Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Help for the "workies"

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Since I spoke of the distress in Lancashire, six weeks ago, that distress has so far spread and deepened as to rouse and frighten a part of the public out of the apathy and optimism, which then appeared more strange to thoughtful people than the calamity itself can appear to the most inconsiderate. If there are persons everywhere who think the alarm a bore, or who smile and say they have lived through many panics, and do not find Old England at an end yet, there are also persons everywhere who feel their daily life clouded by the thought of the depression, hunger, and destitution of a whole population which was lately the pride of the country for its high spirit, industry, and intelligence. As in times of plague and famine there are always persons who cannot believe that half their acquaintance will die, or that they shall ever see their neighbours actually hungry unto death, so there are now many who cannot perceive what they have to do with Lancashire distress, and who settle the business in their own minds and in their own houses by saying, that all industries have seasons of trouble, and that Lancashire will get over it somehow.

Many, again, choose to insist that it is an affair for the Lancashire gentry to manage. It is the business of the landowners; it is the business of the millowners. There is a great deal to be said about this: but we know better now than we did a month ago, that the sufferers cannot wait till it is agreed who should relieve them. We must help them first, and settle the doctrine of incidence afterwards. In the same way, we still hear it objected that the rates in Lancashire are yet not so high, as what some of us are paying in both town and country; but many more are ready with the answer than a month ago. The answer is, that if we leave it to the rates to deal with the distress, Lancashire will be like a submerged country, where all is destruction and ruin except a few scattered hills which stand above the flood. Whole classes would crumble and slide down into pauperism, till none would be left to pay the rates but a sprinkling of rich men. Many see now that it is better not to talk about the rates in self-excuse. The practical point, in fact, is to spare the rates to the last moment, and to the last farthing, for the sake of saving the poorer rate-payers.

Such points are better understood than they were: but still we have not got half-way towards that general consent to uphold and carry through our cotton operatives which we must attain by calamity, if we cannot by our own good sense. We still hear Members of Parliament talking of a possible time coming when others than Lancashire men must do something. We still see gentlemen and ladies giving shillings where they should send pounds, and pounds when they should give hundreds or thousands.

Among those whose eyes are open, however, the action is beautiful. Noble actions abound from day to day. Some of the millowners are generous and wise, and many are willing,—however the body generally have fallen below expectation, and their former repute for public spirit. But no extent of liberality in any of that class can exceed the expectation of society, because the wealth of the manufacturers ought always to be regarded as responsible for effectual aid to the operatives by whose industry, in conjunction with the employer’s capital, that wealth was created. As the capitalist profits most in prosperous times, he cannot reasonably or fairly leave the heaviest weight of adversity to be borne by his partners, the labourers. Thus the utmost liberality of the millowners is a simple fulfilment of obligation. The same thing is true of the landowners whose estates have become more and more valuable, through the growth of wealth and numbers in their neighbourhood. There are no sacrifices which they should not be prepared to make, as a moral condition of their holdings, when the industry of their district is in adversity.

The case is far otherwise with hundreds of subscribers to various relief funds. It makes one’s heart glow to read of whole companies of artizans and labourers in several counties who have given up their Exhibition excursion, and sent the money to Lancashire. It is pleasant to hear of domestic servants, and warehouse clerks, and the workmen in builders’ yards, and children in schools and families, clubbing their shillings and pence; but there is something more moving in the express and instant self-denial of hard-working and intelligent men and women who sacrifice the holiday, and the pleasure, and the improvement of a visit to the Exhibition which must be now or not at all. These classes of benefactors show that, if too many of the people of England are still asleep or drowsy, some are wide awake. If we consider that every man who gets up and bestirs himself rouses several others, we may hope that we are getting on, though the calamity seems to be advancing faster still.

The relief given is too small. There seems to be a general agreement about this,—supposing that it is possible to give more. The answer is, that if the people need more to keep them in health and hope, they must have it. We must all give, rather than that anybody should sink. It may be possible for people to live on eighteenpence a week, if they are clothed, and have beds to lie on; but, if bedding and clothes are in pawn, and the grate is empty, nobody can sustain life and health on a shilling, or fifteen, or even eighteenpence a week. Why should not relief be afforded by private benevolence in the form of releasing clothes and furniture from pawn, so that the eighteenpence might suffice? The objection is, that the things would soon be in pawn again, or that some of them would be sold for drink. On which it is again remarked, that the pawning was for the most part done before the regular relief was instituted, and that it is not likely to be repeated while the relief continues. As for the barter for spirits, the police reports show that there can be no great degree of that abuse. There are fewer offences committed in this time of stringent trial than in the gay days of prosperity; and the drinking and smoking are, in fact, restrained within very narrow limits. Anyone who is disposed for a promising experiment in benevolence may thus, it appears, be doing great good by releasing from pawn the serviceable clothing and bedding of impoverished families, who are not likely to get their property back in any other way.

