SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 1888
TO THE EDITOR OF "THE DAILY TELEGRAPH"
SIR - I quite agree with your correspondent, "Ratepayer," that "the erection of lodging-houses for the lowest classes" might prove a profitable and safe investment, that is, that a capitalist might earn 4 per cent. on his outlay with nearly absolute security; but there are difficulties in the way which should be pointed out and which can only be avoided by careful management. I do not refer to the question of sites, for there should be no difficulty here. If ground is not procurable in the ordinary way and on reasonable terms the local authorities, by carrying out the provisions of the Artisans' Dwellings Act - which are very imperious and sweeping - can get rid of existing slums, block by block, and hand over the land thus cleared to any company or individual on any terms they think fit. Whatever reluctance there might be to enforce this act on the part of existing bodies, no such feeling is likely to actuate the London Council which will shortly come into existence, the members of which are more likely to err on the side of new-born zeal than of caution or timidity. Sites will always be procurable in the East-end on fair terms. The difficulties I have in view are those of the after-management, and on that point no existing investigations supply us with quite the guidance we want. The Radstock Victoria Home is a philanthropic effort which involves the separation of the sexes and the infusion of a religious influence. The Rothschild company is for a superior class of lodgers to the lowest, and is not intended, so far as I can make out, for the wandering outcasts who might manage to pay their 4d, 6d, or 1s a night for shelter and a bed, but who could not afford to take a room for a week, and who would also certainly be repelled by any attempts at inquisitorial supervision or well-meant lectures on the error of their ways. Both of these undertakings may pay, while others, looking for support to a different class of inmates, might not. The main question, it appears to me, to be decided is the nature and extent of the restrictions to be enforced - on that will depend the measure of success. With all their dirt, noisome associations, and relatively high charges the low lodging-houses which it is sought to clear out of the way suit those who frequent them, because they impose no check whatever and ask no questions beyond the night's rent. Any man or woman, together or separate, may "claim kindred there, and have their claims allowed" if they can pay their footing. As they come, so they go, unvexed by supervision of any kind. They may be virtuous poor, or roving beggars, or criminals laden with "swag" and preparing for another "plant." To multitudes in such a city as London these houses are a convenience and a necessity. But the improved low lodging-house which is to supplant them must be better than these, and in order to do any good its conductors must begin with restrictions. It must be something else than a brothel; some check would have to be put on the indiscriminate intercourse of the sexes; cleanliness would need to be enforced; and the desperate criminal be excluded, if possible, altogether. Unless, in fact, the company as well as the building be purified we may as well leave the present festering dens alone. Now the first difficulty, I apprehend, will be to draw the line of distinction clearly between the vicious and the casual poor. The former are not wanted in the improved lodging-house - the latter are, and plenty of them, too, if the scheme is to pay. It will not do to limit the admission to one sex, or to prevent couples from hiring a room for the night - this would often mean the exclusion of deserving persons who are temporarily in trouble, and whom it is desirable to keep free of the demoralising associations of the low lodging-house. Here, then, is the dilemma - you must make the house attractive enough to draw a constant influx of inmates from the inferior "dens," and yet you must shut out an entire class, whose contributions go far to make the existing houses so profitable a source of income. The difficulty, however, is very far from insuperable. It is entirely a question of management, and the right men can, I have no doubt, be found with experience of the kind of work required. It is certain that could they feel sure of escaping debasing associates and associations the very poor would in all cases prefer the improved lodging-house; and it is also clear that if in course of time the virtuous and the vicious elements could be kept entirely separate the duties of the police would be much facilitated, as the habitat of the latter would be confined within narrower limits. Allowing, then, that the primary obstacle I have mentioned is surmounted, I see no reason why a scheme to establish lodging-houses for the lowest class of inmates on a strictly business basis should not be a complete success - at once a boon to the poor creatures concerned and a safe investment to shareholders who may provide the capital. Rents on even cheaper terms than those exacted at the "dens" should yield a large profit. There need be no bad debts; the outgoings need be only small after a start is fairly effected, for we do not want the professional promoter with his charges and commissions. I see more than 4 per cent. in it, but it is well to be moderate, and one need not excite too high expectations at first. One element of success I should add, and that is the multiplication of the improved lodging-houses. They should be, if possible, numerous enough to form a feature in more than one locality, to attract notice, and to provoke imitation. The West-end needs them as well as the East, and the South, perhaps, more than either. - I am, Sir,
A PRACTICAL PHILANTHROPIST
London, Sept. 20.
