This page contains the chapter on Trades and Industries.
Being Notes of Common Life and Pastoral Work
in Saint James's, Westminster and in Saint Georges'-in-the-East
by the Rev
Harry Jones, Rector of Saint George's-in-the-East (Smith, Elder & Co, London 1875)
Trades and Industries
suppose there is no part of London
without its special trade or manufacture. Some callings, associated
with constant immediate and universal demand - such as those of the
baker, butcher, and publican — are, of course, spread evenly over the
whole of the metropolis. Daily bread, meat and drink, must be easily
accessible. But with the exception of bread, I am (for the moment) at
a loss to think of anything in large and constant use which is not
produced at special centres of industry, and then widely dispersed.
This dispersal from the centres is continuous and conspicuous. But
your baker is generally local, he goes mostly on foot; or if he has
two wheels, drags his own load, and produces behind his shop the
commodity which he sells. Meanwhile his neighbours — the butchers,
grocers, linendrapers and publicans of his district — bring their
goods from a distance. With some partial exceptions the articles in
commonest demand are manufactured wholesale, and then distributed to
would, however, be difficult to
determine the causes of the selection of various parts of London for
the production or storage of some articles of commerce. There is
historical cause for the presence of silk-weavers in Bethnal Green
and Spitalfields. Possibly there may be some equally good reason for
the prevalence of watchmakers in Clerkenwell. The chemical
manufactories at Bow were placed there I suppose, originally, to be
beyond the range of the metropolitan nose. The crowd of minutely
precise trades, such as those of dressing-case makers, hand
bookbinders, engravers, &c. &c., located in Soho, are
probably drawn there by the high pressure of the demand for the
immediate supply of artificial wants which characterises the region
of shops that minister to condensed and luxurious civilisation. Soho
exhibits the fringe of skilled high class manual workers which has
floated up from the centre and East of London towards the long-pursed
territory of the West. The neighbourhood of the River and the Docks
displays the paraphernalia of the sea and shore. Slops and sextants,
deck-boots and telescopes, are offered in what, to an outsider,
appears a superfluous abundance along the bank of the Thames east of
the Tower. There, too, may be found rope-walks and sail-lofts. Many
of the manufactures and trades associated with seafaring life are
carried on in our part of the city. They are indeed common to all
seaports; but of these London is the largest, and thus they abound
among us.In or near to St. George's, however, we provide things for which there is the widest and narrowest market. If anyone were to ask me what were the two articles most characteristic of the commerce of this neighbourhood, I should say sugar and wild beasts. We are, or rather were, conspicuous for our bakeries of sugar; and we hope we shall be again. Out of some five-and-twenty in the whole of London and its suburbs, you might count the chimneys of more than two-thirds from the tower of our church; and the factory which produces the best English loaf sugar stands within a few hundred yards of the church gate. The raw material is landed hard by, in a shape unattractive to any but flies and greedy little boys, who cannot keep their hands from picking at anything sweet however coarse, and, especially after school hours, buzz round any sugary Avaggon in which there is a leaky parcel.
Hereabouts we have transformed the coarsest brown stuff into loaf sugar. But this trade is now very much depressed. Indeed, there are some who think it wellnigh destroyed. I am informed that in 1864 there were twenty-three producers of loaf sugar in London. Since then their trade has shrunk very seriously. A short time ago I believe only three survived, and the chief of them, in St. George's in the East, has ceased operations in the course of this year. The action of the French Government in encouraging, chiefly by a bonus, the exportation of home made sugar, has, at present, made it impossible for the British manufacturers to compete with the French. But as this advantage is given to a special branch of industry in France by the taxing of its whole nation, it is to be hoped that French eyes will be opened to the matter, and that the cloud will pass away from the British trade. Especially is this desired at St. George's in the East, for, as I have said, sugar refining is, perhaps, the most 'conspicuous' trade of these parts. I have thus let my reference to it stand uncorrected, though at present our furnaces are cold.