The subject of employment,—regular paid employment for the factory people till the mills, are going again,—is too large for my limits. Of course, it is the very foremost question in connection with relief; and we all have our own ideas upon it: but I must leave it on one side to-day, on account of its vastness as well as its difficulty. I am the less unwilling to do this for the impression I have that the readers of Once a Week will feel themselves more nearly concerned in the other points of the case. They will probably say that it must be left to the authorities to devise occupation for so many thousands of people. It seems to me that nothing effectual will be done in that way unless ideas proposed by individuals are urged upon the guardians and dispensers of the funds: but I fully agree that the details of the various methods of giving aid concern everybody.

Emigration has been much discussed. Miss Rye’s operations in Manchester are full of comfort and promise. There are wrongheaded people there as everywhere who object for reasons which show that either they do not understand the plan, or they do not feel that there is any duty to the colonies involved in the case. We may pass over the gentlemen who coolly propose that Miss Rye should take unsteady girls and young thieves off their hands, and leave them all the best of the young women. We may pass over the ladies who complain that trained house-servants emigrate, while the rough ones remain, who have everything to learn. We may pass over the wrangling which looks like a scramble for the best order of young women, as if there were not thousands more than can be by any means assisted as we could wish. We may pass on at once to the fact that Miss Rye and her aides are succeeding in a work which does good to everybody concerned, and harm to none. She disburdens the relief funds of a few (would they were more!) of the respectable, industrious and well-conducted young women, who would be doomed to idleness and hunger here while, in the colonies, the wives of clergymen, merchants, farmers and artisans are wearing their lives out by doing all the work of their own houses. These young women will soon repay the cost of their removal, while creating comfort where they go, and no doubt marrying as fast as their place can be supplied. One good way of helping, then, is by sending money to Miss Rye, or clothing to girls who might have a good chance if they could get an outfit.

But there are others who want to go. What can be more affecting than the letter to the “Times,” dated September 12th, of the 130 Manchester overlookers, who are ruined and hopeless here, and long to get away! They have worked and saved: they have now lost all their savings: they are not a class who can endure to throw themselves on the rates; and they implore their countrymen to send them where they may conceal and yet retrieve their poverty. It is too probable that many of these are over the age prescribed, for sound reasons, as a condition of Government emigration: and there may be other disabilities in the particular cases: but the general truth remains that every family transplanted to a colony where labour is scarce is put in the way of fortune, and reduces the pressure at home. It is therefore a good way of helping to assist the emigration of men or women,—in families or singly, who are young and strong, and sincerely disposed for work. To inquire and use influence on their behalf; to raise a loan for their passage; to look to their outfit;—these are things which some of us can do; and some of us could hardly do better.

Every plan proposed seems to bring us round to the consideration of the clothing of these hundreds of thousands of men, women and children: and therefore we may consider the plan of the Sewing-schools one of the very best which has been carried out in any degree. More of them are wanted; and there is an earnest cry for the extension of such as exist. To these Sewing-rooms we must look for the possibility of carrying out Lord Palmerston’s recommendation that the present dreary opportunity should be used for keeping the children and lads at school. If the Guardians were to agree to-morrow to pay the school pence of every boy and girl, a very large proportion would be prevented from attending by the state of their clothing. The Sewing-rooms might remedy this, if they were kept properly supplied with material. Stout dark flannel makes good blouses for boys: remnants of print and stuff and linseys make frocks and petticoats for girls. Remnants of almost any fabric will make bonnets, and also pinafores. The same dark flannel, in squares, bound with worsted binding, makes little shawls for children. While making these articles, and women’s gowns and other garments, the factory girls are learning what has been hitherto deficient in their training; they become more fit for domestic life; they are in a safe place, free at once from the temptations and the ennui of idleness; and they obtain clothing for themselves and their young sisters at the very cheapest rate. I am told that it is a heart-moving spectacle to see the struggle for admission to these rooms. The poor girls are almost frantic to get in. Will not the women of England help their sisters in this matter? The way is easy, if only they are disposed. It rests with them to open these Sewing-rooms to as many as desire a seat there.