SIR - Your correspondent, "A Ratepayer," has raised a very large and complex question when he virtually demands that all slums shall be swept out of the Metropolis. He, moreover, suggests that this noble work could be accomplished by the capitalist who is content with a "Safe four per cent." for his money. In the discussion of the difficulties which beset the road of improvement in this direction I notice that a good deal of the responsibility for inaction, particularly in Whitechapel, is thrown upon that moribund body, the Metropolitan Board of Works. In the whole of London that authority has provided accommodation for 35,000 persons of the labouring class, under the Artisans' Dwellings Acts. This total may seem a large one, but taking into consideration the magnitude of the work accomplished by other agencies the effort of the Metropolitan Board of Works appears miserably small. In the face of the urgent representations placed before them the Board have, indeed, displayed great apathy. Their powers under the amended Acts are said to be sufficiently strong, and their resources fully adequate to the discharge of the duty entrusted to them by the Legislature, but the secret of their inertness in many instances has been the fear which the Board have had of the ratepayers. To put the Artisans' Dwellings Acts into operation has been a costly proceeding, and the Board has been reluctant to ask the ratepayers for the funds. That is the root of the difficulty. Thus, it is calculated that the Board have never been in a position to lease freeholds suitable for artisan dwellings under 6d per foot ground rent, which in most cases would represent the market value of the land. But it has been contended that dwellings to be let at rents within the reach of the working-man's pocket cannot be saddled with a higher ground rent than 2d or 2½d per foot. The Board have had to dispose of sites on those terms at Whitechapel and elsewhere. The difference between the price which they paid for the land, under the award of the Government arbitrator, and the value at which they have been obliged to sell, has been equivalent to the loss which the ratepayers have had to meet. There is no wonder that the operation has been unpopular, and that the Board has been careful to reduce this head of expenditure to its minimum. If the public really desire that the hotbeds of disease and crime such as exist, to the danger of the State, not alone in Whitechapel but in other parts of London, shall be cleared away, and their outcast population provided with better quarters, they must be prepared to meet the outlay in one form or another. It is not now a question of helping the respectable working classes. For them, at the present time, there is to be had in many districts a great variety of accommodation; indeed, in the last report of the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrial Classes, it is stated that the directors did not propose to erect more dwellings, on the ground that a very considerable number built by other companies were unoccupied. Quite ten millions of money, it is estimated, are invested in this class of property. A return compiled three years ago then showed that 60 private individuals, 132 chartered associations and companies, 11 corporations and parochial authorities, and 51 builders and contractors had embarked in the business. These figures have, since 1885, been largely increased. Upon the experience of the three leading companies - the Artisans', Labourers', and General Dwellings, the Metropolitan Association, and the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company - it is possible to earn even more than five per cent. But the classes provided for do not belong to the lowest orders. It is open to question even whether the East-end Dwelling Company, which is satisfied with four per cent., and lets single rooms at as low as 1s 8d per week rent, caters for the semi-criminal. For the pauperised, shiftless, and outcast population of London nothing has been done. They have been left to sink lower and lower in the scale of civilisation, to wander from common lodging-house to lodging-house, to live low and vicious lives, surrounded by whitewashed wretchedness. Whitewash often conceals dirt. Hearthstoning is not a cleansing process. Neither whitewash nor hearthstoning render the rotting tenements, huddled together in close courts, and denied air and sunshine, fit habitations for men and women, albeit the police and the district surveyor are satisfied with the cubic measurement of the houses. The problem stated by "A Ratepayer," then, is this: "Can we get rid of these eyesores and these centres of disease and crime, and, if so, by what means?"
