Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts.

Woman's mission; a series of congress papers on the philanthropic work of women, by eminent writers online

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have done good work in exploding the pernicious theory
that it is right to send away a thoughtless insubordinate
youth, or a giddy ill-conducted girl, as a remedy for what
can be better corrected and restrained at home. But the
association which gives the most accurate and careful
attention to the whole of its methods is the United British
Women's Emigration Association. From other papers the
Congress will no doubt learn the value of the special
protection and care secured to large bodies of working girls
in England by means of the societies known as the Girls'
Friendly, the Young Women's Christian, the Metropolitan
Association for Befriending Young Servants, and the Women's
Help Society. Taken in the aggregate, these bodies represent
nearly 300,000 persons ; and in referring to the subject before
us it is important to notice that the officers of all those
societies emigrate their members through the organization
of the United British Women's Association. Success cannot
be attained here except by the reciprocity already recom-
mended, which means the acquisition of full knowledge as

Emigration. 89

to the needs of localities, rates of wages, circumstances of
journey, as well as conscientious co-operation by persons
who will make themselves responsible for the reception of
travellers on arrival. All these are needed for the satisfactory
distribution of emigrants, and in the case of women going
alone additional protection has to be secured. In late years
the emigration to Canada has been greatly facilitated by the
improvements introduced at the suggestion of Emigration
Societies by the three great shipping lines. They have been
gradually induced by the workers who approach them with
large parties, to give separate quarters for men and women,
to place the unmarried women in separate compartments
under their accredited matrons, arranging the married women
also by themselves with their young children. And the care
for these travellers continues till they reach the other side
of the great continent, for they are handed on to the very
ultimate point of destination.

It is a pleasure to be able to show that the intervention
of women has procured these improvements, that the care
for persons of all sorts who wish to improve their condition
may be supplied, and security and a new career offered to
many deserving persons through the intelligent efforts of

But obtaining introductions and providing travelling
comfort are not enough, and the educational side of the
subject has not been neglected. A Colonial Training School
for young servants and poor ladies is at work at Leaton in
Shropshire, where the training is most complete. All kinds
of household work are well taught, including milking, dairy
work, laundry, and kitchen details ; and the girls trained are
sent out under the care of the United British Women's
Association. And indeed this and some kindred institutions
may be regarded as supplying the best means of relief for

It is to Miss Rye that England was first indebted for the
effort to relieve her of orphan pauper children, whom she has
for many years been systematically transferring to the happy
homesteads of Canada. There they are incorporated in the
family life of the parents, and become thorough Canadian
citizens. By this effort Miss Rye has provided for more than

9O Woman's Mission.

four thousand children, of whom she has the most satisfactory
accounts. They are removed from the taint of pauperism,
from a joyless unloved childhood, to full parental care and
a life of respectable labour.

The best feature of her work is its educational side. The
children are all passed through the training-house at Niagara,
and full supervision is continued over all child ren after they
are placed out, so that their condition can always be ascer-
tained if necessary. In this admirable work Miss Rye is
aided by Miss Macpherson, and rivalled, perhaps, by Mrs.
Bilbrough Wallace's excellent training-school at Belleville,
Ontario. All kinds of children have here been imported and
distributed, either to adopting parents, or put to well-organized
employment ; the children being supervised systematically
by Mrs. Wallace's own inspector. There can be no doubt
that the emigration of orphan children is the best possible
means of relieving them in the calamity of their bereavement,
as well as for reducing the burdens of overcrowded England.
But it must be assisted by hearty effort on the other side of
the water. It is greatly to be desired that training estab-
lishments of this description could be multiplied in the
English colonies, and indeed in all countries ; as the kinds
of work, and the moulding of domestic habits, would then be
in accordance with the needs of the places where they are
put. English workers would welcome applications from
localities or individuals, and a frank interchange of communi-
cation as to what is desired and expected on both sides. If
this were more frequent, emigration would be very much pro-
moted ; for the first requisite is a sound understanding of
this kind. One would fain hear of journeys undertaken with
such a view, so that workers on both sides should have a
direct acquaintance with each other, partaking together in
the vivid human interests involved in their labours.