There have been letters in the newspapers about this which make the matter very clear. The main want is of material. One letter tells how much sound and seemly material for women’s and children’s dress has been bought for 5l.; and the suggestion is made that the housewives of England who understand their business should go shopping, with such money as they can spare and raise, on behalf of these Sewing-schools. Remnants, soiled goods (of a washing quality), old-fashioned or faded articles, in short, unsaleable goods of substantial quality, may be had exceedingly cheap wherever there are clothing-shops: and almost every article may come into use for somebody, between the cradle and the grave. As the letter points out, everything should be sent prepared for the needle,—the raw calico washed soft, the dresses cut out,—in breadths at least, if not in shape,—the children’s frocks and boys’ blouses; everything complete, to the supply of strings, buttons, and hooks and eyes; and each kind made into a separate parcel, duly ticketed.

Now, if one hundred housewives, out of all the towns and villages in England, were to spend 5l. per month in this way while the distress lasts, the 500l. per month so laid out would clothe the greater number of the needy people, without any hurt to anybody; for, however good-natured the shopkeepers may be (and they are good-natured, as a class), we must remember that it is an advantage to them to clear off their stocks in this way. Is it not reasonable to believe that so many as this of our countrywomen will go to their own tradesmen, at their own time, and lay out their money according to their own judgment, in quiet and independence?

To me it seems that this suggestion embraces exactly those homely housewives who dislike committees, and subscriptions, and publicity, and disputes. They can get the money from friends of their own sort, when they have not enough of their own: they will cut out their purchases at home, and send them off to some Relief Committee in Lancashire, paying the carriage, and feeling conscious that there is not an inch of rubbish in the package,—nor anything about it which can damp the pleasure of the poor young women in setting to work upon their gowns, or their fathers’ shirts, or their mothers’ caps, or the children’s pinafores. I understand, in fact, that the proposal has been already widely adopted. Moreover, it has caused an appeal to be made in several newspapers to drapers, all over the kingdom, to look out their unsaleable goods, and remnants, and whatever they please to give, towards the support of the Sewing-schools. No doubt this appeal will be kindly met; and it is a way in which a most substantial and extensive good may be done, at the smallest sacrifice on any hand.

This demonstration has been very properly followed by a petition on behalf of the men. First, the object was to clothe the young women who were going to service, while teaching the arts of the needle to those who remained. Then, the case of the children came up, when Lord Palmerston advised that they should be kept at school, and it was found that the Guardians had power to pay for the schooling of children whose parents were receiving relief. Thence it naturally followed that the claim of the men should be advocated. The letter of “A London Lad” in the “Times,” called upon all good citizens to give their cast-off garments,—the tourists and sportsmen their shooting-coats and plaids, and all their shabby waistcoats, pantaloons, caps and hats, and old boots. We ought to note that there is particular urgency about shoes and clogs, for old and young. May not help be found in Northampton and Norwich, the centres of the shoe-manufacture? Is it not the fact that there are unsaleable shoes and boots, as well as gowns and shawls? and will not ladies in those towns go and see what can be done? The children’s schooling, and perhaps their parents’ power of earning wages, depends on their being shod.

The letter of “A London Lad” wrought well. There was a deluge of letters poured in at the address he gave, very properly requesting means of information as to his being a real and respectable person. This being cleared up, the next incident was the Lord Mayor’s proposal to his Relief Committee, that a depôt for such gifts should be provided, as an appeal on behalf of 3,000,000 of persons would cause a mountain of clothing to be accumulated as fast as it could come in. We must all hope that his expectation is being fast fulfilled. This is one direction in which gentlemen may act while the ladies are doing the shopping. The main objection will probably be that such clothes are the perquisites of servants. My advice would be to speak to the servants about it, and see what terms could be made for the occasion with valets who stick to their rights: but valets have the same sort of heart as other people; and they may turn out as glad as other folk to do something for Lancashire. However the valets may behave, there must still be thousands of families where the boys outgrow their garments, and their fathers get new coats before the old are worn out. Will they not make them up in parcels for some Lancashire town?

It may do some service to both the sufferers and their protectors, if contributors should quietly discountenace the sectarian spirit which shows itself so strangely in some of the centres of relief. At Blackburn, contributors are asked which sects they wish to give their gifts to! and a letter to the “Times,” from “A Churchman” assumes that there is something ridiculous and inconvenient, and improper, in young women of different religious denominations sitting in the same room to learn to sew, and earn a meal. At Ashton-under-Lyne, the Relief Committee resolved to exclude all clergymen; and religious quarrels ran so high that the sufferers were neglected by the wranglers. Such things seem scarcely credible. If there is to be singing of hymns at the work-tables, what then? Such trifling is real folly in the presence of a calamity which should make us all feel as brethren.

At Ashton, certain clergy and their flocks, of different denominations, have shown that they can work harmoniously together, if others will not work with them. They admit the hungry and downcast without inquiring what their theological profession is; and they consult and dispense relief together, without introducing topics which are unconnected with the business of the hour. The best rebuke that the bigots could receive would be an universal repudiation, on the part of all givers, of all sectarian ideas and feelings. The need, and how to meet it, is the one question for us all; and if we keep it before us in its simplicity, the bigots of all sects will understand the rebuke, and may be the better for it in all time to come.

