25 NOVEMBER 1843, Page 12


THE besom of improvement is at work in the Metropolis, sweeping it clean. Spacious thoroughfares are opened on both sides of St.

Giles's, and encroaching upon it ; and a broad cross-way is driven right through the heart of that squalid district. Another wide channel for free air is in process of excavation through the dense mass of filth-encumbered dwellings which have been depo- sited like the slime and sediment of a deluge in the valley of the Fleet. Care is taken to widen the thoroughfares of the City, and to open a " place " at the Mansionhouse. The stately class of mansions which characterize Belgrave Square and the vicinity are overflowing their bounds into the Kensington road, and pushing old dilapidated houses from their sites. Tothill Street and its noisome courts and lanes are threatened with an invasion. A war is waging not unlike that between the young realm of Light and the dominions of Night and Chaos " anarchs old," described by Mwrosi. The elegant, the tidy, the clean, are in every quarter of London encroaching upon the precincts of the squalid, and squeez- ing it into narrower bounds.

This is all very delightful for the upper and middle classes—for those who have something to live upon. It is a good thing to have a comfortable house, and it is still better to have it neighboured by other comfortable houses. A narrow, noisome lane or alley—in which every apartment harbours its half-dozen—of which the lower and open stories are occupied by " marine-store-dealers "—is enough to keep the whole of the fashionable district, through which it winds its quasi-subterranean course, in a constant state of trepi- dation. Contagious disease is the cause of alarm at one time, and burglars, "area-sneaks," and "fences" at another time. As one after another these resorts of indigence are razed to the ground, every "respectable" in the neighbourhood is sensible that a thorn has been withdrawn from his side.

But what is to become of the poor who are unearthed by these operations ? Where half-a-dozen persons find elbow-room in a comfortable mansion of the more affluent class, twenty or thirty poor crept together in two or three dark dusty tenements. Twenty or thirty are displaced to make room for six : where are the twenty to betake themselves ? Are they to be quartered among the re- maining houses of squalor, already overpeopled from cellar to attic, in the heart of the town ; or are they to follow the " materials " of their old abodes, sold by her Majesty's Woods and Forests to spe- culative builders, and by the purchasers carted off; with all their appertaining bugs, to erect new structures amid the swamps of Shadwell, Rotherhithe, Lambeth, and (perhaps worst of all) the subaqueous region between Milbank Penitentiary and Chelsea ? Are the frail and superannuated tenements of St. Giles's to be re- constructed among marshes, that dry and wet rot, and vermin, and close-packed human beings, may be reconsigned to their former covered dunghills with the addition of marsh miasma?

We read in Scripture, "The poor ye have always with you." And our most Christian nation, convinced of this truth, seems resolved, since it cannot get rid of them, at least to keep them out of sight, and consequently, as the proverb bath it, out of mind. When SISMONDI first landed in England, be was struck with the apparent comfort of what seemed the whole rural population. A longer residence explained the secret. The mansions of the nobility and wealthy citizens—the houses of COBBETT'S "bull-frog farmers "- courted the view of the traveller. The cottages of the labourers were relegated to by-ways, and great part of the labouring popula- tion consigned to the dirty lanes and blind allies of the towns. The policy of landlords in guarding their demesnes from over- population had rendered the towns cesspools, into which the poverty and dirt of the whole land were drained, and kept unseen. And now the fashion of " improving " towns (especially in the Metropolis) threatens to squeeze them into still more close and suffocating retreats.

A good system of sanatory police might do something to remedy this evil. Of course, so long as sempstresses are paid at the rate of three-halfpence a shirt, no police can make people inhabit tidy houses, and in such moderate numbers as will leave each inmate elbow-room. But there are arrangements competent to a sanatory police which might alleviate the evils even of the present lazar state of the lowest class, and which will not be uncalled for should they ever be visited by more prosperous days. For example, a system of sanatory police worthy of the name would enforce efficient sewer- age and drainage. No houses, not even those of the poorest class, ought to be allowed to be erected on land that has not been pre- viously well drained by sewers adequate to keep it dry and clean in all time coming. Again, a sanatory police worthy of the name would take care that the building-materials of what may without a figure of speech be called the infected districts, are not allowed

to be used in the erection of new tenements, without previous sufficient inspection. Yet again, a sanatory police worthy of the name would keep strict watch even in the most squalid dis- tricts to prevent or enforce the removal of all nuisances. De- spondency breeds sluttishness, and sluttishness soon becomes a habit. The poorest class need to be shaken out of such habits, by a not stern, but strict and unremitting exercise of authority.

