Round about a Pound a Week
ROUND ABOUT A POUND A WEEK
A POUND A WEEK
MRS. PEMBER REEVES
G. BELL AND SONS, LTD.
E. C. L.
I am glad to take this opportunity to acknowledgethe use I have made of a manuscript written byMrs. Charlotte Wilson, Hon. Secretary of theFabian Women’s Group. The manuscript wasfounded on a lecture, entitled “The EconomicDisintegration of the Family,” delivered by Mrs.Wilson to the Fabian Society in June, 1909.Not only ideas contained in the lecture, but alsosome of the wording of the manuscript, have beenused in the last two chapters.
I wish also to thank Dr. Ethel Bentham forthe invaluable professional service rendered byher during the five years of the investigation.
M. S. REEVES.
|IV.||FURNITURE—SLEEPING ACCOMMODATION—EQUIPMENT FOR COOKING AND BATHING||46|
|VII.||FOOD: CHIEF ARTICLES OF DIET||94|
|VIII.||BUYING, STORING, AND CARING FOR FOOD||104|
|IX.||ACTUAL MENUS OF SEVERAL WORKING MEN’S FAMILIES||113|
|X.||AMOUNT SPENT A HEAD ON FOOD—PER WEEK, PER DAY||132|
|XI.||THE POOR AND MARRIAGE||146|
|XIV.||THE PEOPLE WHO ARE OUT OF WORK||195|
|XV.||THE STANDARD OF COMFORT||211|
|XVI.||THE STATE AS GUARDIAN||223|
ROUND ABOUTA POUND A WEEK
Take a tram from Victoria to Vauxhall Station.Get out under the railway arch which facesVauxhall Bridge, and there you will find KenningtonLane. The railway arch roofs in a dinwhich reduces the roar of trains continuallypassing overhead to a vibrating, muffled rumble.From either end of the arch comes a close processionof trams, motor-buses, brewers’ drays,coal-lorries, carts filled with unspeakable materialfor glue factory and tannery, motor-cars, coster-barrows,and people. It is a stopping-placefor tramcars and motor-buses; therefore littleknots of agitated persons continually collect onboth pathways, and dive between the vehiclesand descending passengers in order to board theparticular bus or tram they desire. At rhythmicintervals all traffic through the arch is suspendedto allow a flood of trams, buses, drays, and vans,to surge and rattle and bang across the openingof the archway which faces the river.
At the opposite end there is no cross-current.The trams slide away to the right towards theOval. In front is Kennington Lane, and to theleft, at right angles, a narrow street connects withVauxhall Walk, leading farther on into LambethWalk, both locally better known as The Walk.Such is the western gateway to the districtstretching north to Lambeth Road, south toLansdowne Road, and east to Walworth Road,where live the people whose lives form the subjectof this book.
They are not the poorest people of the district.Far from it! They are, putting aside the tradesmenwhose shops line the big thoroughfares suchas Kennington Road or Kennington Park Road,some of the more enviable and settled inhabitantsof this part of the world. The poorest people—theriver-side casual, the workhouse in-and-out,the bar-room loafer—are anxiously ignored bythese respectable persons whose work is permanent,as permanency goes in Lambeth, andwhose wages range from 18s. to 30s. a week.
They generally are somebody’s labourer, mate,or handyman. Painters’ labourers, plumbers’labourers, builders’ handymen, dustmen’s mates,printers’ labourers, potters’ labourers, trouncersfor carmen, are common amongst them. Or theymay be fish-fryers, tailors’ pressers, feather-cleaners’assistants, railway-carriage washers,employees of dust contractors, carmen forBorough Council contractors, or packers of variousdescriptions. They are respectable men in fullwork, at a more or less top wage, young, withfamilies still increasing, and they will be lucky ifthey are never worse off than they now are.Their wives are quiet, decent, “keep themselves-to-themselves”kind of women, and the childrenare the most punctual and regular scholars, themost clean-headed children of the poorer schoolsin Kennington and Lambeth.
The streets they live in are monotonously anddrearily decent, lying back from the main arteries,and with little traffic other than a stray barrel-organ,a coal-lorry selling by the hundredweightsack, or a taxi-cab going to or from its driver’sdinner at home. At certain hours in the day—beforemorning school, at midday, and after fouro’clock—these narrow streets become full ofscreaming, running, shouting children. Early inthe morning men come from every door and passout of sight. At different times during the eveningthe same men straggle home again. At allother hours the street is quiet and desperately dull.Less ultra-respectable neighbourhoods may havea certain picturesqueness, or give a sense of communityof interest or of careless comradeship,with their untidy women chatting in the doorwaysand their unoccupied men lounging at the streetcorners; but in these superior streets a kind ofdull aloofness seems to be the order of the day.
