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. 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
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 says: ―
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
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 die."
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
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 days. 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.
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.
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
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
They who, half-fed, feed the breadless,
in the travail of distress;
They who, taking from a little, give to those who still
They who, needy, yet can pity when they look on greater
These are Charity's disciples, ― these are Mercy's sons
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."
Old John's wants were inquired into, and we left him fiddling among
his rusty tools.
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
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
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 sin."
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
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
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 yung."
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
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 it."
There's nob'dy but the Lord an' me
That knows what I've to bide.
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' Greenfeelt" ―
Owd Bill o' Dan's sent us th' baillies
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
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'
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
"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,
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
Over in the next yard we could see a man bustling about, and
singing in a loud voice,
Hard times come again no more.
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
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.
We talked with the old schoolmistress in Cunliffe Street till it was
"high twelve" at noon, and then the kind jailer of learning's little
prison-house let all her fretful captives go. The clamorous elves
rushed through the doorway into the street, like a stream too big
for its vent, rejoicing in their new-found freedom and the open face
of day. The buzz of the little teaching mill was hushed once more,
and the old dame laid her knitting down, and quietly wiped her weak
and weary eyes. The daughters of music were brought low with her,
but, in the last thin treble of second childhood, she trembled forth
mild complaints of her neighbours' troubles, but very little of her
We left her to enjoy her frugal meal and her noontide reprieve in
peace, and came back to the middle of the town. On our way I noticed
again some features of street life which are more common in
manufacturing towns just now than when times are good. Now and then
one meets with a man in the dress of a factory worker selling
newspapers, or religious tracts, or back numbers of the penny
periodicals, which do not cost much. It is easy to see, from their
shy and awkward manner, that they are new to the trade, and do not
like it. They are far less dexterous, and much more easily "said,"
than the brisk young salesmen who hawk newspapers in the streets of
Manchester. I know that many of these are unemployed operatives
trying to make an honest penny in this manner till better days
return. Now and then, too, a grown-up girl trails along the street,
With wandering steps and slow,
ragged, and soiled, and starved,
and looking as if she had travelled far in the rainy weather,
houseless and forlorn. I know that such sights may be seen at any
time, but not near so often as just now; and I cannot help thinking
that many of these are poor sheep which have strayed away from the
broken folds of labour. Sometimes it is an older woman that goes by,
with a child at the breast, and one or two holding by the skirt of
her tattered gown, and perhaps one or two more limping after, as she
crawls along the pavement, gazing languidly from side to side among
the heedless crowd, as if giving her last look round the world for
help, without knowing where to get it, and without heart to ask for
it. It is easy to give wholesale reasons why nobody needs to be in
such a condition as this; but it is not improbable that there are
some poor souls who, from no fault of their own, drop through the
great sieve of charity into utter destitution. "They are well kept
that God keeps." May the continual dew of Heaven's blessing gladden
the hearts of those who deal kindly with them!
After dinner I fell into company with some gentlemen who were
talking about the coming guild ― that ancient local festival, which
is so dear to the people of Preston, that they are not likely to
allow it to go by wholly unhonoured, however severe the times may
be. Amongst them was a gray-haired friend of mine, who is a genuine
humorist. He told us many quaint anecdotes. One of them was of a man
who went to inquire the price of graves in a certain cemetery. The
sexton told him that they were 1 pound on this side, and 2 pounds on
the other side of the knoll. "How is it that they are 2 pounds on
the other side?" inquired the man. "Well, becose there's a better
view there," replied the sexton.
There were three or four millowners in the company, and, when the
conversation turned upon the state of trade, one of them said, "I
admit that there is a great deal of distress, but we are not so
badly off yet as to drive the operatives to work for reasonable
wages. For instance, I had a labourer working for me at 10s. a-week;
he threw up my employ, and went to work upon the moor for 1s. a-day. How do you account for that? And then, again, I had another man
employed as a watchman and roller coverer, at 18s. a-week. I found
that I couldn't afford to keep him on at 18s., so I offered him 15s.
a-week; but he left it, and went to work on the moor at 1s. a-day;
and, just now, I want a man to take his place, and cannot get one." Another said, "I am only giving low wages to my workpeople, but they
get more with me than they can make on the moor, and yet I cannot
keep them." I heard some other things of the same kind, for which
there might be special reasons; but these gentlemen admitted the
general prevalence of severe distress, and the likelihood of its
becoming much worse.
At two o'clock I sallied forth again, under convoy of another member
of the Relief Committee, into the neighbourhood of Messrs Horrocks,
Miller, and Co.'s works. Their mill is known as "Th' Yard Factory." Hereabouts the people generally are not so much reduced as in some
parts of the town, because they have had more employment, until
lately, than has been common elsewhere. But our business lay with
those distressed families who were in receipt of relief, and, even
here, they were very easy to find.
The first house we called at was inhabited by a family of five ― man
and wife and three children. The man was working on the moor at one
shilling a-day. The wife was unwell, but she was moving about the
house. They had buried one girl three weeks before; and one of the
three remaining children lay ill of the measles. They had suffered a
great deal from sickness. The wife said, "My husband is a peawer-loom
weighver. He had to come whoam ill fro' his wark; an' then they
shopped his looms, (gave his work to somebody else,) an' he couldn't
get 'em back again. He'll get 'em back as soon as he con, yo may
depend; for we don't want to bother folk for no mak o' relief no
lunger than we can help." In addition to the husband's pay upon the
moor, they were receiving 2s. a week from the Committee, making
altogether 8s. a week for the five, with 2s. 6d. to pay out of it
for rent. She said, "We would rayther ha' soup than coffee, becose
there's moor heytin' in it."
My friend looked in at the door of a cottage in Barton Street. There
was a sickly-looking woman inside. "Well, missis," said my friend,
jocularly, "how are you? because, if you're ill, I've brought a
doctor here." "Eh," replied she, "aw could be ill in a minute, if aw
could afford, but these times winnot ston doctors' bills. Besides,
aw never were partial to doctors' physic; it's kitchen physic at aw
want. Han yo ony o' that mak' wi' yo?" she said, "My husban' were th'
o'erlooker o' th'weighvers at 'Owd Tom's.' They stopt to fettle th'
engine a while back, an' they'n never started sin'. But aw guess
they wi'n do some day."
