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A CLUB TOKEN.
What, then, becomes of the boys who,
having left the refuge, are employed during the day in situations as 'errand'
and shop lads, or in work for which they do not earn more than sufficient wages
to support them, while they can have nothing to spare to pay for decent lodging
if they are friendless or orphans? Alas, the question takes a still wider
significance. What provision is made in London for the number of boys who go out
every morning to work, and after their day's labour are left [-329-] to their own
devices unless they can claim connection with a Ragged School or some
institution which continues to regard them with genuine interest after they have
left its protection?
Come with me, and see what has at least been attempted in this locality and in union with the school that we have just left.
We have not far to go. Standing here at the refuge itself, we can see to the end of the short street named Market-street, and there, on the right, is the house we seek - ' St. Andrew's Home and Club for Working Boys.'
It is not an attractive house-not a house with any distinct evidences of being in thorough repair even, not particularly distinguished from the tenements on each side of it except by the closed appearance caused by the use of shutters to the lower panes of the windows of the ground-floor, so that casual idlers cannot peer into the rooms to which they belong. Even when we get inside there is nothing at first to challenge attention; but once turn into the rooms referred to, and its peculiarities are more obvious. It is difficult to say why, for there is certainly no superfluous ornament, not an article of luxurious or even unnecessary furniture; but the bare floor is clean; the long deal tables and the forms that serve for seats on each side of them are well scrubbed; there is a cosy fire in the pipe-stove; and at one end of the room-raised a step, and so forming a kind of platform - there are a few coloured prints, a common bookcase full of books; a closet in which are chess and draught boards, and such other things as might be-[-330-]long to a boys' class-room, in which they spent their in-door playtime. This long apartment, which is in fact 'two rooms knocked into one,' is the dining-room and club-room, the play-room and class-room, of from twenty to thirty lads, who form a respectable and orderly community, living in the old house under the care of a resident superintendent, and a housekeeper who comes daily to her duties of cooking and providing the meals, and ordering the washing, mending, and even the making or transposition of such clothes as can be obtained for the inmates.
The superintendent, who has devoted his time to this work, has a sitting-room on the first-floor, where there are ample evidences not only of his constant application to his duties, but of the kindly sympathy he has brought to the discharge of a difficult office. If I had said sympathetic ties by which he expresses his interest, you might have accused me of undue levity; for look! on this table covered with books and papers, and amidst the pleasant orderly confusion that belongs to all bachelors' sitting-rooms, you will see two or three of those useful ornaments for the neck, conspicuous for their lively colours and 'natty' appearance no less than for the glossy newness that shows them to have been only just taken from the tissue-paper on which they lie. There is nothing in the whole place more favourably suggestive to me than the evident satisfaction with which these gay bits of attire are referred to and their appearance explained; for they are, in fact, intended as rewards for three of the lads who have been so well-be-[-331-]haved and orderly as to show a good example to the rest; and as these little evidences of respectability are just what they have long desired to make up the tout-ensemble of their Sunday suits, they will be quite a pleasant little surprise to them on their return from work to-night. These boys earn on an average five shillings a-week each, some of them being apprentices, while others fill such situations as have been already mentioned; and some of them have formerly been inmates of the industrial school at the refuge. Some, again, come with recommendations from respectable referees, who know them to be well inclined and desirous of joining this comfortable community.
Think of the condition of a boy who, unaided, has but five or six shillings a-week with which to find all the necessaries of life, and it is easy to estimate what such an institution may do to help a working-lad in the most critical period of his whole life. Think of the common lodging-house, or the share of some foul room in a crowded dwelling, and compare it with a neat bed in the clean dormitories of this upper floor, where all is orderly and sufficient for comfort, even though it may be plain. Compare the miserable solitary meal, the scanty dinner of coarse and unwholesome food, the cheap and nasty snatches of provender barely enough even to stay hunger, and the well-prepared and satisfying provision to which the inmates of this house come home. Think of the beginning and the ending of each day in the miserable dens in which such homeless or orphan boys too often seek their nightly shelter, and [-332-] then come into this ample room on the first story, with its low seats and its desk, whence the superintendent asks the lads to join in morning and evening prayer; its harmonium, at which he sits to lead them in the hymns they sing together; and its mantelpiece, made altar-like by drapery and such ornament as gives the clean bare room a church-like aspect, and in a sense marks its sacred use.
To every boy living there an opportunity is afforded of learning to read and write, as well as to enter on some more advanced studies; and to this is added such religious instruction as already appears to have been attended with happy results. We have already seen that there is no narrow or bigoted exclusion of youthful pastimes. The books in the library (and they are glad to receive a few volumes from friends who have them to spare from disused library-shelves) are many of them amusing tales, and just such books - healthy fictions and well-told adventures - as boys like to read, and will have, if they can get a chance of procuring them; while chess and draughts and other games (ay - just to whisper in your ear - even an occasional round game at cards, with the superintendent directing) make the evenings at home pass pleasantly.