respect to the other article to which I have referred as characteristic
of the trade of St. George's, and which may be considered peculiar to
it, I suppose that there is no other place in the world where a
domesticated parson could ring his bell and send his servant round the
corner to buy a lion. Had I a domestic capable of discharging such an
errand, and a proper receptacle in which to put the article when
brought home, I could indulge the whim for a lion at five minutes'
notice. My near neighbour, Mr. Jamrach,
always keeps a stock of wild beasts on hand. Anyhow, if he happened to
be out of lions, I should be sure of getting a wild beast of some sort
at his store. A little time ago one of our clergy, who knows of almost
everything going on in the parish, happened to remark to me that Mr.
Jamrach's stock was low. He had just looked in, and the proprietor said
he had nothing particularly fresh then, only four young elephants and a
camelopard, beside the usual supply of monkeys, parrots, and such small
The wild beasts are kept in Betts Street, within a bow shot of my door, but the shop in Ratcliff Highway is always full of parrots and other birds. The attitudes and gestures of those exposed for sale are always curious and sometimes comical. I was much struck the other day with the pose and expression of a posse of owls on view. They sat side by side full of thoughtful silent wisdom, with just a twinkle of possible humour in their eyes, like judges in banco; while in an oblong recess within the shop beyond them there were twenty-four large and perfectly white cockatoos standing in two precise rows, shoulder to shoulder, and giving out their best notes, exactly like a surpliced choir. In another room were two thousand parroquets flying loosely about, or clustering like flies upon the window frames in ineffectual attempts to get out. The incessant flutter of this multitude of captives filled the air of the apartment so thickly with tiny floating feathers that they settled on our coats like flakes of snow. We came out powdered. The twitter in the room was, of course, incessant and importunate. There is a great demand for talking parrots. Mr. Jamrach always has orders in his books for more than he can supply. The parrots kept in stock are all young and unlearned. They look like the rest, but education marks the difference in the world of birds as in that of men. The selling value of wild beasts varies very much. You must pay about £200 for a royal tiger, and £300 for an elephant, while I am informed you may possibly buy a lion for £70, and a lioness for less. But a first-rate lion sometimes runs to a high figure, say even £300. Ourang-outangs come to £20 each, but Barbary apes range from £3 to £4 apiece. Mr. Jamrach, however, keeps no priced catalogue of animals, but will supply a written list of their cost if needed. He does not, moreover, 'advertise', so much as royally 'announce' his arrivals. Certain papers in London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, occasionally contain a bare statement that such and such beasts and birds are at 'Jamrach's', no address being given. He has customers in all the Zoological Museums in Europe, and the Sultan has been one of the largest buyers of his tigers and parrots.
Once, some long time ago, a disastrous and distressing accident happened in connection with this store of wild beasts. One of the tigers in transit escaped from his cage in the neighbourhood of the Commercial Road. Finding himself free, he picked up a little boy and walked off with him, intending probably, when he found a convenient retreat, to eat him. Of course, the spectacle of a tiger walking quietly along with a little boy in his mouth (he had him only by the collar) attracted the notice of residents and wayfarers. Presently the bravest spectator, armed with a crowbar, approached the tiger, and striking vehemently and blindly at him, missed the beast and killed the boy. The tiger was then secured.
Mr. Jamrach has great and, I suppose one might say, mystic power with beasts. His business, though, is not confined to the animals of the earth and the air. You may find curious products of the water in Mr. Jamrach's back-room. I especially recollect a vessel of telescope fish from Shanghai, queer little creatures with eyes starting out of their heads like the horns of a snail. These were on their way to the Brighton Aquarium.
Besides the store of birds, beasts, and fishes, there is a collection of all sorts of heterogeneous things from all parts of the world — armour, china, inlaid furniture, shells, idols, implements of savage warfare, and what not. Mr. Jamrach not only collects in comparative detail, but does not overlook the promising purchase of a whole museum. Some time ago he brought one in the lump from Paris. No wonder that the Ratcliff Highway is visited by many with money in their pockets for the purchase of antiquities and curiosities. From what I have seen I fancy that sometimes a good judge of these things can pick up a bargain here.
