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BY REV. W. BAIRD, M.À., VICAR OP DYWOCK, GLOUCESTERSHIRE, AND CHAPLAIN TO EARL BEAUCHAMP. i
i To the fashionable London world of old all that lay beyondTemple Bar was an unknown land. The City, with its unceasing whirl of business life, jarred too much upon the refined tastes of its votaries to render a personal acquaintance with its crowded thoroughfares possible to them. Things are altered since then, and the magnates of the West End deign to taste the turtle soup of the Mansion House. Far, however, alike beyond the ken of West End and City there lies a great waste of human life, broadly comprehended under the name of "the East End." It is not very easy to define its exact limits; but for all practical purposes those limits are seldom passed by the inhabitants of the West End, unless they send a representative in the person of an almoner of some benevolent society, or a nobleman, who recognises the common kinship of “the working classes," and throws himself with a kindly sympathy into their sorrows and their joys. Yet this “ East End” is not remotely connected with the prosperity of London. If a line could be drawn across the Commercial Road near the somewhat unsavoury neighbourhood of St. George's-in-the-East, and all that lies eastward of this could be blotted out of the chart of metropolitan life, the influence would be felt throughout the whole length and breadth of our capital. The champagne would froth less briskly in Belgravia; many a carriage would cease to appear in the Park; many a horse be forced to quit “the Row," and many a buzzing wheel stand still in manufactories now teeming with busy life. The East End is one of the great arteries of metropolitan life, and it would be impossible to cut it or tie it without inflicting a severe injury upon the body of which it forms a part. Its docks and bonded warehouses, bursting with the products of a hundred nations; its busy ironyards (alas ! too silent now), clanking with the sound of a thousand hammers wielded by stalwart arms,--all these things tell upon the life and wealth of a city which at times seems slow to acknowledge their existence. We
are going, then, to ask our readers to accompany us in a little trip “down East,” as our American friends would say. We do not propose to visit the docks, nor to dine off whitebait at Blackwall. All that we want to do is to get a general idea of the routine of East End life. We want to form our impression of “men and things” there, and so we will saunter down without the definite purpose of seeing any particular “lion,” but merely with the intention of picking up a little information, and making a few observations upon East End life. With this view let us start upon our way.
Once clear of Aldgate Church and its immortal "pump," we become conscious of a change in the aspect of life around us. Generally, we should say, there seems to be less business and more dirt. The names above the butchers' shops betray unmistakable signs of the Hebrew origin of their owners; the grocers seem more restlessly anxious to puff their wares; the tailors more disposed to hang out garments of a nautical cut to the public view. The line of demarcation between the doctor and the chemist becomes less clear, and the “three golden balls” of the pawnbroker seem more at home than they look further westward. In short, we are in Whitechapel, and starting on our East End experiences. The rough, heavy tramways, on which the laden waggons and trucks lumber uneasily along, tell us of themselves that we are on our way to the docks, and that if we want to get a notion of what goes on in that unknown region, we had better follow their
whither they may lead us. They will lead us to a ground fresh and unbroken, so far as the experience of the greater part of our readers is concerned. Even Mr. Timbs has left unchronicled the “curiosities” of Stepney, Limehouse, Bromley, Poplar, and “ London over the border," yet each of these names represents a district containing a vast mass of human life. There is nothing particularly attractive in the outward aspect of such neighbourhoods. “A workman's suburb". is the proverbial ideal of dulness, according to the notions of the periodical press. Streets planned with almost American regularity; houses built of scarcely-burned bricks; shops which give by their wares no untrue index of the needs and means of the neighbourhood,-such are a few of the prominent characteristics of one of these quarters of London, as they first meet the eye. There is something almost hopeless in them at first sight,"a dead level of practicality," as a friend once said to the writer, which almost chills the most indomitable spirit. Yet, as we
have been reminded by one of the most polished preachers of the day, it is in this apparent desert that there lies the battlefield in which “the crusade of charity "l is to be fought; and these dull prosaic streets have their own peculiar interest, and even their own peculiar romances. These neighbourhoods have a significance and importance which neither the religious nor political philosopher can afford to overlook with impunity. It is the object of this paper to awaken an interest in such places, and to put before our readers some information about the sort of life which people are living in those unknown wildernesses of bricks and mortar.
