A recurring theme that crops up time and time again in newspaper reports about the 19th century poverty in the East End of London, is the plight of the children of the poor, who, if they were able to attend school, often turned up too distracted by hunger to be able to do much learning.
On Saturday the 17th of April 1886, The Illustrated London News, published an article that not only took a close look at the residents of a particularly poor district in the East End – the Old Nichol – but which also reported on how various organisations were labouring to minister to the needs of both the children in the area, and their parents.
The article provides a vivid insight into the everyday lives of some of the East End residents who, two years later, would be faced with the dreadful atrocities perpetrated by the maniac who would become known as “Jack the Ripper”, whose crimes would take place place almost right on their doorsteps.
But, the article also shows that there were many dedicated citizens who were labouring, against the odds to try and bring succour to the poverty-stricken residents who had, seemingly, slipped through the cracks of Victorian society.
The article read:-
FEEDING HUNGRY CHILDREN
“In one of the poorest localities of the East-End, in the angle formed by Boundary-street, Shoreditch, and Church-street, are some of the most squalid and densely-populated lanes and alleys to be found in London.
On a Sunday evening in the summer, as one passes down Old Nichol-street, some idea can be gathered of the woeful overcrowding that exists.
At every doorstep, and stretching far over the pavements, men, women, and children – the dwellers in the wretched houses – sit and lie about there, and one wonders wherever they can all stow themselves away at night, or in the winter time.
This poverty-stricken quarter is inhabited largely by costermongers, matchbox makers, hawkers of the streets, dock labourers, and the shiftless crowds who could not do a day’s hard work, but live from hand to mouth by any odd jobs they can get.
MR. DUTHOIT’S MISSION
Here, fifty years ago, a small missionary station was started by a silk manufacturer, an employer of labour in the neighbouring Spitalfields, Mr. J. Duthoit, who still lives to take an earnest interest in the work.
Beginning in a single cottage-room, it grew, until four cottages were thrown into one, and after many vicissitudes and much vigorous effort, and generous support from the public, having in its early days been taken up by the congregation of Union Chapel, Islington, under the pastoral care of the Rev. Dr. Allon, it can now boast of 120 voluntary teachers and some 1800 children, and it possesses three large school and mission rooms and a school-house in Old Nichol-street and Nichol’s-row.
A BOARD SCHOOL
Side by side with these mission premises, the School Board for London have erected, in Nichols-row, one of their largest schools.
This being more than full, the children have overflowed temporarily into the premises of the mission.
Between the two agencies there is no rivalry, but the most hearty mutual goodwill.
CHILDREN ATTEND SUNDAY SERVICE
The School Board has its many hundreds, so too has the Mission; but at different times – notably on Sunday evenings.
Then it is no uncommon sight to see 1000 to 1200 children in attendance at the Sunday school and children’s service, all attending voluntarily, and all eager to come.
One of the evidences of this mutual good feeling, and of the room for a wide diversity of operations, emanating from the same spirit of regard for the poor little ones, may be witnessed, as in the accompanying Sketch.
BREAKFAST FOR THE CHILDREN
The complaint of over-pressure in school-teaching has been more often truly attributable to the terrible evil of under-feeding.
And the knowledge that many a poor little starveling was being sent to school to lay in a stock of wisdom upon an empty stomach – utterly breakfastless – induced the conductors of the Mission to inquire if they could not work with the Board School teachers to remedy this crying evil.
To feed the hungry was outside the defined domain of the Board, but it was well within that of the Mission.
So plans were organised by which the Board School teachers distribute tickets for free breakfasts to from 100 to 120 of the most needy children attending their schools, and volunteers from Islington and Highbury supply to these a good hearty breakfast of bread and milk, or cocoa and bread and butter, on four mornings of each week during about four of the coldest months of the winter.
This is one of the scenes our Artist has depicted.
A SOUP KITCHEN
But a breakfast, however good, is poor nourishment for a whole day to a hungry child; and besides, no provision is in this way made for the stay-at-homes – whether these be the infants or the destitute adults.
So, to the free breakfasts has been added a soup-kitchen.
Twice a week soup is distributed, together with a hunch of bread, for a merely nominal payment.
Of the hearty way in which this is appreciated, and the eagerness with which this boon is sought, our Artist’s sketch will enable our readers to judge.
A HARMONIOUS WORKING RELATIONSHIP
In this truly practical way, the harmonious and friendly working, side by side, of the Board and the voluntary agencies, enables each to do its own part the better; and one solution of the problem is, in part at least, attained by the plan which the committee of the Nichol-street Ragged Schools have initiated, and which is largely due to the advice of their treasurer, Mr. Henry Spicer, M.P., a member of the London School Board.
If any of our readers feel inclined to help this ministering to the necessities of their poorer brethren, any contributions to the free breakfast, or the soup-kitchen fund will be most thankfully received and acknowledged.”