Beside that of Mr. Jamrach's, we have diverse shops for the sale of birds, especially parrots, and I imagine that many a sailor turns his collection of foreign curiosities into money within the limits of St. George's.
|See here for more details of Jamrach's, including alternative accounts of the tiger incident.
Of course, one main feature of the catholicity which I have noticed as characterising the trade of these parts is exhibited in the London and St. Katharine's Docks, which are situated mainly in the parish of St. George's. People must be impressed with a sense of things being done on a large scale, when we have in one cellar six acres of port, sherry, and madeira, and under one roof 60,000 large casks of brandy, worth on an average, say, some £70 apiece. Besides the cellar just mentioned, there are eight others, not so large, but immense. I believe that almost all the wine that enters the port of London pauses here, and most of the brandy. The greater portion of the rum is received in the West India Docks. Of course, with such alcoholic temptations and opportunities, the greatest care is exercised to employ none but trustworthy men. Sometimes, however, appetite gets the better of conscience in the dock attendants. On one occasion this appetite was terribly avenged in the case of a greedy subordinate, who thrusting his head into a newly opened vessel of spirits with the intention of a drunken gulp, was thus choked and killed. The most strenuous pains are taken to prevent official intemperance. Indeed, I am informed that to be drunk on duty involves an ipso facto excommunication of any servant, however long he may have served, or however good his previous character. The question does not arise whether he shall be discharged; if he transgresses he discharges himself. The vaults or cellars in which the wine is stored are accounted one of the sights of London. They are, however, no more to be appreciated by a visit than London itself, inasmuch as the whole of a cellar cannot possibly be seen at once. You are provided with a round squat lamp at the end of a short fiat stick, like a spoonful of fire, and are tramped, if you please, through miles of underground streets, on either sides of which are piles of casks. In the largest vault — which, like others, has its countless alleys laid with iron rails on which the casks are rolled — I am informed that they altogether reach the incredible distance of twenty-one miles. The alleys are, however, narrow. While in the midst of them you see only a little at a time. All along the route the ceiling is black with fungus, like that which is supposed to distinguish and commend a bottle of old port. Here wine is racked and blended. Great funnels like jellybags are filled with, say, port, which trickles brightly down from the tips of the bags, leaving the lees behind it. And very nasty they look.
Talking of unpleasant looking material in connection with eating and drinking, I may remark that the sugar, molasses, and treacle stores in the Docks are anything but appetising. One day I was walking through the huge sheds on the ground floor where all this sweetstuff is lodged, and saw a parcel of men scraping the floor with hoes, much in the same way as the scavengers do the streets. And the mud they scraped up was very black. On my asking what they did with it, one of the superintendents told me it was going to be made into lollipops. Looking further, one could see many casks filled with this uninviting substance. However, whether it passes through the processes of the sugar refinery or not, the saccharine matter in the mess is made up into shapes nice-looking enough to children. Nothing is wasted from which sweets can be made. There is, though, one form of waste here which seems to me needless. One day I was standing on the church steps, and became conscious of what seemed to be an unusual descent of huge smuts. The air was full of them. They spotted the church path and the street. It was a fall of black snow. I never saw such a murky downpour. We asked one another whence these dark flakes came. No chimney in the neighbourhood seemed to be smoking enough to account for them, and indeed they were unlike the usual London smuts. Presently, I found that they came from the Queen's Pipe, as it is called — a fierce furnace in which contraband tobacco is destroyed, and which just then was engaged in the destruction of some condemned tea. The atmosphere was still, and the result of this incremation powdered the neighbourhood. One of the Queen's Pipes — for there are two or three — is in the middle of St. George's, and such of my readers as are smokers can understand the pathetic air with which the man who tends it once told me he had consumed in a single smoking bout some five or six thousand pounds of shag tobacco. 'And ever so many cigarettes and cigars', he added.
