Waugh meets up with an acquaintance who takes him to a mill in St George’s Ward where the manager shows them the relief books for the ward, from which Waugh takes the two following cases:
The first was that of an old man, an overlooker of a cotton mill. His family was thirteen in number; three of the children were under ten years of age; seven of the rest were factory operatives; but the whole family had been out of work for several months. When in full employment the joint earnings of the family amounted to 80s. a week; but, after struggling on in the hope of better times, and exhausting the savings of past labour, they had been brought down to the receipt of charity at last, and for sixteen weeks gone by the whole thirteen had been living upon 6s. a week from the relief fund. They had no other resource. I went to see them at their own house afterwards, and it certainly was a pattern of cleanliness, with the little household gods there still. Seeing that house, a stranger would never dream that the family was living on an average income of less than sixpence a head per week. But I know how hard some decent folk will struggle with the bitterest poverty before they will give in to it. The old man came in whilst I was there. He sat down in one corner, quietly tinkering away at something he had in his hands. His old corduroy trousers were well patched, and just new washed. …
Images of the various places and streets mentioned can often be found in either the Preston Digital Archive or the Red Rose Collection.
Note: in the 1860s a shilling was roughly equivalent to £3 in today’s money.
Another case was that of a poor widow woman, with five young children. This family had been driven from house to house, by increasing necessity, till they had sunk at last into a dingy little hovel, up a dark court, in one of the poorest parts of the town, where they huddled together about a fireless grate to keep one another warm. They had nothing left of the wreck of their home but two rickety chairs, and a little deal table reared against the wall, because one of the legs was gone. In this miserable hole—which I saw afterwards—her husband died of sheer starvation, as was declared by the jury on the inquest. The dark, damp hovel where they had crept to was scarcely four yards square; … He died there, with nothing to lie upon but the ground, and nothing to cover him, in that fireless hovel. His wife and children crept about him, there, to watch him die; and to keep him as warm as they could. When the relief committee first found this family out, the entire clothing of the family of seven persons weighed eight pounds, and sold for fivepence, as rags. …
Waugh then visits the Stone Yard where the unemployed work to earn their poor relief:
The “Stone Yard” is close by the Preston and Lancaster Canal. Here there are from one hundred and seventy to one hundred and eighty, principally young men, employed in breaking, weighing, and wheeling stone, for road mending. The stones are of a hard kind of blue boulder, gathered from the land between Kendal and Lancaster … At the “Stone Yard” it is all piece-work, and the men can come and go when they like. … The men can choose whether they will fill three tons of the broken stone, and wheel it to the central heap, for a shilling, or break one ton for a shilling. …
The ‘Labour Master’ in charge explains to Waugh that only a few of the men could break as much as four tons a day and that many were unable to break a single ton. This was work for the less fit men. Stronger individuals were sent to Preston Moor to earn their relief.
Waugh then recorded the following distressing account (I’ve translated his almost impenetrable rendering of working-class speech):
… one of my companions told me of an incident which happened to one of the visitors in another ward, a few days before. In the course of his round, this visitor called upon a certain destitute family which was under his care, and he found the husband sitting alone in the house, pale and silent. His wife had been ‘brought to bed’ two or three days before; and the visitor inquired how she was getting on. ‘She’s very ill,’ said the husband. ‘And the child,’ continued the visitor, ‘how is it?’ ‘It’s dead,’ replied the man; ‘it died yesterday.’ He then rose, and walked slowly into the next room, returning with a basket in his hands, in which the dead child was decently laid out. ‘That’s all that’s left of it now,’ said the poor fellow. Then, putting the basket upon the floor, he sat down in front of it, with his head between his hands, looking silently at the corpse.
Waugh next visits a family in Maudland Bank:
One of the first cases we called upon, after leaving the “Stone Yard,” was that of a family of ten—man and wife, and eight children. Four of the children were under ten years of age,—five were capable of working; and, when the working part of the family was in full employment, their joint earnings amounted to 61s. per week. But, in this case, the mother’s habitual ill-health had been a great expense in the household for several years.
This family of ten persons had been living, during the last nine weeks, upon relief amounting to 5s. a week. When we called, the mother and one or two of her daughters were busy in the next room, washing their poor bits of well-kept clothing. The daughters kept out of sight, as if ashamed. It was a good kind of cottage, in a clean street, called MAUDLAND BANK, and the whole place had a tidy, sweet look, though it was washing-day. … The house they lived in belonged to their late employer, whose mill stopped some time ago. [The employer had stopped collecting the rent].
