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Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Philanthropy on Thursday, 6 March 2014
The origin of the word ‘slum’ is obscure, though the term originally referred to a rented room and was soon being used in slang to describe squalid alleyways and back streets in cities like London and Manchester. This urban squalor quickly became identified as one of the social ills of the nineteenth century, and the most important commentator and political theorist to study the subject was, of course, Karl Marx. But while he was visiting the northern industrial heartlands of Britain and formulating his Communist ideology in the British Library, ordinary well-to-do people were making visits to the slums much in the way that gentry-folk patronised the peasants in the country. Suburban philanthropists took food and trifles on such visits, and were referred to as ‘slummers’. The element of voyeurism in their good works remained a source of some controversy among left-wing thinkers, who wanted solutions to poverty, not occasional charitable hand-outs.
Many more pictures relating to London’s slums can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Industry, Philanthropy, Politics on Wednesday, 19 February 2014
This edited article about the Victorians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 557 published on 16 September 1972.
Victorian England was, in many ways, a tremendously exciting place. It was a period bursting with energy and inventiveness. Enormous strides were made in science, particularly in communications and power. A new main road system came into being, then the railway system.
Steam power was harnessed to industrial processes. Gas-lighting gave way to electricity; electricity led the way to the telegraph, telephone and radio. The names that ring down the years from the 1800s are those of engineers, builders and inventors: Watt, Stephenson, Faraday, Edison, Bell, Morse, Marconi.
This changed both the look of the land, and the lives of ordinary people more, and more quickly, than in the whole of man’s previous history. Instead of being born, living and dying in the same village, even the poorest began to move.
In their thousands they moved from the countryside into the rapidly-growing towns, to man scores of new factories. The Industrial Revolution actually began long before Victoria came to the throne, but increased in speed and force as the 19th-century progressed. In 1773 fewer than 14,000 people lived in Manchester. Before the century ended there were 70,000. By 1900 the population had shot up to over half a million. A French critic and historian described it in the 1860s as “a Babel built of brick.”
The simple peasants who left their insanitary country hovels and back-breaking slavery on the land, or the “cottage industries” killed off by new production methods, believed they were moving into a world of bright lights and easy jobs “minding the machines.” They could not have been more wrong. They were merely exchanging one kind of slavery for another, in even worse circumstances.
As the factory-owners moved out of the city centres to the pleasant suburbs, their houses were replaced by towering factories and rows of tiny terraced houses, or tenements, into which the workers were crammed; often several families to one house. Sometimes whole families lived in one small, damp, cellar under the shadow of the soot-blackened factory walls where they spent anything up to sixteen hours every day, working for a pittance. Occasionally they brought the family pigs and hens from the country to share, and increase, their squalor.
It was not just the men who worked. Their wives and children, too, spent most of their waking hours toiling in miserable, often dangerous, conditions; dying of new industrial diseases as well as exhaustion and lack of good food.
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Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, London, Philanthropy on Friday, 14 February 2014
This edited article about Victorian Britain first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 552 published on 12 August 1972.
“Food, glorious food” sang the raggle-taggle chorus of stage starvelings in Lionel Bart’s famous and tuneful musical, “Oliver,” based on Charles Dickens’s attack on life among the early Victorian poor, “Oliver Twist.”
Dickens exaggerated nothing – the bread-line shame of Parish Relief, the wretched conditions of the Poor Houses, Lodging Houses and Workhouses, the “Thieves’ Kitchens” in which stray children of the streets were taught to pick pockets. Had you been one such you would have been barefoot, pale-faced, crafty, unschooled, unloved and unwanted. Even had you the doubtful distinction of living not in a Public Institution, but at home, with your father bringing home ¬£1 a week as an unskilled labourer, your weekly ration of food would have consisted of adulterated tea, oatmeal, potatoes, bread, bacon maybe once a week and possibly a slice of boiled mutton on high days and holidays.
