JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
Reading Dickens now and stopping for a view of socially-conscious England via the excellent Victorian London website in the work of George Godwin's 79-page critical exposition London Shadows, a Glance at the "Homes" of the Thousands (1854). The images are awakening and abrupt--all the bitter observation of George Orwell, only told much more quickly, like a person trying to describe a raging house fire before the thing burned itself out. Its a powerful work, and I can't help but think that those reading it in 1854 must have been appalled not only by the deep visualization of the state of the working poor, but also by its scope, and the possible revelation of England's basic bedrock.
There are any more works to chose from at Victorian London--I decided to pry out the images from the Godwin work along with his commentary on them. It is truly a stunning work.
"When every man is his own end, all things will come to a bad end."
"SOME of our readers will perhaps say to us, - "Your statements are too truthful, too minute, and they give us pain." We regret to be forced to give pain what we have seen and what we have written have caused more grief to ourselves than to our readers; but the necessity is so great, the duty, as it seems to us, so imperative, that we cannot yet either pause in our course or change it. It is time the whole truth were known it is time that "improvers" were made to feel strongly that when they knock down houses occupied by the poor in the neighbourhood of their "work," drive them forth, and do not..."
"The water stands here and there in deep puddles. In the courts we saw were conveniences, as shown in the engraving; a dust-heap (A), formed by a large stone slab, well filled with dust and refuse. "The dust," said a person living there, "is not often taken away." At (C) is a water-tank. These are all shared amongst the lodgers in the cellars, say eight persons. If only five persons occupy each of the eight rooms in front, and six the two rooms in the back court, this is all the accommodation of water, &c., provided for fifty-four persons..."
On ascending the wooden steps shown in the engraving, we find the room which we have engraved (Fig. 2). We have not selected this as a harrowing example of London dwellings, although it is had enough. The court is enclosed back and front by tall houses. The room is little more than 7 feet long by 6 feet wide; the greatest height 6 feet 9 inches. The narrow bedstead, which is doubled up in the daytime, reaches, when let down, close to the fire-place. The roof and part of the walls are green and mildewed with damp : through parts of the roof the sky is distinctly visible. Our engraving makes the room appear too large.
It may be useful to note, where practicable, the class of persons who occupy the various places visited. The room engraved is occupied by a married couple of about twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, [-6-] and a little girl about two years old. The young man had been brought up amongst poor persons in the neighbourhood: his education had been neglected, but he had been employed in various ways until he obtained a situation as light porter. He married a respectable young woman, a servant. A short time after marriage he lost his situation, and failed to obtain another. By some means he and his wife got into the method of cutting thin wooden splints, which are used in public-houses and cigar-shops. This, he says, is "poor work : the price has become so much reduced, we are glad if we can manage to get two meals a day, and then but poor ones. We seldom can afford to get a fire except on Sunday, and perhaps on part of Monday; and this place is very cold, there are so many holes. I have spoken repeatedly to the landlord, but he has done nothing. I pay 1s. 6d. a week. I am 6s. 6d. back in my rent. The rain during the last wet weather poured into the room, sometimes upon the bed. In the morning and during the wet days, we have a pool of water under the bed and on the floor. No one lives below; it is a kind of stable, and very dirty. The little child is often ill. I have parted with many of my things." The child was small, drooping, and bleached, like many of the plants which attempt to vegetate in such places. Yet this is not an example of the direst stage of London poverty. It is but a step in the story. Here are fire-irons, and various matters which would bring a price: there the neat hand of woman - the world's blessing, and who in her lowest degradation has a perception of the beautiful, - has given a dash of taste to the arrangement. Above the fire-place are several little framed prints; one representing two lovers walking on a terrace, overlooking trees and gardens bright in the light of the clear sky: another shows a richly-furnished chamber, with a couple of more mature years : there are also some unframed prints of the young royal family, and a row of small beads are festooned in the centre. On the mantelpiece are various little baskets, and other nicknacks of no great value, but evidently relics of a more prosperous time; a little key, perhaps of some prized workbox. The cupboard without a door contains an odd collection of crockery; a candlestick, with the extinguisher on the last snuff; no food visible, except a small crust on the shelf beside the teapot. Poor as this place is, it is still a home; and there are several thousands of these struggling homes in London. It is painful to think what may be the next stage of this young couple's poverty. The husband may, perhaps, not get another situation as porter, or anything more profitable than the employment in which he is at present engaged. His family will probably increase. The various illnesses of his wife, and perhaps children, will cause his little property to be periodically parted with. The landlord will see when there is barely enough left to pay arrears of rent, and the cost of bringing an execution. The goods will be seized, and conveyed away to a neighbouring broker, and then the still young couple and children are thrown houseless upon the world..."
