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.



The evidence derived from the foregoing narrative shows that two distinct classes are admitted to the casual wards. The one consists of old stagers, who are accustomed to the life, are satisfied with the treatment they receive, no matter what it is, and tramp from place to place, living as they can and doing anything but work. To reforn such characters is almost beyond our hope : no ordinary machinery has the least effect upon them; they refuse to work, they care but little what they eat, they wallow in filth, and look upon vermin as their natural companions; they set the Guardians, the relieving officers, and even the police, at complete defiance, and, with extraordinary ingenuity, they avoid the prison, only to prey upon society in a more contemptible way. To such as these the Houseless Poor Act has given legal position, and privileges of lodging and food at the public expense, which are not in the least deserved. What right have such idle vagabonds, whether male or female, to our sympathy and relief? and is it not shameful that the heavily-burdened ratepayer should be taxed for their support? Are they not the very persons who have heretofore been sent to gaol as the violators of public morals, and as examples of idleness which could not be tolerated amongst an industrious people? A vast amount of misplaced sympathy has been throwu around the class, and we have legislated in direct antagonism to our ancient law. Instead of vagrancy being treated as a crime, we have offered it direct encouragement; and having diverted the workhouse from its original purpose, which was a test of destitution and not a refuge for infirmity and disease, we have invented a new system of outdoor relief which practically precludes the possibility of discrimination, and gives such assistance to the idle and degraded pauper as enables him to live without work, and to pursue his wandering habits entirely without control.

But there is also a second class, which consists of the distressed poor who are really destitute. In the Metropolis they form a small proportion of those who seek lodging in the casual ward; but as they manifestly have the highest claim to the assistance they require, the arrangements ought to be sufficient for their accommodation, and such as will protect them from the degrading and contaminating influences which inevitably surround them in the wards we have described. What right have we to keep a destitute but honest wayfarer, whether man or woman, standing at the door of a police office, mixed up with a score of foul-mouthed vagabonds, and exposed to the inclemency of the weather, the mockery of passersby, and the jeers of the police, who reluctantly perform their hateful duty? What right have we to insult those who are already in despair, by a treatment which infers the possibility of crime and wrong, simply because they do not form a majority of the class to be relieved, and because we do not attempt to reach the real vagabond, except through the outraged feelings of the deserving poor. Under the old law, happily not yet repealed, we isolated the vagrant as completely as we could, and if we failed to reform his habits, either in the workhouse or the gaol, we at least circumscribed his influence, and reduced his sphere of operations to the very smallest limits. No greater mistake was ever made by the Legislature than when it placed the professional vagrant on the same footing as the deserving but destitute traveller. To put them together under the same roof, to make them sleep in the same bed, destroys the innocent, and reduces all to a common level. No honest woman can hear the language used in the wards, or associate with the characters who habitually live there, without contracting infamy; and the wonder is that poor Cranky Sally has not long ago succumbed to the im. morality and vice which now surrounds her, especially as we have seen how anxious the old tramps are to gain companions and recruits. The casual ward is a school of vagrancy and petty crime, in which those who enter by compulsion are taught to prefer a wandering life, and to acquire the means for indulging in their preference; but happily the pupils are comparatively few, because the genuine wayfarer shuns the horrors of the accommodation, and feels that he cannot associate with the vagrant without losing caste and self-respect. Every night respectable but destitute persons prefer to walk the streets, or, as in Bethnal Green, to sit in the public water-closet, rather than remain in such debasing company.

Now the real question is, which of the two classes are we called upon to relieve in this particular way? and the answer is, the destitute wayfarer, and not the. tramp. How, then, are we to distinguish them? how admit the one and treat him kindly, and discard the other without incurring the scandal of their starving in the streets ? We have seen, from the narration given, that there is practically no discrimination under the existing system. The only check to vagrancy now in force is the employment of the police as assistant relieving-officers, to distribute the tickets of admission to the wards; and we saw at Lambeth that the numbers have been greatly diminished since the period of introducing this repellent practice. But the question is, does it work effectually? does it really diminish the facilities for a wandering life? and does it secure for the honest but destitute traveller the relief to which he is entitled ? Most decidedly not. The criminal at large may be deterred by the ordeal of the police-station, because he cannot face the inspector who has him on his list; but, at the same time, the process will deter those who have a right to our sympathy, and will exclude the most deserving persons whom we desire to relieve. None, therefore, but the most callous and undeserving will brave the police, and then, as we have seen, they will do so night after night, and week after week, with impunity, because they know that the police themselves have no special power of discrimination, and are not authorized to refuse them, so long as they do not positively belong to the criminal class. We therefore dissent entirely from the proposal to transfer the administration of vagrant relief into the hands of the police. It is open to the gravest objections, and those who advocate the transfer must feel that there are insuperable difficulties in the way. Before imposing upon them a duty so foreign to their ordinary occupation as is the relief of destitution, we ought, at least, to be sure that they have the power to carry out that which we require, and it is clear they fail. What is really wanted is a certificate of temporary destitution, which shall distinguish those who are entitled to relief from the worthless vagrant, and this certificate ought to be given by the relieving officer, and not by police.

