AMONG THE PRESTON
Returning to the little shop mentioned in my last ― the
"little provision shop," where there was nothing left to eat ― nothing,
indeed, of any kind, except one mug of buttermilk, and a miserable remnant
of little empty things, which nobody would buy; four or five glass bottles
in the window, two or three poor deal shelves, and a doleful little
counter, rudely put together, and looking as if it felt, now, that there
was nothing in the world left for it but to become chips at no distant
date. Everything in the place had a sad, subdued look, and seemed
conscious of having come down in the world, without hope of ever rising
again; even the stript walls appeared to look at one another with a stony
gaze of settled despair.
LONDON, SATURDAY, ARIL 19 1862.
The almost incessant rain has abated; the sky is clear and bright
the spring flowers are out in spite of the cold, and the bloom is on
every shrub and fruit-bearing tree. So far there never was a
pleasantly Easter. But while the seasons run their course
there is one season not returning. A population of millions is
now suffering as much as if the sun had reappeared shorn of half its
beams or Nature had suddenly shown signs of decay. A terrible
cotton dearth deprives countless hands, thorough populous districts
and crowded cities, of the means of earning bread. It is all
the same as if the grain had perished by blight or the root by rot;
for, though though the food is in the country, or within purchasable
distance, the means of purchase are not to be found; and people
perish, as was said in the days of "Protection," in the midst of
full granaries and piles of provisions. An inscrutable PROVIDENCE
ever varies the dispensation. It was once a fiscal system;
then it was a bad harvest; then it was an overstocked market; then
it was the periodical rebellion of labour against capital.
Ingenious men endeavoured to forecast the next shape of calamity,
and imagined a quarrel with the United States, in which they would
attempt to starve us out, and humble us to terms by withholding
their cotton. The Americans themselves grew proud of our
dependence. But that has now happened which neither happened
before nor so much as occurred to any prophets of ill. The
cotton crop has been shut up on the soil that that bore it by a
disruption of the States themselves; and for once we are the "baser
"Between the pass and fell incensed points
"Off mighty opposites."
The myriads who a few years ago were reading with tears the tragic
tale of Negro suffering and wrong little thought that they would one
day exchange a sentimental for an actual participation in that
story. The American Abolitionist, having preached to them in
vain, now enforces a reluctant consistency, and denies them
slave-grown cotton. The result is a national disaster.
It does not seem to abate, and no one can say what pass it will come
to. For a time there was hope, founded chiefly on the
difficulty of supposing that so estrange a state of things could
last long. The war was to end soon by the mere process of
exhaustion. The blockade was to be set at nought. There
was to be an European intervention. There might be a
circuitous traffic. Perhaps the calculations were wrong.
Perhaps the stocks where an invitation. Probably a hundred
times that number of victims are now suffering only a more
protracted form of the same tortures, and we are almost afraid to
plead for them, there are so many scruples and difficulties.
Has not cotton produced a wealth and an aristocracy of its own?
Has it not been stated, without contradiction, that five millions,
and, indeed, much more, have been by this very rise in prices which
we call the cotton death? Have not some of the millowners
themselves laid up stocks, and then sold them at a great profit ―
nay, even for exportation to New York? Were it our object to
harden the heart, there is much that might be said; but such
statements very often have no just relevance to the cease, for none
can tell under what circumstances cotton has been bought or sold,
and the public have not a right to require that it should be worked
at a loss. Again, we might be told, with more or less truth,
that much of the present distress is the result of improvident
habits on the part of the people, who for some years past have been
earning extraordinarily high wages, and have neglected to lay by.
But all this is no answer to the question before us. The fact
of an unprecedented distress is what we have to do with. Thus
far, the local resources have not failed. But, as the poor
girls said, "Cannot we do something to help them?" There is a
cry for Englishwomen from British Columbia, from Queensland, from
Melbourne, and from other prosperous colonies. We hear now and
then of a hundred thousand pounds, more or less, going abegging, and
positively craving the advise and of good sensible people for its
judicious employment. Would that something would inspire a
millionaire or two to address themselves to the noble and necessary
work of supplying helpmeets for all these scattered and solitary ADAMS!
But we cannot wait for this. We must look ahead and watch the
peril in our course. Here is a fearful mass of destitution
that may an day prove too great for the local resource. It
must not be too soon adopted by the State, but it may be too late,
and meanwhile it must not be forgotten by any whom it many concern.
But there was a clean, matronly woman in the place, gliding about from
side to side with a cloth in her hands, and wiping first one, then
another, of these poor little relics of better days in a caressing way.
The shop had been her special care when times were good, and she clung
affectionately to its ruins still. Besides, going about cleaning and
arranging the little empty things in this way looked almost like doing
business. But, nevertheless, the woman had a cheerful, good-humoured
countenance. The sunshine of hope was still warm in her heart;
though there was a touch of pathos in the way she gave the little rough
counter another kindly wipe now and then, as if she wished to keep its
spirits up; and in the way she looked, now at the buttermilk mug, then at
the open door, and then at the four glass bottles in the window, which had
been gazed at so oft and so eagerly by little children outside, in the
days when spice was in them. . . .
The husband came in from the little back room. He
was a hardy, frank-looking man, and, like his wife, a trifle past middle
age, I thought; but he had nothing to say, as he stood there with his
wife, by the counter side. She answered our questions freely and
simply, and in an uncomplaining way, not making any attempt to awaken
sympathy by enlarging upon the facts of their condition. Theirs was
a family of seven ― man, wife, and five children. The man was a
spinner; and his thrifty wife had managed the little shop, whilst he
worked at the mill. There are many striving people among the factory
operatives, who help up the family earnings by keeping a little shop in
this way. But this family was another of those instances in which working
people have been pulled down by misfortune before the present crisis came
on. Just previous to the mills beginning to work short time, four of
their five children had been lying ill, all at once, for five months; and,
before that trouble befell them, one of the lads had two of his fingers
taken off, whilst working at the factory, and so was disabled a good
while. It takes little additional weight to sink those whose chins
are only just above water; and these untoward circumstances oiled the way
of this struggling family to the ground, before the mills stopped. A
few months' want of work, with their little stock of shop stuff oozing
away ― partly on credit to their poor neighbours, and partly to live upon
themselves ― and they become destitute of all, except a few beggarly
remnants of empty shop furniture.
Looking round the place, I said, "Well, missis, how's
trade?" "Oh, brisk," said she; and then the man and his wife smiled
at one another. "Well," said I, "yo'n sowd up, I see, heawever."
"Ay," answered she, "we'n sowd up, for sure ― a good while sin';" and then
she smiled again, as if she thought she had said a clever thing.
They had been receiving relief from the parish several weeks; but she told
me that some ill-natured neighbour had "set it eawt," that they had sold
off their stock out of the shop, and put the money into the bank.
Through this report, the Board of Guardians had "knocked off" their relief
for a fortnight, until the falsity of the report was made clear.
After that, the Board gave orders for the man and his wife and three of
the children to be admitted to the workhouse, leaving the other two lads,
who were working at the "Stone Yard," to "fend for theirsels," and find
new nests wherever they could. This, however, was overruled
afterwards; and the family is still holding together in the empty shop, ―
receiving from all sources, work and relief, about 13s. a week for the
seven, ― not bad, compared with the income of very many others.
It is sad to think how many poor families get sundered
and scattered about the world in a time like this, never to meet again.
And the false report respecting this family in the little shop, reminds me
that the poor are not always kind to the poor. I learnt, from a
gentleman who is Secretary to the Relief Committee of one of the wards,
that it is not uncommon for the committees to receive anonymous letters,
saying that so and so is unworthy of relief, on some ground or other.
These complaints were generally found to be either wholly false, or
founded upon some mistake. I have three such letters now before me.