When we got to the lower end of HOPE STREET, my guide stopped suddenly, and said, ‘Oh, this is close to where that woman lives whose husband died of starvation’. Leading a few yards up the by-street, he turned into a low, narrow entry, very dark and damp. Two turns more brought us to a dirty, pent-up corner, where a low door stood open. We entered there. It was a cold, gloomy-looking little hovel … It is not more than three yards square. There was no fire in the little rusty grate. The day was sunny, but no sunshine could ever reach that nook, nor any fresh breezes disturb the pestilent vapours that harboured there, festering in the sluggish gloom. In one corner of the place a little worn and broken stair led up to a room of the same size above, where, I was told, there was now some straw for the family to sleep upon. But the only furniture in the house, of any kind, was two rickety chairs and a little broken deal table, reared against the stairs, because one leg was gone.
A quiet-looking, thin woman, seemingly about fifty years of age, sat there, when we went in. She told us that she had buried five of her children, and that she had six yet alive, all living with her in that poor place. They had no work, no income whatever, save what came from the Relief Committee. Five of the children were playing in and out, bare-footed, and, like the mother, miserably clad; but they seemed quite unconscious that anything ailed them. I never saw finer children anywhere. The eldest girl, about fourteen, came in whilst we were there, and she leaned herself bashfully against the wall for a minute or two, and then slunk slyly out again, as if ashamed of our presence. The poor widow pointed to the cold corner where her husband died lately. She said that ‘his name was Tim Pedder. His father’s name was Timothy, and his mother’s name was Mary. He was a driver (a driver of boat-horses on the canal); but he had been out of work a long time before he died.’
The time for my next appointment was now hard on, and we hurried towards the shop in FISHERGATE, kept by the gentleman [Toulmin] I had promised to meet. He is an active member of the Relief Committee, and a visitor in George’s ward. … He had just returned from the Cheese Fair, at Lancaster.
We set out together to WALKER’S COURT, in Friargate. The first place we entered was at the top of the little narrow court. There we found a good-tempered Irish-woman sitting without fire, in her feverish hovel.
‘Well, missis,’ said the visitor, ‘how is your husband getting on?’
‘Ah, well, now, Mr. T—-,’ replied she, ‘you know, he’s only a delicate little man, and a tailor; and he went to work on the moor, and he couldn’t stand it. Sure, it was dragging the bare life out of him. So, he says to me, one morning, “Catharine,” says he, “I’ll leave off this a little while, till I see will I be able to get a job of work at my own trade; and maybe God will rise up something to put some clothes on us all, and help us to pull through till the black time is over us.” So, I told him to try his luck, anyway; for he was killing himself entirely on the moor. And so he did try; for there’s not an idle bone in that same boy’s skin. But, see this, now; there’s nothing in the world to be had to do just now—and a deal too many waiting to do it—so all he got by the change was losing his work on the moor. There is himself, and me, and the seven children. Five of the children are under ten years old. We are all naked; and the house is bare; and our health is gone with the want of meat. Sure it wasn’t in the likes of this we were living when times was good.’
The next house we called at in Walker’s Court was much like the first in appearance—very little left but the walls, and that little, such as none but the neediest would pick up, if it was thrown out to the streets. The only person in the place was a pale, crippled woman; her sick head, lapped in a poor white clout, swayed languidly to and fro. Besides being a cripple, she had been ill six years, and now her husband, also, was taken ill. He had just crept off to fetch medicine for the two.
A little lower down the court, we peeped in at two other doorways. The people were well known to my companion, who has the charge of visiting this part of the ward. Leaning against the door-cheek of one of these dim, unwholesome hovels, he said, ‘Well, missis; how are you getting on?’
There was a tall, thin woman inside. She seemed to be far gone in some exhausting illness. With slow difficulty she rose to her feet, and, setting her hands to her sides, gasped out, ‘My coals are done.’
He made a note, and said, ‘I’ll send you some more.”
Her other wants were regularly seen to on a certain day every week. Ours was an accidental visit.
We now turned up to another nook of the court, where my companion told me there was a very bad case. He found the door fast. We looked through the window into that miserable man-nest. It was cold, gloomy, and bare. As Corrigan says, in the ‘Colleen Bawn,’ ‘There was nobody in—but the fire—and that was gone out.’ … We came down the steps of the court into the fresher air of Friargate again.
Our next walk was to HEATLEY STREET. … Our time was getting short, so we only called at one house … where there was a family of eleven—a decent family, a well-kept and orderly household, though now stript almost to the bare ground of all worldly possession, sold, bitterly, piecemeal, to help to keep the bare life together, as sweetly as possible, till better days. The eldest son is twenty-seven years of age. The whole family has been out of work for the last seventeen weeks, and before that, they had been working only short time for seven months. For thirteen weeks they had lived upon less than one shilling a head per week, and I am not sure that they did not pay the rent out of that; and now the income of the whole eleven is under 16s., with rent to pay. In this house they hold weekly prayer-meetings. Thin picking—one shilling a week, or less—for all expenses, for one person. It is easier to write about it than to feel what it means, unless one has tried it for three or four months.