When we think of all that is implied in the great problem
of how to adjust the distribution of the human race, women
may well be proud that they have shown themselves com-
petent to help forward such work. At this moment the
United British Women is the sole association that has
received administrative sanction from the Dominion Govern-
ment For three years it has also been employed to select

Emigration. 9 1

the whole of the female emigrants to whom the Government
of Western Australia grants free passages. By means of its
loan fund the money for transmission is advanced to numbers
who would but too probably sink in the struggle at home,
and whose presence elsewhere becomes a blessing to the

Is it too much to hope that by the intelligent co-operation
of women, a system of organized transmission may be
brought to bear upon all the English-speaking communities
throughout the world ?

92 Woman's Mission.



THE navvies form in England, Scotland, and Wales a nomadic
class of 100,000 men, besides women and children. Even now
they are still outside the parochial, educational, sanitary, and
drink laws. They move about from one public work to
another, a distinct class or tribe, separated by habit and
circumstance from their fellow-countrymen, unthought of and
uncared for save by our poor little mission. So navvies live
and die ; and yet it is to their toil we owe our docks, canals,
reservoirs, sewerage works, and railways. Our needs are
supplied by them with loss of life and limb. Every mile
of our enjoyable journey by rail has cost a navvy a limb,
and each tunnel has involved a loss of from one to twenty
lives. Arthington Tunnel on the way to Harrogate cost

It was in 1870 that the Leeds Corporation commenced
the construction of three immense reservoirs, in the upper
reaches of Wharfedale, to dam up a mountain river and then
convey its pure waters to Leeds, seventeen miles away. The
lowest of these reservoirs was made at Lindly Wood, a tree-
covered vale in the heart of the hills, four miles from Otley
and eight from Harrogate. Within a month the ground
was cleared and three long rows of brick huts erected, also
stables, a food shop, and a " shant " to sell beer ; but neither
church nor school for these people was ever considered
necessary in those days. Thank God ! there is not a settle-
ment of any size without them now.

The Navvy Mission Society. 93

A clergyman, the Rev. Lewis Moule Evans, curate of
Otley, and the following year rector of Leathley (a village
three miles down the valley), went amongst this new and
strange population, and his heart burned within him. He
found that though they had been navvies all their lives, and
so had dwelt for a time in every part of our land, " no man
had cared for them" either body or soul. Ordinary Bible
truths were unknown to them, and Sunday was called " hair-
cutting and dog-washing day." A very small proportion of
the men and women could read and write, and the children
were growing up entirely untaught.

There was an excellent manager at Lindly Wood who
suppressed fighting, and would not allow drink to be sold
illegally in the huts. This was not (and is not) the case on
other works. In those days the usual after-dinner programme
on Sunday was a fight, and often the " backers " would begin
a quarrel on their own account, until sometimes twenty or
thirty couples were fighting, even at times to the death. The
huts were generally built of sods, and the floor was the bare
ground. Marriage was the exception amongst the hut-
keepers, and indeed navvies lived, and would live now were
it not for the Navvy Mission Society, as a heathen class in
our own Christian land. On the other hand, they were brave,
independent, enduring, generous, clean, and noble in many of
their unwritten laws, or " ways of the line " as they were
called ; for while they would kill a policeman who ventured
down a line to arrest a mate, they would give their last
shilling as a "tramping bob" to a comrade in distress, and
no navvy was ever buried as a pauper, nor did orphan
children find a home in the workhouse.

The squire, Mr. Fawkes, built Mr. Evans a little wooden
church ; and a brick room, used as a hospital during an out-
break of smallpox, by the kindness of the manager, was
turned into a day school for the children ; and a reading-
room and night school for the men was established. Mr.
Evans engaged an able schoolmistress. Mr. Fawkes gave
20 a year towards her salary, and Mr. Evans, though a poor
man, bore all the other mission expenses himself. A post-
office clerk and three working youths from Otley were his
assistants in the Sunday school. After two services in his

94 Woman 's Mission.

own church Mr. Evans walked three miles up to Lindly and
gave one there in the evening.

