The Distress In London 1867

London before the Jack the Ripper murders were used by newspapers and philanthropists alike to expose the horror of the social conditions in the East End of London, the socially minded had been trying to do something that would ease the plight of the poor in London as a whole.

For thousands on the lower rung of the ladder, it would just take a slight change in trading conditions to tip them over the edge into dire poverty and destitution.

A downturn in the demand for ships, could impact on the shipbuilders in the docks of London, whilst a harsh winter frost might not only lead to the loss of work, and, therefore, income, and, in consequence bring the spectre of mass destitution to the streets of the poverty-stricken districts of the Victorian metropolis.

The Illustrated London News, on Saturday 26th January 1867, published the following article concerning the issue of destitution:-


All accounts tend to show that there is a vast amount of pinching, starving poverty in London, more especially at the East-End, Hitherto the evil has been dealt with as far possible by various local organisations assisted by the gifts of the public.

This mode of distributing relief has, however, been found to have some mischievous results, and the formation of  a central fund distributing relief in a well-considered manner has been urged.

The Lord Mayor has taken the matter in hand, and on Monday presided at a meeting at the Mansion House, convened at the instance of some of the City clergy, at which were produced a number of communications in reference to the prevailing distress.

Missionaries visiting the residents of a London slum in the 19th century.
A London Slum In The Late 19th Century


The following are some of these:- Mr. Lond, hon. sec. to the Poplar Working Men’s Committee for the Relief of the Unemployed, stated that in Poplar 16,000 persons are totally destitute and without employment of any kind.

This, he says, is not owing to, although it is aggravated by, the inclemency of the weather, but arises solely from the stoppage in the shipbuilding trade in the port of London. The distress, he adds, is likely to continue for three months.


At a recent meeting of the Poplar board of guardians it was stated that the number of outdoor paupers had increased to such an extent that the relieving officers had found it utterly impossible for them to visit all who had applied for relief.

Mr. Jeffries, the relieving officer for the south district, had nearly 1000 families on his books, each family representing at least five persons. He had been at work night and day, and felt quite unequal to the strain.

On the previous day he had given away 2 tons cwt. of bread. The total number of persons relieved out of the house that week was 8319, an increase on that of the corresponding week of last year of 5453, and the contractor had supplied the union with 16 tons 3 cwt. of bread in a week, or 9324 loaves. That was in Poplar alone.

The secretary of the Dock and Wharf Labourers’ Association, High-street, Shadwell, writing on Saturday last, thinks he may safely say that 20,009 of those classes are now quite out of employment, and had not earned a shilling for the last two months.


Some conversation followed.

Eventually the whole of the gentlemen present agreed to form committee, and resolutions were passed inviting the Governor of the Bank of England and others to join it. A subscription was begun in the room – Messrs. Barclay, Bevan, and Co., the bankers, heading the list with £100.

The amount received by the Mansion House Distress Committee at the time of our going to press exceeded £3000.

At the instance of the Bishop of London, the committee of the Metropolitan Belief Association, 21, Regent-street, meet daily, at four o’clock, as in the time of the cholera visitation, last autumn, for the immediate distribution of relief through the clergy and their district visiting societies.

The committee on Wednesday voted £875 to necessitous parishes.


The Bishop says:- “The accounts of the distress witnessed by a member of the committee who had visited the east of London to make inquiries on the spot were appalling.

The committee will be most ready, as in the autumn, to act in concert with any other well-organised associations.

Though we employ the agency of the clergy, it is a distinct rule that no distinction be made between members of different religious bodies.”

Besides the gift of £200 to this fund by her Majesty, announced in our last issue, the Bishop has received £25 from the Prince of Wales and £25 from the Princess of Wales, for the same purpose.


Mr. Woolrych, Southwark magistrate, granted 10 gs., on Tuesday, from the poor-box fund, towards the relief of the distress at Dockhead, Bermondsey.

Mr. Woolrych had relieved one hundred people the preceding day, and regretted that the state of the poor-box would not allow him to do more.


On Monday night the Marquis Townshend presided at a crowded public meeting of the dock, wharf, warehouse, and unskilled labourers at Burdett Hall, Limehouse, in furtherance of the objects of the Dock Labourers’ Association.

The chairman said that there wore upwards of 20,000 dock labourers at present starving, their wages being so small that it was impossible to exist upon them.

The president of the association, Mr. Holms, proposed as a remedy that the surplus labour should be draughted to various parts of the country, where there is work to be had.

