Food And Fuel For The Poor

Throughout 1888, the newspapers published numerous letters in which the writers begged that people give funds to help alleviate the sufferings of the destitute poor of the East End of London.

Many of these missives were written by people who were working amongst the poor and so were able to provide precise information on the hardships that the poverty-stricken residents of the districts were forced to struggle against on an almost daily basis.


One such letter appeared in The St James’s Gazette, on Saturday, on 7th January, 1888:-

“To the Editor of the St. James’s Gazette.

Sir, -With reference to the correspondence in your columns concerning the supply of cheap food to the poorest classes, may I be allowed to draw the attention of those interested in the matter to the fact that the “Metropolitan Destitute Workmen’s Aid Society” supplies holders of their tickets with a substantial meal to the value  of two-and-a-halfpence for each ticket.

The society is in communication with eating-houses and coffee-palaces in every district of the metropolis; and, in return for the increase of custom brought to these places of business by ticket-holders, the full value is allowed on each ticket presented.

Over five thousand tickets have been issued during the last month by the society, chiefly to clergy and active workers among the poor, for distribution.

I may add that Sir Charles Warren has personally revised this system of relief, and that it is worked (with his official support) by local committees acting under directions from the head office of the society,  5* Westminster Chambers, Victoria-street, S.W.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

Richard Bagot.”

A portrait of Sir Charles Warren.
Sir Charles Warren, The Metropolitan Police Commissioner. From The Illustrated London News, 1st May 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.



The Illustrated London News, on  Saturday, 28th January, 1888, published an article on the effects that hunger was having on the children of the area:-

“A serious drawback on the instruction of children of the poorest class is their want of sufficient food; how can the little brains work, if the little stomachs are never filled?

In the parish of Holy Trinity, Shoreditch, which is said by the Bishop of London and his coadjutor, the Bishop of Bedford, to be one of the hardest cures in the metropolis, the Vicar, the Rev. Osborne Jay, attempts various good works; among these are free dinners, provided daily for about four hundred poor children attending the Board schools.

The little ones are sent to school, too often half-starved and shivering with cold.

The dinner – tickets are distributed by the Board-school teachers to those whom they know to be deserving.

“Some children,” we are told, “have no other food than what they get here. It would be impossible to exaggerate the poverty of the neighbourhood.

A little girl said the other day, when dying, “Now there will be enough for the others to eat!”

Funds are needed, or the dinners must be discontinued.

The Rev. Osborne Jay, Holy Trinity Vicarage, 56, Church Street, Shoreditch, will be glad of any contributions, and will show his visitors what he is doing in his parish.”


The Morning Post, on Thursday, 16th February, 1888, published the following appeal from an East End clergyman, in which he spoke of how the harsh winter conditions were taking their toll on the well-being of the poor of the area:-

“Sir, Our large voluntary committee is now in the very midst of its winter relief work here in East London.

The severe weather renders the need of help doubly pressing.

The distress is always greater after Christmas than before.

Scenes of appalling family destitution, alas, confront us daily.

We are doing all in our power to provide employment, food, fuel, and clothing for the army of honest, suffering ones, also free meals for vast numbers of poor little starving children, who in many instances are literally crying for bread.

Our funds, however, are nearly exhausted.

Will your generous readers kindly send us a little help? A report and audited balance-sheet is forwarded to every donor.

The pinch of honest poverty and “the cry of the children ” are our urgent plea.

Every gift, great or small, will be promptly acknowledged by yours truly,

(Rev.) J. W. ATKINSON (19 years Latimer Church). 308, Old Ford-road.”


The Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, on Saturday, 25th February, 1888, reported on a new initiative from the Salvation Army:-

“A new departure has been made by the Salvation Army in the opening of a warehouse Limehouse, for the purpose of lodging and feeding the extreme poor of the East End.

The design is to afford decent and comfortable sleeping accommodation and wholesome food at a price which, it is thought. even the needy and miserable men who have now reluctant recourse the casual ward can pay; and, although the Salvationists will not give away free tickets for admission to this shelter, others may do so.”


By way of demonstrating the dangers of entire families being forced to share one room, The Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, on Monday, 10th September, 1888, published the following report about a truly tragic incident:-

“Dr. Macdonald held an inquest on Friday afternoon, at the Paul’s Head public-house, Spitalfields, on the body Jacob Mecklenburgh, aged four months, the son of a costermonger, living at 2, Butler street, Spitalfields.

From the evidence of the mother, it appeared that on Tuesday night she went to bed with the deceased, who was in good health.

On the following morning, the deceased was found dead in bed.

It was stated that the parents and their seven children lived together in one room, about 12-feet square, for which they paid 4s. 6d. a week in rent.

Dr. Hume, who was called in after death, deposed that the child had been suffocated, most probably by overlying.

The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death,” and added a rider that the sanitary authorities were most lax in their duties to allow a family of nine people to live and sleep in so small a room, and that the overcrowding which prevails in the East End ought to be inquired into and something done to alleviate it.

The Coroner said that he was of the same opinion himself, and he would put the matter before the proper authorities.”