We had not many yards to go to the next place, which was a poor
cottage in Fletcher's Row, where a family of eight persons resided.
There was very little furniture in the place, but I noticed a small
shelf of books in a corner by the window. A feeble woman, upwards of
seventy years old, sat upon a stool tending the cradle of a sleeping
infant. This infant was the youngest of five children, the oldest of
the five was seven years of age. The mother of the three-weeks-old
infant had just gone out to the mill to claim her work from the
person who had been filling her place during her confinement. The
old woman said that the husband was "a grinder in a card-room when
they geet wed, an' he addled about 8s. a week; but, after they geet
wed, his wife larn't him to weighve upo' th' peawer-looms." She said
that she was no relation to them, but she nursed, and looked after
the house for them. "They connot afford to pay mo nought," continued
she, "but aw fare as they fare'n, an' they dunnot want to part wi'
me. Aw'm not good to mich, but aw can manage what they wanten, yo
see'n. Aw never trouble't noather teawn nor country i' my life, an'
aw hope aw never shall for the bit o' time aw have to do on." She
said that the Board of Guardians had allowed the family 10s. a week
for the two first weeks of the wife's confinement, but now their
income amounted to a little less than one shilling a head per week.
Leaving this house, we turned round the corner into St Mary's Street
North. Here we found a clean-looking young working man standing
shivering by a cottage door, with his hands in his pockets. He was
dressed in well-mended fustian, and he had a cloth cap on his head. His face had a healthy hunger-nipt look. "Hollo," said my friend, "I
thought you was working on the moor." "Ay," replied the young man,
"Aw have bin, but we'n bin rain't off this afternoon." "Is there
nobody in?" said my friend. "Naw, my wife's gone eawt; hoo'll not be
mony minutes. Hoo's here neaw." A clean little pale woman came up,
with a child in her arms, and we went in. They had not much
furniture in the small kitchen, which was the only place we saw, but
everything was sweet and orderly. Their income was, as usual in
relief cases, about one shilling a head per week. "You had some
lodgers," said my friend. "Ay," said she, "but they're gone." "How's
that?" "We had a few words. Their little lad was makin' a great
noise i' the passage theer, an' aw were very ill o' my yed, an' aw
towd him to go an' play him at tother side o' th' street, ― so, they
took it amiss, an' went to lodge wi' some folk i' Ribbleton Lone."
We called at another house in this street. A family of six lived
there. The only furniture I saw in the place was two chairs, a
table, a large stool, a cheap clock, and a few pots. The man and his
wife were in. She was washing. The man was a stiff-built,
shock-headed little fellow, with a squint in his eye that seemed to
enrich the good-humoured expression of his countenance. Sitting
smiling by the window, he looked as if he had lots of fun in him, if
he only had a fair chance of letting it off. He told us that he was
a "tackler" by trade. A tackler is one who fettles looms when they
get out of order. "Couldn't you get on at Horrocks's?" said my
friend. "Naw," replied he; "they'n not ha' men-weighvers theer." The
wife said, "We're a deal better off than some. He has six days a
week upo th' moor, an' we'n 3s. a week fro th' Relief Committee. We'n 2s. 6d. a week to pay eawt on it for rent; but then, we'n a lad
that gets 4d. a day neaw an' then for puttin' bobbins on; an' every
little makes a mickle, yo known." "How is it that your clock's stopt?"
said I. "Nay," said the little fellow; "aw don't know. Want o'
cotton, happen, ― same as everything else is stopt for."
Leaving this house we met with another member of the Relief
Committee, who was overlooker of a mill a little way off. I parted
here with the gentleman who had accompanied me hitherto, and the overlooker went on with me.
In Newton Street he stopped, and said, "Let's look in here." We went
up two steps, and met a young woman coming out at the cottage door. "How's Ruth?" said my friend. "Well, hoo is here. Hoo's busy bakin'
for Betty." We went in. "You're not bakin' for yourselves, then?"
said he. "Eh, naw," replied the young woman, "it's mony a year sin'
we had a bakin' o' fleawr! Isn't it, Ruth?" The old woman who was
baking turned round and said, "Ay; an' it'll be mony another afore
we han one aw deawt."
There were three dirty-looking hens picking and croodling about the
cottage floor. "How is it you don't sell these, or else eat 'em?"
said he. "Eh, dear," replied the old woman, "dun yo want mo kilt? He's had thoose hens mony a year; an' they rooten abeawt th' heawse
just th' same as gradley Christians. He did gi' consent for one on
'em to be kilt yesterday; but aw'll be hanged iv th' owd cracky
didn't cry like a chylt when he see'd it beawt yed. He'd as soon
part wi' one o'th childer as one o'th hens. He says they're so mich
like owd friends, neaw. He's as quare as Dick's hat-bant 'at went
nine times reawnd an' wouldn't tee. . . . We thought we'd getten a
shop for yon lad o' mine t'other day. We yerd ov a chap at Lytham at
wanted a lad to tak care o' six jackasses an' a pony. Th' pony were
to tak th' quality to Blackpool, and such like. So we fettled th'
lad's bits o' clooas up and made him ever so daycent, and set him
off to try to get on wi' th' chap at Lytham. Well, th' lad were i'
good heart abeawt it; an' when he geet theer th' chap towd him at he
thought he wur very likely for th' job, so that made it better, ―
an' th' lad begun o' wearin' his bit o' brass o' summat to eat, an'
sich like, thinkin' he're sure o' th' shop. Well, they kept him
there, dallyin', aw tell yo, an' never tellin' him a greadley tale,
fro Sunday till Monday o' th' neet, an' then, ― lo an' behold, ― th'
mon towd him that he'd hire't another; and th' lad had to come
trailin' whoam again, quite deawn i'th' meawth. Eh, aw wur some mad! Iv aw'd been at th' back o' that chap, aw could ha' punce't him, see
yo!" "Well," said my friend, "there's no work yet, Ruth, is there?" "Wark! naw; nor never will be no moor, aw believe."
