Before we can devise a remedy, many questions will be proposed; these we must answer. We must know under what particular evils the working classes suffer because of high rents and wretched dwellings, before we shall have placed Rookeries in their true light,- before men will regard them, as they really are, the pregnant causes of varied ills. We may begin the inquiry by asking under what landlords such traffic exists; some one must be much to blame; men cannot thus be traded with as though they were corn, molasses, indigo, or any other marketable article, without some grievous neglect of duty,- of fair dealing, we had almost said, – in some quarter.
Some of the most densely-peopled localities in London are owned by men of great property and high rank,- some of the most wretched streets in the metropolis, if you went deep enough to find the real owner, swell the income of an opulent speculator who has bought them as a good investment. In many cases they are the hereditary estates of some country magnate, who maintains upon the proceeds his costly establishment of hounds and horses; some, again, belong to Corporate Bodies, Public Charities; some to Deans and Chapters, to endowed Schools – in short, they are owned by various landlords, whose occupations are of every description. Some of them have been in possession of their present owners’ family for two or three hundred years ; others have been more recently acquired.
You ask, – Are these landlords the recipients of the 5s. a-week per room or story, as the case may be? do their stewards superintend the repairs, take the rents, levy distresses, in the name of their masters? In most cases they do not. Originally, the landlords only leased the ground on which the houses were built for a term of years; two hundred years since, great part of the West End of London was in fields; cattle strayed – and it might be said in the words of the poet,-
“Passimque armenta videri
Romanoque foro – et lautis mugire Carnis ;”
the owners let out plots of ground for building at so much a foot for ninety-nine years; at the expiration of these leases, the ground and the houses erected on it came into possession of the family, and the descendants of the original owner found themselves enriched.
In some cases, the property is encumbered with long leases; so that the heir succeeds to an inheritance, with the wholesome control he ought to exercise over his property alienated for half his life. A Middle-man has bought a long lease, the father, or grandfather of the present owner having received a fine as a premium; such binding hand and foot of the landlord’s duties as well as his interests, is indeed too common. Men enter upon these covenants, because such is the rule which all follow under similar circumstances; which legal advisers recommend, which present necessities render prudent, – much in the same lax and inconsiderate way in which oaths were administered in the last century, without thought or reflection on their terms or obligations. The system of long leases and heavy fines is unjust, fatal to improvement, checking all reform, and giving a charter to the errors of our forefathers; if it could be abolished, Rookeries would decrease. But suppose the landlord to manage his own property; the collection of rents from many of the tenants of these Rookeries would be difficult, tiresome, and from their very number expensive. It would not sound well to hear that some man of influence had distrained upon one of these hewers of wood and drawers of water; the necessary communication between landlord and tenant would be next to impossible,- in short, without tasking the imagination, we can readily suppose some method of obviating these impediments would be invented. And most injurious has that system been, which, to save trouble, litigation, and notoriety, has been put in the stead of the natural relation between the lessor and the lessee, which has broken a bond honourable to the one, invaluable to the other. As things are now, we have a large class of Middle-men even in the mildest form the case admits of; in many instances, the houses are let out, and under-let again and again, so that there are several links between the owner and the occupier – the latter perhaps not knowing the name of the former. No one supposes that a middle-man sees any abstract beauty in long rows of dingy houses, or that there is anything peculiarly elevating in the occupation of letting lodgings. The man who by heaping manure upon land doubles his produce, may have at the same time food for thought; he may bring chemistry to bear upon his art if he be learned in Liebig, and every acre bear an increased crop; nevertheless, few will be hardy enough to argue that love of Science is kept alive, although a love of Gain may be pampered by quartering the greatest number of human beings within a given area, so that every square foot should yield an increased rental.