Skilled men who had been able to apprentice themselves to a trade, or even the unskilled, sweating out their twelve-hour days in mills, mines or factories, were not quite so badly off. But, for all the wealth, comfort and ostentation of the new middle-classes of Victorian Britain, about one-third of the population was grindingly poor. Well-meaning reformers, as the Victorian reign pressed on to the glittering shop-window of the Great Exhibition and after, pointed out that there were far more poor per head of the population in the 1840′s than in the 1880′s.
Maybe, answered more realistic social historians, but by these 1880′s, the population had swelled, and the numbers of the poor were far greater.
Thirty million people lived in late Victorian Britain, and of these one-third, some ten million, existing principally in the cities, scratched a subsistence of between twenty to twenty-five shillings a week.
They were known as the, “court and alley” people, principally because they lived in the back-street burrows of London and the back-to-back houses of the industrial North, well out of sight of the well-to-do who fooled themselves that if you couldn’t see them they weren’t there.
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Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Philanthropy, Politics on Thursday, 6 February 2014
This edited article about Lord Shaftesbury first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 545 published on 24 June 1972.
The Earl of Shaftesbury exploring the slums of London in 1840
Anthony Ashley Cooper was born in 1801 into a rich and powerful family. His childhood however was a very unhappy one.
Apart from controlling their children by the use of very harsh discipline, his parents took little interest in Anthony and his brothers and sisters. This unhappy home life and the miserable time he spent at a Chiswick boarding school helped to make him compassionate to all those who suffered.
Anthony’s only friend as a young child was his parents’ housekeeper, Maria Millis, who taught him the meaning of affection and implanted in him the seeds of the religious faith which was to stay with him always.
When he was 12 he went to Harrow School and an incident which he witnessed in the town made him resolved to help the poor in any way that he could. He was out walking one day when he saw a funeral procession coming towards him – a pauper’s funeral. The men who carried the coffin were drunk and singing bawdy songs and at one stage actually dropped the coffin. “Good Heavens! Can this be permitted simply because the man was poor and friendless?” was Anthony’s angry reaction.
In 1826 Anthony Ashley Cooper entered Parliament and it was not long before he was asked to serve on a committee to enquire into the treatment of lunatics. He made an impassioned plea for the House for a better life for the people in these places who were treated more like dangerous beasts than human beings. M.P.’s were so moved and horrified that the Government appointed Commissioners to inspect all asylums in the country and in a few years these were much more humane institutions.
In 1828 the Duke of Wellington appointed Cooper to the India Board. His most notable achievement while serving on this Board was to secure the abolition of the repellent Hindu custom of “Suttee,” by which a widow traditionally threw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre and was burned with him.
While at the India Board Anthony met and married Emily Cowper. “Minny” was to prove his greatest ally in his reforming work during their 42 years of happy marriage.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Law, London, Philanthropy on Tuesday, 4 February 2014
This edited article about Elizabeth Fry first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 540 published on 20 May 1972.
Elizabeth Fry became a campaigner for prison reform after visiting Newgate Prison
Few of those who knew the gay Elizabeth Gurney as a child and in her teens could have anticipated that she would become the dedicated prison reformer, Mrs Elizabeth Fry.
One of ten fun-loving children of a rich Quaker family she developed a passion for music as she grew up and become a quite talented singer. Her love of dancing and her lively personality made her a favourite at balls in her native Norfolk.
Who, or what, brought about the radical change in her outlook? In 1798 when Elizabeth was almost 18 an American preacher, William Savery spoke briefly at The Friends’ Meeting House in Norwich at which Elizabeth and her family along with most of the Quaker community, were present. Although she had attended the Meeting House since she was a child she had previously found the meetings tedious and uninteresting. On this occasion however, Savery’s words impressed Elizabeth and before he left for home Elizabeth had several talks with him and life for her gained new meaning: no longer did she think only of her own pleasure but determined to help those less fortunate than herself.