The day's arrangements are simple and truly homelike. Up at about six o'clock, arranging beds and dormitories, washing and dressing, prayers with their morning hymn, followed by a good breakfast of coffee or cocoa and bread-and-butter; then off to work. Returning at the dinner-hour, they find a good meal of meat [-333-] and vegetables, and occasionally a supplementary pudding, punctually served in the club-room; and at whatever time they reach home from work (some of them being employed till a later hour than others), they can have a tea similar in quality and quantity to the breakfast, and ready from six o'clock to eight.
Some of the earliest are trooping in as we stand here; many of them sturdy lads enough, and all of them, as far as I can see, with sound and decent clothes and boots. These clothes and boots, however, are the frequent difficulty of the committee of this valuable institution; for, of course, the four or five shillings a-week paid by each boy can never do more than barely cover the expense of his food; so that subscriptions are earnestly asked for in order to pay the rent, the salaries of housekeeper and superintendent, the cost of coals and gas, and to buy these same boots. As to clothes, I know of few more welcome presents to the Boys' Home and Club than a good bundle of cast-off garments not over-worn; or the materials for making shirts, trousers, and jackets. And it is wonderful how ingenious the directors of these institutions Soho-way have become in the transformation of old clothes into comparatively new ones. In the club-room at this moment a sempstress - a poor woman hired and paid by the day for doing this work -is now busy with all sorts of such happy contrivances; and if a few amateur needlewomen would devote some of their spare time to making shirts, comforters, or other articles of dress for these poor little fellows-well, I think it likely their kind remem-[-334-]brances would be appreciated, and that they would sometimes not be forgotten when the harmonium is sounding, and the lads are singing their morning hymn. The treasurer of this institution, which needs enlarging, just as its example needs following in almost every district of the Great City, is Mr. Charles G. Barnett, 60 Lombard-street; its president is Earl Beauchamp; and its committee consists of several gentlemen of well-known social position, among whom one of the most active is Lord Eliot, whose useful connection with the charities of these districts of St. Andrew's and St. Mary's, Soho, is not confined to this particular effort.
Greatly as it needs extension, so that it may be the exemplar of a number of similar establishments in all parts of London, thoroughly recognised as a means of public benevolence, it is satisfactory to know that it has proved eminently successful as far as the funds have enabled it to proceed. 'Lads have been found anxious to be received, and to pay over their wages to the superintendent, and at the same time ready to submit to the regulations necessary for insuring a well-ordered household. In fact, they pay, so far as they are able, to be kept in order, and trained up as good Christians. The present number might be enlarged by increasing the accommodation, without adding to the present staff of superintendent and housekeeper; but as at least half the expenses must be borne by subscriptions, funds are urgently needed both to maintain the home and to add to the number of beds.'
I may perhaps be pardoned for expressing a hope [-335-] that in any similar institution that may hereafter be founded, care will be taken by the committee to learn the particulars of the employment in which each boy in the home is engaged. In the case of this establishment, that knowledge is a part of the regulations; and indeed situations have been found for most of the inmates; but in a more general institution the necessity for this kind of intervention will be equally stringent - not only, or even principally, to guard against deception on the part of the lads themselves, but in order to protect them from the encroachments of certain employers, who would take advantage of their condition, just as they do of all supplementary aid to poverty, in order to obtain their services at the lowest unremunerative rate of wages.
There is a feature of this most admirable institution which is remarkably suggestive of one of the greatest wants in the metropolis, and it has a very definite connection with efforts for the benefit of those boys and girls who are the elder representatives of 'everybody's children.'
Working-boys who are neither really homeless nor orphans, but who reside with their friends, are admitted to this club, where they participate in the evening's amusements and instruction. Now we have all heard a great deal of the admirable results of working-men's clubs established in neighbourhoods where artisans and labourers form a considerable proportion of the inhabitants; why should not working-boys' clubs be regarded as equally beneficial? Places might be provided (a couple of large rooms in some old house would do to begin [-336-] with) to which boys out at work during the day could resort at night, and, under easy and kind superintendence, find the means for recreation and social enjoyment as well as useful and interesting instruction.
There is some such attempt at the Field-lane Refuge, where, in two of the rooms in the building, a boys' recreation class is carried on, and some gymnastic apparatus is part of the furniture of the place. But boys' clubs are wanted in all quarters. They need not be specially associated with religious observance; indeed· it would, in my opinion, be well to give them no more necessary connection with an avowed religious object than would be secured by affording, to such lads as chose to avail themselves of it, the opportunity of acquiring religious knowledge by means of a lively and judiciously-conducted Bible-class, and by opening a Sunday-school in the rooms for the weekly attendance of members and their friends.
I state this, not because I think anything can be more important than an early inculcation of religious truth, but because what is generally termed religious instruction in such places is too often of a casual nature, and so is intrusted to persons who, however earnest they may be, are apt to insist too strongly on larding every topic with religious phraseology, and of discountenancing all recreative occupations that will not afford them an opportunity of introducing some form of re1igious expression, if not doctrinal and sectarian peculiarities. It is because I believe that religion is not only a part of life, but is life, that I can understand how all well-ordered and [-337-] thoroughly-enjoyed amusements will not fail to have a religious tendency without a constant effort for their distorted application.
