The rain had been falling heavily through the night. It was raw and gusty, and thick clouds were sailing wildly overhead, as I went to the first train for Preston. It was that time of morning when there is a lull in the streets of Manchester, between six and eight. The “knocker-up” had shouldered his long wand, and paddled home to bed again; and the little stalls, at which the early workman stops for his half-penny cup of coffee, were packing up. A cheerless morning, and the few people that were about looked damp and low spirited. I bought the day’s paper, and tried to read it, as we flitted by the glimpses of dirty garret-life, through the forest of chimneys, gushing forth their thick morning fumes into the drizzly air, and over the dingy web of Salford streets. We rolled on through Pendleton, where the country is still trying to look green here and there, under increasing difficulties; but it was not till we came to where the green vale of Clifton open out, that I became quite reconciled to the weather. Before we were well out of sight of the ancient tower of Prestwich Church, the day brightened a little. The shifting folds of gloomy cloud began to glide asunder, and through the gauzy veils which lingered in the interspaces, there came a dim radiance which lighted up the rain-drops ‘lingering on the pointed thorns’; and the tall meadow grasses were swaying to and fro with their loads of liquid pearls, in courtesies full of exquisite grace, as we whirled along. I enjoyed the ride that raw morning, although the sky was all gloom again long before we came in sight of the Ribble.
I met my friend, in Preston, at half-past nine; and we started at once for another ramble amongst the poor, in a different part of Trinity Ward. We went first to a little court, behind BELL STREET. There is only one house in the court, and it is known as ‘Th’ Back Heawse’. In this cottage the little house-things had escaped the ruin which I had witnessed in so many other places. There were two small tables, and three chairs; and there were a few pots and a pan or two. Upon the cornice there were two pot spaniels, and two painted stone apples; and, between them, there was a sailor waving a union jack, and a little pudgy pot man, for holding tobacco. On the windowsill there was a musk-plant; and, upon the table by the staircase, there was a rude cage, containing three young throstles. The place was tidy; and there was a kind-looking old couple inside. The old man stood at the table in the middle of the floor, washing the pots, and the old woman was wiping them, and putting them away. A little lad sat by the fire, whittling at a piece of stick. The old man spoke very few words the whole time we were there, but he kept smiling and going on with his washing. The old woman was very civil, and rather shy at first; but we soon got into free talk together. She told me that she had borne thirteen children. Seven of them were dead; and the other six were all married, and all poor. …
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 went next into POLE STREET, and tried the door of a cottage where a widow woman lived with her children less than a week before. They were gone, and the house was cleared out.
‘They have had neither fire nor candle in that house for weeks past,’ said my companion.
We then turned up a narrow entry, which was so dark and low overhead that my companion only told me just in time to ‘mind my hat’! There are several such entries leading out of Pole Street to little courts behind. Here we turned into a cold and nearly empty cottage, where a middle-aged woman sat nursing a sick child. She looked worn and ill herself, and she had sore eyes. She told me that the child was her daughter’s. Her daughter’s husband had died of asthma in the workhouse, about six weeks before. He had not had a penny for twelve months before he died.
She said, ‘We had a very good house in STANLEY STREET once; but we had to sell up and creep here. This house is 2s. 3d. a week; and we must pay it or go into the street.
In another corner behind Pole Street, we called at a cottage of two rooms, each about three yards square. A brother and sister lived together here. They were each about fifty years of age. They had three female lodgers, factory operatives, out of work.
We now turned into CUNLIFFE STREET, and called upon an Irish family there. It was a family of seven—an old tailor, and his wife and children. They had ‘dismissed the relief’, as he expressed it, ‘because they got a bit of work’. The family was making a little living by ripping up old clothes, and turning the cloth to make it up afresh into lads’ caps and other cheap things.