She visited the sick and needy and opened up a school for the poor children of her village in the attic of her home. At the same time she became a strict or “plain” Quaker: music, dancing, pretty clothes were given up – not without a pang of regret.
Two years later she married Joseph Fry, a plain Quaker like herself and a successful businessman, and moved to London. When Joseph inherited the family estate, Pashet on the edge of Epping Forest in Essex, a few years later the Frys and their growing family spent much of their time there. Here Elizabeth was able to resume her social work. She started another school as well as visiting the sick and poor. If the services of the doctor were needed she would meet the cost herself when the patient was too poor to pay.
In 1812 another Quaker preacher from America directed Mrs Fry’s energies towards the work for which she became famous. He was Stephen Grellet who as part of a preaching tour of England decided to visit several prisons, the first being Newgate. The conditions in Newgate were appalling – the women’s plight being even worse than that of the men. Prisoners slept on bare boards or, at best, on foul straw. The sick were not cared for, and those in prison for minor offences were herded in with hardened criminals. Worst of all babies were being born into the dreadful environment. Grellet, horrified by what he saw went directly to Mrs Fry, by now well-known in Quaker circles as an eloquent preacher, and told her of the inhuman conditions under which the prisoners existed.
Elizabeth at once gathered a group of her friends and they began making clothes for the babies. Next she set about making the life of the sick prisoners more comfortable by taking them nourishing food and paying the gaolers to provide clean straw for bedding. During her visits to Newgate she caught glimpses of the women in the prison yard who acted more like wild animals than human beings.
Mrs Fry spent the next five years inspecting other prisons and found them as dreadful as Newgate.
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Posted in Famous Composers, Historical articles, History, Institutions, London, Music, Philanthropy on Saturday, 1 February 2014
This edited article about the Foundling Hospital first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 536 published on 22 April 1972.
The Chapel in the Foundling Hospital where Handel's Messiah was performed
Pinned to the grubby, cotton smock of a small boy, left by his pauper parents to toddle homelessly through the filthy streets of 18th century London, was a torn strip of paper bearing the words, “Necessity knows no laws.”
Who was he? Nobody knows, but a kind passerby saw him sleeping in a doorway and took him to a foundling hospital in St. Pancras. This was started by Captain Thomas Coram, especially for deserted children like this young lad.
Sometimes, the children taken here were named after the parish in which they were found. Others were given the name of a famous churchman, soldier or scholar.
Our foundling might have become John Finsbury, Oliver Cromwell or Isaac Newton. But it so happened that one of the governors had been to the theatre on the evening before the child’s arrival and been so impressed by a play by William Shakespeare that he decided to give the lad Shakespeare’s name.
By the time he was ten William, for that is what he was called, had shown little talent for writing. But the governors were not unduly worried. A boy given the name of John Milton had become an excellent chimney sweep and another called Geoffrey Chaucer was doing well as a carpenter.
William’s talents, if they existed at all, appeared to be musical. He had a good ear and a pleasant voice, and when he was put among the blind foundlings to learn an instrument, he quickly mastered the fife.
The governors marked him down for a career in His Majesty’s Armed Forces as a musician. But first they sent him to the organist, Mr. Smith, to help with the preparations for the annual performance of “Messiah” composed by George Frederick Handel.
Mr. Handel was very interested in the hospital in which William found himself. This was because Captain Thomas Coram, who had started it, had practically beggared himself to keep it going.
Fortunately, a number of prominent people, like Handel, came to its aid. In 1749, Handel offered to put on a concert in aid of their funds. The governors accepted the offer eagerly. The event was so successful that it was repeated. Handel was made a governor and presented the chapel with an organ. His former pupil and secretary, John Christopher Smith, became organist and performed “Messiah” there annually.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, London, Philanthropy, Religion on Wednesday, 22 January 2014
This edited article about the Salvation Army first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 522 published on 15 January 1972.
