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THE DWELLINGS OF THE LONDON POOR,
As a convincing proof that we have entered upon a career of “cheap and nasty, universal shoddy, and devil's-dust cunningly varnished over, and presented in all places invitingly cheap, free trade with the devil in the belly of it," Mr. Carlyle points out one small example only—London bricks, which, he says, in the course of sixty years or sooner, are reduced to dry clay again.
Bricks,” continues the indignant philosopher, “burn them rightly, build them faithfully with mortar faithfully tempered, they will stand, I believe, barring earthquakes and cannons, for 6,000 years if you like! Etruscan pottery (baked clay, but rightly baked) is some 3,000 years of age, and still fresh as an infant. Nothing I know of is more lasting than a well-made brick." Because of the bricks, combined with bad building, “truly the state of London houses and London house-building, at this time—who shallexpress how detestableitis—howfrightful !
England needs to be rebuilt once every seventy years. Build it once rightly, the expense will be, say, fifty per cent, more; but it will stand till the day of judgment. Every seventy years we shall save the expense of building all England over again.”
If, as we are informed by the last annual report of the Registrar-General—and as we can see for ourselves, unless we are afflicted with “ostrich-like blindness"-London is becoming larger every day, and if other great cities are daily growing greater, builders and architects would be conferring truly a lasting boon upon posterity, if they would lay these words to heart before building any more houses. What Thomas Fuller calls “the plague of building” has fallen heavily upon us, especially in the neighbourhood of London during the last half-century, and we fear it has not half spent its force yet. It is always pretty reading to light upon what London was before the man-made and mendacious town had usurped the place of God's sweet and pleasant country; when the salmon leaped in the Thames, and the cattle lowed in the fields, and the sheep browsed upon the hill-sides, and the nightingale sang in the woods, and the corn waved in smiling valleys. Since even Dr. Johnson's day, who, upon entering London, saw the maypole in the Strand and jocund youngsters dancing around it, what a change has come
over the place. Without reckoning the suburbs, London now occupies more than 122 square miles of ground, and taking in the suburbs, we are said to have an area of 687 square miles, with the additional misfortune-so it is admitted, and not tacitly —that there is scarcely a house fit to live in. There are three millions and a half of souls sleeping every night within the suburban postal districts, in houses fast dry-rotting towards their doom of three score years and ten.
If, however, a groan may be honestly growled over those “concrete mendacities” known by the name of “villas,” cents," terraces," and "parks," to say nothing of “vales,” "avenues,” and “hill-drops," and for which good round sums in the shape of rent and taxes are annually paid, what deeper language will be at our command when we approach those other “mendacities” of London commonly called “courts," "alleys," “rents,
follies,” &c.? These places, we need hardly say, are tenanted by the industrial classes, who also pay a rent for them which, considering the accommodation afforded and the fearful waste of life they entail, is exorbitant indeed. We are in the presence of an enormous evil, alike destructive of life and religion, the moment we enter a London court, be it in Drury Lane or Bethnal Green, in Holborn or the New Cut. The houses seem to have been built in flagrant violation of every law of health, decency, and morality. They are constructed of porous bricks and rotten mortar, the result being that the walls become saturated with damp from without and miasma and infection from within, and the mouldering plaster harbours vermin in swarms. So narrow is the court that the sun's beams seldom reach beyond the chimneys or the windows of the topmost story; so impure is the court that the windows can never be opened to let in air, although poor people inside are dying of typhus and gasping for a breath of it, however poisonous ; so horrible is the court altogether, that it may fitly be named the Valley of the Shadow of Death. As you walk through it, carefully picking your way amid refuse and offal and nuisance, sickening to every sense, and as carefully, avoiding the poor, half-naked little babies, who are tumbling about in all directions, you wonder how human beings can possibly exist in such a court. That numbers do live there you have no doubt, for your appearance has caused the dull wall of doorways to bristle with heads, and you yourself have become an object of some interest, but of grave suspicion, to the inhabitants of the court. A word or two of civil speech, and you may enter one of the houses, and you may commence an inspection of a chamber of horrors, from the basement to the roof. It consists of four stories, not including the basement, and each story has two rooms upon it. You had better be prepared to find a distinct family in each room ; and if you are a “family man,” so much the better.