The first, written on a torn scrap of ruled paper, runs thus: ―
"May 19th, 1862. ― If you please be so kind as to look
after ― Back Newton Street Formerly a Resident of ―
as i think he is not Deserving Relief. ― A Ratepayer."
In each case I give the spelling, and everything else, exactly as in the
originals before me, except the names. The next of these epistles
"Preston, May 29th. ― Sir, I beg to inform you that ―
, of Park Road, in receipt from the Relief Fund, is a very unworthy
person, having worked two days since the 16 and drunk the remainder and
his wife also; for the most part, he has plenty of work for himself his
wife and a journeyman but that is their regular course of life. And the S
― _s have all their family working full time. Yours respectfully."
These last two are anonymous. The next is written in a very good
hand, upon a square piece of very blue writing paper. It has a name
attached, but no address: ―
"Preston, June 2nd, 1862. ― Mr. Dunn, ― Dear Sir, Would you
please to inquire into the case of ― , of ― .the are a family
of 3 the man work four or more days per week on the moor the woman works 6
days per week at Messrs Simpsons North Road the third is a daughter 13 or
14 should be a weaver but to lasey she has good places such as Mr. Hollins
and Horrocks and Millers as been sent a way for being to lasey. the man
and woman very fond of drink. I as a Nabour and a subscriber do not think
this a proper case for your charity. Yours truly, ― ."
The committee could not find out the writer of this, although a name is
given. Such things as these need no comment.
The next house we called at was inhabited by an old widow and
her only daughter. The daughter had been grievously afflicted with
disease of the heart, and quite incapable of helping herself during the
last eleven years. The poor worn girl sat upon an old tattered kind
of sofa, near the fire, panting for breath in the close atmosphere.
She sat there in feverish helplessness, sallow and shrunken, and unable to
bear up her head. It was a painful thing to look at her. She
had great difficulty in uttering a few words. I can hardly guess
what her age may be now; I should think about twenty-five.
Mr Toulmin, one of the visitors who accompanied me to
the place, reminded the young woman of his having called upon them there
more than four years ago, to leave some bedding which had been bestowed
upon an old woman by a certain charity in the town. He saw no more
of them after that, until the present hard times began, when he was
deputed by the Relief Committee to call at that distressed corner amongst
others in his own neighbourhood; and when he first opened the door, after
a lapse of four years, he was surprised to find the same young woman,
sitting in the same place, gasping painfully for breath, as he had last
seen her. The old widow had just been able to earn what kept soul
and body together in her sick girl and herself, during the last eleven
years, by washing and such like work. But even this resource had
fallen away a good deal during these bad times; there are so many poor
creatures like herself, driven to extremity, and glad to grasp at any
little bit of employment which can be had. In addition to what the
old woman could get by a day's washing now and then, she received 1s. 6d.
a week from the parish. Think of the poor old soul trailing about
the world, trying to "scratch a living" for herself and her daughter by
washing; and having to hurry home from her labour to attend to that sick
girl through eleven long years. Such a life is a good deal like a
slow funeral. It is struggling for a few breaths more, with the
worms crawling over you. And yet I am told that the old woman was
not accustomed to "make a poor mouth," as the saying goes. How true
it is that "a great many people in this world have only one form of
rhetoric for their profoundest experiences, namely ― to waste away and
April 23, 1862.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,—I have read with feelings of the deepest interests and
gratitude your leader of Saturday, the 19th inst., on the subject of
the present distress existing in Lancashire. We owe you many
thanks for that well-timed and useful article. I trust it will
prove an appeal that will call forth the benevolence of the wealthy.
It would be wrong in me to expect that the town in which I live
should receive more than a fair proportion of help, because,
unhappily, I know that many places are in the same distressed
condition. Blackburn has witnessed many sad reverses in the
cotton manufacturing business, but never since them Bank's panic of
1825-6 has it experienced so extensive and disastrous a reverse as
that which now exist, and which has reduced a large proportion of
the operatives to pecuniary ruin and nearly absolute starvation.
At the time to which I have referred in 1826, the town comprised
about 23,000 or 30,000 inhabitants, and, for the period of nine
months, 14,000 of that number were maintained by a distribution of
oatmeal, bread, and bacon. The Government of that day, through
the late Sir Robert Peel, sent £1,000 to our aid. Most
unfortunately for themselves and for the town, the distressed
handloom weavers where persuaded that their calamity was caused by
the introduction of the powerloom, and, goaded by evil counsels,
aggravated by hunger and distress, they madly sought remedy in the
destruction of that machinery—an act which eventually plunged them
into deeper difficulties and retarded the employment of capital for
some time. No such perverse and wrong-headed conduct operates
at the present crisis. Thrown into adversely by no act or
circumstance over which they have any control, we see a numerous
and, for the most part, an orderly and industries population
deprived of work, reduced to poverty—to abject mendicity—while their
fellow operatives, a little more fortunate, are subsisting on wages
derived from short time, averaging about threes days per week,—wages
that barely realize sufficient for food and rent. The number
of persons absolutely dependent on the pittance allowed by the Board
of Guardians and the dole from the Relief Fund is over 10,000, that
is about one-sixth of the whole population, and I may add that at
least 20,000 are on short time. Consequently, one-half of the
people are sufferers in the general distress. This fearful
state of things, had it happened some years ago, I apprehend would
have led to serious bread riots, but thanks to the advance of
education, and, let us say, to the good sense of the operatives,
this appalling distress has hitherto been borne with silent,
enduring, and exemplary patience and resignation. No threats,
no outbreaks, no violent popular demonstration have been manifested;
but ever cheerfulness to a certain extent and a wonderful feeling of
helping one another have marked the conduct of the suffering
unemployed. Let it be borne in mind by your fair readers, that
a large proportion of the hands are factory girls whose ages range
from 13 to 20 years, and who are capable of earning an average of
from 10s. to 14s. per week, girls who have been carefully
disciplined in habits of industry from early childhood, and are now,
for the most part, scholars and teachers in our Sunday schools.
It is gainful to reflect that these factory girls have to grieve
over the loss of their neat apparel as article after article is
pawned or sold for bread. I may give one touching instance of
this description. Being a bookseller, I was applied to by a
modest girl, 17 or 18 years old, to purchase from her a Wesleyan
Hymn-book. She had been out of work for 16 weeks, and there
were two companions with her in the same unhappy plight. An
aged gentleman, himself the father of several grown-up daughters,
happened to be present and commiserated her case. Probably
this little Hymn-book, and her Bible, with a few religious
periodicals were all the library of this poor girl, all to be sold
for food; possibly her long-cherished Bible will be the last
sacrifice designed to pinching poverty and distress. Cannot
your matronly readers feel for her position and for many such poor
factory girls; cannot some of them lend a helping hand? It is
hard to sit at home all the livelong day, sighing for work, pinched
by hunger, and surrounded by fearful temptations, timid and
trembling, yet forced to the cruel necessity of seeking alms.
I am sure there is generosity enough in this land of ours to meet
this fearful aspect of affairs. Look at the noble munificence
shown to the widows and orphans of the colliers who perished in the
Hartley coalpit. A little help will assist many an
aching parent's heart, who trembles as he looks aground upon his
grown up family, and contemplates with sad dismay the breaking up of
his humble household and the utter annihilations of his own and his
children's home. I would in conclusions of my appeal just
advert to the fact that during the Crimean war the factory
operatives of Blackburn contributed a large amount to the Royal
Patriotic Fund for our suffering soldiers. I send you a
printed pamphlet (18 pages) exhibiting the contributions of one part
of the town — Park-ward, where you have sums from one penny upwards,
amounting in the whole to £549. 16s. 9d., by 2,800 contributors.