William and Catherine Booth
William Booth was aged seventeen when he was told by a doctor that he had only a short while to live. “Unless you give up this wandering preacher’s life of yours,” said the doctor, “I wouldn’t give tuppence for your chances of being alive at this time next year. Forget about others, boy, and start taking care of yourself.”
This was sound, practical advice, and most people would have acted upon it. But William, who was working as a pawnbroker’s apprentice in Nottingham, could not dismiss the poverty and hardship of those who came to his employer’s shop.
Each Monday he saw the same grey-faced women bringing in their belongings to pawn. Their husbands had been paid the previous Friday, but wages were so low that after the week-end there was not a penny left.
William had been born in the city in 1829, and he was only fifteen when he began his crusade against starvation and want. Every night after leaving his place of work, he went to the slum districts and stood on a chair to preach.
For the most part his words of cheer and courage went unheeded. How could he possibly help others, he was asked, when his own situation was so desperate?
The son of a once-successful builder who had died penniless, William had to support his widowed mother and family. In addition to working a twelve-hour day, from seven in the morning until seven at night, he also tramped miles through the outlying countryside visiting the poverty-stricken and sick.
“I was surrounded by desperation and despair,” he said later. “And could not rest until I was devoting the whole of my life to trying to alleviate it.”
Ignoring the doctor’s warning, the frail and ailing youth shortly moved to London in the hope of gaining recruits to his cause. A friend gave him a pound a week for food and rent, and William started his studies to be a minister.
He lived in two unfurnished rooms which cost him five shillings a week, and spent all his free time conducting services and meetings in various underprivileged areas of the city.
It was at this time that he met the girl who was to share his life’s work and be his constant inspiration and guide. Catherine Mumford was a shy and delicate person who did not seem capable of sustaining such an ambitious and arduous programme. But she soon set about disproving this impression.
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Posted in Cars, Engineering, Historical articles, History, Industry, Philanthropy, Transport on Saturday, 4 January 2014
This edited article about William Richard Morris first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 503 published on 4 September 1971.
The Morris Cowley narrow bullnose c.1922
It was pay day and the apprentice bicycle-repairer stood nervously in front of his employer. As the apprentice, William Morris, was handed his pay-packet he cleared his throat and said: “I would like a rise in my wage. I think I am worth more than you are paying me.”
The boy’s employer looked at him in amazement. “But I’m already paying you five shillings a week!” he exclaimed. “How much more do you want?”
“Another shilling,” said William stoutly.
His employer thought for a moment, then shook his head. “The answer is no.” “In that case,” said William to himself, “I shall work for only one person – W. R. Morris. He will pay me more than I’m getting here.”
William Richard Morris was 16-years-old when he made that resolution. He had managed to save £4 from his wages, and with that as capital he decided to open his own repair shop – in competition with his former employer!
When he got home that evening, he outlined his plan to his accountant father. Mr. Morris said that William could use the garden shed at their home in Cowley, near Oxford, as a workshop. So, in 1893, William Morris started the business that was to grow into one of the largest motor manufacturing concerns in the world.
But William, who was born in Worcester in 1877, did not originally want to be a mechanic. He was educated at the village school in Cowley, and his first ambition was to be a surgeon. His father could not afford to pay for his medical studies, and so the youngster set about repairing the bicycles of the undergraduates at Oxford University.
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Posted in Farming, Historical articles, History, Industry, Philanthropy, Politics on Thursday, 2 January 2014
This edited article about politics first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 502 published on 28 August 1971.
Richard Cobden helped to form the Anti-Corn Law League for he knew the law was bringing starvation to ordinary people; torchlight processions were organised to ram the message home, by Angus McBride
Richard Cobden loved the land. This son of a poor West Sussex farmer had done so from his earliest days. He enjoyed tending his father’s sheep, milking the cows, and watching the corn grow and ripen in the surrounding fields.