There is, then, the strong motive of gain in these transactions! The middle-man supposes that he shall be more than indemnified for his trouble by subdividing these tenements into floors, or the floors into single rooms; and if such an occupation be lucrative, competition will increase in the same ratio; there will be several middle-men in the field whenever a Rookery is to be let, the ground landlord will have no difficulty in disposing of his houses. The only questions with him are, who is the highest or the most solvent bidder; this very competition puts money into his pocket. From what source, then must the middle-man, who ultimately obtains the lease, be indemnified for the high price he has paid? He must wring it from the hapless poor who tenant the apartments which he lets out! they are the real victims. Thus, a carpenter will be a candidate for a number of houses which are to be let; these houses will be very much out of repair, and the landlord unwilling to lay out the money to make them tenantable; the carpenter considers that, at a very small expense, he can render them habitable; he takes the property on a repairing lease, and repays himself by the rent he exacts. Or suppose, as is often the case, that the first middle-man, the actual tenant, dislikes the trouble of collecting rents, he underlets these tenements to middleman No. 2, as we will call him for the sake of distinction. No. 2 is himself a working man, more thrifty, more cunning, than his brethren, – he has gained the ear of No. 1, – is in some degree connected with him, pleads plausibly in some way or other, induces No. 1 to give him what we will call an under-lease. But who is No. 2? One who has been for some years the victim of the system he is now about to administer; on whom at length the conviction has flashed that he has been egregiously silly to pay rent, where he might not only live rent free, but put something into his pockets besides. He enters upon his new trade, he finds that the interests of the tenants have been habitually set aside. You can scarcely expect this man, with the recollection of his wrongs – the force of custom strong upon him, with his imperfect education, with that absence of religious or moral restraint too, which is so fearful among the working classes – you can scarcely expect him to be more conscientious or more feeling than his brethren. He will grind others as he has been ground, prey upon his species as he was preyed upon; their loss will be his gain; he will indemnify himself at the expense of others for years of oppression. He often does this unconsciously – as by mere force of habit, because others do it, because it is the rule; he is not by nature an unkind man; for, after all, the English are a generous people, not unsympathising, but adopting the creed which prevails; not reasoning about it, well nigh unconscious, and quite forgetful that it is wrong, looking at it as a trade, considering his gains payment for his trouble-only doing to others what they would not scruple to do to him.
Yet this man wields a fearful power: he can turn out his tenants at a few days’ notice, his caprice or his resentment guiding him; he can prevent them from obtaining other lodgings, for the next landlord will come to him for their character. This man wields a power which the best and wisest might shrink from exercising, which is environed with difficulties, so that many a conscientious man would dread it, lest he should be betrayed into injustice or oppression. And this, our Middle-man, has been the victim, though now to be the victimiser. Think what a catechism he has imbibed – under what a system he has been trained! Does not the heart insensibly harden, as we read of persons long immured in prisons, who have at length lost the sympathies of their kind? Do&s not some such process go on within one thus oppressed? – His nature is transformed; just as men, looking at vice for a long time, by degrees forget it is hideous, begin to sympathise with it, so that it becomes, at first, bearable, then pleasing, at last, indispensable; as habit, so metaphysicians tell us, is that facility which the mind acquires in all its exertions, in consequence of practice. Suppose a man of indolent habits, to become a Middle-man – one fond of low pleasures and debauchery; this occupation furnishes an excuse for the neglect of his business, whilst, because other aids are withdrawn, he is thrown back upon the gains to be obtained by sub-division of the property he controls. If thus to sub-let be a source of profit, is not this of itself an argument against the system? Is not the poor man the victim? Does it not show that, if men would reflect, they might lodge the poor both better and more cheaply than at present? Should the tenant be called on to pay for each separate link between the landlord and himself? Just examine this system :-take a house which, because of its size, its dilapidated condition, its want of a yard behind, and the scarcity of its accommodations, would be dear at ?.25 a-year; by this system its first tenant pays somewhat more than ?.80 and a per centage of taxation;- this house contains ten rooms, these are let out at an average of four shillings each per week, in other words ?.104 a-year; but deduct from this bad debts, which may be supposed to be many, – take the general average, at which these are calculated, at 25 per cent., there will still be a surplus of about ?.78. Is not this monstrous, when you consider the class of society from whom, and from whose ill-paid and precarious labour, these rents are levied? Is it not fearful? Shoemakers and tailors, perhaps, who, during the season, earn good wages; yet who have an interregnum of five months in the year, during which trade is almost at a stand still.
Take an instance of the evil which has come under the writer’s observation during the last few days. Some years since a journeyman shoemaker came to London; he got work, but it was precarious; he was a cunning man, and was soon employed by an unhallowed fraternity, as what is called, in cant terms, a “smasher,” or utterer of base coin; his trade of shoemaker, at which he continued to work, was a good cloak; he amassed a little money; from tenant he became middle-man of the house in which he lives, he was fond of drinking, and disliked work; his new “trade” was more profitable, less tiresome, still he was not satisfied; he joined with this occupation, the task of collecting rents. He is now broker and middle-man, his original calling is neglected, and he lives upon exaction. Whilst his tenants are able to pay he exacts a heavy per centage; when they are in arrear, and their goods seized, he plies his trade and swells his gains.