The following resolution was passed unanimously:- “That this meeting, knowing that the condition of the dock labourers is deplorable in the extreme, appeals to a benevolent public to assist in the speedy adoption of such means for improving the condition of these men as would secure to every man a sufficiency of the necessaries of life for himself and family in return for his industry and exertions.”


There is great distress at Greenwich and its neighbourhood, and a public meeting has been held to adopt measures of relief.

An appeal of the Rev. Canon Miller, of Greenwich, to the public through the columns of The Times promptly brought in nearly £1000, which was distributed, without reference to creed, among starving operatives in Greenwich, Deptford, and Rotherhithe.

The secretaries of the Deptford and Greenwich Unemployed Relief Fund report that they have already relieved 4869 families, representing 22,976 persons. They have also lent 200 blankets, and ordered one hundred more for the same purpose.

One thousand quarts of soup are supplied daily to applicants who receive tickets from members of the committee.

The amount of relief afforded up to the present time is as follows:- In Deptford, 15s. 8d. and 136 tons 11cwt. of coal; in Greenwich, Woolwich, Plumstead, and Charlton, £387 2s. 7d. and 51 tons 6 cwt. of coal.


There have been bread riots at Deptford.

A number of the unemployed labourers had applied for parish relief on Wednesday evening, and were refused. Consequently, they proceeded in large bodies to parade the streets in a threatening manner, causing such apprehension in the minds of the tradesmen that there was a general closing of shops.

A large body of the men passing along the High-street made a forcible entry into the shop of Mr. Mager, a baker, breaking the windows and emptying the shop of all its contents.

The next victim of the rioters was Mr. Sammond, in the same street, who, in order to protect his premises from injury, handed out his entire stock of bread to the mob.

Thence they made their way to the shop of Mr. Cracknell, in the Broadway, also a baker, where the windows were broken and the place completely plundered.

Several butchers and linen drapers were also served in a similar manner.

After these riotous proceedings had been going for some time, without let or hindrance, a strong body of mounted police came to the aid of the terrified inhabitants, and in a brief period dispersed the mob.

Under the apprehension of a renewal of the like disorders, the tradesmen on Thursday kept their places of business closed. At an early hour, however, large numbers of men made their appearance in the streets; and although the presence of the police had the effect of preventing any serious mischief in the main thoroughfares, yet the smaller shops of the by-streets were in many instances entered, and whatever could be conveniently laid hold of was carried away.

Only one of the rioters has been as yet taken into custody. He has been sentenced to three weeks’ imprisonment.

An illustration showing the bread riots in Deptford.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday February 2nd, 1867. Copyright, The British Library Board.


We have a pleasing meeting to record which took place on Sunday morning. The men out of employment in the neighbourhood of Millwall were invited to breakfast in the dining-hall of the Millwall Iron Company, at ten o’clock.

The breakfast was amply furnished by a few members of the Society of Friends, through the instrumentality of one of their number, Mr. Bastine, chemist, by whom, after prayers, the company were addressed, and by Captain Campbell, Mr. Brooke, of London, and Mr. Lond, who is secretary to the Working Men’s Relief Committee in Poplar.

It was stated at a meeting of the St. Pancras poor-law guardians, on Tuesday, that the number of poor was 2501 in excess of the number last year.

Four hundred persons were relieved, Tuesday, at the usual weekly meeting of the Strand Union Guardians.

The number of recipients of outdoor relief at the present time is 2252 compared with 1432 for the corresponding time last year.


An inquest was held, on Wednesday morning, on the body of Richard Daily, aged 64, who was found dead in his room, at 4, Gloucester-court, Whitecross Street.

The deceased was found in a state of nudity, huddled up on a heap of rags in the corner of the room; his death, according to the verdict of the jury, having been accelerated by exposure to cold and destitution.

Two inquests were held upon the bodies of women, on Wednesday, who had perished from absolute starvation.

In one case the victim was a needlewoman whose earnings rarely amounted to more than 1s. per week.


At the close of a lecture delivered on Tuesday night, by Professor Huxley, at the London Mechanics’ Institute, the professor read a letter which he had received from a regular attendant at the lectures, detailing the appalling poverty in the East End and suggesting a subscription in the room.

The learned professor said that he would not put any pressure upon anyone; he would simply place his own subscription in one of the skulls upon the table.

The audience immediately did the same, and the novel cashbox was soon filled with coin, which amounted to large sum.

A lecture, the subject being “An Evening with the Poets,” interspersed with music, is to be delivered at the Hanover-square Rooms, on the evening the 28th inst., by the well-known novelist, Captain Mayne Reid, on behalf of the suffering poor of London.”