Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - In the Slums, by the Rev. D. Rice-Jones, 1884 - Chapter 3 - The Mission House

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DURING the first three months, I lived with my family at Emperor's Gate in South Kensington, travelling every day to and fro by underground railway. But as soon as I was formally appointed and licensed, I determined, with my wife's cordial concurrence, to come and live in the midst of my poor people in the district. The only place, however, to which I could possibly bring my family was the mission house over the church, and that could hardly have been called "a desirable residence" even by the most barefaced house agent. It is situate in one of the poorest streets in St. Giles's, Sardinia Street, formerly called Duke Street. Exactly opposite the front door there is a stable yard to which horses and waggons are brought from Covent Garden Market, at all hours of the night, to bait the horses before they return into the country.
    Then next door to the mission house, there is the cheap lodging-house already alluded to, and [-12-] which during the day is also open as a cheap eating- house.


 Hot potatoes from 6 A.M. till 10 P.M.
Two sausages and potatoes, always ready, for twopence half-penny.
Two eggs for three half-pence.
A rasher of bacon for a penny.
Bloaters at a penny each.
Kippers at one penny per pair.
A whole beef-steak pudding for threepence.
A pint of tea or coffee for one penny.
A small cup of ditto for a half-penny,
Comfortable lodging at two-and-six per week.

    The house is consequently much resorted to by street arabs and men who have the appearance of tramps. But it seems to be on the whole well conducted for such a place, the back-yard with its perpetually barking dog being the most objectionable part of it. When men come to me and say they are starving, I frequently, if I have reason to believe their story, take them into this eating-house and give them a breakfast instead of money.
    Next door to the mission house, on the other side,. stands the small tavern at the back of which is the skittle-alley. Then comes a narrow lane leading into Sardinia Place and other dark slums. Then at the corner on the other side of the lane stands [-13-] another public-house ; and a little farther, on the same side of Sardinia Street, a third public-house, all three apparently driving a brisk trade.
    The rest of the houses, with the exception of the fourpenny lodging-houses and one or two places of business, are all let out in tenements of one or sometimes two rooms, to people of the poorest class.
    At the back of the mission house are workshops of various kinds, including a farrier's shop, beyond which thousands of chimney-stacks darken the air with their smoke.
    Such are the surroundings.
    The mission house itself deserves notice as a curiosity in the way of parsonages. The front door, which is close to that of the church, opens upon a steep narrow wooden staircase, at the foot of which there is a private side-door leading into the church. At the top of this staircase there are two small rooms, which have been respectively converted into a drawing-room and a study, while at the end of the same corridor there is a larger room built and exclusively used for various mission purposes, such as the infants' Sunday school, mothers' meetings, and dinners for destitute children.
    On the floor immediately over the first there are three more rooms used as the family dining and bed rooms. Then at the top of the house there are three more, the largest of which has been converted [-14-] into a kitchen, the original kitchen being underneath the church and now forming the crypt or vestry.
    The arrangement of having the kitchen at the top of the house, although somewhat un-English, has been found to answer admirably. In the first place we escape the de-appetising smells of cooking, for which there are several means of exit. There is the kitchen window in front, while behind there is a back-door, the only back-door in the house. It leads out to what we call "the leads," a flat roof about ten feet square, covered with lead, and surrounded with low wooden palings. This in the summer time is our garden. The leads are then laid out with flower-pots containing a variety of choice plants, which may be watered without the trouble of fetching water. For on the leads there are two small cisterns, which supply the house with water, while between the cisterns and the outside pipes there is a narrow channel through which the overflowing water runs away down into mysterious depths. Once when the cisterns were out of order and refused to indicate when they had had enough, there used to be quite a little river every day running down and falling over one side of the leads; and one might almost have fancied oneself in the country amidst babbling brooks and musical cascades, had it not been for the view, which, though [-15-] extensive, consists of nothing but chimney-pots. But I value the leads more than all as an easy means of access to the roof in case of fire.
    Before I came to live here, the mission house, which had hitherto been occupied only by caretakers who took no care of it, was in such a state of dilapidation and dirt that I had to pay more than 20 to have it merely cleansed and made habitable. I am afraid to think what it would have cost to have it painted and properly repaired. The floors of the rooms are not only worn out and full of holes, but like an incline-plane, much higher on one side than on the other, so that tables and chairs with wheels on the legs show a constant tendency to roll all down to one particular wall.
    When we first arrived, at the time of removal, the house was still in a state of chaos, the workmen not having finished their work according to promise. Some of the windows had been taken out and not replaced. The men were nailing down the carpets in the wrong rooms, and throughout the whole house desolation reigned supreme. It was like taking possession of a deserted cabin in the backwoods.