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.



JULY 17th, 1866.

AFTER a few days' rest I again set out, and on the evening of Tuesday, July 17, 1866, I applied at the Lambeth Workhouse for a night's lodging, and was sent to the police-station in Kennington Lane for an order of admission. The inspector on duty was very abrupt; he did not seem to like his duty, and he asked me shortly what I wanted. I said, an order for a night's lodging. He continued:—

"What is your name?"

" Jane Wood," I answered.

"Your age?"


"Where did you sleep last?"

" Greenwich."

" What are you?"

"A hawker of embroidery."

" Where is your stock? "

" I have none."

" Where is your stock-money? "

"I have none."

"Then," said he, "you ought to have; here is your order; go along."

I then returned to the workhouse, and was admitted by two men, and the elder, having read the order, sent the other with me to the casual ward.

I was here taken charge of by a stout woman of about fifty years of age, who said, "Come along, this way to the bath."

The whole place is far superior to that at Newington; the bath-room is separated from the sleeping ward by a door and a curtain; there is a stove in it to dry the clothes if they are wet, and three zinc baths, well supplied with hot and cold water; the floor was very clean and covered with wood. I had a very clean and comfortable bath, with soap to wash with, and a clean towel to dry myself, and then I put on a blue gown which was given me to sleep in.

I then went into the sleeping ward, which was a large place, with twenty-four beds in it, each one made in a wooden trough, which turns up against the wall when not in use. The beds are of straw, in rough canvas ticks. They were tolerably clean, but the rugs were very dirty; and I saw many vermin upon the one on my bed, so that I sat on the edge of the bed nearly all night, as I did before. There were eight women, all busily engaged in picking vermin from their clothes, and they began to chaff me as soon as I got in. I had put on a very old and brown chemise, yet they soon observed that it was better than their own, and they wondered how I had got it and why I wore it. In the next bed to me was a stoutish woman, of about thirty-seven years of age, with her face drawn to one side by a fit. She was well known to them all as Cranky Sal, and she took my part whenever she had a chance to do so.

One woman said she supposed I had bilked some old fellow, as I was well up; and Sal told her to mind her own business, for it was nothing to her if I had. I said I must have clean linen if I washed it in the ditch.

They did not believe me, and said, "Ah, I dare say, but you have your own reasons for all that."

They then asked me if I was married, and how many children I had, or if I was an old maid. "Old maid be —," said one.

" Ah," says another, "I suppose she is like the rest of us." "I suppose you are a bad one yourself," replied Cranky Sal, "or you would not ask."

They then made me show them my hair, at which they uttered expressions of the greatest admiration.

" So help me G—," says one, "if I had your head of hair, it would make my fortune."

" Yes," said another, "if you were hard up you could cut it off and sell it."

I then began to chaff them in return, to prevent a row. I told them I had been crossed in love; upon which a woman said, "She would be — if she would take that in; she dared say I was no better than I should be, but that she'd find out what I was;" and another said, "I was — modest, and that being crossed in love was all — kid. She supposed that I had come like that — fellow who had caused all the bother, and made them get orders from the police. What good had he done? They thought they were going to have meat every day all over London, so much stir as he had made."

" D— him," said another, "I should like to give him twelve on his back;" but twelve what I could not tell.

At length the row became so great, that Cranky Sal told them to shut up, and if they would not be quiet that she would call the nurse; upon which they said, "You may call her and be —, she will not come."

Cranky Sal then related her luck. She had been in the country, and had got at one place bread-and-butter and meat, and twopence in money, but she met some others, and they "collared her can" — that is, divided it between them; she then met a navvy, who treated her with beer. After this she fell in with a woman named "Navvy Nell," who had been lucky, and had "nailed" one of her powerful friends for half-a-crown, and by this time, as it was night, they agreed together to look for a place to sleep in. They went into a field, and made a bed between two haystacks, but they were disturbed by a labouring man, who told them to be off. Their next attempt was more successful, and they had a good night's rest.

In the morning they met a man, who asked them if they wanted work, and said he could give them strawberry-picking for a fortnight, at which he said they could earn two shillings and sixpence per day. Sally, however, thought they would not like it, as the sun was so very hot, and they declined. Soon after that they met a man who paid their fare to London, where they arrived very late, and the beershops being all closed, he treated them to coffee instead.

Since then they had been to Wimbledon and Wandsworth, where Navvy Nell had made a good thing of it. A few weeks ago she had neither stockings nor clothes; but, said Cranky Sal, "she is now well togged up."

They then began to talk about workhouses and casual wards, to all of which Sal had paid a visit. She said the wards at Richmond were the best; there they had feather-beds to sleep upon, and everything that was nice; they had also good fare at Marylebone, and a few other places were well spoken of. The nurse knew Sally well, and said, "What! are you here again?"

