Ancestry UK

The Female Casual and her Lodging.

This page contains Chaper I of The Female Casual and her Lodging, publishd in 1866 by Dr. Joshua Harrison Stallard. Other chapters can be found on separate pages.



Until the publication of "A Night in a Workhouse" there was a very general ignorance both of the character of the vagrant poor and the treatment they receive in the casual wards. Inspection was indeed provided by the law, but it is surrounded by enormous difficulties, because the moment a visitor appears, the authorities are on the alert, and the poor themselves put on their best behaviour. Association on the footing of equality is as necessary to secure the confidence of the vagrant as it is to disarm official caution; and considerable address is required to pass through the wards without arousing the suspicions of the police and the attendants, and without exciting the jealousy and anger of the paupers themselves.

Now, if the difficulties were great in ascertaining the character of the male casual and the treatment he receives, how much greater will they be when the females are in question! A gentleman, having dressed to the part, descended from his brougham to the dirty gruel, and assuming the air and character of the casual himself, passed safely through the wards with little chance of insult; but no lady could be found to imitate the act, and if the attempt were made, no rags would disguise her character, no acting would conceal her disgust; discovery would be all but certain, and one can scarcely tell where the disagreeables would end.

Nor is it possible to appeal to the casuals them selves. They are suspicious; their confidence is not easily obtained by strangers of a different class, and the chances of ascertaining the truth would be still less if you were to attempt to bribe them. Nor are the officials and attendants to be relied upon. They naturally put down all tramp visitors in the same category, and will describe them all as utterly worthless, in order to justify the harsh manner they too commonly use towards them; besides, they are far too ready to make things agreeable to their auditor, in the hope of getting his good opinion or some other recompense.

One might look in vain, therefore, for a person qualified to visit the haunts of these female Bohemians; she must be accustomed to dirt and rags, and hardships must be no novelty to her. She should be one who has slept without a bed upon the floor, who has dined upon a crust of bread, and by a course of suffering has been prepared to endure misery of the very lowest kind without a murmur of complaint. Yet with all this she must be sufficiently familiar with cleanliness, honesty, and plenty, to be able to contrast the condition of the vagrant with that of the industrious poor. Cleverness, courage, and tact will be required, moreover, to evade the scrutiny of the police and the sharp eyes of workhouse officials ever ready to pounce upon those whom they regard as impostors; and besides this, there must be a real good nature, which is the only passport to the hearts even of the most abandoned, and the only means of ascertaining the true character of these most degraded specimens of their sex.

Some of these qualifications are evidently possessed by the person who made the following narration. She is a pauper widow, who, having received some slight assistance in a period of great distress, volunteered, as an act of gratitude, to visit these wards for the express purpose of describing them. Not only has the character of this person been vouched for by persons who have known her many years, but every effort has been made to confirm the truthfulness of the descriptions by visits to the wards themselves and other means.

Whilst, therefore, it is impossible to rely implicitly upon every detail of statements made, as these are, at second-hand, there is nevertheless every reason to believe that they are substantially true, and that the picture may be regarded as practically correct. It was absolutely necessary to soften down much of the language, which was too gross for publication, and an apology for its character may still be thought necessary; but it was impossible to convey an idea of the misery necessarily endured by a respectable woman in real distress without giving the language of those into whose company she is forcibly thrown, in considerable detail; indeed, the same remark is applicable to the whole narration, which shows that we have legalized a demoralizing institution of the very worst class, from which we have taken every pains to exclude the very objects for whose shelter it was primarily designed. There is, in fact, an indiscriminate herding together of the hardiest and most impudent vagrants in the Metropolis, who night after night brave the police with impunity, and exist upon the liberality of the law, regardless of everything except their own idleness. Their dreadful language and disgusting habits drive away the decent poor even more effectually than the police; and we can scarcely wonder that in Bethnal Green an honest woman should prefer to spend a cold December night in the public water-closet rather than enter one of these dens of infamy and filth.

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