"Hello, Ruth!" said the young woman, pointing through the window,
"dun yo know who yon is?" "Know? ay," replied the old woman; "He's getten aboon porritch neaw, has yon. He walks by me i'th street, as
peart as a pynot, an' never cheeps. But, he's no 'casion. Aw know'd
him when his yure stickt out at top ov his hat; and his shurt would
ha' hanged eawt beheend, too, ― like a Wigan lantron, ― iv he'd had
Oh, reason not the deed; our basest
Are in the poorest things superfluous:
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man's life is cheap as beast's.
― King Lear.
A SHORT fit of rain came on whilst we were in the cottage in Newton
Street, so we sat a little while with Ruth, listening to her quaint
tattle about the old man and his feathered pets; about the children,
the hard times, and her own personal ailments; ― for, though I could
not help thinking her a very good-hearted, humorous old woman,
bravely disposed to fight it out with the troubles of her humble
lot, yet it was clear that she was inclined to ease her harassed
mind now and then by a little wholesome grumbling; and I dare say
that sometimes she might lose her balance so far as to think, like "Natterin'
No livin' soul atop o't earth's
Bin tried as I've bin tried:
There's nob'dy but the Lord an' me
That knows what I've to bide.
Old age and infirmity, too, had found Ruth out, in her penurious
obscurity; and she was disposed to complain a little, like Nan,
sometimes, of "the ills that flesh is heir to:" ―
Fro' t' wind i't stomach, rheumatism,
Tengin pains i't gooms,
An' coughs, an' cowds, an' t' spine o't back,
I suffer martyrdom.
"Yet nob'dy pities mo, or thinks
I'm ailin' owt at all;
T' poor slave mun tug an' tew wi't wark,
Wolivver shoo can crawl.
Old Ruth was far from being as nattle and querulous as the famous
ill-natured grumbler so racily pictured by Benjamin Preston, of
Bradford; but, like most of the dwellers upon earth, she was a
little bit touched with the same complaint.
When the rain was over, we came away. I cannot say that the weather
ever "cleared up" that day; for, at the end of every shower, the
dark, slow-moving clouds always seemed to be mustering for another
downfall. We came away, and left the "cant" old body "busy bakin'
for Betty," and "shooing" the hens away from her feet, and she
shuffled about the house.
A few yards lower in Newton Street, we turned up a low, dark entry,
which led to a gloomy little court behind. This was one of those
unhealthy, pent-up cloisters, where misery stagnates and broods
among the "foul congregation of pestilential vapours" which haunt
the backdoor life of the poorest parts of great towns. Here, those
viewless ministers of health ― the fresh winds of heaven ― had no
free play; and poor human nature inhaled destruction from the
poisonous effluvia that festered there. And, in such nooks as this,
there may be found many decent working people, who have been
accustomed to live a cleanly life in their humble way in healthy
quarters, now reduced to extreme penury, pinching, and pining, and
nursing the flickering hope of better days, which may enable them to
flee from the foul harbour which strong necessity has driven them
The dark aspect of the day filled the court with a tomb-like gloom. If I remember aright, there were only three or four cottages in it. We called at two of them. Before we entered the first, my friend
said, "A young couple lives here. They are very decent people. They
have not been here long; and they have gone through a great deal
before they came here." There were two or three pot ornaments on the
cornice; but there was no furniture in the place, save one chair,
which was occupied by a pale young woman, nursing her child. Her
thin, intelligent face looked very sad. Her clothing, though poor,
was remarkably clean; and, as she sat there, in the gloomy, fireless
house, she said very little, and what she said she said very
quietly, as if she had hardly strength to complain, and was even
half-ashamed to do so. She told us, however, that her husband had
been out of work six months. "He didn't know what to turn to after
we sowd th' things," said she; "but he's takken to cheer-bottomin',
for he doesn't want to lie upo' folk for relief, if he can help it. He doesn't get much above a cheer, or happen two in a week, one week wi' another, an' even then he doesn't olez get paid, for folks ha'
not brass. It runs very hard with us, an' I'm nobbut sickly." The
poor soul did not need to say much; her own person, which evinced
such a touching struggle to keep up a decent appearance to the last,
and everything about her, as she sat there in the gloomy place,
trying to keep the child warm upon her cold breast, told eloquently
what her tongue faltered at and failed to express.
The next place we called at in this court was a cottage kept by a
withered old woman, with one foot in the grave. We found her in the
house, sallow, and shrivelled, and panting for breath. She had three
young women, out of work, lodging with her; and, in addition to
these, a widow with her two children lived there. One of these
children, a girl, was earning 2s. 6d. a week for working short time
at a mill; the other, a lad, was earning 3s. a week. The rest were
all unemployed, and had been so for several months past. This 5s.
6d. a week was all the seven people had to live upon, with the
exception of a trifle the sickly old woman received from the Board
As we left the court, two young fellows were lounging at the entry
end, as if waiting for us. One of them stepped up to my friend, and
whispered something plaintively, pointing to his feet. I did not
catch the reply; but my friend made a note, and we went on. Before
we had gone many yards down the street a storm of rain and thunder
came on, and we hurried into the house of an old Irishwoman close
My friend knew the old woman. She was on his list of relief cases. "Will you let us shelter a few minutes, Mrs ―?" said he. "I will,
an' thank ye," replied she. "Come in an' sit down. Sure, it's not
fit to turn out a dog. Faith, that's a great storm. Oh, see the
rain! Thank God it's not him that made the house that made the pot! Dear, dear; did ye see the awful flash that time? I don't like to be
by myself, I am so terrified wi' the thunder. There has been a great
dale o' wet this long time." "There, has," replied my friend; "but
how have ye been getting on since I called before?" "Well," said the
old woman, sitting down, "things is quare with us as ever they can
be, an' that you know very well."
