Edwin Waugh’s portrait of Preston — 3

Map of places Edwin Waugh visited in Preston Lancashire UK in 1862
The places Edwin Waugh visiited in 1862

Day Two

About half-past six I found my friend waiting at the end of the “Bull” [Bull and Royal]  gateway. It was a lovely morning. The air was cool and clear, and the sky was bright. It was easy to see which was the way to the soup kitchen, by the stragglers going and coming. We passed the famous ‘Orchard’, now a kind of fairground, which has been the scene of so many popular excitements in troubled times. All was quiet in the ‘Orchard’ that morning, except that, here, a starved-looking woman, with a bit of old shawl tucked round her head, and a pitcher in her hand, and there, a bare-footed lass, carrying a tin can, hurried across the sunny space towards the soup kitchen. We passed a new inn, called The Port Admiral. On the top of the building there were three life-sized statues—Wellington and Nelson, with the Greek slave between them—a curious companionship.

As we drew near the baths and washhouses, where the soup kitchen is, the stream of people increased. About the gate there was a cluster of melancholy loungers, looking cold and hungry. They were neither going in nor going away. I was told afterwards that many of these were people who had neither money nor tickets for food—some of them wanderers from town to town; anybody may meet them limping, footsore and forlorn, upon the roads in Lancashire, just now—houseless wanderers, who had made their way to the soup kitchen to beg a mouthful from those who were themselves at death’s door. In the best of times there are such wanderers; and, in spite of the generous provision made for the relief of the poor, there must be, in a time like the present, a great number who let go their hold of home (if they have any), and drift away in search of better fortune, and, sometimes, into irregular courses of life, never to settle more.

Entering the yard, we found the wooden sheds crowded with people at breakfast …

Five hundred people breakfast in the sheds alone, every day. The soup kitchen opens at five in the morning, and there is always a crowd waiting to get in. This looks like the eagerness of hunger. I was told that they often deliver 3000 quarts of soup at this kitchen in two hours. The superintendent of the bread department informed me that, on that morning, he had served out two thousand loaves, of 3lb. 11oz. each. There was a window at one end, where soup was delivered to such as brought money for it instead of tickets. Those who came with tickets—by far the greatest number—had to pass in single file through a strong wooden maze, which restrained their eagerness, and compelled them to order. I noticed that only a small proportion of men went through the maze; they were mostly women and children.

We returned to the middle of the town just as the shopkeepers in Friargate were beginning to take their shutters down. I had another engagement at half-past nine. A member of the Trinity Ward Relief Committee, who is master of the Catholic school in that ward, had offered to go with me to visit some distressed people who were under his care in that part of the town. We left Friargate at the appointed time. As we came along there was a crowd in front of Messrs Wards’, the fishmongers. A fine sturgeon had just been brought in. It had been caught in the Ribble that morning. We went in to look at the royal fish. It was six feet long, and weighed above a hundred pounds. I don’t know that I ever saw a sturgeon before.

But we had other fish to fry; and so we went on. The first place we called at was a cellar in NILE STREET. … A gray-headed little man, of seventy, lived down in this one room, sunken from the street. He had been married forty years, and if I remember aright, he lost his wife about four years ago. Since that time, he had lived in this cellar, all alone, washing and cooking for himself. … He now got a few coppers occasionally from the poor folk about, by grinding knives, and doing little tinkering jobs. Under the window he had a rude bench, with a few rusty tools upon it, and in one corner there was a low, miserable bedstead, without clothing upon it. There was one cratchinly chair in the place, too; but hardly anything else. He had no fire; he generally went into neighbours’ houses to warm himself. He was not short of such food as the Relief Committees bestow. ..

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.

We next went to a place called HAMMOND’S ROW—thirteen poor cottages, side by side. Twelve of the thirteen were inhabited by people living, almost entirely, upon relief, either from the parish or from the Relief Committee. There was only one house where no relief was needed. As we passed by, the doors were nearly all open, and the interiors all presented the same monotonous phase of destitution. They looked as if they had been sacked by bum-bailiffs.