Take another instance. A decent old couple occupy two rooms on a first floor in a low and dirty street, where the sewerage is extremely bad, and where there were several cases, (two fatal,) of Cholera during the prevalence of the epidemic. The old man had lived in a family of rank, and but for the rascality of trustees, would have had a handsome competence, instead of a bare annuity. Like many of the domestics of the nobility, he has acquired a courtesy of manner and regard for cleanliness and comfort, and thus he is desirous to rent two rooms instead of the usual single apartment. For these two rooms he pays 8s. a week, more than ?.20 a year – in the country, he might get a pretty cottage and garden for the same sum. The person who lives under him, and has female lodgers, pays the same for the same accommodation. The kitchen is let out, and the third floor, with a workshop at the back, to separate tenants; the house is a small one. In the neigbourhood of St. Pancras, houses occupied by professional men are often let for ?.45 per annum; they have ten rooms, and all modern comforts about them. These two individuals whom we have named, pay nearly as much for scarcely half a small house in a bad situation.
We do not find the evils of middle-manship peculiar to our country or our times, for it is instructive to call to mind that some of the great social disturbances of ancient Rome may be traced to the same source: the patricians having obtained large grants of conquered lands, rather than be at the trouble to cultivate them, leased them out to their clients or dependents, who again wrung a large revenue from the labours of those who really tilled the soil; these men were scantily paid-were always in debt; the client could enforce payment by the harshest punishments, and hence the famous assemblage of the people at the Mons Sacer – the seditions of the Gracchi – and many other tumults which shook the State. Much remains to be said in explanation. We admit that the wages of the tenants are precarious, their employment fluctuating; must not then the losses of the Middle-man be greater than we have allowed? It may be very well to say that men would not be so anxious to get leases if they were not lucrative; and the gains be much less than we have supposed, though quite sufficient to tempt cupidity. In answer to this, we can only say the Middle-man has his remedies, and they are many. He ejects the insolvent; yet this insolvent must be lodged, and therefore goes to some other locality; before he can get a room he must pass an ordeal,- Where did he come from? Why did he leave his last quarters? Can he get a recommendation from his last landlord? Can he show any resources wherewith to pay his rent? Is he a decent and orderly person? If he has children the difficulty is increased, for Middle-men have a Malthusian horror of children, though, in most cases, they are the adjuncts of the poor.
Are not these so many checks upon the poor, all tending to make them careful in their payments? But suppose all these terrors fail, there is a very Cerberus in the background. It would seem to be enough that the tenant is at the mercy of one who was once a tenant himself, and who knew well a tenant’s wants, the diseases to which that body is subject, their several little lets and hindrances,-the tricks and customs,-in short, that one, a member of a body corporate, should understand the wants of his own corporation. There is in store for the refractory, a minister of no ordinary wrath -The BROKER!
You will urge that, in rooms scantily furnished, there is little for him to seize. Should the poor man, on whom the distress is levied, get free from his embarrassments, he cannot repurchase even that little, except at double or treble the price which has been put upon it by him who seizes. Bedsteads and bedding are costly things too, even to the poor. Again you will say,-Is not the broker obliged to submit the goods seized to auction – to give an account of their sale ? Is he not precluded from bidding himself? We believe the law runs thus: but how often, we would ask you, is this law obeyed, which may be so easily evaded? Where the poor man so often forbears further inquiry, – where this inquiry may be so easily eluded, – where recourse is so seldom had to the magistrate; and where, even with the best intentions, it is so difficult for the magistrate to unravel the complications of the affair; where magistrates undoubtedly are favourable to the poor, yet are checked and hindered by laws in which there are so many loopholes?
We need scarce allude to the case of Jones so recently reported in The Times, and which created so much sympathy; and that ready instrument of iniquity, the Palace Court, which, now that our English spirit of fair play is roused, has fallen to the ground, as most obstacles are wont to do before the excited mettle of our countrymen.
How easy it is for the broker to swell his expenses – how difficult to tax his bill-even when inquiry is made; and too often the recklessness or ignorance of the tenant forbid it.
An execution is put into a dwelling – a broker’s man quartered in the premises, as the first step, at five shillings a day, with certain attendant expenses – an endeavour is made, for a time at least, by the tenant to compromise, to borrow the money, or otherwise to meet the demand. It is futile. The furniture is then seized, the rent paid by its sale, whether that be nominal or real; the expenses of the process swallow up the surplus. We said that the broker is forbidden by law to buy the goods upon which he distrained – but ask if it ever happened that the broker was not at the same time a dealer in furniture – kept a shop for second-hand goods, so that his trade of broker was only a sort of subsidiary adjunct to his real occupation? Is not the connection obvious between the goods seized and the goods exposed in the shop? Suppose a bona fide sale to take place – and we cannot doubt that such is commonly the case – how easy it is to get a second party to bid for these goods, and then to hand them over again to the broker.