I regret not being able to give you the particulars of the other
five wards; but I may say the sympathy and liberality was alike
universal. In the late famine in India, also, the operatives
did their share, and I am happy to state that even now those
operatives in work are subscribing handsomely to their fellow
workmen in adversity. If these statements shall induce the
charitably disposed to help in this "hour of need," they may rely
upon it many grateful prayers for their prosperity will be offered
up, and by none more than by
Your most humble and obedient servant.
A Member of
the Relief Committee.
Our next visit was to an Irish family. There was an old
woman in, and a flaxen-headed lad about ten years of age. She was
sitting upon a low chair, ― the only seat in the place, ― and the tattered
lad was kneeling on the ground before her, whilst she combed his hair out.
"Well, missis, how are you getting on amongst it?" "Oh, well, then,
just middlin', Mr T. Ye see, I am busy combin' this boy's hair a
bit, for 'tis gettin' like a wisp o' hay."
There was not a vestige of furniture in the cottage,
except the chair the old woman sat on. She said, "I did sell the
childer's bedstead for 2s. 6d.; an' after that I sold the bed from under
them for 1s. 6d., just to keep them from starvin' to death. The
childer had been two days without mate then, an' faith I couldn't bear it
any longer. After that I did sell the big pan, an' then the new
rockin' chair, an' so on, one thing after another, till all wint entirely,
barrin' this I am sittin' on, an' they wint for next to nothin' too.
Sure, I paid 9s. 6d. for the bed itself, which was sold for 1s. 6d.
We all sleep on straw now."
This family was seven in number. The mill at
which they used to work had been stopped about ten months. One of
the family had found employment at another mill, three months out of the
ten, and the old man himself had got a few days' work in that time.
The rest of the family had been wholly unemployed, during the ten months.
Except the little money this work brought in, and a trifle raised now and
then by the sale of a bit of furniture when hunger and cold pressed them
hard, the whole family had been living upon 5s. a week for the last ten
months. The rent was running on. The eldest daughter was
twenty-eight years of age. As we came away Mr Toulmin said to me,
"Well, I have called at that house regularly for the last sixteen weeks,
and this is the first time I ever saw a fire in the place. But the
old man has got two days' work this week ― that may account for the fire."
It was now close upon half-past seven in the evening, at
which time I had promised to call upon the Secretary of the Trinity Ward
Relief Committee, whose admirable letter in the London Times,
attracted so much attention about a month ago. I met several members
of the committee at his lodgings, and we had an hour's interesting
conversation. I learnt that, in cases of sickness arising from mere
weakness, from poorness of diet, or from unsuitableness of the food
commonly provided by the committee, orders were now issued for such kind
of "kitchen physic" as was recommended by the doctors. The committee
had many cases of this kind. One instance was mentioned, in which,
by the doctor's advice, four ounces of mutton chop daily had been ordered
to be given to a certain sick man, until further notice. The thing
went on and was forgotten, until one day, when the distributor of food
said to the committeeman who had issued the order, "I suppose I must
continue that daily mutton chop to so-and-so?" "Eh, no; he's been
quite well two months?" The chop had been going on for ninety-five
We had some talk with that class of operatives who are both
clean, provident, and "heawse-preawd," as Lancashire folk call it.
The Secretary told me that he was averse to such people living upon the
sale of their furniture; and the committee had generally relieved the
distress of such people, just as if they had no furniture, at all.
He mentioned the case of a family of factory operatives, who were all
fervent lovers of music, as so many of the working people of Lancashire
are. Whilst in full work, they had scraped up money to buy a piano;
and, long after the ploughshare of ruin had begun to drive over the little
household, they clung to the darling instrument, which was such a source
of pure pleasure to them, and they were advised to keep it by the
committee which relieved them. "Yes," said another member of the
committee, "but I called there lately, and the piano's gone at last."
Many interesting things came out in the course of our
conversation. One mentioned a house he had called at, where there
was neither chair, table, nor bed; and one of the little lads had to hold
up a piece of board for him to write upon. Another spoke of the
difficulties which "lone women" have to encounter in these hard times.
"I knocked so-and-so off my list," said one of the committee, "till I had
inquired into an ill report I heard of her. But she came crying to
me; and I found out that the woman had been grossly belied." Another
(Mr Nowell) told of a house on his list, where they had no less than one
hundred and fifty pawn tickets. He told, also, of a moulder's
family, who had been all out of work and starving so long, that their poor
neighbours came at last and recommended the committee to relieve them, as
they would not apply for relief themselves. They accepted relief
just one week, and then the man came and said that he had a prospect
of work; and he shouldn't need relief tickets any longer. It was
here that I heard so much about anonymous letters, of which I have given
you three samples.
Having said that I should like to see the soup kitchen, one
of the committee offered to go with me thither at six o'clock the next
morning; and so I came away from the meeting in the cool twilight.
Old Preston looked fine to me in the clear air of that
declining day. I stood a while at the end of the "Bull" gateway.
There was a comical-looking little knock-kneed fellow in the middle of the
street ― a wandering minstrel, well known in Preston by the name of
"Whistling Jack." There he stood, warbling and waving his band, and
looking from side to side, ― in vain. At last I got him to whistle
the "Flowers of Edinburgh." He did it, vigorously; and earned his
penny well. But even "Whistling Jack" complained of the times.
He said Preston folk had "no taste for music." But he assured me the
time would come when there would be a monument to him in that town.
About half-past six I found my friend waiting at the end of
the "Bull" gateway. It was a lovely morning. The air was cool
and clear, and the sky was bright. It was easy to see which was the
way to the soup kitchen, by the stragglers going and coming. We
passed the famous "Orchard," now a kind of fairground, which has been the
scene of so many popular excitements in troubled times. All was
quiet in the "Orchard" that morning, except that, here, a starved-looking
woman, with a bit of old shawl tucked round her head, and a pitcher in her
hand, and there, a bare-footed lass, carrying a tin can, hurried across
the sunny space towards the soup kitchen. We passed a new inn,
called "The Port Admiral." On the top of the building there were three
life-sized statues ― Wellington and Nelson, with the Greek slave between
them ― a curious companionship. These statues reminded me of a
certain Englishman riding through Dublin, for the first time, upon an
Irish car. "What are the three figures yonder?" said he to the
car-boy, pointing to the top of some public building. "Thim three is
the twelve apostles, your honour," answered the driver. "Nay, nay,"
said the traveller, "that'll not do. How do you make twelve out of
three?" "Bedad," replied the driver, "your honour couldn't expect
the whole twelve to be out at once such a murtherin' wet day as this." But
we had other things than these to think of that day.
Cotton Famine: operatives waiting for their breakfast in Mr
Mottram, near Manchester"
― Illustrated London News,
Courtesy of the 'Cotton Town digitzation project'.
As we drew near the baths and washhouses, where the soup
kitchen is, the stream of people increased. About the gate there was
a cluster of melancholy loungers, looking cold and hungry. They were
neither going in nor going away. I was told afterwards that many of
these were people who had neither money nor tickets for food ― some of
them wanderers from town to town; anybody may meet them limping, footsore
and forlorn, upon the roads in Lancashire, just now ― houseless wanderers,
who had made their way to the soup kitchen to beg a mouthful from those
who were themselves at death's door. In the best of times there are
such wanderers; and, in spite of the generous provision made for the
relief of the poor, there must be, in a time like the present, a great
number who let go their hold of home (if they have any), and drift away in
search of better fortune, and, sometimes, into irregular courses of life,
never to settle more.
Entering the yard, we found the wooden sheds crowded with
people at breakfast ― all ages, from white-haired men, bent with years, to
eager childhood, yammering over its morning meal, and careless till the
next nip of hunger came. Here and there a bonny lass had crept into
the shade with her basin; and there was many a brown-faced man, who had
been hardened by working upon the moor or at the "stone-yard." "Theer,
thae's shap't that at last, as how?" said one of these to his friend, who
had just finished and stood wiping his mouth complacently. "Shap't
that," replied the other, "ay, lad, aw can do a ticket and a hafe (three
pints of soup) every morning."
