Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Toilers in London; or Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, [Anon] 1889 - Chapter 12 - Foreign Servants

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 "WHAT can be done to stop the immigration of girls from Germany into England ?"
    This question was put by a Commissioner to the German Consul at his office in Finsbury Circus. Captain von Roeder pointed to the piles of letters on his table, and said:
    "A German girl is a free agent. We cannot prevent her from leaving Germany; all we can do is to warn her against coming to London. I have heart-rending cases here every week, and I feel very helpless. But things are much better than they used to be. With the help of Mr. Coote and others, I have been able to expose many of the fraudulent agencies. Directly I hear of a place that employs bad agents over in Germany, I communicate with the German police. It is very difficult to catch these agents, for they are so cunning, but we have managed [-142-] to put a stop to most of them, and the box-trick is nearly played out. Still the girls will come. They hear of the high wages over here, and they think if once they set foot in London they will make their fortune. They forget that the competition is greater here than in our country, and that things are more expensive. We do all we can to warn them against coming. We write in the German newspapers, and we print notices. But the girls come nevertheless, and the result is a terrible amount of suffering."
    Captain von Roeder then showed our Commissioner a letter he had received that morning from a German girl in a lunatic asylum.
    "Her brain would not stand all the trouble she was obliged to go through, and now she writes me these letters," he said. "German girls go mad over here, and many find their way to the workhouse. I do my best, but it is a very difficult business."
    As our Commissioner left the office she passed through a crowd of poor foreigners who were waiting to see the Consul. One poor man was crying bitterly over his papers. Another was wringing his hands, and asking in broken English what he was to do, for he had not a penny left, and he could not find employment. Captain von Roeder certainly has a painful and difficult [-143-] task, and only those who have witnessed his patient kindness know how to appreciate him.
    The next visit was to Gordon House, 8, Endsleigh Gardens, N.W., the well-known home for foreign servants and governesses. Miss Seebo, the Superintendent, was away. The lady taking her place brought two girls under our Commissioner's notice. The one was an Austrian, the other a Roumanian. They had been two months in London, and they were literally starving. Neither of them could speak a word of English. The Austrian was a fair girl of about twenty, the Roumanian had dark eyes and hair, and an eager little face. They had been to the German Consul, the Russian Consul, and the Austrian Consul; and they were then on their way to see what Prince Ghika could do to help them.
    The Austrian girl had no parents; she wanted to go to Canada, where she has a sister. In her hand she held a dirty bit of newspaper, which enclosed her sister's photograph and address. Her idea was that if she came to London she could easily earn enough money to get on to Canada. She arrived with 30s., and was taken from the ship to a lodging, near the docks. While there she met a German woman who had known her parents, and this woman took [-144-] compassion on her forlorn condition. With this woman she had lived ever since her 30s. were exhausted. She had sold all her clothes, everything but the few rags she had on, before she came to Gordon House. Her feet were bleeding, and she was so weak that she found it difficult to stand upright. She was rather pretty, and had come from the tradesmen's class in Vienna. During her two months in England she had had two or three situations among people near the docks, but she had been turned away because she was slow in picking up English.
    The Roumanian was also on her way to America. She brought two pounds to London, and meant to make enough here to pay for her passage. But the two pounds were spent while she was in lodgings. All her clothes and her box had been sold, and she must have drifted into the streets or the workhouse if the Austrian girl had not met her, and taken her to the room of the German woman. She had, also, held several small situations, and had worked for two days in a factory ; but from all these places she had been turned away because she could not speak English.
    It was arranged that our Commissioner should accompany the Superintendent to the house of the woman with whom the girls were lodging, [-145-] in order to see if their story could be corroborated. But it was difficult to discover the situation of this house, for all the girls could say was that it lay in the Jews' Quarter, 50, Siegel Street, and that it was four hours away from Endsleigh Gardens.
    Meanwhile the Superintendent brought some dinner. But although they had not eaten anything that day they declined the food, saying that they must not eat the meat, as it had not been killed in Jewish fashion.
    "I have nothing but my religion left," the Austrian said, with tears in her blue eyes. "I would rather starve than do anything against my religion."
    After they had had some coffee our Commissioner took them to Aldgate, and set out from thence to find "the Jews' Quarter." When they saw the Whitechapel Church they were delighted. "We make our way from that," they said (in German). "It is the only thing that looks like home here in London."