In Cunliffe Street, we passed the cottage of a boilermaker, whom I had heard of before. His family was four in number. This was one of those cases of wholesome pride in which the family had struggled with extreme penury, seeking for work in vain, but never asking for charity, until their own poor neighbours were at last so moved with pity for their condition, that they drew the attention of the Relief Committee to it. The man accepted relief for one week, but after that, he declined receiving it any longer, because he had met with a promise of employment. But the promise failed him when the time came. The employer, who had promised, was himself disappointed of the expected work. After this; the boilermaker’s family was compelled to fall back upon the Relief Committee’s allowance. He who has never gone hungry about the world, with a strong love of independence in his heart, seeking eagerly for work from day to day, and coming home night after night to a foodless, fireless house, and a starving family, disappointed and desponding, with the gloom of destitution deepening around him, can never fully realise what the feelings of such a man may be from anything that mere words can tell.
In PARK ROAD, we called at the house of a hand-loom weaver. I learnt, before we went in, that two families lived here, numbering together eight persons; and, though it was well known to the committee that they had suffered as severely as any on the relief list, yet their sufferings had been increased by the anonymous slanders of some ill-disposed neighbours. They were quiet, well-conducted working people; and these slanders had grieved them very much. I found the poor weaver’s wife very sensitive on this subject. Man’s inhumanity to man may be found among the poor sometimes. It is not every one who suffers that learns mercy from that suffering. As I have said before, the husband was a calico weaver on the hand-loom. He had to weave about seventy-three yards of a kind of check for 3s., and a full week’s work rarely brought him more than 5s. It seems astonishing that a man should stick year after year to such labour as this. But there is a strong adhesiveness, mingled with timidity, in some men, which helps to keep them down.
Leaving the weaver’s cottage, the rain came on, and we sat a few minutes with a young shoemaker, who was busy at his bench, doing a cobbling job. His wife was lying ill upstairs. He had been so short of work for some time past that he had been compelled to apply for relief. He complained that the cheap gutta percha shoes were hurting his trade. He said a pair of men’s gutta percha shoes could be bought for 5s. 6d., whilst it would cost him 7s. 6d. for the materials alone to make a pair of men’s shoes of.
We … then went into PUMP STREET, to the house of a ‘core-maker’, a kind of labourer for moulders. The core-maker’s wife was in. They had four children. The whole six had lived for thirteen weeks on 3s. 6d. a week. When work first began to fall off, the husband told the visitors who came to inquire into their condition, that he had a little money saved up, and he could manage a while. The family lived upon their savings as long as they lasted, and then were compelled to apply for relief …
It was not quite noon when we left this house, and my friend proposed that before we went farther we should call upon Mrs G_, an interesting old woman, [who taught a few pupils in her house] in CUNLIFFE STREET. In a small room fronting the street, the mild old woman sat, with her bed in one corner, and her simple vassals ranged upon the forms around. … The venerable little woman had lived in this house fourteen years. She was seventy-three years of age, and a native of Limerick. She was educated at St Ann’s School, in Dublin, and she had lived fourteen years in the service of a lady in that city. The old dame … told us that she charged only a penny a-week for her teaching; but, said [she was] ‘… very much troubled with my eyes; my sight is failing fast. If I drop a stitch when I’m knitting, I can’t see to take it up again. If I could buy a pair of spectacles, they would help me a good deal; but I cannot afford till times are better.
We … came back to the middle of the town. On our way I noticed again some features of street life which are more common in manufacturing towns just now than when times are good. Now and then one meets with a man in the dress of a factory worker selling newspapers, or religious tracts, or back numbers of the penny periodicals, which do not cost much. It is easy to see, from their shy and awkward manner, that they are new to the trade, and do not like it. … I know that many of these are unemployed operatives trying to make an honest penny in this manner till better days return.
After dinner I fell into company with some gentlemen who were talking about the coming guild—that ancient local festival, which is so dear to the people of Preston, that they are not likely to allow it to go by wholly unhonoured, however severe the times may be. … There were three or four millowners in the company, and, when the conversation turned upon the state of trade, one of them said, ‘I admit that there is a great deal of distress, but we are not so badly off yet as to drive the operatives to work for reasonable wages. For instance, I had a labourer working for me at 10s. a-week; he threw up my employ, and went to work upon the moor for 1s. a-day. How do you account for that? And then, again, I had another man employed as a watchman and roller coverer, at 18s. a-week. I found that I couldn’t afford to keep him on at 18s., so I offered him 15s. a-week; but he left it, and went to work on the moor at 1s. a-day; and, just now, I want a man to take his place, and cannot get one.’ Another said, ‘I am only giving low wages to my workpeople, but they get more with me than they can make on the moor, and yet I cannot keep them.’ I heard some other things of the same kind, for which there might be special reasons; but these gentlemen admitted the general prevalence of severe distress, and the likelihood of its becoming much worse.
