In February, 1892, a journalist – F. W. Robinson – and an artist – M. Renouard – headed for Spitalfields to research an article about the work of the Salvation Army in the district which, just four years before, had been terrorised by the murders of Jack the Ripper.
The resultant article was published in The Graphic on Saturday February 27th, 1892:-
A SALVATION ARMY SHELTER FOR WOMEN IN WHITECHAPEL
“We are still due east. Our mission lies to-day in Hanbury Street, where the honest poor – and possibly the criminal poor – are thick, where the ” Ripper” has left his blood-red mark, where a few tradesmen live and thrive, where the busy Salvationists are always hard at work.
The Salvation Army has two of its principal and most interesting establishment’s in Hanbury Street, both worthy of a visit – and a cheque – from the philanthropist.
At No. 159 is the “Elevator,” and at No. 594 is “The Woman’s Shelter.”
A FIREWOOD PRODUCING WORKSHOP
The “Elevator ” is one of the firewood-producing workshops, concerning which there has been a considerable outcry; but the question as to whether there is any underselling, any unfair competition with “the trade,” comes not within the province of this article.
All that strikes the visitor is the unmistakable good that is being done to the man completely “stranded,” who knows not which way to look for food and shelter until he finds the doors wide open here, and a something better than workhouse fare and workhouse stone-breaking provided him till he can turn round and do better for himself.
Here the firewood is split and packed into bundles by men at work down in a big cellar under the workshops.
Above-stairs, forms and tables for the various mission-halls are being constructed by men more skillful with their hands, also brushes, canvas bags, boots, mattresses for the refuges, with the oddest of stuffings, shavings being in the ascendant. Sea-weed has become unfashionable of late days, shavings being considered more clean and wholesome.
The “pickers” are careful in getting rid of sharp corners – of pieces of wood, and nubbly bits in general – extra careful, having to sleep on shaving-mattresses themselves.
The men work for food and lodging only, pay being the exception rather than the rule; but a few skilled operatives are encouraged to remain at a wage of eightpence an hour.
About 533 men are at work on the day of our visit, and are ostensibly working with a will.
CALLED TO THE LORD
The foreman of the wood shelter – who is evidently keeping a time record – looks not once towards us. He has seen better days, and been a doctor in extensive practice, but misfortunes of various kinds have brought him thus low.
“He is called to the Lord now,” says a Captain to us, “we are greatly blest. Six men were called to the Lord yesterday. Praise his holy name.”
The religious element is striking and predominant. It is very strange, most of it very earnest, all of it impressive. Officers who meet each other en route, and stop to ask each other business questions, finish up with “Praise the Lord,” and go on their way again industrious and cheerful. One man, hard at work at shoe making, looks at us as we pause before him and apologises for the soiled condition of his red jacket. “Ah! but there’s a clean heart underneath, sir,” he cries, smiting his breast, “a clean heart, glory be to God.” Then he goes on with his work, and takes no further notice of us.
A DISGRUNTLED INDIVIDUAL
This is not done for effect. Here is no hypocrisy – it is a common cry at which no one is surprised but ourselves.
But all is not perfect harmony or supreme satisfaction at the “Elevator.”
Hours afterwards, and a couple of miles away from Hanbury Street, we are suddenly confronted by a wild-looking, grimy individual.
“I beg pardon,” he begins at once, “you gentlemen were at Hanbury Street this morning, I think ?”
We answer that he is correct in his surmise.
“For the papers, I suppose? Well tell the public that we are not being served well, that we are made to work too hard, and for nothing, and I’m not going back again for one. I’ve chucked it up this afternoon, and if you can spare a copper or two to get me along a bit, I” – and their the man lapses into the old professional whine, which we have all heard so extremely often, and which brings in plenty of spare coppers still, if artistically delivered.
BACK TO HANBURY STREET
At a later hour we are in Hanbury Street again.
On this occasion to inspect the -Women’s Shelter.