The topmost house was the only place where I saw a fire. A family of eight lived there. They were Irish people. The wife, a tall, cheerful woman, sat suckling her child, and giving a helping hand now and then to her husband’s work. He was a little, pale fellow, with only one arm, and he had an impediment in his speech. He had taken to making cheap boxes of thin, rough deal, afterwards covered with paper. With the help of his wife he could make one in a day, and he got ninepence profit out of it—when the box was sold. …

In the next cottage where we called, in this row, there was a woman washing. Her mug was standing upon a stool in the middle of the floor; and there was not any other thing in the place in the shape of furniture or household utensil. The walls were bare of everything, except a printed paper, bearing these words: The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We now went to another street, and visited the cottage of a blind chairmaker, called John Singleton. … He said he should have been educated for the priesthood, at Stonyhurst College. ‘My clothes were made, and everything was ready for me to start to Stonyhurst. There was a stagecoach load of us going; but I failed the heart, and wouldn’t go. …’

A man cannot go wrong in Trinity Ward just now, if he wants to see poor folk. He may find them there at any time, but now he cannot help but meet them; and nobody can imagine how badly off they are, unless he goes amongst them. They are biding the hard time out wonderfully well, and they will do so to the end. They certainly have not more than a common share of human frailty. There are those who seem to think that when people are suddenly reduced to poverty, they should become suddenly endowed with the rarest virtues; but it never was so, and, perhaps, never will be so long as the world rolls. In my rambles about this ward, I was astonished at the dismal succession of destitute homes, and the number of struggling owners of little shops, who were watching their stocks sink gradually down to nothing, and looking despondingly at the cold approach of pauperism. I was astonished at the strings of dwellings, side by side, stripped, more or less, of the commonest household utensils—the poor little bare houses, often crowded with lodgers, whose homes had been broken up elsewhere; sometimes crowded, three or four families of decent working people in a cottage of half-a-crown a-week rental; sleeping anywhere, on benches or on straw, and afraid to doff their clothes at night time because they had no other covering. Now and then the weekly visitor comes to the door of a house where he has regularly called. He lifts the latch, and finds the door locked. He looks in at the window. The house is empty, and the people are gone—the Lord knows where. Who can tell what tales of sorrow will have their rise in the pressure of a time like this—tales that will never be written, and that no statistics will reveal.

The next place we called at was the house of an old joiner. He was lying very ill upstairs. … When we went in, the wife was cleaning her well-nigh empty house. … The family was seven in number—man, wife, and five children. … The wife told me that they had only 6s. a-week coming in for the seven to live upon. My companion was the weekly visitor who relieved them. She told me that her husband was sixty-eight years old; she was not forty. She said that her husband was not strong, and he had been going nearly barefoot and clemmed [starved] all through last winter, and she was afraid he had got his death of cold. They had not a bed left to lie upon. ‘My husband,’ said she, ‘was a master joiner once, and was doing very well. But you see how we are now.’

… My friend pointed to one of the cottages we passed, and said that the last time he called there, he found the family all seated round a large bowl of porridge, made of Indian meal. This meal is sold at a penny a pound.

‘Indian Meal is the Irish name for maize or cornmeal. Maize was introduced to Ireland during the Potato Famine of 1847 but lost its popularity in the 1960s. According to oral history North American Indians sent maize to Ireland to help the poor during the Famine, hence the name.’ [1]

… we called at a cottage in EVERTON GARDENS. It was as clean as a gentleman’s parlour; but there was no furniture in sight except a table, and, upon the table, a fine bush of fresh hawthorn blossom, stuck in a pint jug full of water. Here, I heard again the common story—they had been several months out of work; their household goods had dribbled away in ruinous sales, for something to live upon; and now, they had very little left but the walls. …

It was now a little past noon, and we spent a few minutes looking through the Catholic schoolhouse, in Trinity Ward—a spacious brick building. The scholars were away at dinner. My friend is master of the school. His assistant offered to go with us to one or two Irish families in a close wynd, hard by, called WILKIE’S COURT. In every case I had the great advantage of being thus accompanied by gentlemen who were friendly and familiar with the poor we visited. This was a great facility to me. Wilkie’s Court is a little cul de sac, with about half-a-dozen wretched cottages in it, fronted by a dead wall. The inhabitants of the place are all Irish. They were nearly all kept alive by relief from one source or other; but their poverty was not relieved by that cleanliness which I had witnessed in so many equally poor houses, making the best use of those simple means of comfort which are invaluable, although they cost little or nothing. In the first house we called at, a middle-aged woman was pacing slowly about the unwholesome house with a child in her arms.

The next house was, in some respects, more comfortable than the last, though it was quite as poor in household goods. There was one flimsy deal table, one little chair, and two half-penny pictures of Catholic saints pinned against the wall.
‘Sure, I sold the other table since you were here before,’ said the woman to my friend; ‘I sold it for two-and-eightpence, and bought this one for sixpence.’
At the house of another Irish family, my friend inquired where all the chairs were gone.
‘Oh,’ said a young woman, ’the bailiffs fetched everything away, barring the one seat, when we were living in Lancaster Street.’
‘Where do you all sit now, then?’
‘My mother sits there,’ replied she, ‘and we sit upon the floor.’

[1] ‘Indian Meal Porridge – a Recipe from Eating History’, http://eating-history.co.uk/recipes/indian-meal-porridge.

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