William Gilbert.

The city; an inquiry into the corporation, its livery companies, and the administration of their charities and endowments; online

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lated at last by public opinion, they allowed the Peabody dwellings
trustees to erect on it a block of their admirable model lodging-
houses, but requiring a heavy ground-rent in return.


the Mansion House. Other grand improvements were
also effected in the neighbourhood of the Bank and the
Royal Exchange down to the river-side, nor did they
stop till every dwelling-house of the value of from 150
to 200 a year was completely destroyed. "What,
then, must have been the injustice practised on the
industrial classes prior to the latter demolitions being
effected, and how completely they must have been
swept out of the centre of the City, when even houses
of that rent were condemned to be destroyed, while
those erected on the spot were either warehouses,
offices, or the terminus of the Cannon Street Railway,
which in itself ejected more than twelve hundred

It should not be imagined, however, that the central
City parishes alone were guilty of these unmerciful
works of destruction. Many extensive alterations took
place in the eastern, north-eastern, and south-western
districts of the City, most of them being the work,
directly or indirectly, of the Corporation or public
companies under their patronage, all, however, tend-
ing, either to a greater or less degree, to drive the
working classes, small tradesmen, and skilled crafts-
men outside the City boundaries, and all in this respect
succeeding, whatever might be the ostensible object of
the undertaking. Let us first glance at the parishes
known as the East London Union, reaching from Corn-
hill to Aldgate. In this district formerly lived a very
large working population, employed in the different
warehouses of the East India Company and private mer-


chants, as well as several manufactories and large
mercantile establishments. The part of this union
the most densely crowded with the working classes
was, perhaps, that stretching from the parish of St.
Olave's, Hart Street, inclusive, to Whitechapel. The
first movement for dislodging the poor from the
locality was the formation of the Blackwall terminus.
This drove several thousands from the union, who
sought a refuge in the neighbourhood of Whitechapel
and Shoreditch, already overburdened with their own
poor. Afterwards other improvements took place,
each in its turn carried out in those parts where
the working classes were the more thickly congregated
together, and this system was continued till it was
difficult, if not impossible, to find the dwelling of a
man whose income was less than 150 a year resident
in the union.

But while these City unions were thus employed in
getting rid of the whole of their working classes out
of their district, what was the condition of White-
chapel ? Not simply that they were overcrowded with
their own poor, but they were thus obliged to receive
the whole of the poor from the East London Union.
Perhaps a better example could not be given of the
extreme selfishness exhibited by the City and their
heartless treatment of the poor, than by contrasting
the condition of the workhouses of St. Olave's, Hart
Street, district, comprising Fenchurch Street and the
different localities adjoining it that is to say, the
districts from which the poor were ejected with the



"Whitechapel workhouse. Our description of the work-
house of the latter parish, somewhat condensed, was
written by the pen of Mr. Charles Dickens, in Household
Words, February, 1856, and, it may be added, not in
the slightest degree exaggerated.

" Crouched under the" wall of the workhouse, in the
dark street, on the muddy pavement stones, with the
rain raining on them, were five bundles of rags ; they
were motionless, and had no appearance of human
form. ' What is this ? ' said my companion ; ' what is
this ? ' ' Some miserable people shut out of the
casual ward.' As we were looking at them, a decent
working man, having the appearance of a stonemason,
touched me on the shoulder. ' This is an awful sight,
sir/ said he, 'for a Christian country.' 'It is, indeed,
my friend,' sa} r s I ; ' it is, God knows.' ' I have seen
much worse than this,' said the stonemason ; ' I have
counted fifteen, twenty, and five-and-twenty at a
time. . . .' " Mr. Dickens, then addressing the master
of the workhouse, said, " ' Do you know that there
are five wretched creatures outside ? ' 'I have not
seen them, but I dare say there are.' ' Do you doubt
they are there ? ; ' No, not at all ; there may be
many more.' ' Are they men or women ? ' * Women,
I suppose. Very likely one or two of them may
have been there last night, and the night before that.'
' There all night, do you mean ? ' ' Very likely.'
My friend and I looked at each other, and the master
of the workhouse added quickly, 'Why, Lord bless
me ! what am I to do ? what can I do ? The place is