All is very orderly this particular evening; there is a hush and solemnity pervading the large room, or hall, wherein the women wait till bed-time – they may come in and wait at any hour – and the pinched, white, forlorn faces – oh, how terribly forlorn some of them are! – turn in our direction and regard us very curiously, very anxiously, in one or two instances almost defiantly, as unwelcome intruders upon the misery and need which are so strikingly apparent, and which it may occur to one or two thoughtful and despairing women that we have no right to witness.
FORLORN OF ALL CLASSES
For they are of all classes, these forlorn ones – and education and refinement are not lacking always.
We are shown a photograph which has been taken of this hall, where the meals are served, and the prayers are given out, and one woman has suddenly spread her hands before her face to baulk the photographer at the last moment.
“No – no – not to be seen here, and found out by my friends!”, we are told she exclaimed, “not for them to know I have come down to this!”
It is only a few who are as sensitive.
A BRISK AND CHIRPY GOSSIP
One woman is presented to us as quite a character, and certainly as a character she poses extremely well. There is no despair about her. She is brisk and chirpy, and has a latent sense of humour. She is a regular customer at the “Women’s Shelter,” turning up night after night for her penny supper, her penny bed, her penny breakfast, and then drifting about all day Whitechapel way. She has a faculty for gossip, and for the dissemination of all the news of the Shelter, so abnormally developed that her nickname is the “Telegraph,” and even the officials are often surprised at the wide extent of her information.
M. Renouard expresses a desire to take her portrait.
“Oh, my, why didn’t you let the know you were a cumin’, sir? I’d a washed my face for you and looked nice,” she says, with a grin.
The sketch does not take long, and she rattles away all the time and has her little jest or two, at which the Salvation lasses laugh.
“Telegraph” is evidently a favourite. She has never been out of London in her life – not she. With the one exception of an excursion to the Crystal Palace in a van, London has been her invariable sphere of action. The longest journey of her life has been from her lodgings in Somer’s Town – “years ago, that was” – to Flower and Dean Street, Whitechapel.
And here in Whitechapel she has settled down, the old woman affirms, and no more gaddings about for her!
THE PINCH OF POVERTY
The hall fills quickly before bed-time the place is over-full, so great is the stress of bad weather, of the pinch of poverty, White-chapel way.
There are always “crowded houses here; women come early to make sure of a rest on the shavings mattress, and leave their bonnets or shawls in the receptacle selected for the night, as evidence of having taken possession – a custom stolen from the rules of the House of Commons as to hats and reserved seats.
So great is the demand for places at the Hanbury Street Shelter that the latest corners, upon finding the place full, beg very hard to be allowed to lie on the forms in the hall until the morning.
BED TIME AND PRAYERS
When the women have had their supper – if they can afford the luxury of a penny supper, that is – they wait patiently for bed-time and prayers, some of them working at paper flowers, or stitching at torn corners of their scanty raiment, or going into an outer laundry to wash a collar or apron, soap and hot water being provided there, and where an enormous steaming copper tells us that tea is being brewed.
A placard in big letters hangs at the extremity of the room – “GOD FIRST.” And in the dormitory itself, over the supports of the upper dormitory or gallery, is the awful question, in red and white, “ARE YOU READY TO DIE?”
When the night is still, half the inmates surely look as though they were dead already; the unsightly receptacles for the sleepers are strangely like open coffins – open graves – in which repose and rest in peace fora while – some of them – these weary, hard-driven, offshoots of our poor humanity.
THE WAIFS AND STRAYS OF VICTORIAN LONDON
Business, we have intimated, is always brisk here. Night after night the waifs and strays of the great city file in to take their rest, thanking God, not a few of them, that they are out of the streets, “out of the workus,” out of their awful battle for life and daily bread till to-morrow morning.
PERCY AND HIS MOTHER
There is a special room provided for mothers with children – single females do not care to have their rest disturbed by “cryings in the night.” Mothers with children of their own are more used to the business.
One child whom we encounter in the laundry, strikes us as very pretty and winning in its ways.
“What is her name?”
“Why it’s a boy,” says the mother, proudly, and laughing at our ignorance, “his name is Percy.”
“Oh! how fine!” mutters the contemptuous voice of another mother in the background. “Percy, indeed.”
Well, Percy is a little out of place in the Hanbury Street Shelter, but it is a pretty name, and does no one any harm.”