Just round the corner from Heatley Street, we stopped at the open door of a very little cottage. A good-looking young Irishwoman sat there, upon a three-legged stool, suckling her child. She was clean; and had an intelligent look.
‘Let’s see, missis,’ said the visitor, ‘what do you pay for this nook?’
‘We pay eighteenpence a week—and they will have it—my word.’
Well, an’ what income have you now?’
‘We have eighteenpence a head in the week, an’ the rent to pay out o’ that, or else they’ll turn us out.’
Of course, the visitor knew that this was true; but he wanted me to hear the people speak for themselves.
‘Let’s see, Missis Burns, your husband’s name is Patrick, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, sir; Patrick Burns.’
‘What! Patrick Burns, the famous foot-racer?’
The little woman smiled bashfully, and replied, ‘Yes, sir; I suppose it is.’
With respect to what the woman said about having to pay her rent or turn out, I may remark, in passing, that I have not hitherto met with an instance in which any millowner, or wealthy man, having cottage property, has pressed the unemployed poor for rent. But it is well to remember that there is a great amount of cottage property in Preston, as in other manufacturing towns, which belongs to the more provident class of working men. These working men, now hard pressed by the general distress, have been compelled to fall back upon their little rentals, clinging to them as their last independent means of existence. They are compelled to this, for, if they cannot get work, they cannot get anything else, having property. These are becoming fewer, however, from day to day.
The poorest are hanging a good deal upon those a little less poor than themselves; and every link in the lengthening chain of neediness is helping to pull down the one immediately above it. There is, also, a considerable amount of cottage property in Preston, belonging to building societies, which have enough to do to hold their own just now. And then there is always some cottage property in the hands of agents.
Leaving Heatley Street, we went to a place called SEED’S YARD. Here we called upon a clean old stately widow, with a calm, sad face. She had been long known, and highly respected, in a good street, not far off, where she had lived for twenty-four years, in fair circumstances, until lately. She had always owned a good houseful of furniture; but, after making bitter meals upon the gradual wreck of it, she had been compelled to break up that house, and retire with her five children to lodge with a lone widow in this little cot, not over three yards square, in Seed’s Yard, one of those dark corners into which decent poverty is so often found now, creeping unwillingly away from the public eye, in the hope of weathering the storm of adversity, in penurious independence.
The old woman never would accept relief from the parish, although the whole family had been out of work for many months. One of the daughters, a clean, intelligent-looking young woman, about eighteen, sat at the table, eating a little bread and treacle to a cup of light-coloured tea, when we went in; but she blushed, and left off until we had gone—which was not long after. It felt almost like sacrilege to peer thus into the privacies of such people; but I hope they did not feel as if it had been done offensively.
Waugh next visits a provision shop, the corner shop of its day, with hardly any provisions to sell:
In the window, it is true, there were four or five empty glasses, where children’s spice had once been. There was a little deal shelf here and there; but there were neither sand, salt, whitening, nor pipes. There was not the ghost of a farthing candle, nor a herring, nor a marble, nor a match, nor of any other thing, sour or sweet, eatable or saleable for other uses, except one small mug full of buttermilk up in a corner—the last relic of a departed trade …
Everything in the place had a sad, subdued look, and seemed conscious of having come down in the world, without hope of ever rising again; even the stripped walls appeared to look at one another with a stony gaze of settled despair. But there was a clean, matronly woman in the place, gliding about from side to side with a cloth in her hands, and wiping first one, then another, of these poor little relics of better days in a caressing way. The shop had been her special care when times were good, and she clung affectionately to its ruins still. Besides, going about cleaning and arranging the little empty things in this way looked almost like doing business.
Theirs was a family of seven—man, wife, and five children. The man was a spinner; and his thrifty wife had managed the little shop, whilst he worked at the mill. There are many striving people among the factory operatives, who help up the family earnings by keeping a little shop in this way. But this family was another of those instances in which working people have been pulled down by misfortune before the present crisis came on. Just previous to the mills beginning to work short time, four of their five children had been lying ill, all at once, for five months; and, before that trouble befell them, one of the lads had two of his fingers taken off, whilst working at the factory, and so was disabled a good while.
It takes little additional weight to sink those whose chins are only just above water; and these untoward circumstances oiled the way of this struggling family to the ground, before the mills stopped. A few months’ want of work, with their little stock of shop stuff oozing away—partly on credit to their poor neighbours, and partly to live upon themselves —and they become destitute of all, except a few beggarly remnants of empty shop furniture.