The sketch of "Paradise-row" (Fig. 3) shows a clump of houses which much belie their name, with part of the new railway station in the background. It is a neglected and unwholesome place, inhabited chiefly by costermongers. This row has long been the wonder of all visitors : in front of the dilapidated buildings are heaps of refuse the houses are of small dimensions, some of the doors near here are not more than five feet six inches high : and the smell of this place, particularly in hot weather, is dreadful, caused by the decay of refuse. Leaving this point, we progress towards the northmost of the houses nearer the St. Pancras-road, which are occupied by costermongers, nightmen, chimney-sweeps, and other very pool people, who pay four, five, and six shillings per week for these dirty and confined dwellings, of four small rooms each. Wooden sheds are fixed for donkeys, used to draw trucks,-indeed, several of these most useful animals to costermongers occupy part of the family residence: dogs and pigeons are plentiful, and many desperate attempts are made to cultivate plants..."
Continuing towards the north, there is a hilly street, formerly called Mutton-hill, now Vine-street; the centre of this street is reached by a sharp descent from each end. At the bottom of the banks, for these were formerly the green sides of the Fleet, are two walls, with a door in each, on which are painted communications from the Commissioners of Sewers. Many would pass here and imagine that these doors led to some neatly-paved yards; we have, however, removed the screen, that our readers may themselves see what is really behind it, namely, the Fleet.
At night, or rather early in the morning, we visited some of the low lodging-houses in the neighbourhood. The moon was shining gloriously over old Bartholomew's; the "Smoothfield" looked more like a lake than a "cattle-market," when we left the station with a serjeant of police to pursue the inquiry; but what we saw by its light, aided by our companion's "bull's eye," we will tell in the next chapter. Bacon says, "It is a poor centre of a man's actions, himself. It is right earth; for that only stands fast upon his own centre; whereas all things that have affinity with the heavens, move upon the centre of another which they benefit." But acting even on this centre (Bacon's inference is right, though his illustration is wrong, for the earth is but part of a whole), thinking only of ourselves we must, if [-13-] we are wise, look to the health, the well-being, and the advancement of those beneath and around us, if it be but for the effect neglect of these may hare on our own health, well-being, and advancement.
"There are fifteen houses in this narrow place. Let us take one at random, and look into the interior. We have, Asmodeus-like, removed the front wall from the top to the bottom, that our readers may examine without fear, and at their leisure, the extraordinary and distressing scene it presents (Fig. 5). Let us schedule its contents, beginning with the ground-floor front. There are no bedsteads, chairs, or tables, a few ragged clothes are drying before a little fire in the grate, above the mantel are a looking-glass about three inches high and some torn prints of the Crucifixion, &c.; in the cupboards, without doors, are pieces of broken crockery; a kind of bed in one corner, with children asleep; the floor rotten in many parts, the walls and ceiling sadly cracked. The rent is 2s. 3d. per week, which is called for every Monday, and must be paid at latest on Wednesday.
The ground-floor back presented a sad scene of distress, - the man, his wife, and some children earn a living by chopping fire-wood; the man had been ill, and not able to rise for two days. He was lying on a quantity of wood-shavings, and was partly covered with an old black and ragged blanket; his skin did not appear as if it had been washed for weeks; he was very ill, and evidently in a state of fever; his wife was almost equally dirty. "We have no wood to chop, was the expression of their ultimate distress. This room was much dilapidated, and they had suffered greatly during late severe weather, owing to the broken condition of the windows. The rent is 1s. 9d. per week : the window overlooks a back yard, the condition of which was shocking: the senses of these poor creatures have, however, beconie so deadened, that they seem only to be susceptible of cold and hunger, and the grossest impurity of the atmosphere is in no way cared for. Viewing the unwholesome state of the back yard of this house (the others are equally bad), and considering the numerous places in London where similar accumulations of filth are allowed, we cannot but wonder that before this time the necessity for the formation of a sanitary police has not been admitted.