full the place is full every night. I suppose I must
give the preference to women with children, mustn't
I ? You would not have me not do that.' ' Surely
not/ says I ; ( it is a humane principle, and I am glad
to hear of it. Do not forget I do not blame you.
What I want to ask/ I went on, ' is whether you know
anything against these five beings outside,' 'I don't
know anything about them,' says he emphatically ;
' that is to say, they are there solely because the
place is full solely because the place is full.'

" We went to the ragged bundle nearest the door,
and I touched it. No movement replying, I gently
shook it. The rags began to be slowly stirred within,
and little by little the head of a young woman of three
or four and twenty, as I should judge, gaunt with want
of food and dirt, but not naturally ugly, appeared.
* Tell us/ I said, 'why are you lying there?' * Because
I can't get into the workhouse.' * Were you here last
night ? ' ( Yes, and the night before that too.' " *

Let our readers ponder well over this terrible recital
of Mr. Dickens, and then learn that a few hundred
paces off, in the neighbouring City parish of St. Olave's,
Hart Street, stood the workhouse not only for its own
poor, but for those of the parishes about Fenchurch
Street, which was no longer used, and the poor
had been sent away. At the time, and for fifteen

* The publication of the above article in Household Words had the
<jffect of drawing public attention to the Whitechapel workhouse.
The result was that a new and a far more commodious building
was erected. The old workhouse was closed, and the shocking scenes
so graphically told by Mr. Dickens no longer occurred.


years prior to the above narrative, the doors of that
workhouse had been closed, and had never been opened
to relieve the distresses of the wandering poor even
by giving them a night's lodging, although the neigh-
bouring parish to which their poor had been ejected
(Whitechapel) exhibited night after night such dis-
tressing scenes. The author visited the Hart Street
workhouse in October, 1861. He had considerable
difficulty in finding the building, from the secluded
position it was in, although close to Aldgate. The
entrance in St. John Street had been bricked up some
twenty years before, and presented merely the appear-
ance of a dead wall. It was so difficult to find, that
even the policeman on duty did not know it. At length,
with considerable trouble, he found there was a back
entrance in a miserable alley in Crutched Friars.
Having been furnished with a key by a citizen resident
in the district, who did not wish his name to be known,
lest he might excite the ill feeling of his brother parish-
ioners, he opened the door. On entering the court-
yard the gas lamp in the centre was still erect. He
then visited the matron's room, the children's room,
the board room, kitchen, and wards, all of which re-
mained, but in a wretched state of dilapidation. All
the windows were broken, and the rain had poured in
through them and the roof without impediment for
many winters. Most of the fixtures were still there,
and the wrecks of some poor children's toys, some
memorandum books, and a portion of the flock bedding
on which the paupers had been at work some twenty


years before, were lying mildewed and rotten on the
floor. Apparently no one had entered the building
for many years. At the commencement it might have
been easily made useful, and even at that time a few
hundred pounds might have converted it into an ex-
cellent refuge for many hundred poor. Nor could this
parish, which allowed such scenes to pass night after
night at the neighbouring workhouse of Whitechapel,
plead poverty in excuse for its neglect. On the con-
trary, it contained enormous wealth; the Corn Ex-
change, the offices of the Victoria Dock Company and
several other companies of equal magnitude, the enor-
mous warehouses of the East India Dock Company,
and many hundred offices of our first merchants, were
to be found within its precincts ; while the enormous
number of neighbouring poor employed in these lo-
calities were almost all located in the Whitechapel