It was a Sunday evening in the late autumn of 1871 when
I first saw a navvy settlement. I was staying with a lady
in the neighbourhood and walked over. It was dark in the
valley, and as I walked along the bank of the river I suddenly
slipped, and the next moment expected to find myself whirled
downwards on the waters. Happily, a bush saved me, and
I walked on more carefully towards the twinkling lights in
the distance. As I made my way between the two rows of
huts to the wooden church, half hidden in the wood beyond,
a strange scene presented itself.

The doors of many of these cottages stood open, and
bands of fire and lamp light fell across the dark road-space
between the rows of huts. In the clean living-rooms numbers
of fine big men were seated, most of them smoking ; they
wore white clothes, and one of their number would be slowly
reading the newspaper to his mates. The tea-things were on
the tables, and the noise of sputtering ham from frying-pans,
and the smell of cooking were on the air. Here and there
through the darkness figures were making their way up the
ascent to the little church. Within that square room was
assembled the strangest congregation I had ever seen.
"Drivers" in red or purple plush waistcoats adorned with
large pearl buttons, "piece-men" or "stout uns" in white
knee cords and blue woollen stockings, " gangers " in brown
velveteen coats, and young fellows, with the invariable bright
red cotton neckerchief, twirling fur caps awkwardly in their
hands, were sitting on one side of the building ; on the other
were the women, mostly stout, capable persons, gay in plaided
shawls, and bonnets bright with artificial flowers. They kept
a severe eye upon the children, who, as the schoolmistress
said, "behaved like pictures." The three or four teachers
clustered round a single candle (for we had not yet bought
lamps) and " led " the singing.

To this congregation a refined and delicate clergyman in
a white surplice was ministering in a quiet voice, but very
earnestly. When the service had ended, we all went out
under the shadowing boughs and saw the overarching sky
bespangled with stars. The rushing of the river came softly

The Navvy Mission Society. 95

to us, the silent protecting hills stood dumb about us, and
I felt in a new world. Afterwards this became a familiar
scene, but that first impression was never lost.

The following year, 1872, I was again in the neighbour-
hood, and the post-office clerk, now regular superintendent
(and a very good one) of this first navvy Sunday school,
asked me to help him to teach. He gave me a fearful class,
the first one of boys. What awful, mischievous, wild, original,
lovable boys they were ! At the end of three weeks, when
I was returning home, my visit at Lindly Wood having ended,
the teachers begged me to return each Saturday and stay
until the Monday ; and, to my gratification, so did my evil
boys. Mr. Evans's permission was heartily given. I had
caught "the Navvy fever" (it has victimized me ever since,
and there seems no chance of cure this side the grave, and
one hopes not beyond) and was therefore quite willing. The
prospect opened a vista of new interests in a lonely life. But
two difficulties arose forthwith ; my relatives were shocked
and indignant. Many bitter things were said both then and
for years afterwards. It was "a most improper proceeding."
I was "too young," "wished to be singular," "would do no
good," and, lastly, " the navvies were not fit for any lady with
right feeling to go amongst." I answered that I would do
my best for one year, and the result would show if I ought
to go on or not. The other difficulty was that I had nowhere
to stay. God opened a way, when an old relative thought he
had completely blocked it. The manager fitted up a cup-
board, in which some dry clothes were stored, with a mattress
and blankets, and for four years I slept in the schoolroom
(that is, when the rabbits who lived below the floor thought
fit to let me) ; and those were four of the happiest years of
my life.

We were treading on unknown ground in mission-work,
but, though doubtless many mistakes were made, we were
"all of one heart," and liked and trusted each other thoroughly ;
and God was with us and poured out His blessing. We saw
the whole settlement change. Every child on the ground,
and from twenty to thirty men, were in our Sunday school ;
numbers of men learnt to read and write in Mr. Evans's night
school ; over ninety per cent, of the children passed the

g6 Woman s Mission.