The first-floor, both back and front, was crowded with inhabitants. The people acknowledged that fifteen persons slept in the two little rooms the previous night; the walls were cracked and dirty, and the ceiling constantly falls upon the floor while the inmates are taking their food : one woman said that a part of the cracked hearthstone from above had fallen amongst the children. Some of the people in the front room were employed in chopping firewood, which the children are sent out to sell. It is difficult, since the new police regulations respecting lodging-houses, to get a true account of the number who actually reside in these places, as the parties are afraid [-19-] of the particulars getting to the ears of the authorities; they, however, confessed that fifteen grown people and children slept on this floor: the rent of the front room is 2s. 3d.; back, 1s. 9d. Continuing our way up-stairs, we found the state of the staircase and the rooms worse and worse.
In the front room two-pair, when our eyes had become accustomed to the Rembrandtish gloom, we found fifteen persons: some had been selling onions, &c. in the streets; some begging; one or two were seemingly bricklayers' labourers; and others had been working at the carrion heaps in the neighbourhood. It was a motley group: a characteristic Irishman was seated on the top of an iron cooking-pot engaged in conversation with one whom he called "Mr. D." at the chimney corner. They were exceedingly polite, and no gentleman in his arm-chair could have been more courteous than our friend on his iron throne. It is, unfortunately, difficult to get truth from the poor Irish, who will impose all manner of fables upon a stranger, and we did not find this case an exception. Nearly all the Irish by whom this court is occupied agree in stating that they were driven from Ireland by sheer distress, and that many fled from almost certain death at the time of the great famine. The rent of this floor is the same as that of the floor below.
The attic, in a state of repose, is shown in the top cut. This, if possible, exhibits greater poverty than below. The walls are full of large holes, and the light is visible through the roof. The rent of the attics is the same as of the floor below : it may seem strange that the prices of the rooms should not vary, but this uniformity is effected by the landlord removing those whose necessities are greater, or who may be a shilling or so in arrear of rent, to the upper quarters..."
" Fig. 6. represents a scene which we have met with more than once during our perambulations,-the coffin of a dead child in the midst of the sleeping living. In a single room the family sleep, work, eat, and perform the various duties of life in company with the dead, and the evil is increased by the length of time the poverty of parties obliges them to retain the corpse until what they consider proper preparations have been made for the funeral: this seldom takes place in less than a week; instances have been known of the interment having been put off for twelve days or a fortnight. This is a difficult matter to deal with, for the prejudices of the uninstructed are strong against the removal of the bodies until they are taken to the graveyard. It is most desirable that the feeling should be overcome, and proper places be provided for the reception and retention of the dead until the proper time for interment."
"When we were in the Bishopsgate district, we made an examination of the houses occupied by the weavers in Spitalfields, and gathered some information concerning them which may interest our readers. The distress here is very great, and although the houses are for the most part in better condition than some we have described, and the weavers a respectable class of persons, the close crowded rooms in which they work, with other local causes in operation, produce illness and shorten life. We give a sketch of one of the rooms we entered, where the father and mother were continuing their midnight toil amidst the sleeping children spread about the apartment (Fig. 7)."
"They were at work on white watered silk for wedding dresses!"
" Angel-court, Long-acre, is a wretched place. The six houses have one site for water, closet, and dust- heap, and here is a view of it (Fig. 8). The place containing these conveniences for say 150 persons, is in a small yard or court. Here, the people state, they are not short of water; on inquiry, we found that there was a tank for the reception of water somewhere underground; we were unable to discover the exact position, but it is not likely to be far from the pump shown in the above engraving. Here there is nothing but surface drainage, and in consequence the refuse of the closet (A), &c. must pass into a cesspool, most probably in the neighbourhood of the subterranean water-tank."
"The appearance presented by the ground of Old St. Pancras's parish is very extraordinary. Unaided imagination would scarcely reach to it, and we have therefore pencilled down its general aspect. An account of the number of bodies here deposited would startle the most apathetic.
"St. Pancras' ground is truly a distressing sight. The stones - an assembly of reproachful spirits - are falling all ways; the outbuildings put up on its confines are rent, and the paved pathways are everywhere disrupted, such is the loose and quaking state of the whole mass. The practice of pit-burial is still continued in this ground. When we were there last, we found a hole with six coffins in it, waiting its complement of about double that number!