In the winter Sally prefers Marylebone or Richmond, and then she trades upon her reputation for crankiness to get into the imbecile ward, where, as she boasted, there is meat every day and nothing to do.

All this time the operation of picking her clothes was going on, and the appearance of the women, nearly all with short hair, was most extraordinary. About eleven o'clock another woman came in. She had been picking roses all day at one penny per bushel; and "Strike me dead," says she, "if it is not too bad, for I only earned fivepence all the day. Last year it was much better, and I got twopence a bushel."

The last arrival was at twelve o'clock, when a woman and three children were shown in. They were at the police-station when I was there, and she said they had been kept waiting for more than two hours for the order for admission. One child was put into bed with the mother, another in a bed by her side, and the eldest was sent over to the men's ward. They seemed very tired, but for a long time they never ceased getting up and tearing themselves to pieces; indeed, the constant scratching of every one in the ward went on until it was quite daylight. They all seem accustomed to vermin, and they look for nothing better.

One woman said, "She didn't care how many l—e she had, but that she couldn't abide them Pharaoh flights" (fleas); and she sat for twenty minutes catching them with great industry, and cracking them between her nails.

Another woman said, "She would be d—d if she would ever pay for a night's lodging, even if she had a pound in her pocket;" but another said, "She would; for see," said she, "what a time they keep you in to pick the oakum."

"Ah," replied the first, "if it wasn't for that I would come here every night; but I do not care while the weather is fine, I would as lieve sleep out of doors as in."

" Ah," said a third, who suffered greatly, "we have more peace in winter, there are fewer vermin."

They all seemed to know that sleep was out of the question until the feeding-time was fairly over, and daylight had arrived; then a common repose gradually took possession of the casuals and their voracious companions, and I was the only person awake when the bell rang for us to get up.

Shortly afterwards the woman came in and expressed surprise that they were not yet dressed, and hurried them on. The beds were then turned up, and a deaf-and-dumb girl brought in a pint of good skilly and a piece of bread for each. After breakfast the oakum was brought in, and we were set to work, superintended by the female already described.

The operation of picking their clothes went on even whilst they were eating their breakfast, and seems the only habitual method of cleanliness; it was continued whilst they were at work, and there was a woman named Shipton, of middle age, the wife of a vagrant in the male ward, who could not sit still one moment without turning up her clothes to relieve the violent irritation of her skin. After sitting at her work for an hour and doing very little, this woman became suddenly frantic; she jumped up, and rushed about the ward, as if she were insane, crying piteously, "I cannot bear it—I cannot bear it."

Roaring with madness, she stripped herself entirely naked, retaining only her bonnet and a small shawl. The clothes she took off scarcely held together, and she tore them into rags. At this moment the woman came in and began to blow her up.

"What have you done that for?" she said; "you ought to be ashamed of yourself. This is the twelfth case of tearing up, and you will have three days for it on bread and water. If you wanted to tear up, why did you not do it outside, and not keep me here two or three hours waiting on such as you?"

"I could not bear it any longer," answered the woman, "and I cannot help it."

The attendant then went out for the assistant matron, who was a sour-looking woman in spectacles. When she came in she turned over the torn rags with her keys, and said that they were clean and free from vermin; that she had seen much worse; and that it was not through dirt she did it, but devilment. She went away, but turned back again to tell the superintendent to take care that the woman did her oakum before she left. Neither the nurse nor the other person seemed to have a grain of pity for this poor creature, but I believe her sufferings to have been genuine. She appears to have had the fever, which made them less easily borne; even the nurse was frightened, and in my whole life I never saw so pitiable an object. For myself, I cried at her distress, and I wished to help her. They brought her an old petticoat to put on; it was of blue and white calico behind, and dark damask in front; it was clean, but patched all over, and reached scarcely to her knees; a jacket of workhouse cotton, and a checked chemise, and in this shameful costume, without stockings etc., she was made to finish her work. I heard afterwards that the master of the workhouse forbade her being sent out in this shameful way, and gave her better clothing. We left her behind, and as soon as we were ready a tall stout man came in and took us to the door.

Cranky Sal went out with me, and was extremely anxious that I should go to Wimbledon with her. She said we should be sure to do well whilst the camp was there, and then we could go to Richmond, which was as good as your own home. She said she enjoyed herself finely in the summer-time, and that she could always pick up a navvy. In the winter it was not so easy and pleasant, and then she went in. I came to the conclusion that she was more rogue than fool, and indeed she boasted that she was so. I had a great difficulty in shaking her off, but in Lambeth Walk she complained of thirst, and I offered her a pint of porter, which she drank with great gusto, whilst I gave her the slip and returned home.

[Chapter II] [Chapter IV] [Social Explorers] [Workhouse Home Page]

Ancestry UK

* * * Amazon US For US readers Amazon US * * *