There was a young woman reared against the table by the window. My
friend turned towards her, and said, "Well, and how does the Indian
meal agree with you?" The young woman blushed, and smiled, but said
nothing; but the old woman turned sharply round and replied, "Well,
now, it is better nor starvation; it is chape, an' it fills up ― an'
that's all." "Is your son working?" inquired my friend. "Troth, he
is," replied she. "He does be gettin' a day now an' again at the
breek-croft in Ribbleton Lone. Faith, it is time he did somethin',
too, for he was nine months out o' work entirely. I am got greatly
into debt, an' I don't think I'll ever be able to get over it any
more. I don't know how does poor folk be able to spind money on
drink such times as thim; bedad, I cannot do it. It is hard enough
to get mate of any kind to keep the bare life in a body. Oh, see
now; but for the relief, the half o' the country would die out." "You're a native of Ireland, missis," said I. "Troth, I am," replied
she; "an' had a good farm o' greawnd in it too, one time. Ah! many's
the dark day I went through between that an' this. Before thim bad
times came on, long ago, people were well off in ould Ireland. I
seen them wid as many as tin cows standin' at the door at one time.
. . . Ah, then! but the Irish people is greatly scattered now! . . .
But, for the matter of that, folk are as badly off here as anywhere
in the world, I think. I dunno know how does poor folk be able to
spind money for dhrink. I am a widow this seventeen year now, an'
the divle a man or woman uvver seen me goin' to a public-house. I
seen women goin' a drinkin' widout a shift to their backs. I dunno
how the divvle they done it. Begorra, I think, if I drunk a glass of
ale just now, my two legs would fail from under me immadiately ― I
am that wake." The old woman was a little too censorious, I think.
There is no doubt that even people who are starving do drink a
little sometimes. The wonder would be if they did not, in some
degree, share the follies of the rest of the world. Besides, it is a
well-known fact, that those who are in employ, are apt, from a
feeling of misdirected kindness, to treat those who are out of work
to a glass of ale or two, now and then; and it is very natural, too,
that those who have been but ill-fed for a long time are not able to
stand it well.
After leaving the old Irishwoman's house, we called upon a man who
had got his living by the sale of newspapers. There was nothing
specially worthy of remark in this case, except that he complained
of his trade having fallen away a good deal. "I used to sell three
papers where I now sell one," said he. This may not arise from there
being fewer papers sold, but from there being more people selling
them than when times were good.
I came back to Manchester in the evening. I have visited Preston
again since then, and have spent some time upon Preston Moor, where
there are nearly fifteen hundred men, principally factory
operatives, at work. Of this I shall have something to say in my
The rose of Lancaster for lack of nurture pales.
― BLACKBURN BARD.
IT was early on a fine morning in July when I next set off to see
Preston again; the long-continued rains seemed to be ended, and the
unclouded sun flooded all the landscape with splendour. All nature
rejoiced in the change, and the heart of man was glad. In Clifton
Vale, the white-sleeved mowers were at work among the rich grass,
and the scent of new hay came sweetly through our carriage windows. In the leafy cloughs and hedges, the small birds were wild with joy,
and every garden sent forth a goodly smell. Along its romantic vale
the glittering Irwell meandered, here, through nooks,
wildwoods, thickening green,
and there, among lush unshaded
pastures; gathering on its way many a mild whispering brook, whose
sunlit waters laced the green land with freakish lines of trembling
gold. To me this ride is always interesting, so many points of
historic interest line the way; but it was doubly delightful on that
glorious July morning. And I never saw Fishergate, in Preston, look
better than it did then. On my arrival there I called upon the Secretary of the Trinity Ward Relief
Committee. In a quiet bye-street, where there are four pleasant
cottages, with little gardens in front of them, I found him in his
studious nook, among books, relief tickets, and correspondence. We
had a few minutes' talk about the increasing distress of the town;
and he gave me a short account of the workroom which has been opened
in Knowsley Street, for the employment of female factory operatives
out of work.
This workroom is managed by a committee of ladies, some of whom are
in attendance every day. The young women are employed upon plain
sewing. They have two days' work a week, at one shilling a day, and
the Relief Committee adds sixpence to this 2s. in each case. Most of
them are merely learning to sew. Many of them prove to be wholly
untrained to this simple domestic accomplishment. The work is not
remunerative, nor is it expected to be so; but the benefit which may
grow out of the teaching which these young women get here ― and the
evil their employment here may prevent, cannot be calculated. I find
that such workrooms are established in some of the other towns now
suffering from the depression of trade. Some of these I intend to
I spent an interesting half-hour with the secretary, after which I went to
see the factory operatives at work upon Preston Moor.
Preston Moor is a tract of waste land on the western edge of the
town. It belongs to the corporation. A little vale runs through a
great part of this moor, from south-east to north-west; and the
ground was, until lately, altogether uneven. On the town side of the
little dividing vale the land is a light, sandy soil; on the other
side, there is abundance of clay for brick-making.
Upon this moor there are now fifteen hundred men, chiefly factory
operatives, at work, levelling the land for building purposes, and
making a great main sewer for the drainage of future streets. The
men, being almost all unused to this kind of labour, are paid only
one shilling per day; and the whole scheme has been devised for the
employment of those who are suffering from the present depression of
The work had been going on several months before I saw it, and a
great part of the land was levelled. When I came in sight of the
men, working in scattered gangs that fine morning, there was, as
might be expected, a visible difference between their motions and
those of trained "navvies" engaged upon the same kind of labour.
There were also very great differences of age and physical condition
amongst them ― old men and consumptive-looking lads, hardly out of
their teens. They looked hard at me as I walked down the central
line, but they were not anyway uncivil. "What time is 't, maister?"
asked a middle-aged man, with gray hair, as he wiped his forehead. "Hauve-past
ten," said I. "What time says he?" inquired a feeble young fellow,
who was resting upon his barrow. "Hauve-past ten, he says," replied
the other. "Eh; it's warm!" said the tired lad, lying down upon his
barrow again. One thing I noticed amongst these men, with very rare
exceptions, their apparel, however poor, evinced that wholesome
English love of order and cleanliness which generally indicates
something of self-respect in the wearer ― especially among poor
folk. There is something touching in the whiteness of a well-worn
shirt, and the careful patches of a poor man's old fustian coat.