At two o’clock I sallied forth again, under convoy of another member of the Relief Committee, into the neighbourhood of Messrs Horrocks, Miller, and Co.’s works. Their mill is known as “Th’ Yard Factory.” Hereabouts the people generally are not so much reduced as in some parts of the town, because they have had more employment, until lately, than has been common elsewhere. But our business lay with those distressed families who were in receipt of relief, and, even here, they were very easy to find. The first house we called at was inhabited by a family of five—man and wife and three children. The man was working on the moor at one shilling a-day. The wife was unwell, but she was moving about the house. They had buried one girl three weeks before; and one of the three remaining children lay ill of the measles. They had suffered a great deal from sickness. … In addition to the husband’s pay upon the moor, they were receiving 2s. a week from the Committee, making altogether 8s. a week for the five, with 2s. 6d. to pay out of it for rent.
We had not many yards to go to the next place, which was a poor cottage in Fletcher’s Row [FLETCHER ROAD], where a family of eight persons resided. There was very little furniture in the place, but I noticed a small shelf of books in a corner by the window. A feeble woman, upwards of seventy years old, sat upon a stool tending the cradle of a sleeping infant. This infant was the youngest of five children, the oldest of the five was seven years of age. The mother of the three-weeks-old infant had just gone out to the mill to claim her work from the person who had been filling her place during her confinement. The old woman said … she was no relation to [the young woman and her husband], but she nursed, and looked after the house for them. … She said that the Board of Guardians had allowed the family 10s. a week for the two first weeks of the wife’s confinement, but now their income amounted to a little less than one shilling a head per week.
Leaving this house, we turned round the corner into ST MARY’S STREET NORTH. Here we found a clean-looking young working man standing shivering by a cottage door, with his hands in his pockets. … A clean little pale woman came up, with a child in her arms, and we went in. They had not much furniture in the small kitchen, which was the only place we saw, but everything was sweet and orderly. Their income was, as usual in relief cases, about one shilling a head per week. … We called at another house in this street. A family of six lived there. The only furniture I saw in the place was two chairs, a table, a large stool, a cheap clock, and a few pots. The man and his wife were in. She was washing. The man … told us that he was a ‘tackler’ by trade. A tackler is one who fettles looms when they get out of order.
‘Couldn’t you get on at Horrocks’s?’ said my friend.
‘No,’ replied he; “they won’t have men weavers there.’
… Leaving this house we met with another member of the Relief Committee, who was overlooker of a mill a little way off. I parted here with the gentleman who had accompanied me hitherto, and the overlooker went on with me [to NEWTON STREET]
A few yards lower in Newton Street, we turned up a low, dark entry, which led to a gloomy little court behind. This was one of those unhealthy, pent-up cloisters, where misery stagnates and broods among the ‘foul congregation of pestilential vapours’ which haunt the backdoor life of the poorest parts of great towns. … And, in such nooks as this, there may be found many decent working people, who have been accustomed to live a cleanly life in their humble way in healthy quarters, now reduced to extreme penury, pinching, and pining, and nursing the flickering hope of better days, which may enable them to flee from the foul harbour which strong necessity has driven them to. The dark aspect of the day filled the court with a tomb-like gloom. If I remember aright, there were only three or four cottages in it. We called at two of them.
Before we entered the first, my friend said, ‘A young couple lives here. They are very decent people. They have not been here long; and they have gone through a great deal before they came here.’