There are not wanting kind Middle-men – there are not wanting, on the other hand, refractory tenants, whom it is difficult to eject, even when the rent owing by them is forgiven upon the stipulation that they leave the house. It would be wrong to represent the injury as being all on one side; no doubt there must be remedies to check dishonesty, a fair means of redress for those who seek it fairly, the landlord must be protected as well as the tenant, and moonlight flittings are not so obsolete that we can dispense with protection. Tenants here and there will set landlords at defiance, and cling to the fancied security of some unwritten law. Still, we must not take refuge in these individual cases. We have shown what powers a broker has-how easily he may abuse them, what temptation he has to do so – and these are fearful engines in the hands of a vindictive, an angry, or a covetous man-fearful stimulants to those who would uphold the system we decry.
Many of these brokers, at best, are harpies who prey upon legalised food. A Christian would loathe such a trade-would shrink from it in disgust. It must demoralise those who exercise it, deaden their sensibilities, and sear their hearts. Vultures of the body social preying upon ruin, fattening on the carcasses of nobler beings, gorged by the distresses of their brethren, they live and thrive amidst scenes of sorrow which would poison another man’s existence-seize the bed upon which consumption reposes-and, as the writer of this paper knows, the agonies of childbirth have been enhanced by the bare boards upon which the patient lay, as she brought her offspring into the world.
The middle-man and the broker are common to all Rookeries; each district has its peculiar evils. This will be evident from what follows.
We mentioned crimps as among the different harpies who are let loose upon the sailor when he comes home from a long voyage; and, when describing the district bounded by Shadwell and the Thames, stated that it was much infested with these nuisances. We promised to state, at length, what crimps were. Nominally, they are keepers of lodging-houses where the sailors live: really, they make their professed trade a pretext for plunder. When a ship, coming up the river, has got as far as Gravesend, it is boarded by these lodging- house keepers, each of whom has three or four satellites, who have have come down from London in a boat; they directly commence bidding for lodgers among the sailors, much in the same way as touters do when you arrive in a foreign port from England. They will go up to a sailor and say, “Where are you going to lodge?” If he is not already engaged, they will persuade him to go to their lodgings. Thus each crimp will get five or six sailors, of whose luggage he will possess himself and take it with him into the boat; they will then bring their victims with them to London. It is generally understood that sailors are not paid upon landing; – their wages have accumulated during the voyage, and thus, within a fortnight of the arrival of the vessel, a considerable sum due is paid to their crew by the owners of the vessel; the crimps speculate upon this. No sooner has the sailor seen his luggage, as he would call it stowed away, than he feels thirsty, – wants to borrow money, – applies to his landlord for a loan upon the strength of the sum to be received within a few days. Sometimes, from various circumstances, the crimp himself is not able to supply the wants of his tenant; he at once, therefore, resorts to a Jew, tells him of the sailors he has been able to ensnare, and borrows a sum in proportion to the demands of the lodgers he has obtained. Part of this sum is lent out to the sailor, who, as a matter of course, spends it in a public-house. When he has become intoxicated, he borrows more, or perhaps buys half a gallon of spirits of the crimp. All these sums are duly entered to the sailor’s account; large interest is charged on the sum borrowed, sometimes Ss. in the pound; false entries are the rule, a quart of spirits is often entered as a gallon,-a loan of 5s. represented as 10s. or even more. Should the sailor remonstrate, the answer is ready,- “You were intoxicated when the money was borrowed.”