It will be seen, however, that the superintendence of such institutions requires to be conducted by those who may be called rare men: men who recognise the higher life, and can brighten ordinary occupations with reflections of the heavenly light-men who can play in earnest without making play no other than a dreary kind of work, and can so work that what they do will be real in its results, though its operations may scarcely be expressed in ordinary formulas.
At all events, in these boys' clubs young souls would be gathered, and, so far, be kept from the contamination of the streets; there would be healthy recreation, healthy instruction, and healthy literature, alike interesting and elevating. To keep the reading-room well supplied with the best periodicals for the young would cost but little. The subscriptions of the lads themselves would serve to pay for that in a large club; for they would willingly pay a trifle, and it would be better that they should, even though it should be a halfpenny or a penny a-week. There are few even of these poor boys in London who do not spend that much either in the pernicious literature of which I have already spoken, in occasional visits to the 'gaff,' or in some effort after a very transitory amusement, which leaves them listless and unsatisfied.
LOST LITTLE SISTERS.
When any new industry is developed, do not the London boys
take advantage of it? is not the raw material easily manufactured, if only there
be the opportunity of turning it to account? The keen competition among the poor
little fellows who sell newspapers is evidence of that fact - mere infants, who
should scarcely be out of some national nursery, striving against those of
larger growth who try to earn a penny or two out of a quire. There are some
daily journals which seem to retain a special staff of boys for a time; but the
principle of free trade ultimately prevails, and every new literary enterprise
is shrewdly taken advantage of by lads who must either help to earn their own
bread or go hungry. A little higher still, there are those veritable gamins of
the London streets in whom Leech used to delight - the impudent rascals who
force their way into every crowd, and take all the reserved seats on door-steps
and railings at any out-door spectacle. These are not the poor, depressed,
homeless, almost hopeless, children of whom we have first spoken, but the
errand-boys, the 'printers' devils,' doctors' boys, and those employed by small
tradespeople to carry out goods. These are the boys to whom some such
institutions as those I have just been considering should be undoubtedly
beneficial. Their erratic disposition is not opposed to work, and they are
always ready to look after a better place, if only one can be found for them; so
that, in the midst of the want and destitution of [-339-] the large family of
Nobody's Children, material progress has opened a way for those who have anybody
to care for them, narrow and precarious as that way may often be.
If it be so hard for boys to find a place in the turbulent world, what is it for girls ? I dare not dwell on the possible, nay the probable, contingencies of a girl-child's career when she is left to the streets, the markets, and the temptation sure to present itself as the means of avoiding actual destitution.
This horrible prospect of vice, followed by an early death from want or disease, awaits not only the wretched child who is actually homeless and friendless in the sense of having no legal guardians, but her also who, neglected by those on whom she has a claim, which there is no law adequately to enforce, is either discarded or forced by cruelty to rid her next friends' of the responsibility of maintaining her.
Should you doubt that there are many such cases, it is only necessary to collect the records of police-courts and of some of the institutions which make the rescue of young girls from a life of profligacy their peculiar care.
And here let me say that the dangers to which girls of fourteen or fifteen years of age are exposed are not much diminished by their seeming to work in such employment as some of them contrive to obtain. Any attempt to carry out such a work as I have advocated by the institution of working-boys' clubs would be incomplete if some similar provision were not made for girls also, under the superintendence (without a too [-340-] rigid subjection) of genial and 'motherly' women with genuine sympathy for their young friends. Such an institution, of a higher class, has been most successfully established for young women engaged as dressmakers, milliners, and saleswomen at the West-end of London, who principally support it for themselves, and so make it a gentlewomen's club; and there is a home for governesses, where, for a weekly payment of about thirteen shillings, those ladies can reside who are waiting for situations. But there is urgent need for evening resorts, as well as homes, for girls, whose wages, earned at ill-paid trades or humble employments, leave them comparatively destitute. Unhappily there are numbers of wretched children who, hired by women contracting to execute the work given out by slopsellers and cheap clothiers, live in a condition but slightly removed from actual starvation, with the constant temptation to a life of vice, in order to eke out their insufficient earnings by occasional prostitution.
It is now more years ago than I like to remember that my daily avocations took me to a public office in the City, near Billingsgate Market. Among the numerous cadgers who haunted that locality was a man of some education and ability, with that invincible objection to work and cherished propensity to drink which distinguishes the pauper who yet contrives to keep out of the workhouse. In appeals for help to those who had some recollection of his having once occupied a respectable situation, he of course pleaded not on his own behalf, but for the sake of his family of four chil-[-341-]dren, motherless girls, who would be without food unless he could take home a loaf of bread to appease their hunger. He had brought his wife and them to misery and want; and when the poor woman died, he had, as I learnt afterwards, exhibited some sort of maudlin grief, soon assuaged by gin. He had never ill-treated her or the children by violence, - was even kind and affectionate in manner, - and the poor little creatures had learnt to love him, cruel as he had been in his heartless self-indulgence. He represented a common form of that neglect which fills our streets with abandoned girls, who drift into evil courses in the hopelessness of finding any one to help them to a better life.