When you have reached the cellar, or “breakfast-room," you will find it to be the only living and sleeping room of three persons : of an aged woman who, in "unwomanly rags," is cowering over the fire, and of a married couple, the better-half of the two now being engaged in doing a bit of ironing. Fortunately, you
have not come to look at the furniture, and so you are not disappointed with the apologies for beds, chairs, and tables which the dirty little basement offers. You ask, clearing your throat of the indefinable something which the smell of the room has introduced into it—“How much, now, for this room ?” “Half-acrown a week, sir." Upon ascending the ricketty staircase to the ground floor, you may examine two rooms larger than the one you have just left, the front one letting at four and sixpence a-week, and the back at three and sixpence. In the front room a tailor is stitching away, taking no notice of the pot boiling over on the fire, of the screaming children on the floor, or of the still louder screaming mother who hastes to the rescue of her vegetables. You glance round the room, and you see how dirty and naked and unwholesome it is; how little light can come in, and how little air, and how frowsy the atmosphere. In the back room there is a poor woman ill in bed, if bed it may be called, and you merely ask your question as to the rent paid of a neighbour who has stepped in to see her, and who is ready at the door to answer any query or to accept any gratuity. Ascending to the first floor, back and front, you meet with a rental of three and sixpence and three shillings; and upon going up to the last story, a rental of half-a-crown and two shillings, the rooms being very much the worse for wear. There is a family in each, and in one or two instances cats and dogs form part of the family circle. In looking through one of the back windows you see that there is the barest apology for “a yard,” and that what there is is foul with dust and refuse. You come down stairs, impressed with the conviction that here is a house, occupied by at least ten times the number of persons which it was intended to accommodate, and that the existence of such a house is an insult to the decency and modesty of the nineteenth century,
But if that house is multiplied a thousand and ten thousand fold we should have some faint conception of the manner in which the poor of London are housed, north, south, east, and west. A small court, such as we have described, will sometimes house hundreds, not of people, but of families, the physical conditions of whose lives are nothing short of poisonous. To inhabit such a house as the one we have described during the day-time, when the only air which enters comes in at the open
door, or by crannies and crevices which fortunately exist, must be bad enough, but at night, when the door is closed, it must be poisonous beyond description. The over-crowded apartment, whose atmosphere is loaded with foul and noxious gases, instead of being a place of repose where the wearied limbs and exhausted energies may regain strength for the toils of the morrow, is connected with a pestilential hot-bed, whose vapour spreads a pallor over the face of the sleeper, and instils into his unconscious frame the seeds of disease, which will bring forth certain fruit in death. He may wake on the morrow, but his exhausted energies have not been revived. He goes forth to his daily avocations, feeling jaded in body and depressed in spirits, only to repeat at night the loathsome experiment he is so often compelled to undergo. And apart altogether from physical, there are moral evils inseparable from such a mode of residence. The family of a working man, forced to reside in a single apartment, must necessarily perform every office there, while at night every foot of available space is often converted into sleeping room. Husbands and fathers, and the children as they grow up, soon begin to loathe their pent-up and unwholesome abodes. Indeed, they are almost driven from their homes, while the spacious “public," with its glittering attractions and jovial company, extends a hearty welcome to the house-disgusted mechanic.”
The question for many years has been, what can be done to remedy an evil of gigantic magnitude ? And something has been done of late which deserves our warmest commendation. “ City improvements” have done something. In the Holborn Valley improvements, the Corporation has broken up a great number of old poisonous nests of fever and disease which had for years endangered the lives of thousands living in their neighbourhood. Mr. Peabody's gift is already bearing fruit in localities where hitherto a decent dwelling for a working man could hardly be found. The Improved Industrial Dwellings Company have done good service in the blocks of buildings which they have crected in different parts of London. An extensive purchase has, we believe, been completed in Bethnal Green, and new blocks of houses for the working classes will soon be commenced, in addition to those already erected by Miss Burdett Coutts.
We recently had the pleasure of visiting " Columbia Square, the name given to Miss Coutts's houses. The square is situate at the back of Shoreditch Church, and is surrounded by a very unenviable district, in which unwholesome houses are the rule. The new buildings consist of four blocks, each of which contains upwards of forty sets of apartments, at different rentals, and constructed to meet the wants of families or of single men.
For instance, there are more than fifty suites of these rooms ranging from four shillings to five and sixpence per week, and these rooms are well adapted for families. Then there are one hundred and one sets of rooms from three shillings to four and sixpence; and there are twenty-nine sets of single rooms varying in rent from two shillings and two-and-ninepence. The three-roomed set offers every convenience to a working man with a family. There is a good living-room fitted up with an excellent kitchen range, boiler, and oven, and a place for the coals. The room is airy in summer and cosy in winter; it measures twelve feet by ten. The bed-rooms are two feet narrower than the living rooms; they are also well ventilated. Should the two bed-rooms not be enough, then another room may be taken, and still the family keep together and meet for meals in the living room. Washing may be done on the premises, each block of houses being provided with a large laundry and dryingroom. There are lavatories, baths, and offices between the sets of apartments, and the drainage of the entire establishment has been well cared for. The two-roomed set consists of a living-room and bed-room, suitable for “beginners ;" the single rooms are now and then occupied by single people, but more frequently by friends or relatives of those in the three-roomed set. A more admirably arranged set of houses was never built than those in Columbia Square, and we are glad to know that working men share this opinion. From a return made last summer, it appeared that the square was tenanted by four hundred adults, and three hundred and sixteen children ; for the latter a capital playground is provided by the open courtyard in the middle of the square. Amongst the tenants last year were cabinet-makers, carpenters, wood-carvers, a cigar-maker, a stone-mason, a wood-turner, compositors, shoemakers, blacksmiths, a cork-cutter, brush-makers, butchers, coopers, book-binders, tin-workers, brick-layers, porters, and labourers. It need scarcely be said that the tenants occupying Columbia Square are as independent as those in other houses, and that there is nothing of the alms-house look about the place. They pay their rent every Monday, and no arrears are allowed; they must pay for all damage not caused by fair wear, and drunken or disorderly tenants immediately receive notice to quit.
Adjoining Columbia Square a new market is now in course of construction ; this, too, is the generous work of Miss Coutts. Besides the shops, shambles and various market accessories, there will be two or three grades of dwellings for letting, and residences for the market officials. The buildings form a quadrangle 285 feet from east to west, and 255 from north to south. The principal entrance will be by a handsome gate