Connected with these crimps are low prostitutes; a drunken sailor has often been robbed of all that he has, perhaps several pounds, and then turned out with only a few rags on him. In the days when so many victims disappeared by burking, crimps’ houses were more than suspected, and many a poor sailor was enticed into these dens, and never heard of again. Slopsellers are frequently leagued with crimps, Jews especially. Articles of clothing of the very worst description are furnished to the sailors at a price which the very best cloth they could purchase would hardly justify. The fortnight during which the sailor has been living on credit elapses – he is to receive his wages. He goes to the shipowner’s office – the crimp meanwhile has watched him narrowly-he knows to a fraction what his debtor will receive. Sometimes, under the guise of a friend of the sailor, he enters the office with him, but some ship-owners will not permit this: he besieges the entrance, or hangs about the street in which the house of business is situated. When the sailor has received his money, his landlord and he adjourn to a public-house and call for a private room. The public-houses in this district are not models of well-regulated establishments; so that the score is paid, they are not very particular, not bound to inquire too closely into the character of those who frequent them. Thus the conference between the sailor and his creditor is not likely to be interrupted. The bill is produced. Suppose the sailor has received ?.12 as wages, and the bill to be paid, much to his dismay, has unconsciously swelled to ?8, – much is put down to money lent when he was intoxicated, much to spirits which it is impossible he could consume, much to clothes he never bought, or wore. Suppose he agrees to the demand, the crimp will even then try to swell the bill till he has not left above a pound to the share of his victim. Should the sailor turn restive, he is coaxed, or threatened, sometimes even set upon by the crimp and his deputy, who obtain by violence what they cannot get otherwise. It will be said, now, at least, after going through such a purgatory, the sailor is free. Far from it; not even when reduced to his last shilling, does he cease to be an object of gain to these harpies. His money spent, he must go to sea again. He is driven to the docks, where he obtains a berth in a ship, but he wants an outfit. Again, then, he has recourse to a Jew, or a crimp. You will ask what security the sailor can give? He draws a sort of promissory bill on his new employers, called an advance note : for this the Jew advances about half or more, of the value, according to the bargain made. It is true, that the money-lender, in this instance, runs some risk. The sailor may leave his vessel at Gravesend, and then, of course, the note of advance is lost; but if he does not escape, the following process takes place. When the ship is fairly clear of the Land’s End, the pilot quits it; just before he leaves, the ship’s company is mustered, their names are taken, and the list thus made is sent up to London; the moneylender then knows that his advance is secure. Within a month, he presents the bill, which is paid as a matter of course. He runs some risk, and there is some delay, – the money-lender amply indemnifies himself for this, exacting a terrible per centage for the accommodation afforded to his victim. It will naturally occur to us, that even sailors, at times, will tax exorbitant bills,- many of them may be bad accountants, many of them imposed on when intoxicated, many threatened into compliance; but sailors are proverbially a bold and hardy race. Suppose the charges made are so barefaced that even these thoughtless beings resist it, there is still a remedy for the extortioner. There is a clique of low attornies, probably men who are called hedge-lawyers in the country,- some have certificates, some have not; by long practice and native cunning, they entangle their victims in the meshes of their profession, and manage, by a show of law, to obtain the greater part. of the iniquitous charge for their infamous clients. They who escape the toils set for them are the exceptions; and the crimps make so good a harvest, that they can afford to lose in a solitary instance. The humanity of a British public is at length slowly beginning to awaken, and, in the establishment of Sailors’ Homes, to provide a few receptacles for the large class of men, to whose services this Empire owes so much of its blessings and it greatness.
Having endeavoured to sketch the crimp, we should not be justified in omitting some notice of the tally-man, whose gains must be obtained at the expense of the working classes, and who would only encounter the risks he runs by making the solvent members of the community pay for the deficiencies of the less scrupulous. The tally-man, then, is the London traveller of some large linen draper, who obtains orders for the house to which he belongs, and, in some instances, collects the money due to his master. A few houses in this and other trades keep men whose only duty it is to get orders. These men come into some neighbourhood inhabited by the working classes, ascertain the character of a certain number of the inhabitants, and then obtain orders from those who can be depended on. It will be asked how the information is procured? In many ways ; the Middlemen can generally give it: they know who pays most regularly; can tell whether a workman is sober, honest, careful, solvent; they can inform the inquirer how long the person, to be trusted, has lived in his present residence, and this is a very fair criterion, because it shows that his payments have not been very irregular, and that he is to be depended upon. Such information may be, to a certain extent, paid for, – they who want and they who give it adjourn to a public house, where the tally-man treats his informant, and soon, directly or indirectly, draws from him all that is necessary to be known. The characters of those who have long resided in a neighbourhood are soon discovered; and even should a working man with his family leave one parish, he is soon tracked to another; if he be in regular employ, he cannot live at any great distance from the shop where he obtains his work; if he have a family, he cannot suddenly transport them to a country town – if he should do so at all, timely notice is sure to be given of his intended removal, the Middle-man will generally take care of that, the removal will be talked of, and it will get wind in some way. The tally-man, thus secured against loss, then calls at a certain number of rooms in a particular house, at a certain number of houses in a particular street; sometimes he merely takes orders for certain articles of dress, more frequently he carries a pack upon his back which he opens, and the contents of which he displays in the different rooms: the vanity and love of dress in his female customers are soon kindled. A gaudy shawl, a flaunting silk dress are not without their charms-but then the money is not forthcoming; he begs them not to distress themselves about that, he will give credit, – he will take weekly payments. Few of us can resist such a temptation as this; present possession, distant payment, are powerful charms to conjure with: the shawl is obtained; it is hinted that, without the dress to match, the general effect will be spoilt – the dress is added, and a sum is set down to the unlucky customer, which amply repays the credit given. Generally one-third of the real value of the articles is added, nominally as the proper price, really, as the interest for time and risk. Sometimes these tally-men have with them pieces of cloth, and when the unconscious husband returns home at night, he finds a new pair of trowsers awaiting him, the cloth of which has been obtained by the same means as the dress, and an old pair of trowsers has been the pattern by which the new have been made. The tally-man departs; but regularly, as each week opens, is he seen with the demand for the instalment due; if it is not ready, he must be propitiated with a new order,- if the money be forthcoming, an exorbitant rate of interest is obtained for the accommodation.