"St. Giles's ground, the soil of which is a stiff clay, was in a disgusting state, - a mere mud-pond in that portion which is appropriated to the burial of the poor.
"Parts of the London burial-grounds which have been properly "worked," as they call it, are filled from a depth of about 13 feet up to 3 or 4 feet from the surface; our readers may see by a reference to the annexed engraving (Fig. 12) of the surface of St. Giles's-in-the-Fields, that the graves are dug as nearly as possible side by side.
A full-sized grave would be from 6 feet 3 inches to 6 feet 6 inches in length; the measurement we made of the raised tops of these graves showed them not more than 4 feet 6 inches in length. A square portion of the graveyard is appropriated for present use; the 4 feet 6-inch graves soon become less, and speedily are not to be recognised by the friends of the deceased. A flat space is soon made for fresh graves, which are dug, of course, not so deep, and thus the ground is "managed" until no more coffins can find room. We need not ask if three or four feet of loose earth, and slight wooden coffins, will contain the fluids and gases of which these bodies are composed. These, quickly liberated, pass into the air and do their evil work.
The retention of burial-places in the midst of the living is a costly wickedness and a national disgrace.
"We were much shocked by the intensely ignorant condition of the children in Short's-gardens. Those whom we questioned, about nine or ten years of age, could not read, and said they had "never heard of God." A dog-fight produced a scene such as we will not attempt to describe-a scene miserably sad: heads were in every window, and the dilapidated quarter seemed filled with vicious life. As the place, so the people. The yard in which the scene occurred was strewed with vegetables and other refuse; it -was Saturday night, and the dust-heap was overflowing; the pavement was broken, and contained pools of unwholesome water; the whole place was filthy in the extreme."
"The formation of sewers in this neighbourhood now going on is hailed with gratitude by the inhabitants. Some time ago we referred to the cesspools in use here, and we will assist that description by a diagram which exhibits the condition of many houses in other places besides Drury-lane. The drains run in at A, B: D and G are the cesspools: the overflow is pumped away at H. C, C, are dark cellars: a drain connecting the two cesspools: with gratings at E and F. A whole volume of description would not speak so forcibly."
"A supply of water in the poorer neighbourhoods on Sundays, particularly during the summer months, is greatly needed. At present, the water is generally turned on on Saturdays at about three o'clock in the afternoon, and no further supply is to be had until the middle of the following Monday. In hundreds of instances the water-tank is quite inadequate for the numerous families surrounding it, and many have no vessels for water in their own dwellings; the consequence is, that in most cases the supply is soon exhausted, and the people in these places are not only left without the means of washing their hands and face on the Sabbath-day, but actually have "not a drop to drink."
"Smoke, it has been often shown, can be avoided, and the appearance and atmosphere of London may be completely altered. Ascend the principal tower of the Crystal Palace, at Sydenham, in the middle of the day, and all London lies shrouded in a dense haze, although at four in the morning from the same spot you may see every church in the metropolis; the City churches ranging in long rows, St. Paul's, Primrose-hill, Highgate and Hampstead, the Queen's Palace, Westminster Abbey; in fact, all the materials which form this great abode of humanity are distinctly in view, as distinctly almost as a scene in Italy or on the Rhine. London "gets up;" and then the gas-works, the brewers, the bakers, and various other manufacturers, as well as the good housewife, soon, by their united exertions, envelop London in a cloud which can be seen hanging over it for miles off like a sable pall or a sad thought.
If any of our country readers not living in manufacturing towns, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and some other places, think that our illustration of the Hyde-park sheep is too highly coloured, let them, if they happen to visit London, remember the condition of clean shirts and gloves after a day's use in the country, and compare them with those used at their metropolitan visit: let them also look at their hands and face: wash as often as they choose, the water will be of such a distinct blackness that no mistake can possibly be made respecting the extent and properties of London smoke.
If, however, London is so grim, what is the condition of Manchester, Leeds, and the banks of "Coally Tyne?" The accompanying sketch of Manchester when they are getting the steam up will be recognised by all strangers who have visited that great seat of industry. We remember meeting with a Londoner in the latter town who was almost speechless with astonishment at the numerous and immense volumes of smoke pouring out from all quarters-an effect only to he understood by actual observation."
