Friday, I5 July
Walking through S. James's Park about 4 p.m., I found the open spaces of sward on either side the path thickly dotted over with strange dark objects. They were human beings; ragged men & ragged women; lying prone & motionless, not as those who lie down for rest & enjoyment, but as creatures worn out and listless. A park keeper came up: who are these? I asked. They are men out of work, said he, and unfortunate girls; servant girls, many of them, what has been out of place and took to the streets, till they've sunk so low that they cant get a living even by prostitution. It's like this every day, till winter comes; and then what they do I don't know. They come as soon as the gates opens; always the same faces: they bring broken victuals with 'em, or else goes to the soup kitchen in Vinegar Yard; and except for that, they lie about here all day. The girls herd with the men, whether they know ' em or not: and at night they leave, and sleep on steps or anywhere, and comes hack next morning. It's a disgrace Sir (said he), to go on in a City like this; and foreigners to see it, too! Why Sir, these unfortunates are all over the place: the ground (he added with a gesture of disgust) is lousy with them'. I looked and looked; it was Dante and Virgil gazing on the damned; and still they did not move. The men were more or less tattered, but their dress was working dress, & so did not seem out of place. But the girls were clothed in what had once been finery: filthy draggled muslins; thin remnants of gay shawls, all rent and gaping; crushed and greasy bonnets of fashionable shape, with sprigs of torn flowers, bits of faded velvet, hanging from them. Their hands and faces were dirty & weather-stained; and they lay, not (as far I saw) herding with the men, but singly or in little groups; sprawling about the grass in attitudes ungainly, and unfeminine, and bestial: one flat on her face, another curled up like a dog with her head between her knees; another with her knees bent under her, and her cheek on the ground, and her arms spread out stiff and awkward, on either side of her. Every pose expressed an absolute degradation and despair: and the silence & deadness of the prostrate crowd was appalling. I counted these miserable lazzaroni, as I went along; and on one side only of one path (leading from the lake to the Mall), there were one hundred and five of them. 105 forlorn and foetid outcasts - women, many of them - grovelling on the sward, in the bright sunshine of a July afternoon, with Carlton House Terrace and Westminster Abbey looking down at them, and infinite well-drest citizens passing by on the other side. The Keeper said he had no doubt there were more than 200 of these folk in the Park at that moment. ...
Wednesday, 20 July. . . back across S. James's Park; and I counted 79
of those forlorn prostrate outcasts, in half the space I observed last week. I
went up to one group, all girls, and some of them healthy and able-bodied. Two
or three raised their heads from the ground as I stood over them; stared
blankly, not boldly, & said nothing, asked for nothing. One girl lay in her
rags at my feet, her face hidden between her outstretched arms. I spoke to her:
but it was at least a minute before she heeded. When she did lift her dirty
sodden face, she seemed halfmazed: answered, that she was about twenty; a
shawlfringemaker; out of work; no father nor mother; no home; comes here to lie
down, every day; wouldn't come if she had anywhere else to go to, of course not.
She answered wearily, grudgingly, observe: and as soon as I stopped asking, she
covered her face again and curled herself up as before, without a word.
Park Keeper meets me: says (Ut supra) these are degraded prostitutes, and so on: adds, We have orders now to keep the women awake-prod them a bit with sticks, & that - that they may go away: have orders too to keep men & women apart-but we can't. It's not the men, so much; it's the women; they will run to the men. ...
Friday, 22 July.. . Passed through S. James's Park at 4.30, &
there were the outcasts again, though not quite so many of them, the day being
damp & cool.
A mass of broken hoops and frowsy crape and napless velvet lay huddled on the grass where I passed. I spoke to it: no answer. Spoke again: a movement ran through the heap, as of one tormented before the time, and anxious to be let alone. Said once more Is anything the matter with you?' Then she lifted her face a little: for it was a young woman. A soiled, gloomy-eyed young woman: a kind of female Jack Sheppard to look at: for under her tawdry bonnet you saw that her head was shaven. And yet, for all her rags and desolation, she had tried to conceal in part the loss of her hair, by wearing the usual netbag behind her neck, and stuffing it with horsehair. What is your trade? I asked. Have no trade Sir - only cleaning: am a charwoman out of work, in fact. Am going to see my sister, if she've got anythink to eat. Have had a fever: not been in prison-oh no, never was'. She, too, asked for nothing, relapsed into deadness at the first pause. And why not die?...
Arthur Munby, Diary, 15, 20 & 22 July, 1864