The following case came under the writer’s notice last summer. A working man and his wife were residing in a street filled with lodging-houses. The working man was industrious, and there is reason to believe, regular in his payments; he had married a widow, whose only son was a sailor: the sailor returned, generally after a year’s absence, about Midsummer. On this occasion, he remained longer at home than usual, having determined to marry a young girl in the neighbourhood. Marriages with sailors are great events – at least, so thought the young man and his mother; and they were of opinion that the forthcoming marriage should not be celebrated without a flourish of trumpets. The mother, though no longer young, retained much of the vanity of youth; recourse was had to the tally-man, and a shawl, in which was a mixture of colours which might have pleased the Great Mogul, and a dress to correspond, were carefully selected. The poor woman had long been in a precarious state of health when, unknown to her husband, these things were procured: before the wedding took place, she died. The young couple waited ten days, and then were married. The father-in-law of the bridegroom returned home; the bill for the funeral of his deceased wife awaited him; this he provided for by obtaining the money from a loan society, and thought that his expenses were at an end. What was his surprise when, a few days afterwards, he was informed by the tally-man of the debt contracted and the demand awaiting him. The shawl and dress were useless, what should he do with them ? He exchanged them, at great disadvantage, for some clothes which he wanted himself, and then sat down to work out the debt as well as he could, satisfied that, for many months to come, his neck would be under the yoke.
The tally-man system is not confined to London or large towns. A relative of the author assured him it was one of the greatest pests of agricultural districts. When this gentleman paid his wages weekly to his labourers, the person, through whom the money was sent to the men, complained that he could never get even a shilling in change; that when the Saturday night came round, the money of the labourer was always spent, and yet sometimes the man had sold a pig, or taken some garden-stuff to market, or, in harvest-time, earned higher wages than usual. The gentleman asked how it happened, that men receiving 10s. a-week all the year round, and having a cottage and garden, should be so poverty-stricken? The answer was, they were in debt to the tally-men. He then recollected that he had observed some very pretty crockery-ware in his own lodge, on one occasion, and had remarked the taste displayed in it. Upon inquiry, he found that it was obtained from the tally-man, and still unpaid for; that his labourers had been tempted – almost driven, by the importunity of this itinerant vendor, to purchase goods, and then pestered and hunted for months to pay the exorbitant charge made. He directly ordered that these harpies should henceforth be prevented from setting foot within his gates, and that any labourer from that time dealing with them, should be discharged.
The agents for houses are called “barkers:” it is supposed that they have a certain per centage upon orders received. Sometimes, when they sell tea, or other articles of food, it is conjectured that they give credit on their own risk, much in the same kind of way as is done in country places, where the grocery cart comes round once a week. The agents are sometimes furnished with printed bills, describing the articles sold, with the prices affixed. When the goods sold are not paid for within a given time, a summons is served on the defaulter. The tally system is also carried on by coal merchants at the beginning of winter. One man assured us that thus he was charged 5s. .per ton more than the market price of the best, for very inferior coals. One of those who have supplied us at different times with valuable information assured the author, that credit given by tally-men to married is always refused to single women, because there is no husband who can be answerable for the debt. He says there is only one remedy, and that is, no recovery of the debt without the husband’s promissory note. He thinks that tally-men form a committee amongst themselves; for when he was in their power, all except his creditor seemed to shun his house; when the debt was paid, he was immediately beset.