If there had been a way of solving this problem surely it would have been done. There has been at least one attempt to do it. It was in 1850 that the Metropolitan Association, whose secretary, Mr. Charles Gatliff, was the pioneer in the work of the better housing of the poor, put up in Spitalfields a building of four floors, providing 234 separate sleeping compartments, 8 ft by 4 ft 6 in, each with a locker and half a window. The tenants received were single men, and they paid 3s a week, which charge included the use of a coffee-room 45 ft by 35 ft, kitchen 46 ft by 21 ft 9 in, lecture room 35 ft by 21 ft 9 in, and reading room 25 ft by 21 ft 9 in. There were also a cook's-shop and bar, with baths and lavatories. The total cost was a little over £13,000, but after eighteen years' trial the whole place was converted into dwellings for families, the single men never having fully occupied the beds. In fact, the average annual return did not exceed 1 per cent. upon the outlay. It appears that the cause of failure was the surveillance which was exercised, and which, at that time, labouring men resented. In many respects the attractions offered to them resembled those of the Victoria Home, now flourishing in Commercial-street, where quite as much supervision is enforced. Too much importance must, therefore, not be attached to the want of success which was experienced twenty years ago, for since then the habitual frequenters of the common lodging-houses have grown accustomed to having their privacy intruded upon by unexpected visits of the police, and the rules which the deputy has to see observed are somewhat stringent.
From the purely commercial standpoint, the main point to be considered is whether a company could afford to acquire sites, either leasehold or freehold, and build upon them lodging-houses of a superior type to the majority of those which survive in Spitalfields and Whitechapel. The plain answer to this question appears to me to be simply this: That if the present owners contrive to maintain such houses at a profit, then the capitalist, with a fresh start, could at least do the same, and charge no higher rent. That the common lodging-house of the ordinary kind yields no more than 4 per cent. is by no means certain; the probability is that the profit is very much more. But what the net profit would be is a matter for estimate. There are no data to guide a comparison. None of the dwellings which are now paying 4 or 5 per cent. stand in the same category exactly, nor will they serve the same purpose. Rooms at so much per week rental are not what the semi-criminal classes require; and if they wished to obtain them they could not. Objection may be taken to perpetuating the barrack system, the great kitchen, and other features of the common lodging-house. Yet it is the mode of living with which the lowest orders are familiar; and it is idle to expect that they will quickly adopt other habits. If you clear away the worst of the common lodging-houses, of which the slums are chiefly composed, the law says that you must supply house room for the inmates. It may be hoped that the more respectable will find their way into rooms of their own, obtainable at low rents. For the rest and refuse population some other kind of accommodation is needed. If capital cannot furnish it, and I believe it can, then capital and philanthropy should jointly undertake the work. Excuse for further delay there is none, and it will be a disgrace if the work be left unaccomplished until the County Councillors and the successors of the members of the Metropolitan Board of Works are called upon to use their new brooms. - Yours, &c., AN INQUIRER.
London, Sept. 20.
TO THE EDITOR OF "THE DAILY TELEGRAPH"
SIR - Some time ago, when the incapacity of a Royal Engineer as chief of the metropolitan police had been amply demonstrated, a vacancy occurred, and it was generally supposed that there would be an efficient reorganisation of the leading personnel of the force. As a retired military officer taking interest in civil matters, I applied for a subordinate office. By some mistake it was supposed that I sought the post of Chief Commissioner, and this gave me the opportunity of explaining the views held, as I believe, by a large portion of the public, that the Chief Commissioner should not be a soldier, but a sharp civilian, with a knowledge of criminal law and experience of criminal classes. But the powers that be thought differently, and the mistake was made of appointing another soldier and Royal Engineer, to boot. The continuance of a drilled and disciplined military body in disguise is the natural result. Is it what is wanted in London?
No doubt London mobs are formidable, but it is their nature to be good tempered unless worried by the police. When the police had, by a series of blunders, angered the mob in Trafalgar-square, and made it dangerous, who cleared the ground and dispersed the irritated people? Was it not the cavalry of the guard? Then, so long as we have such cavalry in London, we don't want a military police. The classes hate the police, and like soldiers and sailors. They will cheer a soldier doing police duty, and hiss a policeman. The conscious power of drilled numbers seems to have inspired the force with a growing desire to irritate and then punish civilians for "resisting the police." No one doubts the strength of brute force, and that a few hundred armed and drilled men can disperse a mob. But when it comes to a game of skill the police are useless - the brains are all on the other side; and we have at present an instance of one cunning criminal successfully defying for at least a month the collective intelligence of 12,000 policemen, with a Royal Engineer at their head.