Let us now glance at the north-eastern districts, and
follow the line of the Metropolitan Railway from King's
Cross to Moorgate Street, and its further continuance
across Finsbury Circus to Liverpool Street, and imagine
how many of the small tradesmen and operative class
were driven from their homes further eastward and north-
ward to a great distance beyond the City boundaries, or
into the already overcrowded districts to the south of the
City Road. In the formation of the Moorgate Street
Station alone three thousand householders and lodgers,
the latter principally shop assistants and operatives, were
ejected. But it may be asked, "Were no means taken

f. ^.


to provide them with shelter or to remunerate them
for the inconvenience they suffered ? " There were none
whatever. The company even went so far as to demolish
the parish church ; but, in compensation, the Corpora-
tion, under the patronage of the City magistrates, ob-
tained licenses for three new gin-shops, notwithstanding
the great reduction in the population. The Corporation
then appeared to consider they had done their duty in
the matter ; the consciences of the aldermen, common
councilmen, and other City magnates were perfectly
clear and unsullied, and they felt certain it would be
unjust to expect them to have done more than they had
in the matter. But this is not all ; the line has now, as
before stated, been continued to Liverpool Street, where
it joins the termini of the Eastern Counties and other
railways, these termini alone covering altogether many
acres of ground, which before the companies commenced
alterations was densely covered with the dwellings of
the City working classes, and all crowded with inmates.
These in their turn have been driven eastward and
northward, and further than ever from their work.
But one great object, if no other, has been obtained.
They have been driven so far from the City, that they
have lost not only their identity as citizens of London,
but also their right in the thousand and one charitable
endowments and educational institutions of enormous
wealth it contains, as well as their constitutional privi-
leges as voters in the City elections, parliamentary and
municipal, to which, had they remained, vast numbers
of them would have been entitled. Nor are these


mischiefs the only ones to be deplored. That con-
tinuity of good feeling which formerly existed to a
greater or less degree between employer and employed,
has been completely severed. The employer knows
not even by sight the faces or names of the immense
number of those in his service, and appears to have lost
all interest in their welfare, except in subscribing some
trifling contribution, at, perhaps, a City charity dinner,
and the operatives and clerks in their turn, in a vast
number of cases, look upon the partners of the firms in
which they are employed with an angry feeling, which
occasionally unpleasantly develops itself, and which, if
further investigated, would be found to be latent to a
far greater extent than is generally imagined.

In the western and south-western districts of the City
of London, or as it is now better known, as the West
London City Union, the same system of ejectment of
the industrial classes has been carried on with equal
vigour, and with equal indifference to the question in
what manner those driven away were to find dwellings,
as have been shown by the municipal authorities of the
other two unions. But although those ejected from the
Western City Union were very numerous, the fact was
not so apparent to the casual observer as those driven
from Farringdon Street and Moorgate Street and other
more central localities ; their dwellings being principally
in the back streets between Fleet Street and Holborn,
as well as near the riverside. By degrees, as they
were driven out of the City, a vast number congre-
gated together in the already overcrowded parish of St.


Clement Danes, immediately outside the City boundary
and close to Temple Bar. In fact, so dense had become
the overcrowding, that although the natural position of
the parish was, perhaps, the best adapted in London for
sanitary purposes, it became the most unhealthy, as was
proved by the death-rate for several years exceeding
the births, while in an average of the other parishes
in London the births exceeded the death-rate by more
than twenty per cent. In this fearful state the parish
continued for some years, when a circumstance at last
occurred (not emanating from the civic authorities, it is
true, but strongly supported by them) which not only
effectually put a stop to any fresh emigrants arriving
from the City, but in one fell swoop cleared from the
parish the whole of the industrial classes and poor who
resided in it. It having been decided by Government
to remove the law courts to a more convenient situa-
tion, a spot was selected on the northern part of the
parish of St. Clement Danes. True, there were other
sites to be found equally convenient and far less ex-
pensive, but it was urged that the spot selected was
fearfully overcrowded, and that it would be a merito-
rious work to improve it. The suggestion was carried
out to the letter. Six thousand of the working classes
were driven from their homes to find a shelter where
they could, not a question having been asked, nor appa-
rently a thought having been bestowed, on the subject
by those who were the prime movers in the undertaking.
But what made the whole transaction the more cruel
was, that the demolitions were carried out long before


the land was wanted for the law courts. If the reader
is an inhabitant of London, he can most probably bear
witness to the fact that the whole of the enormous space
of ground required for building the law courts remained
waste and profitless for more than ten years.