There were two or three pot ornaments on the cornice; but there was no furniture in the place, save one chair, which was occupied by a pale young woman, nursing her child. Her thin, intelligent face looked very sad. Her clothing, though poor, was remarkably clean; and, as she sat there, in the gloomy, fireless house, she said very little, and what she said she said very quietly, as if she had hardly strength to complain, and was even half-ashamed to do so. She told us, however, that her husband had been out of work six months.
‘He didn’t know what to turn to after we sold the things,’ said she; ‘but he’s taken to chair bottoming, for he doesn’t want to rely on folk for relief, if he can help it. He doesn’t get much above a chair, or happen two in a week, … and even then he doesn’t always get paid, for folks have not brass. It runs very hard with us, and I’m very sickly.’
The poor soul did not need to say much; her own person, which evinced such a touching struggle to keep up a decent appearance to the last, and everything about her, as she sat there in the gloomy place, trying to keep the child warm upon her cold breast, told eloquently what her tongue faltered at and failed to express.
The next place we called at in this court was a cottage kept by a withered old woman, with one foot in the grave. We found her in the house, sallow, and shrivelled, and panting for breath. She had three young women, out of work, lodging with her; and, in addition to these, a widow with her two children lived there. One of these children, a girl, was earning 2s. 6d. a week for working short time at a mill; the other, a lad, was earning 3s. a week. The rest were all unemployed, and had been so for several months past. This 5s. 6d. a week was all the seven people had to live upon, with the exception of a trifle the sickly old woman received from the Board of Guardians.
As we left the court [and before] we had gone many yards down the street a storm of rain and thunder came on, and we hurried into the house of an old Irishwoman close by. My friend knew the old woman. She was on his list of relief cases.
‘Will you let us shelter a few minutes, Mrs _?’ said he.
‘I will, and thank ye,’ replied she. ‘Come in and sit down. Sure, it’s not fit to turn out a dog.’
…There was a young woman reared against the table by the window.
My friend turned towards her, and said, ‘Well, and how does the Indian meal agree with you?’
The young woman blushed, and smiled, but said nothing; but the old woman turned sharply round and replied, ‘Well, now, it is better than starvation; it is cheap, and it fills up—and that’s all.’
‘Is your son working?’ inquired my friend.
‘He is,’ replied she. ‘He is getting a day now and again at the brick-croft in RIBBLETON LANE. Faith, it is time he did something, too, for he was nine months out of work entirely. I am got greatly into debt, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over it any more. I don’t know how poor folk are able to spend money on drink such times as these. … It is bard enough to get meat of any kind to keep the bare life in a body. Oh, see now; but for the relief, the half of the country would die out.’
‘You’re a native of Ireland, missis,’ said I.
‘Troth, I am,’ replied she; ‘and had a good farm … too, one time. … Before the bad times came on, long ago, people were well off in old Ireland. I saw them with as many as ten cows standing at the door at one time. Ah, then! but the Irish people are greatly scattered now! But, for the matter of that, folk are as badly off here as anywhere in the world, I think. I don’t know how poor folk are able to spend money for drink. I am a widow this seventeen year now, and no man or woman ever saw me going to a public-house. I’ve seen women going a drinking without a shift to their backs. I don’t how the devil they do it. I think, if I drank a glass of ale just now, my two legs would fail from under me immediately—I am that weak.’
The old woman was a little too censorious, I think. There is no doubt that even people who are starving do drink a little sometimes. The wonder would be if they did not, in some degree, share the follies of the rest of the world. Besides, it is a well-known fact, that those who are in employ, are apt, from a feeling of misdirected kindness, to treat those who are out of work to a glass of ale or two, now and then; and it is very natural, too, that those who have been but ill-fed for a long time are not able to stand it well. After leaving the old Irishwoman’s house, we called upon a man who had got his living by the sale of newspapers. There was nothing specially worthy of remark in this case, except that he complained of his trade having fallen away a good deal.
‘I used to sell three papers where I now sell one,’ said he.
This may not arise from there being fewer papers sold, but from there being more people selling them than when times were good. I came back to Manchester in the evening. I have visited Preston again since then, and have spent some time upon Preston Moor, where there are nearly fifteen hundred men, principally factory operatives, at work. …