What is wanted is less drill and more intelligence, less brute force and more brains. A sort of staff college for the police would soon produce the article required. The calling of a detective will seem to many persons a detestable one. But in the interests of society at large it is necessary that we should have an efficient corps of criminal hunters. - Your obedient servant, CIVIS
King's-road, Brighton, Sept. 19
"DARK ANNIE'S" spirit still walks Whitechapel, unavenged by Justice. Most miserable, most desolate, most degraded, most forgotten and forsaken of all her sex in this vast Metropolis, Destiny also reserved for her to perish most awfully and mysteriously of all the recent martyrs of neglect by the hand of some horrible assassin, who, not content with slaying, desecrated and mutilated the body of his victim. The inhuman murderer still comes and goes about our streets free and unpunished, hiding in his guilty heart the secret known only to him, to Heaven, and to the dead. And yet even this forlorn and despised citizeness of London cannot be said to have suffered in vain. On the contrary, she has effected more by her death than many long speeches in Parliament and countless columns of letters to the newspapers could have brought about. She has forced innumerable people who never gave a serious thought before to the subject to realise how it is and where it is that our vast floating population - the waifs and strays of our thoroughfares - live and sleep at nights, and what sort of accommodation our rich and enlightened capital provides for them, after so many Acts of Parliament passed to improve the dwellings of the poor, and so many millions spent by our Board of Works, our vestries, and what not. It is comparatively easy to be virtuous when one retires, at the first feeling of sleep, to a cosy bedroom, with luxurious appointments, all kinds of comforts, and the bright firelight, perchance, dancing upon soft pillows and snowy sheets. It is easy to be respectable even with simple comfort without luxury; but "Dark ANNIE'S" dreadful end has compelled a hundred thousand Londoners to reflect what it must be like to have no home at all except the "common kitchen" of a low lodging-house; to sit there, sick and weak and bruised and wretched, for lack of fourpence with which to pay for the right of a "doss"; to be turned out after midnight to earn the requisite pence, anywhere and anyhow; and in course of earning it to come across your murderer and to caress your assassin. The lodging-house keeper's evidence at the inquest upon ANNIE CHAPMAN said: "She was, in her way, a decent woman, and would pay eightpence, which is the price of a double bed, instead of fourpence, so that she might have it to herself. At about a quarter to two in the morning I found her sitting by the kitchen fire, and asked her if she was not going up to bed. She said she had no money, and I saw her out of the house, she remarking as I did so that she would soon get the price of a bed and would then come back again." As all know, she never did come back, and Mr. MATTHEWS, who will not spend a hundred pounds of public money to find her butcher, has not the ghost of an idea where to look for him. Nevertheless, "Dark ANNIE" will effect in one way what fifty Secretaries of State could never accomplish. By her ghastly fate, incurred upon that hard errand to earn a few hours' sleep, she has constrained all London to meditate once more upon these hideous holes and corners where our very poor huddle at night to hide and slumber; these fourpenny and eightpenny resting-places; these filthy dens and gloomy cellars of the slums, whither the poverty and misery of our huge population settle down after daylight, as the dregs fall to the bottom of a vessel in the dark; these foul breeding-places of vice and filthy refuges of recklessness, where womanhood must unsex itself, and self-respect abandons everything to despair, and where to be decent is out of the question and to remain virtuous is unpermitted and impossible. Some mention was made at the inquest upon ANNIE CHAPMAN of a wild proposal to photograph her glazed eyes, and so try if the dying retina would present any image of the cruel monster who killed and mutilated her. Better have listened with ear of imagination at her poor swollen lips, for, without much fancy, a Home Secretary or a Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works might have heard them murmuring, "We, your murdered sisters, are what the dreadful homes where we live have made us. Behind your fine squares and handsome streets you continue to leave our wild-beast lairs unchanged and uncleansed. The slums kill us, soul and body, with filth and shame, and spread fever and death among your gentry also, while they are spawnbeds for crime and social discontent. When it is possible for the poor of London to live and sleep in decency you will not pick up from backyards so many corpses like mine."