Government day-school inspection. Fights were unknown,
and drinking dwindled down until a drunken man was seldom
seen. Certainly, after two years I gave up my boys' class in
despair ; but two of the boys afterwards died with their hands
in mine, and went home " in sure and certain hope." Another
is an excellent clergyman, a fourth a valued navvies' mis-
sionary ; and the others are decent and (one hopes) Christian

We had one great drawback : we noticed that men who
left us and went to seek other work, when they returned
always gave one answer to our eager inquiries, " Have you
been to church to school ? What have you been doing ? "
"There's nothing of no sort for us chaps, nowhere." We
found they went away from us to be "pariahs." As a class
they were dreaded and individually they were scorned. If
navvies came into a district the clergy spoke of them as " an
invasion," and thanked God when they were gone. Good
Christians described them as " a moral pest." Farmers re-
fused to give them a night's shelter even in a barn, or
let them filthy stables at rack-rents (and still do). Cottagers
took them in as lodgers (and do so still) and crammed twelve
men into a room barely large enough for five. Shop-
keepers charged (and charge to this day) thievish prices if
they saw a navvy enter their doors : for one ounce of arrowroot
for a sick man I have paid sixpence, when a whole pound
cost the seller only tenpence. Milk would be saved to fatten
pigs and calves and refused at any price to a navvy-child at
death's door with fever.

Some contractors treated their men as "raw material,"
working them overtime in summer, and discharging them
when winter stopped work ; and such is too often the case
now, so that thousands of men are drifting about in want and
misery every winter. If they go to the workhouse they are
inadequately fed, and are often vexatiously detained to pick
oakum. The consequence is that they will rather endure
extreme want than enter the workhouse doors. But although
things are bad for our men to-day, twenty years ago they
were far worse. No man's wages in England are now paid
in food-tickets on a contractor's shop. Sod huts, which were
the usual ones then, are now no longer to be found. Clergy

The Navvy Mission Society. 97

and employers act for the most part very differently now,
and no great engineer would say, as one said to me
fourteen years ago, "Night-schools and reading-rooms are
a mistake ; let them remain ignorant." " But they leave
work at six, how are they to spend their evenings ? " " Let
them go to bed ! " I could not help inquiring, " Would you
like to go to bed at six o'clock ? " The great man said with
a cold stare, " That's quite different."

As every man's hand was against them, the hands of
navvies were against " natives," as they called outsiders ; and
the work done amongst them for the love of Christ was
a wonder to them. The tale of Lindly Wood began
to be told on other works and was disbelieved. "You
tell us that" said a man working on the very next Leeds
reservoir, " and you think we'll believe it ? I've been a navvy
all my life, and no parson ever came among us, and no
teachers, and no ladies ; it's a lie." On another occasion
some men were at dinner in a hut when one of their fellows
called out, " Come and look ! here are two converted navvies
from Lindly Wood ! " The men sprang up and rushed to
the door. One of them told me this six months ago, and
added, " I didn't know what one looked like then, but,
thank God ! I know what it is to be one now." So it grew
into us on every side that these men and women ought to
be followed.

Mr. Evans, and we teachers, wrote a number of inquiries
and addressed them to the managers of all the works we
could hear of from men on tramp. To direct these was
indeed guesswork, the men pronounced the names so queerly ;
besides which, as navvies have a kind of language of their
own, and usually themselves go by nicknames, as " Curly,"
" Punch," " Glen," " York," " Nottingham," so they give the
works catch-names "The Long Drag," "Junction," "Slaughter
House," etc. But we did our best and found out seventy-
two. In our inquiries we asked, " How many men have you ?
How many huts, etc. ? Does any clergyman or other minister
visit ? Have you a service, Sunday or day school ? " and so
on. " No," was the reply to every question at all the seventy-
two places save one Blackamore, near Halifax, where the
vicar, the Rev. C. Green, was, it appeared, working.