    After passing through innumerable back streets they stopped at Grey Eagle Street, which they had written "Siegel Street." Here our Commissioner found their hostess in one of the smallest but cleanest rooms she has ever seen in Whitechapel. The woman is called "Frau [-146-] Friedmanlieber." She cannot speak English, She explained that the girls were "green," and that she kept them there for fear that they should get into trouble. But her husband has lost his work, and now they are all starving. She had two little children, and it was quite impossible for her to feed the girls, although they might lie on the floor. Every other night, she explained, her husband lay on the floor and let one of the girls share her bed, but he could not do that always. The girls did their best to find work, but no one wanted them-there were already too many English girls in England-and they must go into the workhouse.
    It ended in taking the girls to the Jewish Board of Guardians, where a handsome dark-haired man promised to look after them. He was especially pleased to hear that the Austrian girl had refused to eat a Christian dinner, and told our Commissioner to send him all similar cases that came under her notice.
    We have given the histories of these girls at some length, because they are very typical of the stories we hear about German servants. No other country deluges us with young women like Germany. It is a serious fact that German girls add largely to the class of fallen women in London. When a German girl loses her self-[-147-]respect she sinks much lower than a French girl, or an English girl, and her case is more hopeless. Germans arc tempted over here by the high wages of English servants. A girl arrived lately in London who had been earning only 5 a year in Germany. She wanted to go to Liverpool Street, but said " Liverpool," so she was sent on there by the guard. The German Consul in Liverpool returned her to the German Consul in London, and he forwarded her to Gordon House.
    Board and lodging can be had at Gordon House for 4s. 6d. a week, including breakfast, dinner, and tea. A bed costs 2s. 6d. per week, and a separate cubicle can be had for 4s. per week. Separate meals cost as follows: Breakfast 2d., dinner 6d., tea  2d., supper 1d. This Home is a great boon to foreign servants, and mistresses who dismiss foreign girls ought to give them this address, instead of turning them out into the streets, as is only too often done at the shortest possible notice.
    We heard of a poor French bonne lately who was rescued by a gentleman from a crowd of boys near Westminster. She wanted to find Victoria Station, and had lost her way, to the great amusement of the London urchins. The poor thing was talking fast in her native language, and struggling to escape from her tormentors. [-148-] She had been turned away from her situation, and was on her way to Paris.
    Foreign servants often find it difficult to get on with English servants, and the result is quarrels that end in the foreigner being dismissed. They receive, as a rule, less wages than the English, and they do not want "perquisites." They work much harder than the English. These things are especially true of Germans, and the English servants resent their "ways," including their dirty habits. There is no doubt that foreign servants are less "up to the mark" than English servants they are apt to be slovenly and untidy. They are also very touchy, and cry over trifles which English girls laugh at. Added to these thing& they have many foreign habits which our countrywomen think uncanny, such as making mysterious potions when they are ill, collecting herbs, and cooking sundry dishes, into which they introduce (so the English servants persist) frogs and slugs, without which they could not live away from their own country.
    Mistresses who wish to keep foreign servants should try to get two or three from the same country. Then things go on smoothly, and the foreigners do not grow homesick.
    Captain von Roeder speaks very highly of the Travellers' Aid Society (which we have already [-149-] mentioned) and the other societies who meet foreign girls when they arrive in England. Sharpers are always on the look-out for such victims, and a great deal of mischief is done under the pretence of showing kindness. Thus Germans and French people meet their countrywomen at the landing-places, and take them to bad lodging-houses. Case after case has come under our notice in which the girl has been robbed of her clothes and her box by sharpers who offered to help her. We cannot say if English girls are equally credulous, but German girls seem to lend an ear to the first person who offers them assistance.
    Thus we heard of a German girl the other day who arrived in London with a chest of drawers that contained all her property. She had come over in the steerage, and was on her way to a situation in Woolwich. When she arrived in London no one came to meet her. She had no idea how to find the train, and was quite overcome when she heard that very few trains go on Sunday to Woolwich. A first-class passenger, a young Englishman, who had made her acquaintance on the boat, asked her to spend the day with him, offering to show her "the sights of London." She drove off with him to his lodgings, with the chest of drawers on the top of the cab, [-150-] not knowing where he lived or anything about him.
    Such are the girls who make Captain von Roeder shake his head and groan over his letters. When they get into trouble their first thought is, "I must go to the German Consul."
    He tries to harden his heart, but we venture to say that no German girl wants help if Captain von Roeder is able to give it.