of [-34-] the room. These peculiums are arranged with some neatness; there is an individuality about them, the idea of a meum and tuum, the little stake in the country's welfare, which is not altogether lost; there seemed something like attachment to these shadows, which we wished we could see exercised on more substantial comforts; some clinging still as to a home, miserable as it was, enough to show that reformation was not quite hopeless. Many, perhaps most of the inhabitants, were Irish; how strong their attachment to their native country! One old man, breaking fast, was about to return, to lay his bones in the "ould country." Those about him spoke with warm enthusiasm of his return; their eyes glistened, and some of them, we ascertained, had wrung a little horde even from the wretchedness around them, as a fund on which to subsist in their native land. Seldom have we seen the love of country so strong; and strong it must be to survive long separation, the wrongs they had suffered before they had left their native shore, the demoralising air of Rookeries, and the ties they had formed in England. In several of the rooms four and five distinct families lodged together; in the time of the cholera, this induced fearful suffering. It was warm weather; those who were well, were engaged either in their daily business, or in their out-door lounge. In one room a benevolent man told us he saw three persons dying at the same time of the epidemic; there were several cases where, because the disorder was sudden, or they had no connections, or perhaps from [-35-] fear, those stricken were left to die alone, untended, unheeded, "they died and made no sign," without mentioning their relatives, without a word which betokened religious feeling on their lips, without God in the world, poor hapless outcasts, acclimatised long to the atmosphere they breathed, reckless from want of knowing better!
In these lodging-houses many of the families are stationary, that is, comparatively so, remaining for the week, the month, or the quarter; but we have said trampers come in, and the poverty of the inhabitants makes them glad to receive these chance customers. We were curious to know the charge for the night's lodging, and found it to be 1d. per night upon the bare boards, 3d. per night on a mattrass. The habits of the dwellers in these Rookeries are of course strange. Women will be seen crawling out to beg, who have been only two days confined. Marriage is too often dispensed with; men leave their wives, and wives their husbands, in Ireland, and come over here with other partners, or else pick them up in England. Thus, some years since, in our noviciate, we paid the passage of a poor woman, who was very ill, to Ireland. She left her husband, he intending to join her; she soon returned, and found him provided with a partner; and it is difficult to convince them this is wrong; indeed, when anything happens, which, in higher circles, would lead to a divorce, the working classes generally take the law into their own hands, separate from their erring wives, and live with [-36-] some other woman; and they justify themselves on religious grounds, - defend. as they think, this breach of morality. Among these people, superstition abounds. We saw a sick child, whose sufferings were severe; we asked why it was not in the infirmary? The answer was, it had been there, but the mother took her babe away, conveyed it to Mile End, that it might be charmed, and thus restored to health. In another house was a young man who said he had been "in trouble;" in other words, he had just returned from the House of Correction. He said he had stolen a desk purposely, that he might be committed, for he was starving; that he would now willingly work, but that he had pawned his shoes, and therefore must resort to the old trade for a livelihood. He could read and write; we asked why he did not enlist before he took to thieving? and he answered, that his arm had been broken. Prostitution prevailed here to a fearful extent. In one large house it is said that £.10, in a smaller that £.5 per week, are cleared by this traffic; the most open and shameless immorality is carried on; the middle classes contribute to the evil. Six or seven houses in one street are applied to this nefarious trade, and there are from 200 to 300 fallen females here, for mothers send out their own daughters on these errands, and live on the proceeds.
Juvenile theft is also recruited by the same means, and there are parents in this neighbourhood, training their children to this iniquity, punishing them severely when they return home empty-handed, and living on the [-37-] fruits of their success. Yet Ragged Schools are not wanting in the neighbourhood, nor do they labour in vain, although scarcely a tenth part of the juvenile population is educated.
We have said that a large majority of the inhabitants are Irish; they fly from starvation, and thus colonies are formed, not merely Hibernian in all their attributes, but separate colonies from different parts of the country, or plough lands, as they call them: thus, when an emigration takes place, the emigrants on arriving in London drop into the places prepared for them, as much as if they were billeted on the different wards of a hospital or a barrack. In one wretched room where eleven beds were ranged against the wall, two of them double beds, the landlady of the house was confined, and the occupants witnessed the pains of labour. When asked if she was not ashamed, her answer was, she had no other room in which to live.
This description will startle you, gentle reader : you thought, perhaps, as we did, that New Oxford Street had superseded The Rookery. Was any colony of old worse than this-more thoroughly wretched and demoralising? Will any one now say we don't want an Act of Parliament to regulate the number of families per house, of inmates per room, and public prosecutors to see that the law is enforced? A religious society employ an Irish missionary in this district. When he first sent in his journal, the committee complained that he had only selected cases of open vice and extraordinary ignorance: his answer was, that he had passed over the worst cases; yet, that if his journal was to be a fair criterion of his labours, it could [-38-] contain nothing but details of ignorance and vice - that in such a district anything else was impossible. But nine-tenths of the inhabitants are Irish; do we, then, set down to Irish nurture this amount of wretchedness and immorality ? God forbid We believe that examples of female profligacy are more rare in Ireland than England, though poverty is more excessive, and accompanied with more utter prostration of the individual than among us; yet the Irish coming to London seem to regard it as a heathen city, and to give themselves up at once to a course of recklessness and crime. Some regulations then should be framed to meet this great and pressing evil. Rookeries, at least such as Church Lane, should at once be proscribed; it would be difficult, with our free institutions, to stop these descents of Irish upon our great towns; but the names of those who land here should be entered in a book, their progress observed, and, if they did not get work within a certain time, they should be sent back to their own Unions; or, at any rate, not be allowed to congregate in such masses in the worst parts of our towns: they bring their bad habits with them, and leave their virtues behind. The misery, filth, and crowded condition of an Irish cabin, is realised in St. Giles's. The purity of the female character, which is the boast of Irish historians, here, at least, is a fable. Rookeries are bad, but what are they to Irish Rookeries? Within the ordinary boundaries of a district, we are assured, on the authority last mentioned, there is scarcely a family which is not Irish.