As I lounged about amongst the men, a mild-eyed policeman came up,
and offered to conduct me to Jackson, the labour-master, who had
gone down to the other end of the moor, to look after the men at
work at the great sewer ― a wet clay cutting ― the heaviest bit of
work on the ground. We passed some busy brick-makers, all plastered
and splashed with wet clay ― of the earth, earthy. Unlike the
factory operatives around them, these men clashed, and kneaded, and
sliced among the clay, as if they were working for a wager. But they
were used to the job, and working piece-work.
A little further on, we came to an unbroken bit of the moor. Here,
on a green slope we saw a poor lad sitting chirruping upon the
grass, with a little cloutful of groundsel for bird meat in his
hand, watching another, who was on his knees, delving for earth-nuts
with an old knife. Lower down the slope there were three other lads
plaguing a young jackass colt; and further off, on the town edge of
the moor, several children from the streets hard by, were wandering
about the green hollow, picking daisies, and playing together in the
There are several cotton factories close to the moor, but they were
quiet enough. Whilst I looked about me here, the policeman pointed
to the distance and said, "Jackson's comin' up, I see. Yon's him,
wi' th' white lin' jacket on."
Jackson seems to have won the esteem of the men upon the moor by his
judicious management and calm determination. I have heard that he
had a little trouble at first, through an injurious report spread
amongst the men immediately before he undertook the management. Some
person previously employed upon the ground had "set it eawt that
there wur a chap comin' that would make 'em addle a hauve-a-creawn a
day for their shillin'." Of course this increased the difficulty of
his position; but he seems to have fought handsomely through all
that sort of thing. I had met him for a few minutes once before, so
there was no difficulty between us.
"Well, Jackson," said I, "heaw are yo gettin' on among it?" "Oh,
very well, very well," said he, "We'n more men at work than we had,
an' we shall happen have more yet. But we'n getten things into
something like system, an' then tak 'em one with another th' chaps
are willin' enough. You see they're not men that have getten a livin'
by idling aforetime; they're workin' men, but they're strange to
this job, an' one cannot expect 'em to work like trained honds, no
moor than one could expect a lot o' navvies to work weel at factory
wark. Oh, they done middlin', tak 'em one with another."
I now asked him if he had not had some trouble with the men at
first. "Well," said he, "I had at first, an' that's the truth. I
remember th' first day that I came to th' job. As I walked on to th'
ground there was a great lump o' clay coom bang into my earhole th'
first thing; but I walked on, an' took no notice, no moor than if it
had bin a midge flyin' again my face. Well, that kind o' thing took
place, now an' then, for two or three days, but I kept agate o'
never mindin'; till I fund there were some things that I thought
could be managed a deal better in a different way; so I gav' th' men
notice that I would have 'em altered. For instance, now, when I coom here at first, there was a great
shed in yon hollow; an' every mornin' th' men had to pass through
that shed one after another, an' have their names booked for th'
day. The result wur, that after they'd walked through th' shed,
there was many on 'em walked out at t'other end o' th' moor straight
into teawn a-playin' 'em. Well, I was determined to have that system
done away with. An', when th' men fund that I was gooin' to make
these alterations, they growled a good deal, you may depend, an' two
or three on 'em coom up an' spoke to me abeawt th' matter, while
tother stood clustered a bit off. Well, I was beginnin' to tell 'em
plain an' straight-forrud what I would have done, when one o' these
three sheawted out to th' whole lot, "Here, chaps, come an' gether
reawnd th' devil. Let's yer what he's for!" 'Well,' said I, 'come on, an' you shall yer,' for aw felt cawmer
just then, than I did when it were o'er. There they were, gethered
reawnd me in a minute, ― th' whole lot, ― I were fair hemmed in. But
I geet atop ov a bit ov a knowe, an' towd 'em a fair tale, ― what I
wanted, an' what I would have, an' I put it to 'em whether they
didn't consider it reet. An' I believe they see'd th' thing in a
reet leet, but they said nought about it, but went back to their
wark, lookin' sulky. But I've had very little bother with 'em sin'.
"I never see'd a lot o' chaps so altered sin' th' last February, as
they are. At that time no mortal mon hardly could walk through 'em 'beawt
havin' a bit o' slack-jaw, or a lump o' clay or summat flung a-him.
But it isn't so, neaw. I consider th' men are doin' very weel. But,
come; yo mun go deawn wi' me a-lookin' at yon main sewer."
The time will come, as come again it
When Lancashire shall lift her head once more;
Her suffering sons, now down amid the dust
Of Indigence, shall pass through Plenty's door;
Her commerce cover seas from shore to shore;
Her arts arise to highest eminence;
Her products prove unrivall'd, as of yore;
Her valour and her virtue ― men of sense
And blue-eyed beauties ― England's pride and her
office as labour-master kept him constantly tramping about the sandy
moor from one point to another. He was forced to be in sight, and on
the move, during working hours, amongst his fifteen hundred
scattered workmen. It was heavy walking, even in dry weather; and as
we kneaded through the loose soil that hot forenoon, we wiped our
foreheads now and then. "Ay," said he, halting, and looking round
upon the scene, "I can assure you, that when I first took howd o'
this job, I fund my honds full, as quiet as it looks now. I was laid
up for nearly a week, an' I had to have two doctors. But, as I'd undertakken the thing, I was determined to go through with it to th'
best o' my ability; an' I have confidence now that we shall be able
to feight through th' bad time wi' summat like satisfaction, so far
as this job's consarned, though it's next to impossible to please
everybody, do what one will. But come wi' me down this road. I've
some men agate o' cuttin' a main sewer. It's very little farther
than where th' cattle pens are i' th' hollow yonder; and it's
different wark to what you see here. Th' main sewer will have to be
brought clean across i' this direction, an' it'll be a stiffish job. Th' cattle market's goin' to be shifted out o' yon hollow, an' in
another year or two th' whole scene about here will be changed."