For some time he had been 'known to the police,' and watched as one who, sooner or later, would make 'a case' for their activity and intelligence; and one evening he was taken into custody, clad in an overcoat which he had lifted from a hook behind my office-door. The officer - who, unfortunately for him, was well acquainted with me and with the coat, from having seen it often enough on my back - took him at once to the station, and awaited my return; and having learnt that I had neither sold, lent, nor given away the garment, which I at once missed from its usual nail, saw that the case for which he had been so long waiting was complete. The man was taken before the magistrate, and as coat-stealing was just then a prevailing offence in the neighbourhood, was committed for trial at the Old Bailey. Meanwhile the policeman - a clever detective and a kind-hearted fellow enough [-342-] -went to the address given him by the prisoner, and there saw what brought a tear even into his experienced eye. In a miserable bare room, with only a scrap of fire and no food, but where the boards, the hearth, and the two or three sticks of furniture were scrubbed clean, were four girls-the youngest a mere infant only able to walk and talk imperfectly; the eldest a child of between thirteen and fourteen, who had just come in from work to learn the dreadful intelligence that her father was awaiting his trial. The clothes that covered them all were mere rags; but they were not filthy. The eldest girl herself was so scantily clad that she was ashamed to be seen; but though she broke into a wild fit of weeping, she uttered no word of reproach against the parent who had brought this fresh misery upon them. After the first outburst of grief she subsided into a quiet silent acknowledgment of the kindness of the policeman, who went out to a chandler's shop in the court and bought some food for the hungry little ones - food which she distributed without taking more than a morsel for her own share.
I need not here detail all the weary waiting at the Old Bailey till the prisoner was sentenced to two months' hard labour. He had made known to me through the officer that he was respectably connected; and after visiting the wretched room where the four children lived, and providing as I best could for their immediate necessities by opening a limited account for the elder girl at the chandler's shop close by, I waited on his relations with very little result. One of them went to see the [-343-] victims of their father's neglect, and, after reading them a moral lesson, gave them a few shillings, but holding out some hope for the future; another utterly refused to have anything to do with a brother who had disgraced him, or with the children, in whom he took no interest whatever. It ended in my obtaining admission for the two youngest girls to a very humble refuge in Spitalfields, a small place in service having been obtained for the next eldest by their less obdurate relative, who also sent a trifling contribution (as much as he could afford, perhaps) to the institution. The great difficulty was what to do for the eldest child, who, with evident determination and self-denial, had kept that wretched home together. She was of a proud, almost doggedly reserved, disposition (for there is pride of a kind that is exhibited most in poverty, and becomes repulsive at first sight, while it is really only the pardonable fight against pauperism). The father was a Scotchman, and that may explain the temper of this black-haired, firm-eyed girl, who seemed to resent the expressions of interest that were conveyed to her by a kindly female visitor sent to see what could be done to help her. She was able to earn by slop-work only as much as would find her in bread-and-dripping and a little weak tea, and some few pence a-week for rent; and at last was persuaded to accept a temporary home for household training at the refuge to which her sisters had gone, that she might be placed in a situation. That refuge was but a rough and primitive institution; still there was sufficient food, a clean and not uncomfortable bed, and some useful [-344-] teaching. In a fortnight or three weeks I went to inquire after her, and learned that she had disappeared - had evidently disliked the necessary restraints, and was certainly uneasy in consequence of some counter attraction in the place that she had left. I don't know whether I should be wiser now - at all events, at that time I knew little of organisations for the relief of such cases, and there were none in connection with this particular refuge of which I could avail myself; so I set out to see what had become of her, by going once more to the place where she had previously lived. It was in a wretched court in what was then known as the Dog-row.- a thoroughfare leading from Mile-end to Bethnal-green,. surrounded by squalid houses, the abodes of the poorest part of the community; but I was tolerably familiar with the poverty districts of the Great City, and intended to go on till I heard something of the fugitive.
I had very little difficulty. At the chandler's shop I learned that she was back at work in the same place from which she had been absent so short a time, and, on making farther inquiries, was directed to go to 'a black door a little farther down,' where, if I made known my errand, I should perhaps not be admitted; but, if I went upstairs and went into the room, I should see her with a lot of others at work for the woman that hired 'em all by the day. A few farther questions, intended to elicit the probable reasons of her return, were met by dubious shakings of the head, and a hint that there was some 'young chap that she was about with;' but this was altogether so indefinite that I proceeded at once to the [-345-] door in question, and having gained admission, merely mentioned the name of the slop-contractor, and walked as quietly as possible up the steep stair to the first dark landing, where, making a guess at the position of the room, I rapped smartly on the wainscot. I heard a pause in the clamour of voices, a kind of scurry, followed by a shrill 'Who's that?-you can come in;' and having found the handle of the lock, turned it, and stood in the doorway looking at a scene that I am not likely to forget. In the hot fetid atmosphere of a room heated by a dull coke-fire, and fitted only with forms or old chairs and deal tables, about a dozen young girls, some of them mere children, were sitting at work by the dim flare of coarse tallow-candles. Some of them appeared to be half naked, so scantily were they clad; and their unhealthy looks contrasted dreadfully with the kind of evil vivacity in their voices, the cunning leer in their eyes, as though they had not yet lost the expression called up by some vile jest or obscene allusion.