I asked him, in reference to the black storm I have mentioned, how he ever came to burn so much tea, and why it made such smuts? 'Tea, Sir', he said, 'is a numb-burning thing; one can't get the fire into it'. That which is destroyed is such as has been mildewed, or is so bad that it is not worth having the duty paid on it. This, I am told, goes into the Queen's Pipe; but we use our own pipe seldom now.
The Docks abound with rats, and an army of about three hundred cats is employed to keep them down. Besides these you find dogs. Some little time ago I came on a famous one with her litter of puppies, close by the 'bowl' of our Queen's Pipe. Her owner volunteered a record of some of her performances in the rat-killing way, and fondly enumerated the number she had slain. But, like a true Englishman, he had his grievance. I learned that the Company does not pay for or provide the keep of the dogs, while it seems to be at the expense of extensive orders for cat's meat. I should have thought dogs would have needed food, while cats could have kept themselves. Some of these dogs are very sharp. I was one day walking through the Docks with my big black retriever, 'Jem', when he was furiously attacked by a cur just outside the Brandy Delivery Office. Poor Jem is always unlucky in these encounters, since he is never prepared for an assault, and indeed is hopelessly penetrated with the belief that his size, weight, and general respectability of appearance ought to protect him. On this occasion he had been much exercised by the investigation of a uantity of treacle which had escaped on the quay from some burst cask, and which he was quite unable to analyse or account for. He had obviously met with nothing really resembling it before. It looked like some of the results obtained in connection with the killing of a pig, and as such he thought it well worth pausing to examine, but it made his nose and paws sticky. Thus he could not bring his mind to realise the charge of a dog much smaller than himself, and expressed his concern at the sudden change of the subject by tumbling over on his back and howling shamefully.
Beside the dogs and cats, there are men who get their living by clearing freshly unladen ships of rats. I believe that the charge for ratting a ship is £1. The rats are taken alive, and then sold for 2d. apiece to such as find amusement in killing them with dogs. As a couple of hundred rats are sometimes caught in one ship, the contracting catcher occasionally makes a good thing out of it.
Besides wine and brandy we land huge stores of ivory. In the early part of this year the result of discoveries of old accumulations of tusks by Livingstone made its appearance in a display of them, which at one sale realised, it is said, some £70,000. Divers of them were pronounced to be hundreds of years old. They covered a huge floor, and buyers came from all parts to secure them.
|See here for more detail and images of the Docks.
The wind is watched with much concern here by the dock-labourers, since upon it depends the due arrival of the ships, by the unlading of which they live. After a spell of east wind, which detains vessels in the Channel, the Docks are remarkably bare, while on its shifting, especially into the west, our waters are crowded as if by magic. And then the work presses. All sorts of cargoes, special and general, need to be bundled out as soon as the big ocean-going ships have crept slowly to their places alongside the quays. From my study-window I can see them, or at least their masts, towering above the roofs of some of the houses in the Ratcliff Highway, and moving towards their final berths, one after another, with a motion which from a little distance is hardly perceptible. What a change from some portions of their course! Talking of the arrival of ships and the diversities of sentiment in their voyage, I happened to be in the Docks when the Jefferson Borden came in, on board of which a famous or infamous mutiny occurred on the high seas in April last. She was an American three-masted fore and aft schooner, deep in the water being heavily laden with oilcake, which seemed to have saturated her deck. Indeed it was so greasy that I noticed several persons who traversed it carelessly slip down and have severe falls, which called forth an unsympathising laugh from the fringe of rough spectators who were not allowed to tread her planks. When she came alongside the quay I stepped on board. There, in the deck-house, lay the mutineers, wounded and ironed, with the marks around them of the bullets from the revolver with which the captain had protected his wife and himself. He was a quiet, slim, gentle spoken man, with a brown beard, and I had some conversation