Five hundred people breakfast in the sheds alone, every day.
The soup kitchen opens at five in the morning, and there is always a crowd
waiting to get in. This looks like the eagerness of hunger. I
was told that they often deliver 3000 quarts of soup at this kitchen in
two hours. The superintendent of the bread department informed me
that, on that morning, he had served out two thousand loaves, of 3lb.
11oz. each. There was a window at one end, where soup was delivered
to such as brought money for it instead of tickets. Those who came
with tickets ― by far the greatest number ― had to pass in single file
through a strong wooden maze, which restrained their eagerness, and
compelled them to order. I noticed that only a small proportion of
men went through the maze; they were mostly women and children. There was
many a fine, intelligent young face hurried blushing through that maze ―
many a bonny lad and lass who will be heard of honourably hereafter.
The variety of utensils presented showed that some of the
poor souls had been hard put to it for things to fetch their soup in.
One brought a pitcher; another a bowl; and another a tin can, a world too
big for what it had to hold. "Yo mun mind th' jug," said one old
woman; "it's cracked, an' it's noan o' mine." "Will ye bring me
some?" said a little, light-haired lass, holding up her rosy neb to the
soupmaster. "Aw want a ha'poth," said a lad with a three-quart can
in his hand. The benevolent-looking old gentleman who had taken the
superintendence of the soup department as a labour of love, told me that
there had been a woman there by half-past five that morning, who had come
four miles for some coffee. There was a poor fellow breakfasting in
the shed at the same time; and he gave the woman a thick shive of his
bread as she went away. He mentioned other instances of the same
humane feeling; and he said, "After what I have seen of them here, I say,
'Let me fall into the hands of the poor.'"
"They who, half-fed, feed the breadless, in the travail of distress;
They who, taking from a little, give to those who still have less;
They who, needy, yet can pity when they look on greater need;
These are Charity's disciples, ― these are Mercy's sons indeed."
We returned to the middle of the town just as the shopkeepers
in Friargate were beginning to take their shutters down. I had
another engagement at half-past nine. A member of the Trinity Ward
Relief Committee, who is master of the Catholic school in that ward, had
offered to go with me to visit some distressed people who were under his
care in that part of the town.
We left Friargate at the appointed time. As we came
along there was a crowd in front of Messrs Wards', the fishmongers.
A fine sturgeon had just been brought in. It had been caught in the
Ribble that morning. We went in to look at the royal fish. It
was six feet long, and weighed above a hundred pounds. I don't know
that I ever saw a sturgeon before. But we had other fish to fry; and
so we went on.
The first place we called at was a cellar in Nile Street.
"Here," said my companion, "let us have a look at old John." A gray-headed
little man, of seventy, lived down in this one room, sunken from the
street. He had been married forty years, and if I remember aright,
he lost his wife about four years ago. Since that time, he had lived
in this cellar, all alone, washing and cooking for himself. But I
think the last would not trouble him much, for "they have no need for fine
cooks who have only one potato to their dinner." When a lad, he had
been apprenticed to a bobbin turner. Afterwards he picked up some
knowledge of engineering; and he had been "well off in his day." He
now got a few coppers occasionally from the poor folk about, by grinding
knives, and doing little tinkering jobs. Under the window he had a
rude bench, with a few rusty tools upon it, and in one corner there was a
low, miserable bedstead, without clothing upon it. There was one
cratchinly chair in the place, too; but hardly anything else. He had
no fire; he generally went into neighbours' houses to warm himself.
He was not short of such food as the Relief Committees bestow. There
was a piece of bread upon the bench, left from his morning meal; and the
old fellow chirruped about, and looked as blithe as if he was up to the
middle in clover. He showed us a little thing which he had done "for
a bit ov a prank." The number of his cellar was 8, and he had cut
out a large tin figure of 8, a foot long, and nailed it upon his door, for
the benefit of some of his friends that were getting bad in their
eyesight, and "couldn't read smo' print so low deawn as that."
"Well, John," said my companion, when we went in, "how are you getting
on?" "Oh, bravely," replied he, handing a piece of blue paper to the
inquirer, "bravely; look at that!" "Why, this is a summons," said my
companion. "Ay, bigad is't, too," answered the old man. "Never
had sich a thing i' my life afore! Think o' me gettin' a summons for
breakin' windows at seventy year owd. A bonny marlock, that, isn't
it? Why, th' whole street went afore th' magistrates to get mo off."
"Then you did get off, John?" "Get off! Sure, aw did. It
wur noan o' me. It wur a keaw jobber, at did it. . . . Aw'll tell yo
what, for two pins aw'd frame that summons, an' hang it eawt o' th'
window; but it would look so impudent."
Cotton Operative's dwelling
― Illustrated London News.
Courtesy of the 'Cotton Town digitzation project'.
Old John's wants were inquired into, and we left him fiddling among his
We next went to a place called Hammond's Row ― thirteen
poor cottages, side by side. Twelve of the thirteen were inhabited
by people living, almost entirely, upon relief, either from the parish or
from the Relief Committee. There was only one house where no relief
was needed. As we passed by, the doors were nearly all open, and the
interiors all presented the same monotonous phase of destitution.
They looked as if they had been sacked by bum-bailiffs.
The topmost house
was the only place where I saw a fire. A family of eight lived there. They
were Irish people. The wife, a tall, cheerful woman, sat suckling her
child, and giving a helping hand now and then to her husband's work. He
was a little, pale fellow, with only one arm, and he had an impediment in
his speech. He had taken to making cheap boxes of thin, rough deal,
afterwards covered with paper. With the help of his wife he could make one
in a day, and he got ninepence profit out of it ― when the box was sold. He was working at one when we went in, and he twirled it proudly about
with his one arm, and stammered out a long explanation about the way it
had been made; and then he got upon the lid, and sprang about a little, to
let us see how much it would bear. As the brave little tattered man stood
there upon the box-lid, springing, and sputtering, and waving his one arm,
his wife looked up at him with a smile, as if she thought him "the
greatest wight on ground."
There was a little curly-headed child standing
by, quietly taking in all that was going on. I laid my hand upon her head;
and asked her what her name was. She popped her thumb into her mouth, and
looked shyly about from one to another, but never a word could I get her
to say. "That's Lizzy," said the woman; "she is a little visitor belongin'
to one o' the neighbours. They are badly off, and she often comes in. Sure, our childer is very fond of her, an' so she is of them. She is fine
company wid ourselves, but always very shy wid strangers. Come now, Lizzy,
darlin'; tell us your name, love, won't you, now?" But it was no use; we
couldn't get her to speak.
In the next cottage where we called, in this
row, there was a woman washing. Her mug was standing upon a stool in the
middle of the floor; and there was not any other thing in the place in the
shape of furniture or household utensil. The walls were bare of
everything, except a printed paper, bearing these words:
"The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life, through
Jesus Christ our Lord."
We now went to another street, and visited the
cottage of a blind chair-maker, called John Singleton. He was a kind of
oracle among the poor folk of the neighbourhood. The old chair-maker was
sitting by the fire when we went in; and opposite to him sat "Old John,"
the hero of the broken windows in Nile Street. He had come up to have a
crack with his blind crony. The chair-maker was seventy years of age, and
he had benefited by the advantage of good fundamental instruction in his
youth. He was very communicative. He said he should have been educated for
the priesthood, at Stonyhurst College. "My clothes were made, an'
everything was ready for me to start to Stonyhurst. There was a stagecoach
load of us going; but I failed th' heart, an' wouldn't go ― an' I've
forethought ever sin'. Mr Newby said to my friends at the same time, he
said, 'You don't need to be frightened of him; he'll make the brightest
priest of all the lot ― an' I should, too. . . . I consider mysel' a young
man yet, i' everything, except it be somethin' at's uncuth to me." And
now, old John, the grinder, began to complain again of how badly he had
been used about the broken windows in Nile Street. But the old chair-maker
stopped him; and, turning up his blind eyes, he said, "John, don't you be
foolish. Bother no moor abeawt it. All things has but a time."