In this sketch, we have referred to loan societies. The working classes often require loans; this is not to be wondered at when men of large fortune are frequently much pressed for want of ready money. If a working man marries, he must furnish the single room in which he lives; he can scarcely do this, even at the cheapest rate, for less than five pounds, and he will want a new suit of clothes; or, suppose his wife confined, he will incur a considerable expense. The death of any of his household will again require a large outlay – for, much to the credit of the very poorest be it spoken, they do not like, they cannot bear that their relatives should be buried at the parish expense, the workhouse coffin, and the paid mourners seem to insult the friend they have lost. They go then to the undertaker-still, he must be paid, or have the best guarantee for payment. What shall the bereaved husband do in this extremity? He has recourse to the loan society. He gets some one to be security for him, and obtains the necessary sum. You will naturally ask, upon what terms? He must come provided with a security, obtain a form of application, and return it properly filled up. The solvency of his surety is then inquired into, the candidate for the loan having paid a preliminary fee of two shillings; which, even should he be unsuccessful in his application, is not returned to him; it is supposed that trouble incurred in the inquiry, and the form which is supplied are worth the sum paid. For the sum thus borrowed, the debtor is required to pay five per cent., the term for which it is borrowed being, in no case, more than one year; the interest is at once and on the spot deducted for the whole period over which the loan extends; this having been done, the principal is to be paid off (supposing for instance, ?.5 obtained) at the rate of 2s. a-week, if for twelve months; – 3s. a-week, if for nine months; – and 4s. a-week, if the loan is for six months. Persons who omit any weekly payment, are fined a half-penny on each shilling. Should a week pass, the surety is immediately written to, and if the whole amount due, or such part as the directors think proper is not paid, proceedings are taken. If the weekly payment be not made on the day and at the hour specified, the secretary writes a letter to the defaulter, for which, a charge of 4d. is made; and, should the security refuse to pay the amount borrowed by his friend when called for, in case of default, he will not be accepted as surety in any future loan. If a borrower should remove from the place where he lived when the loan is granted, and, omit to send notice to the secretary, he is fined one shilling. As each weekly payment is made, 2d. is charged under the head of rent of office-thus, if a man, borrow ?.5 and pay the debt off in the course of a year in addition to the interest, he will also be called on for 8s. 8d.; a charge in every way most unfair.
Some of the rules laid down, are perhaps necessary for the security of the society; but no one will contend that this applies to all. What can be more unjust or even contrary to law, than to require the payment of interest before it is due? What would a borrower say – if when a sum of money was advanced on property, or even when remittances were obtained on a bond, the mortgagee, or the lender at once deducted a year’s interest? again, the sum of 2s. paid at the onset, is unjust. We subjoin a scale of charges framed by the society, from whom we have taken it:-
SCALE OF INTEREST AND RE-PAYMENTS PER WEEK.
|LOAN OF||FOR SIX MONTHS||NINE MONTHS||TWELVE MONTHS|
|Re-payments per Week||4||0||Re-payments per Week||3||0||Re-payments per Week||2||0|
|and 2d. per Week for Rent of Office, Secretary, Salary &c.||and 2d. per Week for Rent of Office, Secretary, Salary &c.||and 2d. per Week for Rent of Office, Secretary, Salary &c.|
|Rent, &c.||0||2||Rent, &c.||0||2||Rent, &c.||0||2|
|Rent, &c.||0||2||Rent, &c.||0||2||Rent, &c.||0||2|
|Rent, &c.||0||4||Rent, &c.||0||4||Rent, &c.||0||4|
|Rent, &c.||0||5||Rent, &c.||0||5||Rent, &c.||0||5|
|Rent, &c.||0||6||Rent, &c.||0||6||Rent, &c.||0||6|
These instances will show the price an unfortunate, or unthrifty man has to pay for a trifling accommodation, and the iron terms by which he is fettered.
The working classes are beset with other annoyances. Porter is the common beverage with them, just as vin ordinaire is in France; but it is retailed to them at a price too small to allow of it being fit for drinking. This porter is a compound. Suppose it comes from the brewers in a proper state, it is compounded anew before it reaches the customers. With the porter, working men tell you, is mixed what they call dash; some infusion, whether liquorice or something else, is poured into it, and thus deteriorates the liquor of many of the public houses, and some even of what are called the gin palaces. Large brewers’ firms are the real possessors the landlord is only a locum tenens during the pleasure of his masters. Whether those who drink it be correct or not respecting the ingredients of the porter, there is no doubt that it is not what it ought to be and might be, perhaps would be, if free trade extended to the cheaper French wines. As meat is a luxury which many families only taste once or twice a week, they buy it in small quantities, and thus are obliged to take what they call odds and ends, because they cannot afford to buy a joint. And they deal at small shops for grocery- shops where sugar, starch, grocery, soap, bacon, butter, are sold; the tea, coffee, and sugar procured there are notoriously of the worst quality, because it is not worth while, in large shops, to sell less than a pound of tea, and the working classes buy it often in ounces.