with him. The ship seemed certainly to have been undermanned, since there were only four men who, properly speaking, constituted the crew. Besides them were two mates, one the brother and the other the cousin of the captain, and a steward, cook, and boy. One night three of the crew, after having gagged the boy, fell upon the two mates, killed and threw them overboard. Then one, a Finn, tried to entice the captain out of his cabin; but the captain missing his mates, and seeing that the man had something in his hand behind him — really the cruel iron bar with which the captain's brother had just been murdered — declined to come out till he had provided himself with a revolver. Then came the terrible time in which the captain, first with pistol-shots, which had plainly pitted the outside of the deck-house, drove the men within its shelter, and on their refusing to surrender, eventually fired into it upon them till they submitted to thrust their hands out of a little window in its side and be ironed. As I stood there the Thames Police swarmed in, and with stretchers and stern tenderness carried them off to the London Hospital. At that moment another ship came in, with a crew of negroes, and made last alongside the American. They soon crowded the rigging, or peered over the bulwarks, to see the wounded mutineers borne off, thus witnessing one phase of a Nemesis which I could not help thinking, probably with injustice, set a grim lesson to as unpleasant countenanced a set of companions as any skipper ever found himself at sea with. But I dare say they were docile enough.
I was, indeed, struck with the example presented, in the landing of these mutineers, of the severity in judgment which sometimes pursues failure, or accompanies a sordid appearance. 'Did you ever see three such rascally fellows?' said a spectator to me, as the wounded murderers were being carried ashore. They were ill-looking, sure enough; but if you were to take the three Graces and dress them in tarpaulins, and shut them up in a pigsty, and shoot their legs full of bullets, and tie their hands together, and lay them uncombed and unwashed on their backs for ten days, they would look, to say the least of it, ugly when drawn out into the sunshine. Pain and fear chiefly marked these poor fellows, though they were grievous malefactors. One of them cried out piteously as he was handed up the dock side. Their landing was a sad item of experience in that chance walk of mine along the quays.
arrest which Harry Jones witnessed, and recorded in characteristic fashion, led to one of the most sensational
trials of the century in the USA - with a further twist explained
below. Jefferson Borden and his brother Richard were wealthy
Massachusetts magnates, based in Fall River, with iron and cotton mills
and various transporatation enterprises. The schooner bearing his name [left] was
carrying a cargo of oilcake from New Orleans, and a thousand miles from
England the crew mutinied against cruel conditions and undermanning (of
which they later gave graphic details, attracting much sympathy).
According to the account in the New York Times, George Miller, a Finn by birth, called
the Captain at midnight, saying a man had broken his leg; this was
a ruse to get the Captain on deck unprepared. But when he got there he
was well-armed and began firing upon the mutineers. The latter, finding
it impossible to get the upper hand, retired to the deck-house, in
which they were nailed up by the Captain and steward. Forty shots were
fired at the mutineers before they surrendered. It was thirty hours
from the beginning of the outbreak before the last man surrendered. The
Captain had his wife on board. Miller, the ringleader of the mutiny,
had been placed in irons for misconduct just after the schooner sailed
from New Orleans. He afterward apologized for his misconduct. He
confesses that he killed the first mate. This was the Captain's
brother Croydon T. Patterson, who was struck with a marlin spike. His
cousin Charles H. Patterson, second mate, also died. But other crew
members attested that in the general confusion it was impossible to
determine who had killed them. As
Harry Jones observed, when the ship arrived in London on 7 May 1875,
Thames Police removed the three wounded mutineers to the London
Hospital, pending charges. In the event, two of the five ringleaders
(one a British subject, one Portuguese but claiming to be a subject of
Queen Victoria), were released or received light sentences, but the two
Americans John Glew and William Smith, plus George Miller, were tried
in the USA and sentenced to death (commuted by President Cleveland to
life imprisonment in the state prison at Thomaston, Maine): the trial
record is here.
