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.



SINCE these visits have been made, the author has inspected the places described.

At Newington the ward was already in course of demolition, but enough remained to show the truthfulness of the description and the unfitness of the accommodation then in use.

At Lambeth the general arrangements appear excellent. The female ward is large and airy, and the bath-room clean and well appointed. The floors are washed daily, but less care seems to be taken that the beds and rugs are maintained in a cleanly state; no doubt this is almost impossible, but nevertheless it seems hard that a woman of cleanly habits should be forced to lie upon infected beds, and cover herself with rugs alive with vermin, for the convenience and accommodation of a class which, if treated according to law, would be most of them in prison. The policy of employing the police as assistant relieving officers will be discussed presently; it will be sufficient to notice now that the number of vagrants at Lambeth has greatly diminished since their employment there, and that a portion of the female casual ward has been permanently converted to another purpose.

The wards at Whitechapel are utterly unfit for human occupation. We hear that others are in course of erection, but, in the interests of humanity, those now in use ought to be instantly closed. The boarded floors and whitewashed walls fail to conceal the real filthiness of the place, the full horrors of which come forth at night. The want of ventilation and the crowding together of half-destitute and dirty people constitutes a focus from which diarrhoea and cholera is liable to be carried into the whole district. No one can read the harrowing account of the night spent there without feeling that illness is almost a necessity of the place, — if not in the ward itself, soon afterwards. Let the Guardians set up a tent in the yard, and lay fresh straw daily upon the very stones, and let water be abundantly supplied, and the sanitary conditions will be more successfully observed than they are now.

These remarks apply with tenfold force to the dangerous cellars in St. George's-in-the-East, condemned long ago by Mr. Farnall. These wards are now reoccupied, because the new ones have been appropriated to cholera cases ; but surely this course cannot have been sanctioned by the Poor-Law Board. It is a curious anomaly of the law that the sanitary officer of the district has no power to inspect the workhouse, although it is part of his duty to superintend the ventilation and sanitary state of churches, chapels, and other public buildings. This is unfortunate, for the health standard of the Poor-Law authorities has hitherto been extremely low, and the introduction of a little medical inspection from without must have had a beneficial effect. For many years the Poor Law Board had no adviser of its own, and it ought to have welcomed persons able and willing to expose evils which it was unable or unwilling to recognise itself. Half the evils of the work house infirmaries might have been remedied long ago if the local health officer had been permitted to inspect them; and even now, if he could visit the casual wards of St. George's-in-the-East, he might rightly insist upon their instant closure. At the time of our visit, there was everywhere a copious sprinkling of chloride of lime, which masked but did not destroy the stench of the closet, where the filth was openly exposed, as already described. The attendant informed us that it was cleaned out daily, — a statement which was manifestly untrue; and even had it been otherwise, it only palliates an evil which is beyond defence. We were also shown the bath-room, and the same attendant assured us repeatedly that the bath was used and the people washed. This is distinctly denied by our visitor, and the general appearance of the place justified her report. Not only are the baths not used, but the unfortunate women were refused a pail of water in which to wash their faces. The whole management of the place reflects the highest discredit upon the Guardians, and inculpates those who are appointed to supervise it.

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