A man cannot go wrong in Trinity Ward just now, if he wants
to see poor folk. He may find them there at any time, but now he
cannot help but meet them; and nobody can imagine how badly off they are,
unless he goes amongst them. They are biding the hard time out
wonderfully well, and they will do so to the end. They certainly
have not more than a common share of human frailty. There are those
who seem to think that when people are suddenly reduced to poverty, they
should become suddenly endowed with the rarest virtues; but it never was
so, and, perhaps, never will be so long as the world rolls.
In my rambles about this ward, I was astonished at the dismal
succession of destitute homes, and the number of struggling owners of
little shops, who were watching their stocks sink gradually down to
nothing, and looking despondingly at the cold approach of pauperism.
I was astonished at the strings of dwellings, side by side, stript, more
or less, of the commonest household utensils ― the poor little bare
houses, often crowded with lodgers, whose homes had been broken up
elsewhere; sometimes crowded, three or four families of decent working
people in a cottage of half-a-crown a-week rental; sleeping anywhere, on
benches or on straw, and afraid to doff their clothes at night time
because they had no other covering. Now and then the weekly visitor
comes to the door of a house where he has regularly called. He lifts
the latch, and finds the door locked. He looks in at the window.
The house is empty, and the people are gone ― the Lord knows where.
Who can tell what tales of sorrow will have their rise in the pressure of
a time like this ― tales that will never be written, and that no
statistics will reveal.
Workers at Fairfield Mills, Droylsden.
Courtesy Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.
Trinity Ward swarms with factory operatives; and, after our
chat with blind John, the chair-maker, and his ancient crony the grinder
from Nile Street, we set off again to see something more of them.
Fitful showers came down through the day, and we had to shelter now and
then. In one cottage, where we stopped a few minutes, the old woman
told us that, in addition to their own family, they had three young women
living with them ― the orphan daughters of her husband's brother.
They had been out of work thirty-four weeks, and their uncle ― a very poor
man ― had been obliged to take them into his house, "till sich times as
they could afford to pay for lodgin's somewheer else." My companion
asked whether they were all out of work still. "Naw," replied the
old woman, "one on 'em has getten on to wortch a few days for t' sick
(that is, in the place of some sick person). Hoo's wortchin' i' th'
cardreawn at 'Th' Big-un.'" (This is the name they give to Messrs Swainson
and Birley's mill.)
The next place we called at was the house of an old joiner.
He was lying very ill upstairs. As we drew up to the door, my
companion said, "Now, this is a clean, respectable family. They have
struggled hard and suffered a great deal, before they would ask for
relief." When we went in, the wife was cleaning her well-nigh empty
house. "Eh," said she," I thought it wur th' clubman comin', an' I
wur just goin' to tell him that I had nothin' for him." The family
was seven in number ― man, wife, and five children. The husband, as
I have said, was lying ill. The wife told me that they had only 6s.
a-week coming in for the seven to live upon.
My companion was the weekly visitor who relieved them.
She told me that her husband was sixty-eight years old; she was not forty.
She said that her husband was not strong, and he had been going nearly
barefoot and "clemmed" all through last winter, and she was afraid he had
got his death of cold. They had not a bed left to lie upon.
"My husband," said she, "was a master joiner once, an' was doin' very
well. But you see how we are now."
There were two portraits ― oil paintings ― hanging against
the wall. "Whose portraits are these?" said I. "Well; that's
my master ― an' this is me," replied she. "He would have 'em taken
some time since. I couldn't think o' sellin' 'em; or else, yo see,
we've sold nearly everything we had. I did try to pawn 'em, too,
thinkin' we could get 'em back again when things came round; but, I can
assure yo, I couldn't find a broker anywhere that would tak' 'em in."
"Well, Missis," said my companion, "yo have one comfort; you are always
clean." "Eh, bless yo!" replied she, "I couldn't live among dirt!
My husban' tells me that I clean all the luck away; but aw'm sure there's
no luck i' filth; if there is, anybody may tak' it for me."
The rain had stopt again; and after my friend had made a note
respecting some additional relief for the family, we bade the woman good
day. We had not gone far before a little ragged lass looked up
admiringly at two pinks I had stuck in my buttonhole, and holding up her
hand, said, "Eh, gi' me a posy!"
My friend pointed to one of the cottages we passed, and said
that the last time he called there, he found the family all seated round a
large bowl of porridge, made of Indian meal. This meal is sold at a
penny a pound. He stopped at another cottage and said, "Here's a
house where I always find them reading when I call. I know the
people very well." He knocked and tried the latch, but there was
As we passed an open door, the pleasant smell of oatcake
baking came suddenly upon me. It woke up many memories of days gone
by. I saw through the window a stout, meal-dusted old woman, busy
with her wooden ladle and baking-shovel at a brisk oven. "Now, I
should like to look in there for a minute or two, if it can be done," said
I. "Well," replied my friend, "this woman is not on our books; she
gets her own living in the way you see. But come in; it will be all
right; I know her very well." I was glad of that, for I wanted to
have a chat with her, and to peep at the baking.
"Good morning, Missis," said he; "how are you?" "Why,
just in a middlin' way." "How long is this wet weather going to
last, think you?" "Nay, there ye hev me fast; ― but what brings ye
here this mornin'?" said the old woman, resting the end of her ladle on
the little counter; "I never trouble sic like chaps as ye." "No,
no," replied my friend; "we have not called about anything of that kind."
"What, then, pray ye?" "Well, my friend, here, is almost a stranger
in Preston; and as soon as ever he smelt the baking, he said he should
like to see it, so I took the liberty of bringing him in." "Oh, ay;
come in, an' welcome. Ye're just i' time, too; for I've bin sat at
t' back to sarra (serve) t' pigs."
"You're not a native of Lancashire, Missis," said
I. "Why, wheer then? come, now; let's be knowin', as ye're so
sharp." "Cumberland," said I. "Well, now; ye're reight, sewer
enough. But how did ye find it out, now?" "Why, you said that
you had been out to sarra t' pigs. A native of Lancashire would have
said 'serve' instead of 'sarra.'" "Well, that's varra queer; for
I've bin a lang time away from my awn country. But, whereivver do ye
belang to, as ye're so bowd wi' me?" said she, smiling, and turning over a
cake which was baking upon the oven. I told her that I was born a
few miles from Manchester. "Manchester! never, sewer;" said she,
resting her ladle again; "why, I lived ever so long i' Manchester when I
was young. I was cook at th' Swan i' Shudehill, aboon forty year
She said that, in those days, the Swan, in Shudehill,
was much frequented by the commercial men of Manchester. It was a
favourite dining house for them. Many of them even brought their own
beefsteak on a skewer; and paid a penny for the cooking of it. She
said she always liked Manchester very well; but she had not been there for
a good while. "But," said she, "ye'll hev plenty o' oatcake theer ―
sartin." "Not much, now," replied I; "it's getting out o' fashion."
I told her that we had to get it once a week from a man who came all the
way from Stretford into Manchester, with a large basketful upon his head,
crying "Woat cakes, two a penny!" "Two a penny!" said she; "why,
they'll not be near as big as these, belike." "Not quite," replied
I. "Not quite! naw; not hauf t' size, aw warnd! Why, th' poor
fellow desarves his brass iv he niver gev a farthin' for th' stuff to mak
'em on. What! I knaw what oatcake bakin' is."