There is yet another mode of relief; and to me it seems that none can be more important. It has an advantage in the probability of its being self-supporting; and it has a disadvantage in being dependent on local effort,—and especially the efforts of resident women. Money and something more may be given from a distance; but the aid in kind cannot be anything like the contributions that may be sent to the Sewing-schools. The appeal must therefore be made to the ladies of Manchester, and the other towns in the distressed district; and if I may be permitted to speak so strongly, I do conjure those ladies to set to work without one day’s delay, to establish Cooking-schools in their own neighbourhood. It may be that the thing will be well begun before these lines are published. If so, let my entreaties be read as thanks and congratulation. If not, I would ask them whether any way was ever more plain before women anxious to do good; or whether there was ever a more urgent need that it should be followed. Thus far, I understand the case to be this.

In the “Manchester Guardian” there appeared, lately, a letter from the chairman of one of the Relief Committees, declaring the strong need there was of a provision of cooked food, for certain cases of distress. The subject was taken up by some one who evidently understands the economy of good cookery, and is aware of the ignorant wastefulness which prevails among the factorywomen, and which sorely aggravates their poverty. This writer, “E. L.,” suggests that a house should be taken in Manchester, and supplied with stoves, fuel, and other requisites; and that the relief food, and other food, should be prepared by young women, under good instruction. They would have the same advantages of safety and occupation as in the Sewing-schools, and would be learning the art which it is above all important for them to understand. They would have their meals in return for their labour, and might essentially assist their families by improving their diet. It would cost less to have the relief food cooked at the schools, than to dispose of it as the poor people now do. They prefer having money; and then they spend it in getting new bread, warm from the oven, or watery potatoes, or something that has even less good nourishment in it. They loathe the regular dole of meal, which they do not know how to make pleasant; and they are apt to change it away for some relishing morsel which has a flavour of old days in it. With the very best management, the allowance is too small to do more than keep life in; and the best way to prevent the people from wasting away in hunger is to give them cooked food, or teach them to prepare it for themselves.

The thing has been done before on a smaller scale, and proved to be easily self-supporting, when once fairly established. There have been such kitchens attached to the National and other schools; and the results which have been published show how eagerly the cheap diets they provide are bought up.

In case of this being done at Manchester, as the editor of the “Guardian” earnestly advises, aid from a distance must be chiefly in money to supply implements, fuel, and provisions; but there is some help that might be given in kind. A hundredweight of rice would be a good present: and broken rice is extremely cheap, and just as good for nourishment and palateableness as the best-looking. Red rice is cheap, too. A barrel of sweet Indian meal is another good present; and a package of sugar and a cask of American or Irish beef or pork; and salt and dried fish, and barrels of potatoes, and many other imported articles, besides the gifts that might flow in from neighbouring market gardens and butchers’-shops.

I remember an experiment made by a benevolent friend of mine at a time when it was necessary to the support of a whole town, that the greatest number of persons should be fed at the smallest cost; and the result of my friend’s experience was, that the cheapest food,—really good and agreeable food,—was a compound of Indian meal and rice, well flavoured with condiments. The people liked it, and they especially liked being able to get a substantial meal for a penny or somewhat less. If I remember right, the price was a penny for the hearty able-bodied men. It was by the magnitude of the scale on which the cooking was conducted, that the thing was possible. The same thing might be done at Manchester: but there must also be a good deal of variety for both the main objects,—the keeping up the health and spirit of the people, and the training of the women in homely cookery.

Mr. Blundell, the giver of 5000 tons of coal, stands, by general consent, at the head of the genial benefactors of Lancashire at the present crisis. He has written home from Canada, directing his agent to make this glorious present. It warms hearts already; let us hope it will kindle some. All the circumstances of the case work together to teach us, that there is something for everybody to do. Let each of us take our own course, provided we give no trouble by whimsies, but follow some established track. We may start ideas; but novelties in practice must be tried on the spot. On the whole, the prominent feature of the case is the insufficiency of the relief, generally speaking. If some benefactors would direct their bounty to paying small rents, and so sustaining the class of cottage owners; if others would release clothes and bedding from pawn, or keep up the Sewing-schools; and if others would institute Cooking-schools, and expand the existing soup-kitchens, the present scale of relief might possibly suffice. If these aids are not abundantly rendered, more must be done in the way of money gifts. Winter is coming; the sufferers must be sustained; and they cannot live on the present dole. Then let us each go to work, to do what we can.

From the Mountain.