This general impression was flashed on me in a single glance, as it might on any chance visitor; but it was confirmed by the taunting response when I asked if the girl I had come to see was there; by the contemptuous laugh of the tall hard-faced virago, herself comparatively well clad, and in good feather, who, after hearing my errand, bade some one go outside if she wanted to, for there was some one come to talk to her. Need I say that the laugh and the shrill mocking repetition of the girl's name was repeated by the miserable children, who saw that a disregard of 'talking to' was the best way to curry [-346-] favour with their task-mistress? There was no such look in the dark set face, no such tone in the steady voice, of the girl herself, when she rose from behind one of the tables and came to the door. I had not seen her in the hot haze and confusion of the room; and her footsteps made no sound on the floor. Her feet were bare (as were those of others in that room), and she looked pale and weary.
It is not necessary for me to repeat the arguments I used to induce her to leave the place; I did my best to plead with her on her own behalf, even to pointing out the almost inevitable consequences of such a life, amidst such companionship as she would be led to form; but it was of no avail. She could not go back-that was the answer. Had she been unkindly treated, or unduly restrained'? If so, I would make it my business to have that altered. No; the matron was kind; but she couldn't go back; she must stay there. Would she return, if only for a week or two, that some suitable employment might be found for her, even needlework, if she liked that best, but under better and happier associations than those of that wretched room? No. She broke into a short paroxysm of tears, and thanked me for being so kind; but she would not return; she must stay where she was. She had no bad reason for it; she wasn't likely to go wrong, and didn't wish for bad companions; but - it was no use; she couldn't. And with this - except with a last assurance that, should she think better of her determination, as I hoped and prayed she would, she would be received at once, and the matron would let me know, and I would send a lady to speak to, her [-347-] there, and find her work if possible-she walked slowly into that room again, where she disappeared in the hot foul vapour that seemed to fill it, and the door closed.
I have never seen her since; but I heard that when the father came out of prison he removed one, if not both, of the remaining children from the refuge, and once again became 'known to the police,' having added to his weekday profession of cadger that of an occasional Sunday preacher in the open space at Billingsgate.
This account of what I believe is the condition of scores of young girls in the Great City, and my own entire failure in remedying the evil in one single instance, will illustrate the difficulties that beset those who are engaged in such work, and the deep necessity for well-considered organisation in any society which sets itself to accomplish the redemption of our lost little sisters.
There are, however, institutions which have set themselves to this work; and though their operations have not sufficed to meet the terrible need too evident to those who make daily and nightly journeys in the metropolis, they are accomplishing a great object in as far as they can obtain public support. Of one of these - the National Society for the Protection of Young Girls - I can only say, that it would be well for this Great City if it were enabled to vindicate its title by receiving such hearty assistance as would make it as truly a national work in extent, as it is in spirit and intention. Then, instead of the 1,775l. which represents the income [-348-] of the last official year, a sum worthy of the cause would be contributed; instead of one-third of the whole amount being necessarily expended in the working expenses by which the charity is kept before the public, its funds collected, and its objects made known, the amount for these items would only be slightly increased, while the actual sum expended in providing for the inmates would be so largely augmented as to render a new home necessary, and a migration of the present family from their retreat at
There are but about sixty poor
little stray birds in this quiet dovecot; but while we sigh that there are so
few, let us at least remember what they represent, and from what they have
probably been rescued.
Sixty young souls taken from the pollutions of the streets-from the living death that would follow their abandonment by those who should be bound to tend and teach them - from the deep degradation, casual pauperism, or habitual crime that lies before the rougher and less comely - from the deeper degradation still into which those who are personally attractive are, while they are yet mere children, enticed or driven by the foul harpies who lie in wait to furnish the victims of the libertine and the seducer; and to fill our streets with reckless, hopeless wretches, who are the more to be pitied, the more· despairing, because they have lost their faith in human virtue by the loss of all respect for themselves, and so see no hope of redemption.
[-349-] But I cannot here consider this 'lower deep' of the dark chasms that yawn for the girls in that great family of 'everybody's children.' I dare not dwell at all, in these pages, on the horrible conditions in which child-prostitutes - girls, many of them not fourteen years old are kept in bondage by the keepers of houses of ill-fame, or become associates with young thieves and cadgers, with whom they live periodically, adding the occasional wages of their shame to the precarious 'takings' of their paramours. The very mention of such facts may shock some readers; but we all need shocking, or at all events as many of us as are ignorant of such facts, or those of us who know of their existence and yet regard them as a necessary part of 'London life.'
What would be the effect on the nerves even of the most hardened debauchee, if he could suddenly be introduced into a vast assembly of all the children in London - girls under seventeen - who are already old; stricken, and blasted untimely by the vile influences into which they have been dragged or enticed - supposing that, by some miracle of vision, he could see the baby-self of each abandoned creature there - the first pure innocent child's self, sitting a substantial apparition by her side, and pointing with a face of agony and reproach to the thing that it had become? Is the fact the less true because we have no sudden vision? Such an assembly might be gathered, and it would require a great hall to contain it ;-might be gathered in the gloom and darkness of the Great City's byways, the foul haunts of vice and misery-in the bright glare [-350-] and glow of its stately highways, the resorts of rank and fashion and 'undoubted respectability.'