The events provoked this doggerel and somewhat partial ballad (to the tune The Gallant Hussar) - now in the Bodleian Ballads collection:
|Kind friends, if you'll pay attention, and listen awhile unto me.
A sad tale to you I will mention, that happened far out on the sea.
On board of the Jefferson Borden there was mutiny, murder, and strife,
Captain Patterson they would have murder'd, he was saved through the words of his wife.
From Orleans she was bound to London, the Jefferson Borden we see,
The Captain's wife she acted bravely, At this mutiny and murder at sea.
The good ship she was short of seamen, the Captain took strangers in hand,
We read in the papers that Miller would not obey the Captain's command.
Forty-eight hours a prisoner, when relieved, he with Smith and Clew,
They murdered the brave Captain's brother and the second mate his dear cousin too.
|The poor boy they gagged and blindfolded, a sad death he thought he would die,
Captain Patterson would have been murdered, 'come back', his dear wife she did cry.
This mutiny and murder was dreadful, to take the ship it was their aim,
The cause of this mutiny and murder, no doubt it was for wealth to gain.
The Captain he fired his revolver, his wife and his own life to save,
The mutineers bravely he wounded, while the good ship she sailed o'er the waves.
The scene on board it was dreadful, heartrending no doubt for to see,
The Captain and his wife they are saved from this mutiny and murder at sea.
While we at home in bed are sleeping, we dream of friends o'er the main,
And for those dear ones we are weeping, we cannot tell if we shall see them again.
When we think of this mutiny and murder, each feeling heart it fills with pain,
On board of the Jefferson Borden in cold blood those dear soles [sic] were slain.
the twist? In 1892 Andrew Jackson Borden [left] and his second wife Abby were
murdered at their home in Fall River, and it was
initially claimed that this was a revenge killing by the former
mutineers because he had been on board the Jefferson Borden at the time
of the mutiny and had given false and exaggerated evidence against
them. But it became apparent that he had not in fact been on board, and
furthermore that the American mutineers were still in prison (despite a petition by the Atlantic Coast Seamen's Union to
secure a pardon from President Harrison); his daughter Lizzie Borden [right] was then accused
of the murder of her father and stepmother. A wealthy man (though not
in the same league as Jefferson Borden), he is said to have discouraged
suitors of Lizzie and her sister Emma and kept them in virtual
isolation, though others denied this. She was acquitted, in a trial
which also became a cause célèbre: more details of all the principal characters here.
The Docks are, however, an endless source of entertainment and instruction to anyone gifted with the least share of curiosity or observatiion, and I must have a little more chat about them before I pass on to some other prominent features in the trade of these parts. It is difficult to realise the amount of labour and wealth represented by the square plantations of bare masts upon which we can look down from the summit of our church tower. They show like woods or copses in the map of the estate of London. In a much fuller and more accurate sense than that in which the phrase is generally used, the Docks are a world in themselves, since they represent every corner of the earth into which British enterprise has thrust itself. Those dull piles of white brick warehouses, which discard every sentiment of decoration, and fearlessly exhibit the ugly side of usefulness, are, within, full of tropical products and appliances and means of the most luxurious beauty and sumptuous fare. Here are stores of ivory and ebony. Here are the choicest cigars, the richest drugs, the brightest dyes, the sweetest perfumes, and the finest wines. Here are landed and hence are dispersed the accompaniments of perhaps the costliest, most curious and exacting civilisation, and the busiest commerce to be found on the face of the globe. Here are pines from the West Indies, oranges from Seville, teas from China, masses of ice from Norway, and of marbles from Carrara, along with spices from Ceylon and ivory from Africa. Here, on these wharves, are heaped together for the day the most unlike though equally precious products of the earth, and yet many a man in walking through them would probably carry away a very slight impression of he business being carried on around him.