The question remains, what to do bodily with the poor, deprived of their residences by the march of improvement, and either driven, one way, beyond the scene of their daily employment, or the other way, to render more dense the crowds that already hive in the " slums" and "rookeries" of London, the " wynds " and " closes" of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the loathsome back-streets of every great town ? Here they are—tens of thousands in each horde : what are you to do with them ? You cannot kill them off— you will not let them continue in their great social piggeries—yow forbid them to come among you in your respectable streets—you cannot in justice drive them out of town ; yet a spot of earth to rest on they must have. Is it impossible to solve the puzzle ? At the expense of passing from generals to particulars, from principles to practical details, it may be worth while to see if the solution is not practicable. The State is not the only or perhaps the beat public body to manage such details ; but it may stand at present for any public, or even private body, to whom it would delegate the power.

If you take away the houses of the very poor, you must give them others ; but the State could never consent to give such dwel-

lings as those it has seized. Fetid squalor, reckless indecency, pu- trid disease, may characterize what the State has taken, but must

not what it bestows, even in exchange. The noisome garments of•the very criminal are exchanged for those which are decent, clean, and wholesome. He is taken from his lair, and caged in a palace. The visitor to Glasgow Bridewell is first struck by one peculiarity of that prison—all is airy, pure, and fresh. The prison is very full: stage upon stage, it contains within the narrow limit of the ground it occupies a very dense population ; yet is there no squalor, not even "closeness." You soon find that this strange characteristic of a gaol, which admits the lowest of the population, is the result of two very simple things—good regulations, and good construction. Those two things might secure comfort and wholesomeness even on the very site of the present squalor. The construction is simple : every stage in the building has a long corridor, opened to the external air at both ends in the full extent of its height and width : at the sides are the "cells," small rooms with a tolerably spacious window opposite to the door. A proper temperature is, we believe, attained by warming-apparatus. Palaces similarly constructed might be opened to the poor at a fixed charge per day for rent, on the site of their present dens. As to the expense. With moderate labour, the prisoners in Glasgow Bridewell are almost supported by themselves : some increase to the income thus attained would even return a profit on the act of lodging and feeding and guarding the prisoners. The mere cost of such a structure, with so much of furniture as might be made of the nature of fixtures—and nearly all that would be wanted might be made so—would not be great. The owners of houses in the poorest neighbourhoods contrive to reap incredible amounts of rent, collected in halfpence. The poor, therefore, do pay rent for dwellings which cost them comparatively large sums, though payable in the smallest. Of course they could contrive to pay still smaller sums for better and wholesomer dwellings ; and the outlay for the building might thus be made good. As to manage- ment. Glasgow Bridewell has a Governor. In each corridor is a cell that is rather bigger than the rest; and, if we remember rightly, one of the prisoners obtains by good conduct the privilege of inhabiting that cell ; and for keeping the corridor and the little office at the end devoted to washing and so forth, he is paid in the enjoyment of a little more personal liberty : analogous privileges, possibly even the remission of rent, might pay for keeping clean the public mansion ; which would of course need a governor or chief manager.

Such was an idea suggested some time ago by a visit to the Glasgow prison. A year or two back, we noticed that one of the Wards of London petitioned the Corporation to grant land for some such purpose ; but it came to nothing. The scheme, then, has occurred to others, under very different circumstances ; and novel and crude as it may hitherto have been, the necessity for some new and great expedient warrants attention to every suggestion. The great difficulty would lie, first, in the fact that a prison furnished the suggestion, and next, in the pride and perverse dislike to rule of the poor themselves. Absolute freedom, the judicious choice of a name, a cheap use of colours, and "rooms" instead of "cells," would ob- viate the prison-like character. The pride would be reconciled by firm courtesy in the officials, and practical experience of comfort and cheapness in place of misery and dearness. Such buildings might be classified, according to different classes of inmates, with different rates of rent and different rules of admission. With a discreet management, to live in them, instead of being a disgrace and a mark of "pauperism," might be a test of prudence, independence, and decorum. If private landlords of the poor complain that their trade is invaded, let them beat the State in offering better and cheaper dwellings. Sir ROBERT PEEL has remarked that the State deals with the poor too exclusively in punishment, rather than inducement : in like manner, it deals with them too much by forbidding or restrict- ing, rather than aiding and bestowing : but there is no reason why the State should not combine material aid with prohibition, at least in any way that would not weaken the independence of the poor citizen. Forbid him to do wrong, help him to do right.