Leaving the canny old Cumberland woman at her baking, we
called at a cottage in Everton Gardens. It was as clean as a
gentleman's parlour; but there was no furniture in sight except a table,
and, upon the table, a fine bush of fresh hawthorn blossom, stuck in a
pint jug full of water. Here, I heard again the common story ― they
had been several months out of work; their household goods had dribbled
away in ruinous sales, for something to live upon; and now, they had very
little left but the walls. The little woman said to me, "Bless yo,
there is at thinks we need'n nought, becose we keepen a daycent eawtside.
But, I know my own know abeawt that. Beside, one doesn't like to
fill folk's meawths, iv one is ill off."
It was now a little past noon, and we spent a few minutes
looking through the Catholic schoolhouse, in Trinity Ward ― a spacious
brick building. The scholars were away at dinner. My friend is
master of the school. His assistant offered to go with us to one or
two Irish families in a close wynd, hard by, called Wilkie's Court.
In every case I had the great advantage of being thus accompanied by
gentlemen who were friendly and familiar with the poor we visited.
This was a great facility to me.
Wilkie's Court is a little cul de sac, with about
half-a-dozen wretched cottages in it, fronted by a dead wall. The
inhabitants of the place are all Irish. They were nearly all kept
alive by relief from one source or other; but their poverty was not
relieved by that cleanliness which I had witnessed in so many equally poor
houses, making the best use of those simple means of comfort which are
invaluable, although they cost little or nothing.
In the first house we called at, a middle-aged woman was
pacing slowly about the unwholesome house with a child in her arms.
My friend inquired where the children were. "They are in the houses
about; all but the one poor boy." "And where is he?" said I.
"Well, he comes home now an' agin; he comes an' goes; sure, we don't know
how. . . . Ah, thin, sir," continued she, beginning to cry, "I'll tell ye
the rale truth, now. He was drawn away by some bad lads, an' he got
three months in the New Bailey; that's God's truth. . . . Ah, what'll I do
wid him," said she, bursting into tears afresh; "what'll I do wid him?
sure, he is my own!"
We did not stop long to intrude upon such trouble as this.
She called out as we came away to tell us that the poor crayter next door
was quite helpless.
The next house was, in some respects, more comfortable than
the last, though it was quite as poor in household goods. There was
one flimsy deal table, one little chair, and two half-penny pictures of
Catholic saints pinned against the wall. "Sure, I sold the other
table since you wor here before," said the woman to my friend; "I sold it
for two-an'-aightpence, an' bought this one for sixpence." At the
house of another Irish family, my friend inquired where all the chairs
were gone. "Oh," said a young woman, "the baillies did fetch uvverything away, barrin' the one sate, when we were livin' in Lancaster
Street." "Where do you all sit now, then?" "My mother sits
there," replied she, "an' we sit upon the flure." "I heard they were
goin' to sell these heawses," said one of the lads, "but, begorra,"
continued he, with a laugh, "I wouldn't wonder did they sell the ground
from under us next."
In the course of our visitation a thunder storm came on,
during which we took shelter with a poor widow woman, who had a plateful
of steeped peas for sale, in the window. She also dealt in rags and
bones in a small way, and so managed to get a living, as she said, "beawt
troublin' onybody for charity." She said it was a thing that folk
had to wait a good deal out in the cold for.
It was market-day, and there were many country people in
Preston. On my way back to the middle of the town, I called at an
old inn, in Friargate, where I listened with pleasure a few minutes to the
old-fashioned talk of three farmers from the Fylde country. Their
conversation was principally upon cow-drinks. One of them said there
was nothing in the world like "peppermint tay an' new butter" for cows
that had the belly-ache. "They'll be reet in a varra few minutes at
after yo gotten that into 'em," said he.
As evening came on the weather settled into one continuous
shower, and I left Preston in the heavy rain, weary, and thinking of what
I had seen during the day. Since then I have visited the town again,
and I shall say something about that visit hereafter.
The rain had been falling heavily through the night. It was
raw and gusty, and thick clouds were sailing wildly overhead, as I went to
the first train for Preston.
It was that time of morning when there is a lull in the
streets of Manchester, between six and eight. The "knocker-up" had
shouldered his long wand, and paddled home to bed again; and the little
stalls, at which the early workman stops for his half-penny cup of coffee,
were packing up. A cheerless morning, and the few people that were
about looked damp and low spirited.
I bought the day's paper, and tried to read it, as we flitted
by the glimpses of dirty garret-life, through the forest of chimneys,
gushing forth their thick morning fumes into the drizzly air, and over the
dingy web of Salford streets. We rolled on through Pendleton, where
the country is still trying to look green here and there, under increasing
difficulties; but it was not till we came to where the green vale of
Clifton opened out, that I became quite reconciled to the weather.
Before we were well out of sight of the ancient tower of Prestwich Church,
the day brightened a little. The shifting folds of gloomy cloud began to
glide asunder, and through the gauzy veils which lingered in the
interspaces, there came a dim radiance which lighted up the rain-drops
"lingering on the pointed thorns;" and the tall meadow grasses were
swaying to and fro with their loads of liquid pearls, in courtesies full
of exquisite grace, as we whirled along. I enjoyed the ride that raw
morning, although the sky was all gloom again long before we came in sight
of the Ribble.
I met my friend, in Preston, at half-past nine; and we
started at once for another ramble amongst the poor, in a different part
of Trinity Ward. We went first to a little court, behind Bell
Street. There is only one house in the court, and it is known as "Th'
Back Heawse." In this cottage the little house-things had escaped
the ruin which I had witnessed in so many other places. There were
two small tables, and three chairs; and there were a few pots and a pan or
two. Upon the cornice there were two pot spaniels, and two painted
stone apples; and, between them, there was a sailor waving a union jack,
and a little pudgy pot man, for holding tobacco. On the windowsill
there was a musk-plant; and, upon the table by the staircase, there was a
rude cage, containing three young throstles.
The place was tidy; and there was a kind-looking old couple
inside. The old man stood at the table in the middle of the floor,
washing the pots, and the old woman was wiping them, and putting them
away. A little lad sat by the fire, thwittling at a piece of stick.
The old man spoke very few words the whole time we were there, but he kept
smiling and going on with his washing. The old woman was very civil,
and rather shy at first; but we soon got into free talk together.
She told me that she had borne thirteen children. Seven of them were
dead; and the other six were all married, and all poor.
"I have one son," said she; "he's a sailmaker. He's th'
best off of any of 'em. But, Lord bless yo; he's not able to help
us. He gets very little, and he has to pay a woman to nurse his sick
wife. . . . This lad that's here, ― he's a little grandson o' mine; he's
one of my dowter's childer. He brings his meight with him every day,
an' sleeps with us. They han bod one bed, yo see. His father
hasn't had a stroke o' work sin Christmas. They're badly off.
As for us ― my husband has four days a week on th' moor, ― that's 4s., an'
we've 2s. a week to pay out o' that for rent. Yo may guess fro that,
heaw we are. He should ha' been workin' on the moor today, but
they've bin rain't off. We've no kind o' meight i' this house bod
three-ha'poth o' peas; an' we've no firin'. He's just brokken up an
owd cheer to heat th' watter wi'. (The old man smiled at this, as if
he thought it was a good joke.) He helps me to wesh, an' sich like;
an' yo' know, it's a good deal better than gooin' into bad company, isn't
it? (Here the old man gave her a quiet, approving look, like a good
little lad taking notice of his mother's advice.) Aw'm very glad of
a bit o' help," continued she, "for aw'm not so terrible mich use, mysel'.
Yo see; aw had a paralytic stroke seven year sin, an' we've not getten
ower it. For two year aw hadn't a smite o' use all deawn this side.