TT must not be imagined that the demolitions of the
* dwellings of the industrial classes who resided in
the City of London, as mentioned in the last chapter,
comprised the whole which have been carried out.
Those which have been offered to the notice of the
reader were some of the more striking examples,
those, in fact, which were the more likely to have
come principally under his notice, without the injus-
tice and cruelty, directly or indirectly perpetrated
in carrying them out, being understood by him. Nor
are these ejectments yet complete, or the work of the
Corporation and the livery companies (the latter now
possibly being the more active of the two) likely to
terminate for some time to come. They appear to be
determined to do their work effectually, and not only
exclude every working man from the City of London,
and the poorer classes generally, but the whole of the
clerks, warehousemen, and the more intelligent and
industrious class of operatives as well, so as to leave
the City entirely in the hands of the Mayor and Corpo-


ration, who are, in nine cases out of ten, working hand
in hand or under the direction of the livery companies,
as well as with the enormous funds still directly or indi-
rectly under the control of the civic authorities. Should
the reader have any doubt of the truth of this statement,
he has merely to consult a map lately published, show-
ing the projected alterations which have been decided
on by the Corporation and the Metropolitan Board of
Works, and he will easily conclude that, when com-
pleted, there will scarcely be a dwelling house in Lon-
don left to reside in. No mansions are built for the
rich, as they will not reside in them ; while for those
whose incomes do not exceed three or four hundred
pounds a year no dwelling houses can be built ; the
ostensible reason at present given is, not that the poor-
rate is still the bug-bear it used formerly to be, but
the policy of escaping the inhabited house duty.

Let us now glance for a few moments on the effects
of these ejectments on the working and middle classes
formerly inhabiting the City of London, though it will
be difficult to make the reader understand the cruelty
and injustice of most of these proceedings. Let us take,
for example, a class, and one alone, which has been,
ejected from the West London Union. A considerable
portion of these at first found homes in the parish of
St. Clement Danes. The class alluded to are those
connected with the public press and other large print-
ing offices, comprising compositors, pressmen, machine-
men, readers, reading boys, and others. On these the
effect has been particularly unjust. If the reader is at


all acquainted with the nature of the night-work
carried on in these establishments, he can bear witness
to the heated atmosphere in which compositors and
others work ; and, when over, how advantageous it
would be (certainly to the less robust among them) to
be able to find good and commodious lodgings near the
printing offices they are employed in. And yet, if
inquiry were made of the many thousand hands
employed in these establishments, and other printing
offices between St. Paul's and Temple Bar, it would be
found that not one in ten can find a house in an
average distance of a mile and a half from his work.
It has been urged that the more adroit compositors on
the daily press are so well paid, that each would
prefer living in a house by himself on the Surrey side
of the water, rather than dwelling near the office in
which he is employed, notwithstanding the economy in
health, labour, and money such a change would effect.
Admitting this to be true, of which, by the way, we
have great doubts, it may be answered that all are not
so well paid as a first-class compositor on a daily news-
paper, and the case of those who are less fortunate or
are less remunerated for their labours ought also to
be taken into consideration. Diseases of the lungs are
especially frequent among those working in a heated
atmosphere, and afterwards exposed to the cold air of
a London winter's morning, and the condition of the
wives, widows, and orphans of these men ought also to
weigh in the matter.