A Poor-law magistracy can alone deal with this vast disease. We conceive that every bond fide traveller, destitute of means, should be provided with a bed and breakfast at the public cost, and be permitted to depart as early as he pleases, either to pursue his journey or to seek for work. This privilege should be surrounded with certain guarantees for honesty, not difficult to obtain. Thus, a route signed by a master in the presence of a police inspector, a clergyman, or a magistrate, should be held good for a certain reasonable time; and in London a certificate of destitution might be granted after due inquiry by the magistrate we have alluded to, which should entitle the bearer to bed and breakfast for a week, the right to be renewed at discretion, until work is found. If a return of such certificates were made to a central office, the cases of professional vagrancy would soon be known, and all persons without a certificate found wandering and homeless in the streets would be taken before the Poor-law magistrate, and either supplied with the necessary certificate or remitted to the house of detention, which we will presently describe. The fear of detention is the greatest bugbear of the incorrigible casual. You may wash him, and he will bear it; you may put him in a shed to sleep, and he will not complain, — herd him with fever and disease, and he does not care, — make him work, and he sullenly picks his oakum, saws his wood, or breaks his stone, but nothing cures him of his wandering and idle habits but detention in one place. Before the instition of casual wards there were no vagrant visitors at the Paddington Workhouse, and how were they deterred ? Not by refusal, not by harsh treatment, not by scanty food, not by work, but simply by detaining them in the workhouse until the Board of Guardians met. One would have supposed that a week of rest and good food would have been gratefully received by these hungry wanderers; but no, once fairly away they never returned; and if a plan something like this were universally adopted, the wandering habits of the class would soon be checked.

A somewhat similar plan prevails in Leeds, and works extremely well, even without the intervention of the police. Mr. Corbet, in his recent report, describes it in the following terms; and if only detention for a few days were added at the discretion of the master, the result would be the same as it was at Paddington:—

"At Leeds the supervision by a Vagrant master and mistress is excellent; the work, — grinding corn by men, and washing clothes and cleaning the wards by women, — strictly exacted; and not only is each person required to go through a warm bath, which to the professional tramp is no less distasteful than work, but his clothes are taken from him for the night, which he dislikes, if possible, still more, when he is furnished with the unwonted and unappreciated luxury of bed-linen. In spite therefore of a good bed to sleep on, and a sufficiency of plain food, fewer of the true vagabond class frequent the wards of this work house than could have been expected in a manufacturing town of such magnitude; and during the recent distress in the cotton district a proportionately greater number of bona fide wayfarers in search of work sought and obtained the shelter of these wards."

This is as it should be; but in discarding the professional vagrant from the regular casual ward, we must take care that he is detained elsewhere. The “House of Detention” should be a real workhouse, under the direction of a labour-master, assisted, if necessary, by the police; and to this all persons wandering without a certificate should be sent, if they are not able satisfactorily to account for their destitution. Several such establishments would probably be required; they should have land attached; vegetables and other necessaries should be cultivated for the supply of the Metropolitan Pauper Hospitals, whilst the females should be made to wash for the sick, as well as make linen and other useful articles for the same class. No inmate should be allowed to leave without having behaved well for at least one month. If he is industrious, some reward might be offered for his work, and a certificate to travel may then be given him that he may seek for employment. The superintendent should have a register of persons wanting labourers, and he should recommend the inmates when he can properly do so. None but the able-bodied should be sent here. The fare should be as good as a convict's, and the work somewhat less severe, An institution of this kind, in which the inmates might be classed in two or three divisions, would afford to every one a reasonable chance of reform, if any habits of industry should still survive. At the present moment, not only is the classification of the vagrant totally impossible, but his treatment is anything but uniform. In some Unions he is petted, but in most despised. At one place food and accommodation are good, at another execrable; the general management must therefore be conducted by a central board, in which the Government should be fairly represented. In the meantime, we would recommend the Poor-Law Board to adopt a system of registration and certificates, in order to fix the crime of vagrancy on the able-bodied vagabonds who systematically occupy the casual wards, and then let orders be given for their prosecution under the Vagrant Act. A little wholesome energy would go further to diminish the evil, than a powerless interference of the police or the institution of a labour-test, which we discover to be so easily escaped.