One arm an' one leg trail't quite helpless. Aw drunk for ever o'
stuff for it. At last aw gat somethin' ov a yarb doctor. He
said that he could cure me for a very trifle, an' he did me a deal o'
good, sure enough. He nobbut charged me hauve-a-creawn. . . .
"We never knowed what it was to want a meal's meight till
lately. We never had a penny off th' parish, nor never trouble't
anybody till neaw. Aw wish times would mend, please God! . . . We
once had a pig, an' was in a nice way o' gettin' a livin'. . . . When
things began o' gooin' worse an' worse with us, we went to live in a
cellar, at sixpence a week rent; and we made it very comfortable, too.
We didn't go there because we liked th' place; but we thought nobody would
know; an, we didn't care, so as we could put on till times mended, an'
keep aat o' debt. But th' inspectors turned us out, an' we had to
come here, an' pay 2s. a week. . . .
"Aw do not like to ask for charity, iv one could help
it. They were givin' clothin' up at th' church a while sin', an'
some o' th' neighbours wanted me to go an' ax for some singlets, ye see aw
cannot do without flannels, ― but aw couldn't put th' face on." Now,
the young throstles in the cage by the staircase began to chirp one after
another. "Yer yo at that! "said the old man, turning round to the
cage; "yer yo at that! Nobbut three week owd!" "Yes," replied
the old woman; "they belong to my grandson theer. He brought 'em in
one day ― neest an' all; an' poor nake't crayters they were.
He's a great lad for birds." "He's no worse nor me for that,"
answered the old man; "aw use't to be terrible fond o' brids when aw wur
After a little more talk, we bade the old couple good day,
and went to peep at the cellar where they had crept stealthily away, for
the sake of keeping their expenses close to their lessening income.
The place was empty, and the door was open. It was a damp and
cheerless little hole, down in the corner of a dirty court.
We went next into Pole Street, and tried the door of a
cottage where a widow woman lived with her children less than a week
before. They were gone, and the house was cleared out. "They
have had neither fire nor candle in that house for weeks past," said my
companion. We then turned up a narrow entry, which was so dark and
low overhead that my companion only told me just in time to "mind my hat!"
There are several such entries leading out of Pole Street to little courts
behind. Here we turned into a cold and nearly empty cottage, where a
middle-aged woman sat nursing a sick child. She looked worn and ill
herself, and she had sore eyes. She told me that the child was her
daughter's. Her daughter's husband had died of asthma in the
workhouse, about six weeks before. He had not "addled" a penny for
twelve months before he died. She said, "We hed a varra good heawse
i' Stanley Street once; but we hed to sell up an' creep hitherto.
This heawse is 2s. 3d. a week; an' we mun pay it, or go into th' street.
Aw nobbut owed him for one week, an' he said, 'Iv yo connot pay yo mun
turn eawt for thoose 'at will do.' Aw did think o' gooin' to th'
Board," continued she, "for a pair o' clogs. My een are bad; an' awm
ill all o'er, an' it's wi' nought but gooin' weet o' my feet. My
daughter's wortchin'. Hoo gets 5s. 6d. a week. We han to live
an' pay th' rent, too, eawt o' that." I guessed, from the little
paper pictures on the wall, that they were Catholics.
In another corner behind Pole Street, we called at a cottage
of two rooms, each about three yards square. A brother and sister
lived together here. They were each about fifty years of age.
They had three female lodgers, factory operatives, out of work. The
sister said that her brother had been round to the factories that morning,
"Thinking that as it wur a pastime, there would haply be somebody off; but
he couldn't yer o' nought." She said she got a trifle by charing,
but not much now; for folks were "beginnin' to do it for theirsels."
We now turned into Cunliffe Street, and called upon an Irish
family there. It was a family of seven ― an old tailor, and his wife
and children. They had "dismissed the relief," as he expressed it,
"because they got a bit o' work." The family was making a little
living by ripping up old clothes, and turning the cloth to make it up
afresh into lads' caps and other cheap things. The old man had had a
great deal of trouble with his family. "I have one girl," said he,
"who has bothered my mind a dale. She is under the influence o' bad
advice. I had her on my hands for many months; an', after that, the
furst week's wages she got, she up, an' cut stick, an' left me. I
have another daughter, now nigh nineteen years of age. The trouble I
have with her I am content with; because it can't be helped. The
poor crayter hasn't the use of all her faculties. I have taken no
end o' pains with her, but I can't get her to count twenty on her finger
ends wid a whole life's tachein'. Fortune has turned her dark side
to me this long time, now; and, bedad, iv it wasn't for contrivin', an'
workin' hard to boot, I wouldn't be able to keep above the flood. I
assure ye it goes agin me to trouble the gentlemen o' the Board; an' so
long as I am able, I will not. I was born in King's County; an' I
was once well off in the city of Waterford. I once had 400 pounds in
the bank. I seen the time I didn't drame of a cloudy day; but things take
quare turns in this world. How-an-ever, since it's no better, thank
God it's no worse. Sure, it's a long lane that has never a turn in
"There's nob'dy but the Lord an' me
That knows what I've to bide."
― Natterin Nan.
The slipshod old tailor shuffled after us to the door, talking about the
signs of the times. His frame was bowed with age and labour, and his
shoulders drooped away. It was drawing near the time when the
grasshopper would be a burden to him. A hard life had silently
engraved its faithful records upon that furrowed face; but there was a
cheerful ring in his voice which told of a hopeful spirit within him
still. The old man's nostrils were dusty with snuff, and his poor
garments hung about his shrunken form in the careless ease which is common
to the tailor's shop board.
I could not help admiring the brave old wrinkled workman as
he stood in the doorway talking about his second-hand trade, whilst the
gusty wind fondled about in his thin gray hair. I took a friendly
pinch from his little wooden box at parting, and left him to go on
struggling with his troublesome family to "keep above the flood," by
translating old clothes into new.
We called at some other houses, where the features of life
were so much the same that it is not necessary to say more than that the
inhabitants were all workless, or nearly so, and all living upon the
charitable provision which is the only thin plank between so many people
and death, just now. In one house, where the furniture had been
sold, the poor souls had brought a great stone into the place, and this
was their only seat. In Cunliffe Street, we passed the cottage of a
boilermaker, whom I had heard of before. His family was four in
number. This was one of those cases of wholesome pride in which the
family had struggled with extreme penury, seeking for work in vain, but
never asking for charity, until their own poor neighbours were at last so
moved with pity for their condition, that they drew the attention of the
Relief Committee to it. The man accepted relief for one week, but
after that, he declined receiving it any longer, because he had met with a
promise of employment. But the promise failed him when the time
came. The employer, who had promised, was himself disappointed of
the expected work. After this; the boilermaker's family was
compelled to fall back upon the Relief Committee's allowance. He who
has never gone hungry about the world, with a strong love of independence
in his heart, seeking eagerly for work from day to day, and coming home
night after night to a foodless, fireless house, and a starving family,
disappointed and desponding, with the gloom of destitution deepening
around him, can never fully realise what the feelings of such a man may be
from anything that mere words can tell.
In Park Road, we called at the house of a hand-loom weaver.
I learnt, before we went in, that two families lived here, numbering
together eight persons; and, though it was well known to the committee
that they had suffered as severely as any on the relief list, yet their
sufferings had been increased by the anonymous slanders of some
ill-disposed neighbours. They were quiet, well-conducted working
people; and these slanders had grieved them very much. I found the
poor weaver's wife very sensitive on this subject. Man's inhumanity
to man may be found among the poor sometimes. It is not every one
who suffers that learns mercy from that suffering. As I have said
before, the husband was a calico weaver on the hand-loom. He had to
weave about seventy-three yards of a kind of check for 3s., and a full
week's work rarely brought him more than 5s. It seems astonishing
that a man should stick year after year to such labour as this. But
there is a strong adhesiveness, mingled with timidity, in some men, which
helps to keep them down.
