England, London: The future of labor-day


LONDON, Friday, May 9, 1851.

I have spent the forenoon of to-day in examining a portion of the Model
Lodging-Houses, Bathing and Washing establishments and Cooperative Labor
Associations already in operation in this Great Metropolis. My companions
were Mr. Vansittart Neale, a gentleman who has usefully devoted much time
and effort to the Elevation of Labor, and M. Cordonnaye, the actuary or
chosen director of an Association of Cabinet-Makers in Paris, who are
exhibitors of their own products in the Great Exposition, which explains
their chief’s presence in London. We were in no case expected, and enjoyed
the fairest opportunity to see everything as it really is. The beds were
in some of the lodging-houses unmade, but we were everywhere cheerfully
and promptly shown through the rooms, and our inquiries frankly and
clearly responded to. I propose to give a brief and candid account of
what we saw and heard.

Our first visit was paid to the original or primitive Model
Lodging-House, situated in Charles-st. in the heart of St. Giles’s. The
neighborhood is not inviting, but has been worse than it is; the
building (having been fitted up when no man with a dollar to spare had
any faith in the project) is an old-fashioned dwelling-house, not very
considerably modified. This attempt to put the new wine into old bottles
has had the usual result. True, the sleeping-rooms are somewhat
ventilated, but not sufficiently so; the beds are quite too abundant,
and no screen divides those in the same room from each other. Yet these
lodgings are a decided improvement on those provided for the same class
for the same price in private lodging-houses. The charge is 4_d._ (eight
cents) per night, and I believe 2_s._ (50 cents) per week, for which is
given water, towels, room and fire for washing and cooking, and a small
cupboard or safe wherein to keep provisions. Eighty-two beds are made up
in this house, and the keeper assured us that she seldom had a spare one
through the night. I could not in conscience praise her beds for
cleanliness, but it is now near the close of the week and her lodgers do
not come to her out of band-boxes.–Only men are lodged here. The
concern pays handsomely.

We next visited a Working Association of Piano Forte Makers, not far
from Drury Lane. These men were not long since working for an employer
on the old plan, when he failed, threw them all out of employment, and
deprived a portion of them of the savings of past years of frugal
industry, which they had permitted to lie in his hands. Thus left
destitute, they formed a Working Association, designated their own
chiefs, settled their rules of partnership; and here stepped in several
able “Promoters” of the cause of Industrial Organization of Labor, and
lent them at five per cent. the amount of capital required to buy out
the old concern–viz: $3,500. They have since (about six weeks) been
hard at work, having an arrangement for the sale at a low rate of all
the Pianos they can make. The associates are fifteen in number, all
working “by the piece,” except the foreman and business man, who receive
$12 each per week; the others earn from $8 to $11 each weekly. I see
nothing likely to defeat and destroy this enterprise, unless it should
lose the market for its products.

We went thence to a second Model Lodging House, situated near Tottenham
Court Road. This was founded subsequently to that already described, its
building was constructed expressly for it, and each lodger has a
separate apartment, though its division walls do not reach the ceiling
overhead. Half the lodgers have each a separate window, which they can
open and close at pleasure, in addition to the general provision for
ventilation. In addition to the wash-room, kitchen, dining-tables, &c.,
provided in the older concern, there is a small but good library, a
large conversation room, and warm baths on demand for a penny each. The
charge is _2s. 4d._ (58 cents) per week; the number of beds is 104, and
they are always full, with numerous applications ahead at all times for
the first vacant bed. Not a single case of Cholera occurred here in
1849, though dead bodies were taken out of the neighboring alley
(Church-lane) six or eight in a day. So much for the blasphemy of
terming the Cholera, with like scourges, the work of an “inscrutable
Providence.” The like exemption from Cholera was enjoyed by the two or
three other Model Lodging-Houses then in London. Their comparative
cleanliness, and the coolness in summer caused by the great thickness of
their walls, conduce greatly to this freedom from contagion.

The third and last of the Model Lodging-Houses we visited was even more
interesting, in that it was designed and constructed expressly to be
occupied by Families, of which it accommodates forty-eight, and has
never a vacant room. The building is of course a large one, very
substantially constructed on three sides of an open court paved with
asphaltum and used for drying clothes and as a children’s play-ground.
All the suits of apartments on each floor are connected by a corridor
running around the inside (or back) of the building, and the several
suits consist of two rooms or three with entry, closets, &c., according
to the needs of the applicant. That which we more particularly examined
consisted of three apartments (two of them bed-rooms) with the
appendages already indicated. Here lived a workman with his wife and six
young children from two to twelve years of age. Their rent is 6s. ($1.50
per week, or $78 per annum); and I am confident that equal
accommodations in the old way cannot be obtained in an equally central
and commodious portion of London or New York for double the money. Suits
of two rooms only, for smaller families, cost but $1 to $1.25 per week,
according to size and eligibility. The concern is provided with a
Bath-Room, Wash-Room, Oven, &c., for the use of which no extra charge is
made. The building is very substantial and well constructed, is
fire-proof, and cost about $40,000. The ground for it was leased of the
Duke of Bedford for 99 years at $250 per annum. The money to construct
it was mostly raised by subscription–the Queen leading off with $1,500;
which the Queen Dowager and two Royal Duchesses doubled; then came
sundry Dukes, Earls, and other notables with $500 each, followed by a
long list of smaller and smaller subscriptions. But this money was given
to the “Society for Bettering the Condition of the Laboring Classes,” to
enable them to try an experiment; and that experiment has triumphantly
succeeded. All those I have described, as well as one for single women
only near Hatton Garden, and one for families and for aged women near
Bagnigge Wells, which I have not yet found time to visit, are constantly
and thoroughly filled, and hundreds are eager for admittance who cannot
be accommodated; the inmates are comparatively cleanly, healthy and
comfortable; and _the plan pays_. This is the great point. It is very
easy to build edifices by subscription in which as many as they will
accommodate may have very satisfactory lodgings; but even in England,
where Public Charity is most munificent, it is impossible to build such
dwellings for _all_ from the contributions of Philanthropy; and to
provide for a hundredth part, while the residue are left as they were,
is of very dubious utility. The comfort of the few will increase the
discontent and wretchedness of the many. But only demonstrate that
building capacious, commodious and every way eligible dwellings for the
Poor is a safe and fair investment, and that their rents may be
essentially reduced thereby while their comfort is promoted, and a very
great step has been made in the world’s progress–one which will not be
receded from.