They had been receiving relief from the parish several weeks; but she told me that some ill-natured neighbour had ‘set it out’, that they had sold off their stock out of the shop, and put the money into the bank. Through this report, the Board of Guardians had ‘knocked off’ their relief for a fortnight, until the falsity of the report was made clear. After that, the Board gave orders for the man and his wife and three of the children to be admitted to the workhouse, leaving the other two lads, who were working at the Stone Yard, to ‘fend for themselves’, and find new nests wherever they could. This, however, was overruled afterwards; and the family is still holding together in the empty shop,—receiving from all sources, work and relief, about 13s. a week for the seven,—not bad, compared with the income of very many others.
It is sad to think how many poor families get sundered and scattered about the world in a time like this, never to meet again. And the false report respecting this family in the little shop, reminds me that the poor are not always kind to the poor. I learnt, from a gentleman who is Secretary to the Relief Committee of one of the wards, that it is not uncommon for the committees to receive anonymous letters, saying that so and so is unworthy of relief, on some ground or other. These complaints were generally found to be either wholly false, or founded upon some mistake.
I have three such letters now before me. The first, written on a torn scrap of ruled paper, runs thus:
‘May 19th, 1862.—If you please be so kind as to look after __ BACK NEWTON STREET Formerly a Resident of __ as i think he is not Deserving Relief.—A Ratepayer.’ In each case I give the spelling, and everything else, exactly as in the originals before me, except the names.
The next of these epistles says:—‘Preston, May 29th.—Sir, I beg to inform you that __, of PARK ROAD, in receipt from the Relief Fund, is a very unworthy person, having worked two days since the 16 and drunk the remainder and his wife also; for the most part, he has plenty of work for himself his wife and a journeyman but that is their regular course of life. And the S___s have all their family working full time. Yours respectfully.’
These last two are anonymous. The next is written in a very good hand, upon a square piece of very blue writing paper. It has a name attached, but no address:—‘Preston, June 2nd, 1862.—Mr. Dunn,—Dear Sir, Would you please to inquire into the case of __, of __. the are a family of 3 the man work four or more days per week on the moor the woman works 6 days per week at Messrs Simpsons North Road the third is a daughter 13 or 14 should be a weaver but to lasey she has good places such as Mr. Hollins and Horrocks and Millers as been sent a way for being to lasey. the man and woman very fond of drink. I as a Nabour and a subscriber do not think this a proper case for your charity. Yours truly, __.’
The next house we called at was inhabited by an old widow and her only daughter. The daughter had been grievously afflicted with disease of the heart, and quite incapable of helping herself during the last eleven years. The poor worn girl sat upon an old tattered kind of sofa, near the fire, panting for breath in the close atmosphere. She sat there in feverish helplessness, sallow and shrunken, and unable to bear up her head. It was a painful thing to look at her. She had great difficulty in uttering a few words. I can hardly guess what her age may be now; I should think about twenty-five.
Mr Toulmin, one of the visitors who accompanied me to the place, reminded the young woman of his having called upon them there more than four years ago, to leave some bedding which had been bestowed upon an old woman by a certain charity in the town. He saw no more of them after that, until the present hard times began, when he was deputed by the Relief Committee to call at that distressed corner amongst others in his own neighbourhood; and when he first opened the door, after a lapse of four years, he was surprised to find the same young woman, sitting in the same place, gasping painfully for breath, as he had last seen her.
Our next visit was to an Irish family. There was an old woman in, and a flaxen-headed lad about ten years of age. She was sitting upon a low chair,—the only seat in the place … There was not a vestige of furniture in the cottage, except the chair the old woman sat on. She said, ‘I sold the children’s bedstead for 2s. 6d.; and after that I sold the bed from under them for 1s. 6d., just to keep them from starving to death. The children had been two days without meat then, and I couldn’t bear it any longer. After that I sold the big pan, and then the new rocking chair, and so on, one thing after another, till all went entirely, barring this I am sitting on, and they went for next to nothing too. I paid 9s. 6d. for the bed itself, which was sold for 1s. 6d. We all sleep on straw now.’
This family was seven in number. The mill at which they used to work had been stopped about ten months. One of the family had found employment at another mill, three months out of the ten, and the old man himself had got a few days’ work in that time. The rest of the family had been wholly unemployed, during the ten months. Except the little money this work brought in, and a trifle raised now and then by the sale of a bit of furniture when hunger and cold pressed them hard, the whole family had been living upon 5s. a week for the last ten months. The rent was running on. The eldest daughter was twenty-eight years of age.