But it is not only the highly intelligent class of men


employed in large printing-offices who suffer severely
from being driven away from their work, and fre-
quently to a great distance, by these ejectments. It
would form an interesting problem to discover what is
the comparative pecuniary loss incurred by those who
are thus driven from the City, and yet are obliged to
visit it daily. At least one hundred and twenty thou-
sand working men have been driven from the City,
during the last forty years. Even in 1793, there were
at least one hundred thousand more than in the present
day, without counting the additional numbers whose
labours in the City were called into operation by the
increase of commerce, but who were unable, even
before the ejectments commenced, to find lodgings
within its precincts. At the same time it should be
remembered that, after the buildings were destroyed
for the formation of Farringdon Street, Cannon Street,
and other localities, there was ample room for house
accommodation, on the model of the Peabody dwell-
ings, which could have been built on the vast space of
ground which for so many years remained uncovered.
Nay, more, there was space sufficient not only to erect
homes for those ejected, but for as many more who
would willingly have lived within the City boundaries.
At a rough computation, those who had been driven a
mile and a half from their labours must have lost
thereby at least an hour a day. Calculating the value
of labour at sixpence an hour, how vast, from this
cause alone, must be the tax thus placed on the City
working classes ! Those who arrive either by the work-


men's trains or the steamboat must be taxed still
higher. It has been estimated that the whole tax
placed on the City working classes from this cause
alone must reach to a quarter of a million sterling
per annum. Others make the amount still higher.

Nor have they, as is frequently urged, gained any-
thing by their house-rent being cheaper ; it is now, at
& distance of a mile and a half from their work, at
least as much as they paid in the City. Nothing is
more common than to find that the small houses in the
distant parts of Southwark, Bermondsey, Whitechapel,
and Bethnal Green, and which did not cost more than
200 each building, now let out to lodgers each paying
4s. per week for a room, or an average of 42 a year
for each house ; and in the populous districts the amount
is far greater. In conversation with a man emplo3^ed
as a porter in a publishing house on Ludgate Hill, he
complained bitterly of the enormous rent that he and
his class had to pay for their lodgings. He had a wife
and three children, and his wages averaged 26s. a week,
out of which he was obliged to pay 9s. a week for two
rooms he occupied, at a distance of a mile and a half
from his work. Knowing there was space to spare in
the warehouse he was employed in, he was asked why he
did not appeal to the firm for permission to sleep in the
house of business ? "I did so," he replied, " but was
told by my masters that by their lease, which they held
of a livery company, they were not allowed to let any
one sleep on the premises to avoid the inhabited house
duty. On the boy population this system of being


obliged to live so far from their work acts with peculiar
severity. On questioning one of the partners of the
same firm on the subject, he pointed out to me two boys
in the warehouse, one of whom lived in Highgate, the
other in Chelsea, and both had to walk to and from
their work daily. Another similar case was also
pointed out in a large printing firm further east. A
reading boy was wanted, and a lad with good credentials
applied for the appointment. As on examination he ap-
peared well adapted for the work, the manager asked for
his address, promising to write to him in the course of
a few days. The address the boy gave happening to be
at Bow, the manager said to him, "My lad, you won't
do for us, you live too far off; you will be so tired
when you arrive here you will not be fit for your
work." " Oh, don't send me away on that account,"
said the lad ; " many of your boys live farther off than
I do." And on making inquiries into the subject the
manager found it to be the case.

It may possibly be argued, as has frequently been
done before, that a vast majority of those ejected from
the City were of the poorer classes, who having no
personal or proprietary right in it, have therefore
no just cause to complain of the treatment they have
received. If they brought nothing with them into the
City, and accumulated neither money nor property
while there, they have no reasonable right to complain
at having lost all legal claim on the Corporation or
livery companies. That they are now in the position of
tenants whose leases have expired, and having been


unable to renew them have, as a natural consequence,
been ejected. But is this really the case ? Possibly, if
the subject were further investigated, it might appear
that those who have thus unwillingly been ejected
have had a very great injustice done them.

Online LibraryWilliam GilbertThe city; an inquiry into the corporation, its livery companies, and the administration of their charities and endowments; → online text (page 3 of 25)