What a meeting it would be ! How terrible the hideous leer of those young eyes, the hectic on those fading faces, with so little childish roundness of contour left beneath the coarse paint How terrible the shrill laugh, the obscene jest, the hysterical attempt at defiance in spite of an awful underlying fear - fear of the accursed traffickers who claim them - fear of those of whom they are at the mercy every day - fear and distrust of kind words and earnest assurances almost as much as of oaths and brutal threats! How terrible the misery that lies before them at sixteen years old, when they have already lost even childlike memories - the memories of that time when they could scarcely distinguish good from evil-so long, and yet so short a time ago, that they have lost it out of their lives!
It matters not, I say, whether we can see such an assembly or not; whether here or hereafter there shall be given to the libertine to estimate in one swift awful glance the work that he set himself to do, and helped to accomplish in this world. The facts remain; the individuals who might form such a shocking' spectacle are now in this Great City, in our very midst; they once were babes, little children as innocent as those that prattle on our own knees. There is no need to go far to learn whence they come, or what is the way of their ruin. They are many of them-
But let me give examples from actual cases where some of these unfortunate creatures have been timely [-351-] snatched from the very brink of ruin by the society which I would have you visit.
aged fourteen; has no mother; father a ship-wright; just able to read and write a little. A very interesting child, but exposed to great evil in the town where she lives. The poor child was driven from home by the cruelty of her father, and took refuge in the house of a kind-hearted woman. She was afraid to go out until the evening, lest her father should meet her and ill-use her, being thus forced into temptation. Her eldest sister, aged sixteen, lives with abandoned women, and it is the father's wish that both girls should follow that sad course. The case is very urgent and painful. The poor child is at present uninjured, but must be lost unless she is admitted.
'--aged fourteen, is an illegitimate child of --' The person who married the mother has often terribly ill-treated the girl. Both parents, who might otherwise be respectable, are addicted to excessive drinking. An elder sister is abandoned, and there are several younger children. The child is very ignorant, but teachable. The only hope, humanly speaking, for this girl to be saved from utter ruin is, to remove her from the evil influences to which she has been exposed from infancy, aged thirteen, has neither father nor mother. Her mother died when she was very young. The father married a second wife; he had a comfortable home, and maintained his family in respectability. This child was sent to Sunday and other schools. Upon his death the [-352-] home was broken up, and the stepmother took to drinking. The child was totally neglected, and left to wander about the street. She soon fell into bad company, and must inevitably have fallen, but for the kindness of a lady, who brought the case under the notice of the society. She is a most interesting intelligent child.
A little girl, fourteen years of age, came to the office some time since, poorly clad, and evidently half starved. She asked for admission into the Home, and closed her appeal by saying, "I have not a friend in all the world." Father, mother, brothers, and sisters were all dead. She had wandered about the streets until nature was well-nigh exhausted, roughly and rudely treated by some, kindly by others. It is not easy to say what would have become of her if she had not been directed to this haven of refuge. She was received, and afterwards became a teacher in a British school, and ultimately in the school where she was educated. A more loving beautiful Christian character could not be found. She died recently, but with a 'happy certainty of eternal life.'
Now these are examples of the cases on whose behalf this Labour of Love appeals. From its establishment in 1885 to April last year, it had received 1,020 young girls, of whom 900 had been sent to service, and 120 returned to their friends. The average number of inmates during the year ending April 1869 had been 60; 24 having been newly admitted, 10 sent to service, and 4 restored to their friends.
It is a pleasant house this home at Wanstead, a [-353-] modest double - fronted building, such as auctioneers' advertisements generally represent as a commodious residence, standing in its own grounds, and adapted to the requirements of a family.' That is to say, it is the usual single - storied dwelling, of which there are so many in the locality of Wanstead, Leyton, and Wood- ford; with a portico over its front-door, on each side of which are good-sized rooms and a broad staircase immediately opposite, in the square hall, with branches right and left to the bedrooms; the kitchens are built out on one side, and the back of the house is extended by a deep 'bay,' the drawing-room windows in which look on the lawn. In front is a kind of carriage-drive approached through gates, and a productive kitchen-garden; a good yard, where the outbuildings are converted into laundry and lavatories; and some open ground where it is proposed to build a chapel, which, besides being available for the religious instruction of the inmates and for lectures and meetings, will also be intended for the benefit of the inhabitants in the immediate neighbourhood. The cost of this building will not exceed 450l.; and Lady Morrison, to whose generous efforts in endowing the chapel of the Merchant Seamen's Orphan Asylum I have already referred, has bequeathed 200l. for a future chapel-fund, and has kindly promised that should the money be wanted and the committee decide to borrow it, she will pay the interest that may be charged. To the healthy situation, the out-door exercise, the plain but ample and regular supply of food, and the general liveliness, combined with a certain [-354-] quietude that characterises the place, may be attributed the remarkable absence of any serious cases of sickness from this institution, except those which were constitutional. Only two exceptions occurred during the last official year, and they were both consumptive cases, and both in the first instance hereditary. One girl was sent to the Consumption Hospital, where she died; and the other, if she has not yet passed away, cannot possibly recover. No other deaths have occurred in the institution for thirty-four years. The schoolrooms,-workrooms, matron's sitting-room, committee-room, and the dormitories, with their neat beds and windows opening to the clear pure country air, are all as clean as scrubbing and 'elbow-grease' can make them. The cooking, some of the washing, and the household work, are performed by the girls themselves; all of whom, with only occasional exceptions, are trained for domestic servants. They are, however, directed by the sub-matron, who represents the household instruction, just as the governess represents the education of the establishment. The household consists of the matron (who has charge of the entire family), sub-matron, and governess (who has monitors to assist her); and out-of-doors, a lodge-keeper and gardener, both of whom are handy fellows, the latter of course contributing towards the general well-being of the establishment by the produce grown under his care.