The fact that he and his brothers and sisters rarely had enough bread to eat did not strike him as absurd or unjust. He realised that many country folk were born into poverty and near-starvation, and learnt that although they frequently complained about their hardships, they rarely had the spirit to try and improve the situation.
In 1814, when Richard was ten, the Cobdens moved from their farm at Heyshott to an agricultural settlement in the neighbouring county of Hampshire. Richard did not welcome the change, and was sent to a school in Yorkshire, where he remained until he was fifteen.
Despite his parents’ good intentions, the school was not a happy choice. It provided its students with a scanty education and treated them with callous brutality. In later life Richard could not bring himself to speak of the experience, but in a letter written to his “honoured parents” at the time he said that he looked back on his boyhood at the farm “with more pleasure . . . than to any other part of my life.”
His first job on leaving school was as a clerk in a textile warehouse belonging to one of his uncles. He then worked for two years in the cotton mills of Ghent in Belgium, and returned to England in 1828 determined to sell calico on his own account. Together with two friends, and a joint capital of £600, he opened a business in Manchester, and began to travel throughout England and Ireland in search of custom.
It was then that he became really aware of the terrible poverty that existed in the country districts. He was particularly distressed by conditions in the small East Lancashire village of Sabden, where there was no school for the children to attend. He arranged for twenty pupils to be brought to Sabden from an infants’ school in Manchester, and put on an “exhibition” to help stir the villagers into action.
He believed that there were “many well meaning people in the world who are not so useful as they might be, from not knowing how to go to work.” And he looked upon the people of Sabden to make “a light to lighten the surrounding country . . . carrying civilisation into towns that ought to have shed rays of knowledge upon your village.”
During this time Cobden was also concentrating on his gift for writing – a gift that was soon to bring him to the attention of the entire country. His first composition was a play called The Phrenologist (someone who can tell a person’s character from the shape of his skull). The play was turned down by the manager of the Covent Garden Theatre, and Cobden regarded this as a piece of good luck. “If he had accepted it,” he said, “I should probably have been a vagabond all the rest of my life.”
A few years’ later, in 1835-36, he published his two famous pamphlets, England, Ireland, and America, and Russia. The pamphlets caused a national sensation, and were discussed by every thinking man.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Medicine, Philanthropy, War, World War 2 on Tuesday, 10 December 2013
This edited article about the Red Cross first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 485 published on 1 May 1971.
Receiving Red Cross parcels in a German prison camp by Angus McBride
Behind the barbed wire! One prisoner of the Germans in the Second World War remembered that the most disheartening thing of all was “the sheer monotony” of camp life.
Added to this was sheer hunger, for if you were a prisoner your basic ration was less than that allowed the German over-80s. No wonder that many prisoners later said that their Red Cross food parcels had kept them alive. They were a week’s food – and they came from home!
Even the crates were put to good use, being turned into anything from armchairs to cricket bats. The Red Cross also sent books and musical instruments, and Swiss members of the International Red Cross visited the camps to see that all was well and upbraided the Germans if it was not.
Prisoners of the Japanese lived in another, infinitely worse world, for it was almost impossible for the Red Cross to penetrate their camps, and the Japanese, believing that it was better to die than be a prisoner, treated their prisoners abominably. As for civilians, millions died in the ultimate horror of the Concentration Camps. Not until 1949 could the Red Cross force world opinion to recognise the human rights of civilian prisoners.
Yet as soon as the First World War ended, civilians had been embraced by the British Red Cross and other Red Cross societies. The whole field of social welfare was taken in, and this has increased every decade.
The Second World War of 1939-45 was a “people’s war” as well as a soldiers’ war, so this widening of the scope of Red Cross work was a vital one. As bombs screamed down on British cities, rescue teams of V.A.D.s (Voluntary Aid Detachments) went into action amongst the rubble finding and caring for the wounded.
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