But we must get back from the past to what more immediately concerns us; so let us walk up this Mint-street out of the busy thoroughfare described at starting. Its evil character has not departed from it. With a gin-shop at the High-street end, and St. George's Workhouse at the other, it has on either side of it con genes of filthy courts unfit for habitation. The houses are tumbling down, the approaches in a miserable condition, as may be seen in Fig. 17. Let us take one of the courts on the south side of it - Wallis's-alley, where the houses (of wood) are in the most distressing state of dilapidation : the ceilings have fallen, the floors are full of holes, and the windows glassless. "I have but two panes," said a poor old woman, living in the upper part of one of them, "in my two rooms." In this house, for which the landlord receives 2s. per week for the front room on the ground floor; 1s. 6d. for the back room; 1s. 6d. for the front room above, and 1s. 3d. for two small back rooms on that floor,-equal to £16. 5s. per annum, there are fifteen persons living, and we may consider that there are at least the same number in each of the adjoining three tenements. For the "convenience" of this body of people there is a hole in the rotting back-yard, but partly covered by two or three planks and a dilapidated seat there is no door, no enclosure, other than a few boards, three or four feet high from the ground The decomposing contents of the open cesspool beneath contaminate the air around, and decency is out of the question.
We can scarcely restrain ourselves to speak calmly on such abominations.
A short time ago two men opened a cesspool in Pelham-street, Spitalfields, and, becoming suddenly exposed to its foul gas, both died! In the case of those who die more slowly, the cause is not recognised.
To the blind persistence in the answer to inquirers, given by the occupants of such places as the Mint, that they enjoy very good health, and that their place is very wholesome, we have again and again referred; but it cannot be too often spoken of for the guidance of those engaged in sanitary investigations. In the immediate neighbourhood of the court just now mentioned, we asked two women as to their health, and received the usual answer. Will it be believed that, on farther questioning, we found the first had had seven children, but that only one was alive, and that the second bad been the mother of thirteen, and that the whole were dead? This is no invention : we assert it solemnly as a dreadful fact.
In Wallis's-alley there is a tap at one end, where the water runs for about a quarter of an hour each morning, and the inhabitants have to catch what they can. On Sundays they have none. The approach is unpaved; the general condition a disgrace to the locality. Visiting the neighbourhood again, in the daylight, we found in the courts adjoining, "conveniences without doors, and rotting dung-heaps on all sides. In Mitre-court, the general dust-bin had not been emptied for more than three weeks, according to the statement of the habitants. Here the water does not run until night, sometimes as late as eleven o'clock "When we are forced, said a woman, "to wait for one another, it runs so slowly; and some of us have nothing to store it in when it does come. "On Sundays, said another, "I and my children are miserably off: it is no use trying to be clean. In South Sea-court, running into Southwark-bridge-road, the refuse lies rotting on the unpaved road. Though boasting such names as King-street, Queen-street, Duke-street, the whole district has an aspect of poverty and misery; and we were not surprised, though a little startled at the moment, to find a sufferer from cholera in one of the rooms we entered.
"Fig. 19 represents a location called James's-place, behind Ewer-street. The latter is a long street of dilapidated houses, partly wood, which comes into Gravel-lane. The drainage is here most defective; and according to an old inhabitant,- In this and the surrounding neighbourhood were formerly many open ditches, into which the tide regularly ebbed and flowed; these have been covered, and now form 'blind drains.' Even now the tides often overflow parts of this street to a depth of from 2 to 3 feet. The cellars about here are often flooded. The houses are dilapidated, and as a matter of course, have cesspools at the back, many of them without even a covering. The health of the people is very bad: fever, we were told, had killed many lately in Ewer-street, and the courts leading from it. In Red Lion-court, a neighbour said "there have been lately several deaths." Here are cesspools and choked surface drains, which at the time of our visit were undergoing inspection. The place at the back of Ewer-street, which we have sketched, contains twenty or thirty houses. It would be difficult, either by words or illustrations, to give an idea of the squalid and unhealthy condition of this spot. The houses are unfit for occupation: at the back is a large dust-heap. If this disgraceful and unwholesome accumulation be disposed of at the present time, it may be at a loss to the proprietor ; but surely this is not to be set against the lives of men, women, and children? The pavement of this neglected place is broken and uneven, strewed with refuse amid puddles of -water. Sometimes, in parts, the water is up to the knees of the people. The houses are thickly inhabited chiefly by Irish: there are only four closets, with cesspools, for the use of the neighbourhood, and these -we found in a dreadful condition...."