The girls admitted to the institution are mostly taken to the office of the society, 28 New Broad-street, by some lady connected with the charity, to whom they have been referred, or by whom they have been rescued [-355-] from destitution, after which, the particulars being verified, the committee admit the applicant if there is a vacancy, and if the funds are sufficient to enable them to receive new inmates. In country cases, the papers of the society are furnished upon application; and if on perusal the case should be thought to be suitable one, the correspondent may apply for the necessary printed form. When this is returned within a few days properly filled up, together with a medical certificate, it is submitted at the next meeting of the committee, and the result of the application is made known to the person sending it. Should the case be successful, the girl must be sent in charge of some trustworthy person to the office of the society by eleven o'clock in the morning. Afterwards she will be examined by one of the honorary medical officers of the society, the two physicians being Dr. E. L. Birkett and Dr. T. M. Daldy; and the surgeons, Mr. N. Henry Stevens and G. T. W. Mugliston, M.D. The person bringing the applicant must then take her to the home with the proper order for admission, the travelling expenses to Wanstead to be paid, and the child conveyed thither without expense to the institution.
In speaking of the healthy appearance and general neatness and modesty, as well as cheerfulness, of the girls at Woodhouse, I cannot do better than quote without comment the daily routine there; premising, of course, that it is varied by some holidays, treats, and special occasions, as well as by out-door games and walks in the forest neighbourhood.
[-356-] 'At 6.30 the girls rise, and, after airing, make beds. At 7.0 they lead in order to lavatory to wash; then to their work-some to scrub bedrooms, some to laundry, some kitchen, parlour, scullery, &c. At 8.30 breakfast. At 8.50 prayers. At 9.15 prepare for school. At 9.30 school commences; laundry-, kitchen-, scullery-maids remain out. At 12.30 school closes; recreation. At 1.30 dinner. At 2.0 prepare for school. At 2.30 school commences. At 4.30 school closes; recreation. At 6.0 supper. At 6.30 dining-room scrubbed. At 6.50 evening class. At 7.30 prayers. At 8.0 retire to bed; some remain to scrub schoolroom.
'This arrangement is for the winter months, and is subject to a little alteration in summer. The various duties of the girls are changed every month.
'The following is the general dietary for each day. The meat is sometimes changed. Now and then a fish dinner is provided. There is no cooking on the Sunday.
'For breakfast and supper: bread, butter, and cocoa; occasionally tea is given instead Of cocoa. For dinner: Sunday, cold beef and bread; Monday, boiled rice, with sugar; Tuesday, stewed meat and vegetables; Wednesday, pudding, fruit, and other sorts; Thursday, soup in winter; bread-and-cheese in summer; Friday, boiled legs of mutton, with vegetables; Saturday, broth, with. vegetables.
'There are no restrictions as to quantity, each meal being under the superintendence and control of the sub-matron. Each girl is supplied with as much food as she desires and the sub-matron thinks is needful for her.
[-357-] 'Everything that would savour of extravagance is prohibited. They may remain two, three, or four years; but before they are sent out they must give satisfactory evidence that they are qualified for the situation upon which they are about to enter. The committee suggest that mistresses may greatly aid them in their work, by not expecting too much of the girls, and by watching over them and instructing them in their various duties. The order and discipline of a public institution are so different from the duties devolving upon a servant in a private family, and the change upon the transfer of a girl from one to the other is so great, that the utmost care on the part of the mistress is most important.'
With the last paragraph of this statement I so cordially concur, that I regard it as in itself an evidence of the considerate management of the institution, the object of which is, in its own words, 'to save young girls (not thieves) between the ages of eleven and fifteen, whether orphans or otherwise, who are from any circumstance in danger of becoming abandoned; to educate, train, feed, clothe, and prepare them for future usefulness as domestic servants; to protect them during the most critical period of life; to land them safe into womanhood; to procure situations for them; to provide them with an outfit, and generally to watch over them; to advise, counsel, and reward them; and in every possible way to become their guardians.'