The inhabitants keep themselves to themselves,and watch the doings of the other people frombehind window curtains, knowing perfectly thatevery incoming and outgoing of their own is alsojealously recorded by critical eyes up and downthe street. A sympathetic stranger walking thelength of one of these thoroughfares feels theatmosphere of criticism. The rent-collector, theinsurance agent, the coalman, may pass the timeof day with worn women in the doorways, but afriendly smile from the stranger receives noresponse. A weekly caller becomes the abashedobject of intense interest on the part of everybodyin the street, from the curious glances of the greengrocer’slady at the corner to the appraising stareof the fat little baker who always manages to beon his doorstep across the road. And everywherealong the street is the visitor conscious of eyeswhich disappear from behind veiled windows.This consciousness accentuates the dispiritingoutlook.
The houses are outwardly decent—two storiesof grimy brick. The roadway is narrow, but onthe whole well kept, and on the pavement outsidemany doors there is to be noticed, in a greater orless condition of freshness, a semicircle of hearthstone,which has for its radius the length of thehousewife’s arm as she kneels on the step. Insome streets little paved alley-ways lead behindthe front row of houses, and twist and turn amongstill smaller dwellings at the back—dwellingswhere the front door leads downwards into aroom instead of upwards into a passage. Districtsof this kind cover dreary acres—the samelittle two-story house, with or without an inconceivablydrearier basement, with the samekind of baker’s shop at the corner faced by thesame kind of greengrocer’s shop opposite. Theugly, constantly-recurring school buildings are arelief to the spirit oppressed by the awfulmonotony.
The people who live in these places are notreally more like one another than the people wholive in Belgrave Square or South Kensington.But there is no mixture of rich and poor, nostartling contrast, no crossing-sweeper and nosuper-taxpayer, and the first impression is that ofuniformity. As a matter of fact, the characteristicsof Mrs. Smith of Kennington and the characteristicsof Mrs. Brown who lives next door aremore easily to be differentiated by a stranger inthe street than are the characteristics of Mrs.Smythe of Bayswater from those of Mrs. Brownewho occupies the house next to her.
Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Brown, though they maynever be seen by the passer-by, are able to imprinttheir personality on the street because their waysare open, and meant to be open, to all whom it mayconcern. Mrs. Smith likes red ochre at her door,in spite of the children’s boots messing it all overthe floor. Moreover, she likes to cover the bigflagstone in front of the door, and two lesserstones, one on each side; she makes the edgescoincide with the cracks, and produces a two-wingedeffect of deep importance. It is likelythat Mrs. Smith’s mother lived in a village wherenot to do your doorstep thus was a social sin,where perhaps there was but one flagstone, andMrs. Smith in her childhood was accustomed tosquare edges.
Mrs. Brown “can’t abide that nasty stuff,”and uses good hearthstone, as her mother taughther to do. Mrs. Brown prefers also the semi-circularsweep of the arm which secures therounded edge and curved effect which satisfy hersense of propriety and usualness.
Mrs. Smith has a geranium in a pot in her frontwindow, and the lace curtains which shield herprivacy behind it are starched and blued accordingto some severe precedent ignored by the otherladies of the neighbourhood.
Mrs. Brown goes in for a scheme of windowdecoration which shows the dirt less. She hasa row of red and yellow cocoa tins to make abright effect.
The merest outsider calling for the first time onMrs. Smith knows her beforehand for the decent,cleanly soul she is, and only wonders whether thestruggle of life has worn her temper to fiddle-stringsor whether some optimistic strain in hernature still allows her to hope on. The sameoutsider looking at Mrs. Brown’s front door andwindow would realize her to be one who puts agood face on things, and, if it happened to be theright time of a day which was not washing-day,probably would expect, after the proper ceremonialhad been gone through, to be asked in tosit behind the cocoa tins.
Who could tell anything half so interestingfrom the front doors of Mrs. Smythe and Mrs.Browne of Bayswater? Who could tell, onmeeting each of these ladies face to face, morethan her official age and the probable state of herhusband’s purse?
The children of the street are equally differentfrom one another both in character and appearance,and are often startlingly good-looking.They have shrill voices, clumsy clothes, the lookof being small for their age, and they are liableto be comfortably dirty, but there the characteristicsthey have in common cease. They may bewonderfully fair, with delicate skins and palehair; they may have red hair, with snub-nosed,freckled faces; or they may be dark and intense,with long, thick eyelashes and slender, lithebodies. Some are apathetic, some are restless.They are often intelligent; but while some areable to bring their intelligence to bear on theirdaily life, others seem quite unable to do so. Theyare abnormally noisy. Had they been wellhoused, well fed, well clothed, and well tended,from birth, what kind of raw material wouldthey have shown themselves to be?
It was this question which started an investigationwhich has been carried on for four years bya committee of the Fabian Women’s Group. Asum of money was placed at the disposal of thiscommittee in order to enable them to study theeffect on mother and child of sufficient nourishmentbefore and after birth. Access was obtainedto