98 Woman's Mission.

We knew that special short efforts had been made in
former years by Dr. Fremantle (Bucks), Miss Fox (Devon),
Miss Marsh (Beckenham) ; but when these favoured works
closed, the navvies were not followed, and were soon again
swallowed up in the prevailing darkness. The outlook was
very hopeless. Mr. Evans was in a consumption from over-
work, damp, and, above all, a loss which had saddened his
life, and Lindly Wood was ending. Before it finally closed
the men in my class asked that some little brotherhood
might be established, which in the neglect and darkness into
which they were again returning might hold us together.
They drew up three promises, binding themselves to a
Christian life. This is the Christian Excavators' Union. It
began with twenty-five navvy members and eight others.
We now number over six hundred. England is divided into
four districts. Ladies are the head secretaries. Our duty
is to visit the stations from time to time, and encourage
the members under the persecution they have to endure,
seek again those led astray, comfort and help those who
are in trouble, and give addresses in the mission-rooms,
explaining the object of the Christian Excavators' Union,
and urging whole-hearted devotion to Christ. This Union
has become the heart of the mission ; from it the life blood
flows, and the prayers of the Union have been the cause of
the wonderful success God has given us.

One night in the late autumn of 1876, the water rushed
suddenly into the great Lindly Reservoir. The huts were
submerged, the settlement ended, and our own navvy families
were scattered to all corners of the land. Mr. Evans was
ordered abroad, and this navvy-work seemed to have ended as
all previous efforts had done, and hopelessness of any better
future for them settled down upon our hearts. But God saw
otherwise. That winter a request came to me from the
navvies themselves to go to the next Leeds reservoir at
Swinstey, and the manager backed it by offering me a
disused schoolroom, with a little hut room to sleep in.

I was told it was three or four miles from the nearest
station, but found it more than six ; and a fearful walk it was,
up and down hills, over the Yorkshire moors, with snow-
drifts sometimes eight feet deep, and curled over like waves

The Navvy Mission Society. 99

at the top against the walls ; but fortunately the roads were
always passable. Four hundred men and many women and
children were living there in huts. The old teachers could
not walk up from Otley, and we were too poor to hire a
conveyance. I therefore wrote to five navvies who had
become changed men at Lindly, and asked them to get
work at Swinstey ; they did so, and thus our Sunday school
was manned with teachers, and very good ones too. Dark-
ness had rested for four years on Swinstey, and it had been
the regular Sunday custom to have a fight in the afternoon.
Of course I dare not, in any case, stop a fight, but never had
any need to try : there never was another while I was there.
The men were too true gentlemen to frighten a lady who had
come among them for their own and the children's sake.

On the second Sunday our school numbered all the
children in the settlement, and I had twenty-two men in
the Bible-class ; and these numbers kept up until the very
end. The last sight I had of my schoolroom, which had
been filled with happy faces the day before, was on a Monday
morning when the roof was being stripped off. When next
I was there the site was below the waters of the lake that
navvy hands had made.

During this time we had been doing what we could to
rouse public attention, but we had neither money nor
influence, nor even strength. In 1877 Mr. Evans, who
during his suffering time in Italy had written two admirable
articles called " Navvies and their Needs," had them pub-
lished, by the kindness of the late Mr. Fetter, in the " Quiver ; "
and Messrs. Isbister were good enough to print a little tale
of mine, founded much more on fact than fancy, called
" Little Rainbow." These raised some interest, and then two
kind friends who saw the trouble I was in gave us 1$ to
print and post circulars. We got the names of clergymen of
all parties to guarantee the usefulness of such a mission.
Our aim was to establish, not a mere personal work which
would only live with us, but one which should be on a firm
basis, and live after we were gone ; and we hoped that all
parties in our Church would be content to meet in an effort,
which, while a Church one, was purely missionary. Four
thousand circulars were printed, and with these we teachers

ioo Woman s Mission.

wrote four thousand letters. Mr. Evans, dying as he was of
consumption, wrote half of this number. I posted the whole
in theEuston Road Office, October, 1877, and well remember
walking away and saying, " If it is Thy will, prosper this !
and if not, let it fail : we have done all we can." God did not
let the effort fail. In response 480 came in. The Navvy
Mission was established in November, 1877, and for a year its
founder worked it as honorary secretary, visiting the works
and appointing seven missionaries. On November 30,
1878, he was seized with inflammation, and on December n,
heard the Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
Since then the Navvy Mission has struggled on ; secretaries

Online LibraryAngela Georgina Burdett-CouttsWoman's mission; a series of congress papers on the philanthropic work of women, by eminent writers → online text (page 10 of 49)