Jackson and I both remembered something of the troubles of the
cotton manufacture in past times. We had seen something of the
"shuttle gatherings," the "plug-drawings," the wild starvation
riots, and strikes of days gone by; and he agreed with me that one
reason for the difference of their demeanour during the present
trying circumstances lies in their increasing intelligence. The
great growth of free discussion through the cheap press has done no
little to work out this salutary change. There is more of human
sympathy, and of a perception of the union of interests between
employers and employed than ever existed before in the history of
the cotton trade. Employers know that their workpeople are human
beings, of like feelings and passions with themselves, and like
themselves, endowed with no mean degree of independent spirit and
natural intelligence; and working men know better than beforetime
that their employers are not all the heartless tyrants which it has
been too fashionable to encourage them to believe. The working men
have a better insight into the real causes of trade panics than they
used to have; and both masters and men feel more every day that
their fortunes are naturally bound together for good or evil; and if
the working men of Lancashire continue to struggle through the
present trying pass of their lives with the brave patience which
they have shown hitherto, they will have done more to defeat the
arguments of those who hold them to be unfit for political power
than the finest eloquence of their best friends could have done in
the same time.
The labour master and I had a little talk about these things as we
went towards the lower end of the moor. A few minutes' slow walk
brought us to the spot, where some twenty of the hardier sort of
operatives were at work in a damp clay cutting. "This is heavy work
for sich chaps as these," said Jackson; "but I let 'em work bi'th
lump here. I give'em so much clay apiece to shift, and they can
begin when they like, an' drop it th' same. Th' men seem satisfied
wi' that arrangement, an' they done wonders, considerin' th' nature
o'th job. There's many o'th men that come on to this moor are badly
off for suitable things for their feet. I've had to give lots o'
clogs away among'em. You see men cannot work with ony comfort among
stuff o' this sort without summat substantial on. It rives poor shoon to pieces i' no time. Beside, they're not men that can ston
bein' witchod (wetshod) like some. They haven't been used to it as a
rule. Now, this is one o'th' finest days we've had this year; an'
you haven't sin what th' ground is like in bad weather. But you'd be
astonished what a difference wet makes on this moor. When it's bin
rain for a day or two th' wark's as heavy again. Th' stuff's heavier
to lift, an' worse to wheel; an' th' ground is slutchy. That tries 'em
up, an' poo's their shoon to pieces; an' men that are wakely get
knocked out o' time with it. But thoose that can stand it get
hardened by it. There's a great difference; what would do one man's
constitution good will kill another. Winter time 'll try 'em up
tightly. . . Wait there a bit," continued he, "I'll be with you
He then went down into the cutting to speak to some of his men,
whilst I walked about the edge of the bank. From a distant part of
the moor, the bray of a jackass came faint upon the sleepy wind. "Yer
tho', Jone," said one of the men, resting upon his spade; "another
cally-weighver gone!" "Ay," replied Jone, "th' owd lad's deawn't his
cut. He'll want no more tickets, yon mon!" The country folk of
Lancashire say that a weaver dies every time a jackass brays.
Jackson came up from the cutting, and we walked back to where the
greatest number of men were at work. "You should ha' bin here last
Saturday," said he; "we'd rather a curious scene. One o' the men coom to me an' axed if I'd allow 'em hauve-an-hour to howd a meetin'
about havin' a procession i' th' guild week. I gav' 'em consent, on
condition that they'd conduct their meetin' in an orderly way. Well,
they gethered together upo' that level theer; an' th' speakers stood
upo' th' edge o' that cuttin', close to Charnock Fowd. Th' meetin'
lasted abeawt a quarter ov an hour longer than I bargained for; but
they lost no time wi' what they had to do. O' went off quietly; an'
they finished with 'Rule Britannia,' i' full chorus, an' then went
back to their wark. You'll see th' report in today's paper."
This meeting was so curious, and so characteristic of the men, that
I think the report is worth repeating here: ―
On Saturday afternoon, a meeting of the parish labourers was held
on the moor, to consider the propriety of having a demonstration of
their numbers on one day in the guild week. There were upwards of a
thousand present. An operative, named John Houlker, was elected to
conduct the proceedings. After stating the object of the assembly, a
series of propositions were read to the meeting by William Gillow,
to the effect that a procession take place of the parish labourers
in the guild week; that no person be allowed to join in it except
those whose names were on the books of the timekeepers; that no one
should receive any of the benefits which might accrue who did not
conduct himself in an orderly manner; that all persons joining the
procession should be required to appear on the ground washed and
shaven, and their clogs, shoes, and other clothes cleaned; that they
were not expected to purchase or redeem any articles of clothing in
order to take part in the demonstration; and that any one absenting
himself from the procession should be expelled from any
participation in the advantages which might arise from the
subscriptions to be collected by their fellow-labourers. These were
all agreed to, and a committee of twelve was appointed to collect
subscriptions and donations. A president, secretary, and treasurer
were also elected, and a number of resolutions agreed to in
reference to the carrying out of the details of their scheme. The
managing committee consist of Messrs W. Gillow, Robert Upton, Thomas
Greenwood Riley, John Houlker, John Taylor, James Ray, James Whalley,
Wm. Banks, Joseph Redhead, James Clayton, and James McDermot. The
men agreed to subscribe a penny per week to form a fund out of which
a dinner should be provided, and they expressed themselves confident
that they could secure the gratuitous services of a band of music. During the meeting there was great order. At the conclusion, a vote
of thanks was accorded to the chairman, to the labour master for
granting them three-quarters of an hour for the purpose of holding
the meeting, and to William Gillow for drawing up the resolutions. Three times three then followed; after which, George Dewhurst
mounted a hillock, and, by desire, sang 'Rule Britannia,' the chorus
being taken up by the whole crowd, and the whole being wound up with
a hearty cheer.
There are various schemes devised in Preston for regaling the poor
during the guild; and not the worst of them is the proposal to give
them a little extra money for that week, so as to enable them to
enjoy the holiday with their families at home.