If the considerations that I have already advanced, and the fact that applications made are now rejected for [-358-] want of funds, be not sufficient to bespeak a regard for its claims, I know of none stronger. All that I can suggest is, that you should induce others to visit Woodhouse itself. It is only a short and agreeable journey to the western side of Wanstead-flats, between the top of Cann Hall-lane and Wigram-lane. Both of these lanes run from the Leytonstone-road, the former not far from Maryland-point, the latter from Harrow-green. Wood-house can be easily reached from Stratford by Leytonstone-road; from Forest-gate by the western side of the Flats, keeping the road to the left hand; and from Leyton by the Union to Leytonstone-road and Harrow-green; and the asylum is open for the inspection of ladies every day between ten and four, except Sundays. Subscriptions are received by Mr. J. B. Talbot, the secretary, at 28 New Broad-street; and subscribers may recommend yearly one case for every guinea, and donors one case for every five guineas. This plan will secure a thorough investigation, and the selection of proper objects. Free cases can only be admitted in very extreme circumstances. So that much remains to be done in this and similar institutions before the deep reproach, that cries in the appeal of these lost little sisters can be effectually removed.
Let us then take to heart the truth that the neglected
destitute little ones of this Great City are Everybody's Children, and therefore
inalienably our own for good or for evil, and we may learn to realise the awful,
and yet the glorious, responsibility that awaits us.
[-359-] We cannot plead the excuse of ignorance, at all events. Let us refuse to take the lesson, and brutishly harden ourselves against instruction as we may, these little ones are always amongst us, to instruct and to warn us, if we would but acknowledge their teaching.
That was an awful text which was given by way of reply to a good man, who asked one of those deserted boys, of whom I have spoken at such length, whether he knew anything about the Bible.
'What is it?' asked he in return; anything to eat?'
There was a world of suggestiveness in the answer, whether it denoted ignorance or was only a cunning repartee. It expressed the urgent need of both questioners; need of the bread that perishes, and the right acceptance of the bread of life. As an unconscious reproach upon religious profession it stands almost unequalled.
But the living text, the perpetual warning, is among us. We cannot go abroad in our streets and fail to see it, whether we apply it or not. We cannot even evade it by saying that these deserted ones should be the children of the State. What is the State but an abstraction which means ourselves, in as far as we form a portion of the nation? We surely cannot mean the government, for the government is only the mode in which we execute the recognised principles of the laws under which we live; and all that the government at present does for Everybody's Children is to pretend to ignore their existence, until the miserable results of our negligence are obvious in crime, and the culprits become amenable to the law.
[-360-] Looking back at the vast material organisation and the splendid examples of civilisation which existed in the heathen world centuries ago-side by side with the deepest debasement of the common people, and a blighting cruelty and neglect of all human claims, which would have resulted in utter chaos but for the assertion of the common salvation and the inalienable equality of human nature which are the doctrines of Christianity - we may well feel a kind of terror at the resemblance to be detected between the condition of these ancient cities and that of London in respect of the numbers of those who are growing up year after year untaught and un-cared for.
It seems ever to be the case, that when a nation begins to regard material progress or the adaptation of the means for making itself comfortable as the true life, and so to miss that which is needed to make 'the whole of man,' a heavy penalty has to be paid for it, unless the reaction sets in before the blow falls. It would be, perhaps, too much to say that we have neglected religion for railways, and have even in our very charities forgotten that neither we nor our fellows can live by bread alone; but it seems evident that in the effort to cheapen and extend and push to its utmost limit each means of physical convenience, we have not reflected that the very machinery of comfort and so-called progress may become a hideous tyranny, that will enthral us to our destruction unless we discriminate between the means and the end, the function and the spirit.
It is not enough that we should pay the two pence [-361-] to the innkeeper on behalf of him who has fallen among thieves; we must pour out the wine and oil of life for him if we would heal his wounds. If this be so for those who have grown up amid the strange and diverse influences of our modern civilisation, what is needed for the little ones who are perishing for lack of knowledge while no man seems to regard them?
The slaves who sat and sunned themselves on Alexandrian quays, the canaille who starved and died of disease, and rotted in the worst quarters of the old pagan cities, or were bribed, from the fierce recollection of their wrongs, with gladiatorial fights and distributions of bread,-were not always suggestive of the terrible end; but we know what happened at last.
Such an allusion will be smiled at by some readers, perhaps, as a mere hyperbolical flourish. Let it be so; but let us take these facts to heart: that we have been from year to year generally increasing the number of paupers, so that now, if the whole adult metropolitan population were divided into groups of eight persons each, every such group has to maintain one other person- That the money actually contributed by way of poor-rates and to various charities - but too often contributed in such a manner, and with so little personal and direct interest in the result, as to be of comparatively little value - is sufficient effectually to alleviate every case of distress, disease, and want. That the distribution and application of a large proportion of this amount to real necessities are so defective as to leave a vast number of destitute persons, beside a multitude of [-362-] homeless and almost friendless children, uncared for. That there are a hundred thousand such children now in London destitute of all proper guardianship. That the statistics of crime show not only that the criminal class is not sensibly diminishing in its numbers, but that our~ penal arrangements have seemed to tend towards making it more and more a class, the members of which are many of them relegated to gaol with little or no hope of their reformation, until they become more dangerous to society, and are sometimes the terror even of our principal streets.
If we stay for the settlement of mutual accusations, for the results of discussions of statesmen versus clergy, politicians versus philosophers, and political economists versus philanthropists, all wrangling about systems, and trying to settle, a scheme which shall appear perfect at first sight, the army of little martyrs will have grown up into-what?
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