In conclusion, let us urge upon the Government the necessity of attacking vagrancy at its true foundation. The Guardians of whole districts in the Metropolis avow themselves “unable to relieve the rising generation so that they may be eventually independent of the rates." Let us think for a moment what a statement like this involves. It tells us that the 30,000 children now imperfectly relieved are taught from their earliest years to become familiar with want in all its forms, — want of food, want of clothes, want of education, and want of occupation, such as may give them a chance of gaining an honest living; and in the train of these wants are dirt, dishonesty, and crime; and irreligion, disease, and death; and, worst of all, there is education to habitual pauperism and vagrancy, from which generation after generation is unable to escape. Only a few days ago, a man entered the casual wards of a West-end Workhouse in company with his son, now seventeen years of age. . The master remembers this youth carried into the same wards as an infant in his father's arms, and has observed them from time to time ever since. In no other country in Europe professing to have a Christian Government would such an education be permitted, nay, even encouraged by the law, as it is here.

It is impossible to destroy hereditary pauperism, vagrancy, and crime, whilst the law gives a parent the uncontrollable right over the treatment of his own children, the right being in no case subordinate to his social duties. We boast as Englishmen of our personal, political, and religious freedom; but it is impossible to feel proud of that which permits a parent to indulge his own appetite at the cost of starvation to his offspring, — to put his children to work at the very tenderest age that he himself may live at ease, — and to bring them up, should it suit his selfish and wicked purpose, in idleness, misery, and crime. If a parent keeps out of the workhouse or the gaol, he may use his children as he pleases, and may starve and abuse them without control; and is it not time to check the licence to bring up children in ignorance — to make them hereditary paupers, habitual beggars, and at last expensive convicts, and to call upon parents to perform their duty under peril of the law, and of having their children taken away and put under the education of the State. In the Metropolis the number of juvenile thieves increases rapidly, and the inspector of reformatory schools states, that “nothing short of a law which shall compel a father to have his children fairly educated, and which shall send the children to a school appropriate to their condition if the parents can or will not so send them, making the parents pay some trifling quota towards the expense of their education, — nothing but this, I say, can meet the evil; without this, the gaol will be crowded as well as the reformatory — filled by children whom mere neglect and idleness have first made mischievous, then criminal.”

And lastly, the insufficient nourishment of the young destroys the stamina of the people, unfits them for anything like hard work, and reduces the labouring classes to puerile occupations and low wages, which, after a few generations, will impair the productive power of the country, and make us even more dependent than we are now upon the importation of foreign labour. It is a dreadful fact that honest labour was never so scarce as it is now; and the day has arrived when Belgians have been required to complete an English railway. A man can only perform the duty for which he is physically fit, and his power will depend upon the food he has received in youth, and the general conditions of health in which he has been brought up.

On the 1st of January last there were 34,092 children in the receipt of out-door relief in the Metropolitan Unions, more than half of these being dependent upon poor widows, and all deriving their chief means of existence from the public rates. The allowance varies from fourpence-halfpenny to two shillings per head per week, and the average is not one shilling each. On this they exist indeed, but do not live and grow; and so they arrive at a feeble but precocious maturity, and are driven by necessity to those casual occupations which indeed children of ordinary vigour and intelligence are as capable of carrying on as these puny men. You cannot obtain labour from an exhausted population any more than you can obtain crops from an exhausted farm, and the profitable return in both cases will depend upon the liberality of the preparatory treatment. When, therefore, thousands of children are thus brought up, their stock-in-trade consists of debility, sharp wits, and chicanery. They scarcely know what good food is; they have learned to live on bread, tea, and offal, and they care for nothing else; and so, not having the stamina and the pluck of men, they live upon a low cunning, exercised principally in the streets. From the class described is derived our stock of costermongers, cadgers, street-finders, low porters, crossing-sweepers, and vagrants, — and in fact every form of occupation which does not involve continuous and healthy effort. And then, because of the very nature of the employments, we have in their train gambling, drunkenness, vice, and crime, which amply retaliate upon society for the wicked neglect with which it has treated those who have been thrown upon its care; and the disgrace is, that we then turn round and tax our unhappy victims with being the cause of their own misery, and punish them as if they were responsible for the state in which they live. Our present system of public relief rears vagabonds and thieves by thousands; and if we desire to diminish vagrancy and crime, we must pay more attention to the physical and moral education of the rising generation, so many thousands of whom become dependent upon the public charity by the many causes which destroy health and life in this large and struggling place.

We must equalize the rates, and organize a responsible executive of the Poor Law; and we must consolidate the system of public relief, that the poor may be uniformly and fairly dealt with in every part of the Metropolis, whether it be rich or poor.

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