It was now about half-past eleven. "It's getting on for dinner
time," said Jackson, looking at his watch. "Let's have a look at th'
opposite side yonder; an' then we'll come back, an' you'll see th'
men drop work when the five minutes' bell rings. There's many of 'em
live so far off that they couldn't well get whoam an' back in an
hour; so, we give'em an hour an' a half to their dinner, now, an'
they work half an' hour longer i'th afternoon."
We crossed the hollow which divides the moor, and went to the top of
a sandy cutting at the rear of the workhouse. This eminence
commanded a full view of the men at work on different parts of the
ground, with the time-keepers going to and fro amongst them, book in
hand. Here were men at work with picks and spades; there, a
slow-moving train of full barrows came along; and, yonder, a train
of empty barrows stood, with the men sitting upon them, waiting.
Jackson pointed out some of his most remarkable men to me; after
which we went up to a little plot of ground behind the workhouse,
where we found a few apparently older or weaker men, riddling pebbly
stuff, brought from the bed of the Ribble. The smaller pebbles were
thrown into heaps, to make a hard floor for the workhouse
schoolyard. The master of the workhouse said that the others were
too big for this purpose ― the lads would break the windows with
them. The largest pebbles were cast aside to be broken up, for the
making of garden walks.
Whilst the master of the workhouse was showing us round the
building, Jackson looked at his watch again, and said, "Come, we've
just time to get across again. Th' bell will ring in two or three
minutes, an' I should like yo to see 'em knock off." We hurried over
to the other side, and, before we had been a minute there, the bell
rung. At the first toll, down dropt the barrows, the half-flung
shovelfuls fell to the ground, and all labour stopt as suddenly as
if the men had been moved by the pull of one string. In two minutes
Preston Moor was nearly deserted, and, like the rest, we were on our
way to dinner.
Wails of the Workless poor.
For whom the heart of man shuts out,
Straightway the heart of God takes
And fences them all round about
With silence, 'mid the world's loud
And one of his great charities
Is music; and it doth not scorn
To close the lids upon the eyes
Of the weary and forlorn.
THERE is one
feature of the distress in Lancashire which was seen strikingly upon
the streets of our large towns during some months of 1862. I
allude to the wandering minstrelsy of the unemployed. Swarms
of strange, shy, sad-looking singers and instrumental performers, in
the work-worn clothing of factory operatives, went about the busy
city, pleading for help in touching wails of simple song,—like so
many wild birds driven by hard weather to the haunts of man.
There is something instructive, as well as affecting, in this
feature of the troubled time. These wanderers are only a kind
of representative overflow of a vast number whom our streets will
never see. Any one well acquainted with Lancashire will know
how widespread the study of music is among its working population.
Even the inhabitants of our large towns know more about this now
than they knew a few months ago. I believe there is no part of
England in which the practice of sacred music is so widely and
lovingly pursued amongst the working people as in the counties of
Lancashire and Yorkshire. There is no part of England where,
until lately, there have been so many poor men's pianos, which have
been purchased by a long course of careful savings from the
workman's wages. These, of course, have mostly been sold
during the hard times, to keep life in the owner and in his family.
The great works of Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart, have
solaced the toil of thousands of the poorest working people of
Lancashire. Anybody accustomed to wander among the moorlands
of the county will remember how common it is to hear the people
practising sacred music in their lonely cottages. It is not
uncommon to meet working men wandering over the wild hills,
Where whin and heather grow.
with their musical instruments, to take part in some village
oratorio many miles away. "That reminds me," as taletellers
say, of an incident among the hills which was interesting, though
far from singular in my experience. Up in the Forest of
Rossendale, between Derply Moor and the wild hill called Swinshaw,
there is a little lone valley, a green cup in the mountains, called
"Dean." The inhabitants of this valley are so notable for
their love of music that they are known all through the vales of
Rossendale as "Th' Deighn Layrocks," or "The Larks of Dean."
In the twilight of a glorious Sunday evening, in the height of
summer, I was roaming over the heathery waste of Swinshaw, towards
Dean, in company with a musical friend of mine, who lived in the
neighbouring clough, when we saw a little crowd of people coming
down a moorland slope far away in front of us. As they drew
nearer we found that many of them had musical instruments, and when
we met, my friend recognised them as working people living in the
district, and mostly well known to him. He inquired where they
had been, and they told him they had "bin to a bit of a Sing deawn
i'th Deighn." "Well," said he, "can't we have a tune here?"
"Sure yo con, wi' o'th plezzur i'th world," replied he who acted as
spokesman; and a low buzz of delighted consent ran through the rest
of the company. They then ranged themselves in a circle around
their conductor, and they played and sang several fine pieces of
psalmody upon the heather-scented mountain top. As those
solemn strains floated over the wild landscape, startling the
moorfowl untimely in his nest, I could not help thinking of the
hunted Covenanters of Scotland. The all-together of that scene
upon the mountains,
Between the gloaming and the mirk.
made an impression upon me which I shall not easily forget.
Long after we parted from them we could hear their voices, softening
in sound as the distance grew, chanting on their way down the
echoing glen, and the effect was wonderfully fine. This little
incident upon the top of Swinshaw is representative of things which
often occur in the country parts of Lancashire, showing how
widespread the love of music is among the working classes there.
Even in great manufacturing towns it is very common, when passing
cotton mills at work, to hear some fine psalm tune streaming in
chorus from female voices, and mingling with the spoom of thousands
of spindles. The Larks of Dean, like the rest of Lancashire
operatives, must have suffered in this melancholy time; but I hope
that the humble musicians of our county will never have occasion to
hang their harps upon the willows.
Now, when Fortune has laid such a load of sorrow upon the
working people of Lancashire, it is a sad thing to see so many
workless minstrels of humble life,
Chanting their artless notes in simple guise,
upon the streets of great towns, amongst a kind of life they are
little used to. There is something very touching, too, in
their manner and appearance. They may be ill-shod and
footsore,—they may be hungry and sick at heart, and forlorn in
countenance,—but they are almost always clean and wholesome-looking
in person. They come singing in twos and threes, and sometimes
in more numerous bands, as if to keep one another in countenance.