Against these and many other annoyances, a great cry is often raised, and the interference of the Legislature is demanded. It is difficult to convince men badly educated, that too much interference on the part of our law-makers would be injurious, and that the remedy lies nearer home; but until a better system of education has taught men when and how to combine, and for what purposes, it is useless to expect an adequate remedy. Otherwise, a combination which bound men only to deal at shops where a genuine article was sold, and to buy large pieces of meat by putting into one fund the earnings of two or three families, would seem a most obvious cure for the evil complained of.
It will be said that the evils we have described belong more properly to artisans than to the inhabitants of Rookeries. It would be nearer the truth to say that they suffer most by them, as the latter are, in a great degree, rendered callous; but as even they must eat, drink, and be clothed, and as some of them at times obtain loans, it cannot be affirmed that they are exempt from the injuries we have described.
Another evil still remains, on which we would say a few words, and that is the present system of leasing. In some cases, property is practically alienated, as we have before stated, for many years, in consequence of the granting of a long lease, in which there is no clause restraining the tenants from applying the houses let, or the ground built on, to improper purposes. A bad use may be made of property under any circumstances; yet, when this takes place in the case of a short lease, the remedy is at hand: the lease is not renewed, and the evil is at an end. This very circumstance may be held in terrorem over the heads of those who would misapply the powers with which a lease invests them. These are not the only objectionable sort of leases: corporations possess property,-especially ecclesiastical corporations, where the following rule prevails, – when a lease has terminated, it is not renewed at an annual payment commensurate with the value of the land or houses; a small rent is substituted, and a large fine, in ready money, paid down for this privilege, or rather robbery of the next generation. This prevails, or rather did prevail extensively in the property of cathedral chapters. A clergyman was appointed to a stall at fifty years of age for instance, and property belonging to his stall fell in to the amount of ?.500 a year; the lease was not renewed at this annual payment, but at ?.200 a year, and then a sum of ?.2000 was paid at the same time. If the figures here given are not correct, still they will be accurate enough to give us a notion of the system pursued. With such transactions, the famous Ecclesiastical Commission has, to a great extent, done away; but not in all cases. We believe the Chapter of Westminster is an exception, the number of canons there has been reduced, and their salaries diminished ; and even there the mode of payment adopted, differs from that generally in use in other chapters. The Dean and Chapter of Westminster did not and do not, we believe, receive a fixed stipend as at St. Paul’s; only a proportion of the income of the chapter property, say a sixth or a tenth each, as the case may be. They then are still interested in the old system of fines; and we believe we are correct in stating, that this has not been done away with. Thus they will, at times, receive a large fine, which increases the income of a particular year at the expense of succeeding years, and, consequently, are as much exposed to the temptation of renewing leases without inquiring into the manner in which the lease was used, as their forefathers. We should be glad to find that we were mistaken in supposing the old plan still to be in operation; there is, however, room to believe it still remains unchanged.
The present Dean and Chapter have exerted themselves, in conjunction with the Westminster Improvement Commissioners, to get rid of several abominations which disgrace the neighbourhood of the Abbey. The new Victoria Street has thus nearly obliterated the landmarks of the famous Almonry; yet a description of the purposes to which part of that property was converted, may bear us out in attributing the growth of Rookeries, and the spread of vice and crime, to long leases, or the renewal of leases with a fine.
It was affirmed by one who well knew what he said, that, in 1848, there were in the Almonry alone twenty-four brothels; all these houses were then the property of the Dean and Chapter; most of them had been so for many years. The oldest inhabitants tell you their fathers represented the district to have been in the same condition as far as their memory extended, or as far as any traditionary account went back. In Orchard Street district, abutting on the Almonry, there were thirty brothels. In the same district, gangs of thieves and coiners resided, in fraternities of three, five, ten, or twenty; most of them living unmarried with women, and having families of children, breeding up for prostitution and roguery.
There were a series of courts leading from Pye Street to this district, one within the other, approached from Pye Street, through a narrow archway; these were filled with coiners and thieves; at the back of these, opening upon the Almonry, was a small outlet. On one occasion a surgeon was sent for, to visit a dying thief, and had some difficulty in getting into the court; for the entrance, mirabile dictu, was blocked up by a donkey with panniers, which were so large, that with the utmost difficulty was the animal thrust into the confined space which served as an entrance into the court. This device was used to impede the police, who were expected to visit the court in quest of a thief. Time was thus given for his escape through the outlet at the back, while they removed the impediment. This property, if not belonging to the Almonry, runs m its immediate neighbourhood. The condition of the district at large is the best protest against renewals of leases on the terms described above.