BLTC Press Titles

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The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting

Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle

England, Wales and Scotland

by J G Kohl


I was particularly struck by the crowded appearance of every part of the building, by the want of information and coarseness of manners shown by all the persons employed about the place, by the strict and rough manner in which the poor were treated, by the deficiency of neatness and order, and lastly by the union of so many different things in one institution and under the same direction. Besides the principal division of the building, set apart for the pauper inmates, there was a wing for the education of poor children, and another for the treatment of the sick. Here were a school and a hospital under the same roof with a poor house, and if my memory does not deceive me, a separate part of the house was used for the confinement of lunatics! In most of the large towns of England these antiquated parish workhouses have become matter of history, and exist no longer; for this very reason, it may be the better worth while to cast a glance at those which still remain.

The paupers are divided into two classes,—the "in poor" and the "out poor,"—of whom the former are lodged in the house, and the latter, without residing there, receive periodical relief from it. Of the former, on an average, there were every week 476, each of whom, as the governor told me, cost two shillings and tenpence, including building repairs, salaries of officers, &c. Each of these poor, accordingly, cost the town about fifty of our dollars a year. In addition to these, there were always in the house, on an average, 277 children, and the out poor averaged, one week with another, 2182. The expense to Birmingham of this relief given to the poor, amounts in the year to about 41,0007., and as the rate payers in a population of 200,000, do not probably much exceed 40,000, it may be calculated that every independent townsman of Birmingham pays twenty shillings to the maintenance of the poor. The real amount of the poor rates, however, is more than double this (88,0007.), but this is owing to the circumstance that many other expenses of the town are charged to the poor rates, including many of the expenses of the police, the cost for the registration of births, and deaths, &c.

One of the customary divisions of these old workhouses is the "Tramp room," as it is called, a room in which an asylum is given for the night to the paupers who are wandering through the country. I found there a few wretched beings, women covered with rags, who had spent the night in the place. Notwithstanding the filthy condition of the room, I was about to enter, when some of my friends pulled me back, and warned me that by doing so I should expose myself to contagious diseases, and to every description of vermin. These trampers, vagrants, migatory depredators, "and travellers," for there is a close affinity between them, are a peculiar class in England, and abound, more than anywhere else, in the manufacturing districts, where, during the late years of depression, they have augmented most astonishingly in numbers. From the reports of the constabulary force commissioners, it appears, that many of the poor in the large towns are constantly tramping about, living a life of professed vagrancy, and making a precarious income, sometimes by begging and selling trifling articles, and sometimes by various frauds and occasional depredations. In many parts of the reports I have just alluded to, the witnesses examined, admitted that they had started from this or that town, " expressly to travel about, and live by robbing." Birmingham and Sheffield are said to be the towns from which, in particular, great numbers of tampers are continually starting. This is partly owing to the circumstance that the articles manufactured at those two places are light, of general use, and therefore well calculated for hawking about the country.

Besides the tramp rooms of the workhouses, there are lodging houses in almost every town, large and small, and even in many villages, where the wandering poor can obtain shelter for the night for a few pence. In so small a place as Chester, according to the reports mentioned above, there are no less than 150 such houses, and in many towns there are night asylums, supported by the public, and where the relief given is confined as much as possible to the deserving poor.

It is in consequence of the great number of distressed and often depraved wanderers that are continually starting from these manufacturing towns, that the country about them has become so notorious for highway robberies. According to the evidence given before the commissioners, by several commercial travellers of considerable experience, England would appear, in the year 1839, to have been surpassed only by Spain and Italy, in the insecurity of the public highroads.


Leaving the "metropolis of the inland counties" by the Grand Junction Railway, the power of steam seemed in a few moments to have transported us to all the charms of an English rural residence, in the centre of Staffordshire, and close to the chief town of that county. I was delighted to have a clear view of the sky again. In Birmingham you can form no speculation on the weather. The rain is not felt till it has worked its way through the smoke, and the sun shows himself only as a yellow patch. Sunrise and sunset, stars and moonlight, are things unknown. It is easily understood why the English, having such towns, should be so passionately fond of rural life, that even those whose avocations bind them to the town, all endeavour to have their residences as far away from it, as their means will allow.

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