The expression “workman's suburb," which originated, as the writer believes, with the Times, forms no inapt description of the neighbourhoods which we are endeavouring to describe. They are, for all practical purposes, entirely in the hands of the working classes. Here and there an employer of labour may be found, residing among his work people, but instances of this are increasingly rare. So far, therefore, as the neighbourhood is concerned, the working classes are really “lords of the soil.” The wealthier and more respectable of them are the “leading men” in parochial, social, and political matters. The shops are established to supply their needs; the standard and rule of everything is not the opinion of what are termed the “educated classes,” but everything is ineasured according to the standard of the “wage-paid ” class which almost alone inhabits the neighbourhood. Churches and chapels entrust alike the administration of their affairs to churchwardens or elders who are, or have been at no remote period, working men. Here it should be remarked that, though a working man may rise from the ranks and become, to a certain degree, an employer of labour, he never seems quite to lose his sympathy with his former “mates." In his modes of thought, and substantially in his mode of living, he is "a working man” still, though he has become a master. Hence the whole tone of such a neighbourhood, if we except the influences of the clergyman and the politician, is the tone of the working classes. Each “working man's suburb" is a little community of its own,—a sort of self-supplying republic which would have delighted the soul of Plato.
Of course, as there must be even in republics, there are grades of society. There stands first the small employer of labour (we purposely omit the mention of the larger employers of labour),
See a sermon under the above title, preached by Dean Stanley in Westminster Abbey at the anniversary service of the Bishop of London's Fund, 1866.
who has risen from being a working man to be a master. His business in most cases is limited and his capital small; but he realizes sufficient to maintain his family in comparative comfort, and (what is more important still) to give them a good education.
Next to these comes the mechanic who is a skilled workman, and who in fair times is earning his thirty or forty shillings a week. If his sons are growing up and following his business, they are probably earning enough to support themselves and contribute somewhat to the family stock. In times when provisions are cheap, this class of mechanic is able to have “his little home” neat, trim, and tidy, and even to spare something "to give to him that needeth." Still it must be remembered that his employment is precarious. If a commercial panic or a “strike” comes, this working man, by no fault of his own, may be reduced to absolute destitution, and may even come to the stone-yard and the reception of parish relief.
After him comes the mechanic who has employment but not regularly. He is often a keen, intelligent workman, but from irregular habits his work is uncertain. It would be more pleasant to draw a veil over this part of our picture, but it cannot be denied that in this class are comprehended many who bring their wives and families to want by habitual indulgence in strong drinks, and who sacrifice their health and usefulness to their ruling passion. “He's a good workman when he likes” is a sadly apt description of the man of this class.
His lack of diligence ends not uncommonly in his descending into a yet lower grade, in which we find the dock labourer, who works “off and on” for two-and-sixpence a day, and the man who is glad to pick up any odd job which comes to hand. These form the lowest and most troublesome class of the inhabitants of the “workman's suburb.”
It has been thought well thus to classify the different grades of working men for the sake of convenience; but, like all attempts at classification, this must be accepted with considerable modifications. The “ups and downs of life" in these parts are so great that it is easy for a man to glide almost insensibly from one class to another, until he reaches the lowest rong of the social ladder.
This brings us naturally to consider another established feature of such neighbourhoods—their fluctuations. Many of these new suburbs have sprung up in the short space of ten years or so. What a few years ago was a common or a brick-field is now a
town peopled by its 8,000 or 9,000 inhabitants. It has arisen in
These periods of distress fall hardly upon another class of the community—the shopkeepers. These tradesmen are in a very small way of business, and have commonly commenced with a very slender capital. In times of prosperity they do very well