A Slipper Makers Baby

In January, 1898. the baby of a slipper maker and his wife died. At the inquest into the child’s death, it was revealed that the parents were too poor to afford a doctor to treat their ailing baby, and a huge surge of public sympathy led to donations being sent in by well-meaning members of the public for the benefit of the bereaved parents.

As a result, the newspapers began looking into the case, in consequence of which the Coroner was able to hand some money over to the father, Alfred Slater, at the resumed inquest, at which some harsh exchanges took place about the employer of the parents.

On Thursday, 17th February, 1898, The Dundee Evening Telegraph published the following article about the case:-


“Some weeks ago, an inquest was held at Shoreditch on the baby of a slipper-maker named Slater, when some shocking disclosures were made.

The parents, who occupied a small garret, both worked at slipper-making, and by devoting 18 hours a day to their toil they could earn 2s 9d, out which it was stated sixpence was stopped for materials.

The case was reported, with the result that Dr Wynn Westcott, the Coroner for the district, received several sums for the benefit of the family.

Yesterday, at an inquest, the father, Alfred Slater, attended to receive a portion of the subscriptions, the Coroner informing him that the amount received would guarantee his rent for three months.


Slater expressed his thanks, but said that in consequence of the publicity given to the case his employer had discharged him.

The Coroner:- “What, discharged you because the true facts of the case were reported”

Mr Slater:- “Yes; he said I had exposed the trade.” He said I ought to be ashamed of myself to show the trade up like that.”


The Coroner:- “Who is your employer?”

Mr Slater:- “Mr Gould, Warner Place, Hackney Road. I did not give his name before because I did not want it known.”

Juror:- “It ought to be known. It is wrong to turn a man away because he speaks the truth.” (Hear, hear.)

Mr Slater:- “He said I exposed the trade and insulted him.”

A Juror:- “The trade ought to be exposed.”

The Coroner:- “The employer’s action is certainly unkind, but I am afraid it is not breaking the law.”

The Juror:-  “It is shameful, the man ought to be shown up.”

Mr Slater:- “I didn’t show him up. It was the Coroner’s officer who got hold of my work book and reckoned it up. I never complained.”

The Coroner:- “No, I know you didn’t complain, but the pay was so small that it struck my officer, and he did quite right to investigate your means when you admitted you were too poor to have a doctor.”


Juror:- “Can nothing be done to this employer?”

The Coroner:- “I don’t see what I can do. You cannot charge a man with being unjust without giving him the opportunity of explaining. I will consider what action I shall take.”

The Coroner handed Slater 10s for his present wants, and said that he would see what could be done for him.”


However, as the following article, which appeared in The South Wales Echo on Saturday, 19th February, 1898, revealed, the public sympathy towards the parents and the indignation against the employer, may have been misplaced::-

Strong Remarks by Coroner and Jury.

Yesterday, at the Shoreditch Coroner’s Court, Dr. Wynn Wescott, the coroner, had before him Slater, the slipper maker whose baby died under sad circumstances, and Mr D. Gould, his employer.

The Coroner said that great publicity having been given to the poverty of the poor slipper maker, whose statements were that his earnings were so small he could not afford a doctor or even buy proper and necessary food, so many charitable people had sent money for his benefit that he (the Coroner) had considered it only right and just to hear Mr Gould’s explanation.


The Coroner asked Mr Gould if it was true that he had discharged Slater because the latter had exposed the secrets of the trade.

Mr Gould: – “Certainly not; he discharged himself.”

Mr Gould then said that he had referred to his books and found that from August 29th to December 21st last year the average earnings of Slater were 24s a week. and he could have earned much more had he worked steadily. He went by the name of Gray, so that when witness read the report of the case he had no idea that it referred to one of his workmen.

The Coroner:- “You count his weekly earnings as if they were for one person, instead of which they are for two.

Mr Gould:- “The wife could earn 3s or 4s a day herself, she is one of the quickest sewers in the trade.”

The Coroner:- “Do you deny that the price for a pair of slippers was three and a half pence?”

Mr Gould:- “I do. He mostly got 4d a pair.”

The Coroner:- “But then he had to pay for grindery out of that?”

Mr Gould:- “That does not run into much. He could have earned 7s a day had he tried.”

Mr Slater:- “We can’t do more than 15 pairs a day if we work all the hours we can. It doesn’t amount to 2d an hour for both of us.”


Mr Gould produced his books, showing that other men working on the same kind of work as Slater averaged £1. 12s a week.

He handed the Coroner an anonymous letter which he had received that morning.

It was couched in most offensive terms, and contained threats to do for him “what Prince did for Mr Terriss and to mutilate his body like Jack the Ripper served his victims.”

The Coroner said that it was a shameful act, and he handed the letter over to the local detective inspector, with instructions to report to him the result of his inquiries.


The Coroner (to Slater):- “You hear what Mr Gould says what have you to say?”

Slater:- “I don’t deny the two of us earned what Mr Gould says just in the busy season, but look at my book and see what we earned after Christmas.

The Coroner (reading from the book):- “Jan. 2nd, 2s. 3d, is that a week’s work?

Slater:- “Yes, sir.

The Coroner (continuing reading):- “Jan. 9th, £ 1 0s 2d; Jan. 16th, 6s. 10d Jan. 23rd, 3s 7d.

Slater:- “That’s it. I don’t say we didn’t earn more in the season, but those are in the weeks just before and after the baby died.”


Mr Gould:- “He took home 20 pairs on January 11th and did not return them until the 25th, though I saw him walking idly about Hackney Road on the 21st.”

Slater:- “My child died on the 12th, and I had so much running about that I was unable to sit down to do any work satisfactorily.”

Mr Gould:- “He received £2. 10s from the insurance company, yet he let the parish bury his child.”

A Juror:- “Did you let the parish pay for the funeral?”

Slater:- “Yes, but I spent the money in black and food for us.” We hadn’t had much up to then.”

A Juror:- “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” (Hear, hear.)


The Foreman:- “Will you employ him again, Mr Gould?”

Mr Gould:- “I cannot. The other men would not work with him after his deceit.”

The Coroner:- “I have promised to pay his rent for 13 weeks, and I must keep my word, but the balance of the money sent me I shall put in my poor box.”

A Juror:- “Quite right too.”

The Coroner said that now Mr Gould had had an opportunity of explaining, the affair was at an end so far as he was concerned.”