In the front room of the cottage there was not a single
article of furniture left, so far as I can remember. The weaver's
wife was in the little kitchen, and, knowing the gentleman who was with
me, she invited us forward. She was a wan woman, with sunken eyes,
and she was not much under fifty years of age. Her scanty clothing
was whole and clean. She must have been a very good-looking woman
sometime, though she seemed to me as if long years of hard work and poor
diet had sapped the foundations of her constitution; and there was a
curious changeful blending of pallor and feverish flush upon that worn
face. But, even in the physical ruins of her countenance, a pleasing
expression lingered still. She was timid and quiet in her manner at
first, as if wondering what we had come for; but she asked me to sit down.
There was no seat for my friend, and he stood leaning against the wall,
trying to get her into easy conversation. The little kitchen looked
so cheerless and bare that dull morning that it reminded me again of a
passage in that rude, racy song of the Lancashire weaver, "Jone o'
"Owd Bill o' Dan's sent us th' baillies one day,
For a shop-score aw owed him, at aw couldn't pay;
But, he were too lat, for owd Billy at th' Bent
Had sent th' tit an' cart, an' taen th' goods off for rent, ―
They laft nought but th' owd stoo;
It were seats for us two,
An' on it keawr't Margit an' me.
"Then, th' baillies looked reawnd 'em as sly as a meawse,
When they see'd at o'th goods had bin taen eawt o' th' heawse;
Says tone chap to tother, 'O's gone, ― thae may see,' ―
Says aw, 'Lads, ne'er fret, for yo're welcome to me!'
Then they made no moor do,
But nipt up wi' owd stoo,
An' we both letten thwack upo' th' flags.
"Then aw said to eawr Margit, while we're upo' the floor,
'We's never be lower i' this world, aw'm sure;
Iv ever things awtern they're likely to mend,
For aw think i' my heart that we're both at th' fur end;
For meight we han noan,
Nor no looms to weighve on,
An' egad, they're as good lost as fund.'"
We had something to do to get the weaver's wife to talk to us
freely, and I believe the reason was, that, after the slanders they had
been subject to, she harboured a sensitive fear lest anything like doubt
should be cast upon her story. "Well, Mrs," said my friend, "let's
see; how many are you altogether in this house?" "We're two
families, yo know," replied she; "there's eight on us all altogether."
"Well," continued he, "and how much have you coming in, now?"
He had asked this question so oft before, and had so often
received the same answer, that the poor soul began to wonder what was the
meaning of it all. She looked at us silently, her wan face flushed,
and then, with tears rising in her eyes, she said, tremulously, "Well, iv
yo' cannot believe folk ― " My friend stopped her at once, and said,
"Nay, Mrs ―, you must not think that I
doubt your story. I know all about it; but my friend wanted me to
let you tell it your own way. We have come here to do you good, if
possible, and no harm. You don't need to fear that." "Oh,
well," said she, slowly wiping her moist forehead, and looking relieved,
"but yo know, aw was very much put about o'er th' ill-natur't talk as
somebody set eawt." "Take no notice of them," said my friend; "take
no notice. I meet with such things every day." "Well,"
continued she, "yo know heaw we're situated. We were nine months an'
hesn't a stroke o' wark. Eawr wenches are gettin' a day for t' sick,
neaw and then, but that's all. There's a brother o' mine lives with
us, ― he'd a been clemmed into th' grave but for th' relief; an' aw've
been many a time an' hesn't put a bit i' my meawth fro mornin' to mornin'
again. We've bin married twenty-four year; an' aw don't think at him
an' me together has spent a shillin' i' drink all that time. Why, to
tell yo truth, we never had nought to stir on. My husband does bod
get varra little upo th' hand-loom i' th' best o' times ― 5s. a week or
so. He weighves a sort o' check ― seventy-three yards for 3s."
The back door opened into a little damp yard, hemmed in by
brick walls. Over in the next yard we could see a man bustling
about, and singing in a loud voice, "Hard times come again no more."
"Yon fellow doesn't care much about th' hard times, I think," said I.
"Eh, naw," replied she. "He'll live where mony a one would dee, will
yon. He has that little shop, next dur; an' he keeps sellin' a bit
o' toffy, an' then singin' a bit, an' then sellin' a bit moor toffy, ― an'
he's as happy as a pig amung slutch."
Leaving the weaver's cottage, the rain came on, and we sat a
few minutes with a young shoemaker, who was busy at his bench, doing a
cobbling job. His wife was lying ill upstairs. He had been so
short of work for some time past that he had been compelled to apply for
relief. He complained that the cheap gutta percha shoes were hurting
his trade. He said a pair of men's gutta percha shoes could be
bought for 5s. 6d., whilst it would cost him 7s. 6d. for the materials
alone to make a pair of men's shoes.
When the rain was over, we left his house, and as we went
along I saw in a cottage window a printed paper containing these words,
"Bitter beer. This beer is made of herbs and roots of the native
country." I know that there are many poor people yet in Lancashire
who use decoctions of herbs instead of tea ― mint and balm are the
favourite herbs for this purpose; but I could not imagine what this herb
beer could be, at a halfpenny a bottle, unless it was made of nettles.
At the cottage door there was about four-pennyworth of mauled garden stuff
upon an old tray. There was nobody inside but a little ragged lass, who
could not tell us what the beer was made of. She had only one
drinking glass in the place, and that had a snip out of the rim. The
beer was exceedingly bitter. We drank as we could, and then went
into Pump Street, to the house of a "core-maker," a kind of labourer for
moulders. The core-maker's wife was in. They had four
children. The whole six had lived for thirteen weeks on 3s. 6d. a week.
When work first began to fall off, the husband told the visitors who came
to inquire into their condition, that he had a little money saved up, and
he could manage a while. The family lived upon their savings as long
as they lasted, and then were compelled to apply for relief, or "clem."
It was not quite noon when we left this house, and my friend
proposed that before we went farther we should call upon Mrs G
―, an interesting old woman, in Cunliffe
Street. We turned back to the place, and there we found
"In lowly shed, and mean attire,
A matron old, whom we schoolmistress name,
Who boasts unruly brats with birch to tame."
In a small room fronting the street, the mild old woman sat,
with her bed in one corner, and her simple vassals ranged upon the forms
around. Here, "with quaint arts," she swayed the giddy crowd of
little imprisoned elves, whilst they fretted away their irksome school
time, and unconsciously played their innocent prelude to the serious drama
of life. As we approach the open door ―
"The noises intermix'd, which thence resound,
Do learning's little tenement betray;
Where sits the dame disguised in look profound,
And eyes her fairy throng, and turns her wheel around."
The venerable little woman had lived in this house fourteen
years. She was seventy-three years of age, and a native of Limerick.
She was educated at St Ann's School, in Dublin, and she had lived fourteen
years in the service of a lady in that city. The old dame made an
effort to raise her feeble form when we entered, and she received us as
courteously as the finest lady in the land could have done. She told
us that she charged only a penny a-week for her teaching; but, said she,
"some of them can't pay it." "There's a poor child," continued she,
"his father has been out of work eleven months, and they are starving but
for the relief. Still, I do get a little, and I like to have the
children about me. Oh, my case is not the worst, I know. I
have people lodging in the house who are not so well off as me. I
have three families living here. One is a family of four; they have
only 3s. a-week to live upon. Another is a family of three; they
have 6s. a-week from a club, but they pay me 2s. a-week. for rent out of
that. . . . . I am very much troubled with my eyes; my sight is failing
fast. If I drop a stitch when I'm knitting, I can't see to take it
up again. If I could buy a pair of spectacles, they would help me a
good dale; but I cannot afford till times are better."
I could not help thinking how many kind souls there are in
the world who would be glad to give the old woman a pair of spectacles, if
they knew her.