Such, we take it, is one main lesson of the Whitechapel crime, and an effort was made yesterday to show how easy it would be, and also how profitable, to reform and rebuild these back-slums of the Metropolis, where Society positively, as things now stand, propagates disease and cultivates crime. Our Correspondent, a "Ratepayer," in his letter headed "A Safe Four per Cent.," pointed out, in a way not to be controverted, how certainly an adequate financial return would be derived from capital judiciously invested in pulling down the worst portions of low-life London, and erecting in the vacant spaces commodious, wholesome, and homelike residential structures. If it be said that official organisations supported by Acts of Parliament already exist for this very purpose, the answer is that they have fallen utterly short of their duty. We have been passing Acts and waiting for the Metropolitan Board of Works to put them into force ever since 1875, and the issue of it all is that, after thirteen years, new and decent dwelling accommodation has been provided for no more than twenty-five thousand nine hundred and fifty-three persons. The work is now necessarily interrupted by the episodical task of deodorising, purifying, and rebuilding the Board of Works itself, and, meantime, many outrageously foul and dangerous blocks, which have been condemned by sanitary authority, remain standing, and putting much money, wrung from misery, into the pockets of vestrymen, among others. For the pathetic fact stands that there is a sufficient revenue to pay interest upon capital in this speculation. Dorset-street, where "Dark ANNIE" lodged, makes up seven hundred beds, Flower-and-Dean-street, near by, one thousand one hundred and fifty, so that the latter locality has a budget in sixpences - earned Heaven knows how - of about two hundred pounds per week. In their worst from, these lodging-houses are the lowest grade of descent for poor families. Below them are only the arches, the entries, and the pavement stones; above them are those tenements, let in apartments, single or double, where again the struggling industrials pay a weekly rent which would more than provide a high yearly interest on the sums necessary to furnish rooms fit for human beings. And think how much depends upon the decency and cleanliness of the home, however humble! How can a woman remain womanly in a hole which she cannot beautify, or tidy, or keep in any way above the level and the look of a dog's kennel? How can girls and boys grow up innocent, or husbands and brothers remain unbrutalised, in dens, known to the authorities, reported to them as nuisances, surveyed, condemned - but still left reeking in dirt and disease. The death rate of these dingy sinks into which the dregs of our population trickle is very large, especially among little children, being thirty-five and forty per thousand; but when we move the inmates to abodes like those erected by the associations headed by Lord RADSTOCK and Lord ROTHSCHILD it sinks at once to eighteen and nineteen. And as the letter of "Ratepayer" showed by incontrovertible figures, not only by demolishing slums and rebuilding them should we save all these lives; not only should we protect the community at large from infectious diseases; not only should we go far to extirpate crime, and to provide London artisans with plenty of employment; but there is a safe and certain four per cent. to be made out of the business - at the very least.
In a word, nothing would pay better than doing that which must be done somehow or other, if we would not see the dark shadow of London misery perpetually extending, like a fatal curse, behind the wealth and grandeur of London. Millions and millions of money are eagerly seeking profitable investment in these days of diminished returns from almost all good securities; and people send it abroad to foreigners, sink it in bogus companies, lend it to wild-cat speculators, while, all the time, a perfect mine of gold exists in undeveloped London at their back-doors. The tenants, asking for decent abodes, are there in hundreds of thousands, their money is somehow always forthcoming, the demand for healthy lodgings and homes is incessant, measureless, certain. What, then, blinds sharp-sighted builders and capitalists to the splendid opportunity presented by the slums of our capital? We purposely abstain from dwelling upon the philanthropic aspect of the question - charity dribbles; we want to see a freshet, a flood of capital springing from practical sources and taking the direction of this channel of Pactolus. The best enterprises are those which pay, because they do good all round; and here is one which, with proper management and wise administration, would be better than preference shares in the best railways, or Prussian stock, or any foreign rentes. A net and safe four per cent. is something to be desired; but our correspondent has been almost too careful; more than that - sometimes considerably more - has been and can be secured; and the investors in the social improvement of London might farther consider it as a slight bonus thrown in, that they would be doing much more good to their generation and their fellow-men than if they gave all the money away in alms. A famous preacher, once, in inviting contributions from his congregation finished by saying, "'He that helpeth the poor lendeth to the LORD' - if you like the security, my brethren, down with your cash!" We do not put it on that high ground. What London wants she can pay for, and will handsomely pay for; the weekly rentals of the poor now compose a tribute far in excess of a heavy interest upon all the money needed to transform the slums into decent, commodious, lofty, healthy ranges of edifices, sheltering a cleanly, orderly, and contented proletariat. "A Safe Four per Cent." There is the charm which, by the magic of financial arithmetic, ought to regenerate the poor quarters of the Metropolis, and, if capitalists will take the momentous matter in hand, Parliament and the public will have a care that red-tape, and Home Secretaries never at home when wanted, shall no more hamper their proceedings.