Sometimes they come in a large family altogether,—the females with
their hymnbooks and the men with their different musical
instruments,—bits of pet salvage from the wrecks of cottage homes.
The women have sometimes children in their arms, or led by the hand;
and they sometimes carry music-books for the men. I have seen
them, too, with little handkerchiefs of rude provender for the day.
As I said before, they are almost invariably clean in person, and
their clothing is almost always sound and seemly in appearance,
however poor and scanty. Amongst these poor wanderers there is
none of the reckless personal negligence and filth of hopeless
reprobacy; neither is there a shadow of the professional ostentation
of poverty amongst them. Their faces are sad, and their
manners very often singularly shamefaced and awkward; and any
careful observer would see at a glance that these people were
altogether unused to the craft of the trained minstrel of the
streets. Their clear, healthy complexion, though often touched
with pallor, their simple, unimportunate demeanour, and the general
rusticity of their appearance, show them to be
Suppliants who would blush
To wear a tatter'd garb, however coarse;
Whom famine cannot reconcile to filth;
Who ask with painful shyness, and refused,
Because deserving, silently retire.
The females, especially the younger ones, generally walk
behind, blushing and hiding themselves as much as possible. I
have seen the men sometimes walk backwards, with their faces towards
those who were advancing, as if ashamed of what they were doing.
And thus they went wailing through the busy streets, whilst the
listening crowd looked on them pityingly and wonderingly, as if they
were so many hungry shepherds from the mountains of Calabria.
This flood of strange minstrelsy partly drowned the slang melodies
and the monotonous strains of ordinary street musicians for a while.
The professional gleeman "paled his ineffectual fire" before these
mournful songsters. [p.284] I think there
never was so much sacred music heard upon the streets of Manchester
before. With the exception of a favourite glee now and then,
their music consisted chiefly of fine psalm tunes,—often plaintive
old strains, known and welcome to all,—because they awaken tender
and elevating remembrances of life. "Burton," "French,"
"Kilmarnock," "Luther's Hymn," the grand "Old Hundred," and many
other fine tunes of a similar character, have floated daily in the
air of our city, for months together. I am sure that this
choice does not arise from the minstrels themselves having craft
enough to select
A mournful muse, soft pity to infuse.
It is the kind of music which has been the practice and pleasure of
their lives, and it is a fortuitous thing that now, in addition to
its natural plaintiveness, the sad necessity of the times lends a
tender accompaniment to their simplest melody. I doubt very
much whether Leech's minor tunes were ever heard upon our streets
till lately. Leech was a working man, born near the hills, in
South Lancashire; and his anthems and psalm tunes are great
favourites among the musical population, especially in the country
districts. Leech's heart was tuned by the genius of sorrow.
Several times lately I have heard the tender complaining notes of
his psalmody upon the streets of the city. About three months
ago I heard one of his most pathetic tunes sung in the Manchester
Market Place by an old man and two young women. The old man's
dress had the peculiar hue and fray of factory work upon it, and he
had a pair of clogs upon his stockingless feet. They were
singing one of Leech's finest minor tunes to Wesley's hymn:—
And am I born to die,
To lay this body down?
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown?
A land of deepest shade,
Unpierced by human thought,—
The dreary country of the dead,
Where all things are forgot?
It is a tune often sung by country people in Lancashire at funerals;
and, if I remember right, the same melody is cut upon Leech's
gravestone in the old Wesleyan Chapelyard, at Rochdale. I saw
a company of minstrels of the same class going through Brown Street,
in Manchester, the other day, playing and singing,
In darkest shades, if Thou appear,
My dawning is begun.
The company consisted of an old man, two young men, and three young
women. Two of the women had children in their arms.
After I had listened to them a little while, thinking the time and
the words a little appropriate to their condition, I beckoned to one
of the young men, who came "sidling" slowly up to me. I asked
him where they came from, and he said, "Ashton." In answer to
another question, he said, "We're o' one family. Me an' yon
tother's wed. That's his wife wi' th' chylt in her arms; an'
hur wi' th' plod shawl on's mine." I asked if the old man was
his father. "Ay," replied he, "we're o' here, nobbut two.
Mi mother's ill i' bed; an' one o' mi sisters is lookin' after her."
"Well, an' heaw han yo getten on?" said I. "Oh, we'n done weel;
but we's come no moor," replied he. Another day there was an
instrumental band of these operatives playing sacred music close to
the Exchange lamp. Amongst the crowd around I met with a
friend of mine. He told me that the players were from
Stalybridge. They played some fine old tunes, by desire; and,
among the rest, they played one called "Warrington." When they
had played it several times over, my friend turned to me and said,
"That tune was composed by a Rev. Mr. Harrison, who was once
minister of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, in Manchester; and one
day an old weaver who had come down from the hills many miles, staff
in hand, knocked at the minister's door, and asked if there was 'a
gentleman co'de Harrison lived there?' 'Yes.' 'Could aw
see him?' 'Yes.' When the minister came to the door the
old weaver looked hard at him for a minute, and said, 'Are yo th'
mon 'at composed that tune co'de "Warrington?"' 'Yes,' replied
the minister, 'I believe I am.' 'Well,' said the old weaver,
'give me your hond! It's a grand tune!' He then shook
hands with him heartily again, and saying, 'Well, good day to yo,'
he went his way home again, before the old minister could fairly
collect his scattered thoughts."
I do not know how it is that these workless minstrels are
gradually becoming rarer upon the streets than they were a few
months ago. Perhaps it is because the unemployed are more
liberally relieved now than they were at first. I know that
now many who have concealed their starving condition are ferreted
out and relieved as far as possible. Many of these street
wanderers have gone home again disgusted, to pinch out the hard time
in proud obscurity and there are some, no doubt, who have wandered
away to other parts of England. Of these last, we may
naturally expect that a few may become so reconciled to a life of
wandering minstrelsy that they may probably never return to settled
labour again. But
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.
Let us trust that the Great Creator may comfort and relieve them,
"according to their several necessities, giving them patience under
their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions."
Excelsior Printing and Bookbinding Works, Manchester.