We do not aim in this sketch at describing minutely [-39-] the condition of those who inhabit Rookeries, and have therefore contented ourselves with few details. We must otherwise, in the cause of truth, enter upon inquiries, whose results are too disgusting for our pages. Such descriptions very properly fill the reports of Sanatory Commissioners, for, if they were left out, many an evil would be unchecked. The Times, The Morning Chronicle, and, above all, Mr. Mayhew, have told the naked tale. Thus, in the following pages, though much to the uninitiated may seem exaggeration, not one tithe of the nuisances which disgrace Rookeries, has been enumerated. Yet still a few facts, and they not the most startling, may prepare us for further investigation; and, as we have derived them from official sources, we are less likely to be misled.
In the report of the Statistical Society, we have the following remarks, respecting the district visited by its members, which was one of the most densely populated in St. Giles's:-
" The inhabitants may be classed as follows:-
1st. Shopkeepers, lodging-house keepers, publicans, and some of the under-landlords of the houses, who make a considerable profit by letting the rooms, furnished and unfurnished.
2nd. Street dealers in fruit, vegetables, damaged provisions, and sundries; sweeps, knife-grinders, and door-mat makers.
3rd. Mendicants, crossing sweepers, street singers, persons who obtain a precarious subsistence, and country tramps.
[-40-] 4th. Persons calling themselves dealers, who are probably thieves, and the occupants of houses of ill- fame.
5th. Young men and lads, of ages varying from ten to thirty, known as pickpockets, and thieves of various degrees.
About one half of the inhabitants are Irish, chiefly natives of Cork, who for the most part have been long resident in London. About one eighth are of Irish descent, born in England; the remainder consist of English, some of whom have been in better circumstances. This last remark must be taken with some allowance, because of the obvious difficulty attending such classifications."
You are much struck in visiting the rooms and houses where the working classes live, by the absence, not merely of the comforts, but almost the necessaries of life. Take, for instance, a family consisting of man and wife, and five children; they are lucky if they have one bedstead and three beds; in many instances, there are no bedsteads; in some cases, in the worst districts, as we have seen, straw furnishes the bed, and the day clothes the covering by night. The houses of the poor are, for years together, guiltless of paint; and even whitewash, cheap as it is, is sparingly laid on. The inmates suffer much, too, from the want of water, with which these courts are very inadequately supplied, even where it is turned on; and this takes place, in many instances, only twice a-week, though the companies have a plentiful supply at [-41-] command; and few investments have turned out so profitable as those made in the shares of these different societies.
We need not wonder that such dens exist, that several persons unconnected by birth or even similar occupation are massed together in the same room, when the independent labourer, the artisan, the mechanic, seldom rent more than a single apartment severally for themselves and their families. Below them in the scale of society are several degrees ;-the man of uncertain occupation, the beggar, the thief, the felon, each a grade in itself, and that grade distinguished, not only by more reckless habits than the one above it, but also worse clothed and lodged.
The Rookery is no more a spacious street is in its stead; but will you tell us that any poor man has gained by the change - that any section of the working classes has reaped an advantage - that any band of ruffians is dispersed - that middlemen have felt a mortal blow - that vagabondism, pauperism, alms-asking, or any other unlicensed trade has been broken up? Certainly not; there must be poor, and they lodged and fed; how or where the Legislature must provide. The effects of the late removal are thus shown in the Report of a Committee of the Council of the Statistical Society:-
" The Council consider that a main cause of this evil is what are falsely called the improvements, which have recently taken place in this part in the formation of New Oxford Street. It would seem to raise a suspicion of the sanatory value of that kind of im-[-42-]provement which consists in occupying, with first or second-rate houses, ground previously covered by the tenements of the poorer classes. The expelled inhabitants cannot, of course, derive any advantage from new erections, and are forced to invade the yet remaining hovels suited to their means; the circle of their habitations is contracted while their numbers are increased, and thus a large population is crowded into less space. Church Lane consists of twenty-seven houses. The Council proceeded in their examination from No. 1 to No. 18, passing over No. 1 as a corner house and shop, and 11, 12, 13, 15, and 16, as lodging-houses, and therefore no fair specimens of the ordinary population. The number of houses examined were thus reduced to twelve, and the population of each was compared with that of the census of 1841 - the great increase of overcrowding since is exhibited in the following most remarkable table:-
|Population in 1841||1847|
increase of population in twelve houses being thus 186. Dividing the number of
cubic feet of air in these twelve houses by the number of individuals found in
them, the average supply for each individual was only 175 feet - while 1000 is the
number deemed necessary for a single prisoner in England. The largest supply of
air in these twelve houses was 605 cubic feet, and the smallest was as low as
The conclusion is obvious: if Rookeries are pulled down, you must build habitable dwellings for the population you have displaced, otherwise, you will not merely have typhus, but plague; some fearful pestilence worse than cholera or Irish fever, which will rage, as the periodical miasmata of other times were wont to do, numbering its victims by tens of thousands!