Take our comparatively small docks, such as the London and St. Katharine's. I say comparatively small, as there are besides them the West India, Millwall, Surrey, &c. You perceive no bustle or prominent strain of labour within their limits, and would hardly believe that five or six thousand men are not unfrequently paid their wages at the close of the day. Their employment is, however, necessarily uncertain. The great bulk of them do not live here. Many of them — almost shiftless, without a trade, reminding one of Falstaff's recruits — come from all parts of London for the chance of a job, and if the weather has been against the progress of ships in the Channel, you may see hundreds of these would-be labourers standing all the day idle about the various entrances of the Docks. Then a shift of wind brings in a number of ships, and the whole machinery of the place is suddenly in full operation. But it works smoothly, and it is only after repeated visits that the magnitude and complexity of the business transacted can be apprehended. I am told that nothing strikes foreigners more than the quiet methodical way in which everything moves on here. There is no shouting, scolding, uproar, or excitement of any kind, as the riches of the world are unfolded or poured out. But go round the perfect little dock of St. Katharine, with its hedge of hydraulic lifts steadily disembowelling the vessels, which lie so close to the shore that you might toss a halfpenny into their holds when you look out of the top storey of the warehouse which is absorbing the cargo. Go round this little dock. Mount tier after tier of floors; see even a single shipload of coffee, consisting of about 10,000 bags or sacks, being repacked and distributed; or picture, if you can, the presence of, say, £750,000 worth of indigo — which was the value of the amount being prepared for show in a single department when I went over it one day — and you will begin to perceive the largeness of the work in these parts, and admire the quietness with which it is carried on.
|Until synthetic dyes became available, from the time of the Greek and Roman empires onwards,
organically produced blue dyes were highly-prized and costly ('blue
gold') - see various biblical references. They were the product of the
genus indigofera and, as the
name suggests, cultivated particularly in India: for many centuries
England had to make do with woad. By the 18th century it was also a
slave crop in South Carolina, with both native and imported
species. 19,000 tons of plant indigo were produced in 1897, but
this shrank dramatically with the invention of synthetic dyes - not
least for blue jeans; see here for more details.
It must be remembered, however, that the surroundings of this dock represent but a small proportion of the storageroom used for merchandise in St. George's alone. After writing these lines I happened, on my way down to the Raines Schools on pastoral business, to fall in with our dock superintendent, who remarked that on one side of the Old Gravel Lane down which I was walking there were deposited I am afraid to say how many thousand tons of sugar, and 60,000 bags of coffee on the other. It is difficult to realise these quantities, much less what they represent; for this bulk of coffee, enough one would think to keep London awake for a month, is only a passing deposit under one of divers roofs.
The floors of the indigo warehouses are, of course, of the deepest blue, and the sweepings sell for 2s. a pound. The indigo-brokers who come in from the City to examine the goods are the shrewdest, most experienced and patient judges of some kinds of colour in the world. They are mostly provided by the Company with a north light, like artists, in which to examine the various qualities of dyestuff laid out for them to inspect, and the prices of which range from about 10s. to 12s. a pound. Here, at a large tray, set where the shades of ultimate and latent dye may most easily be detected and distinguished, the broker potters away hour after hour, breaking, chipping, rubbing, peering into the lumps of indigo which, at a little distance, look like dark-blue coals. This inspection is, however, a dirty business, and the buyers or their clerks, who are well-paid experts, change their smart clothes before proceeding to transact it, and are provided in the dock warehouses with dressing-rooms in which to strip and wash when their day's work is done. They are, moreover, partly boarded as well as washed. On one of the floors is a dining-room, and a kitchen where a large charcoal fire suggests the sudden and perfect cooking of chops and beefsteaks.
The smell of some of the warehouses which are loaded with spice is delicious. You may see thousands of faggots of cinnamon, worth about £20 apiece, the making up and binding of which is quite a trade. Each stick is separately examined. The bark from which quinine is extracted arrives in large cowskin packages, mostly with the hair outside, like old-fashioned trunks. These, however, are not corded, but sewn up with thongs, and cover floor after floor. Talking of smells, I came one day on ever so many waggon-loads of assafcetida, and if anyone likes onions he ought not to object to its odour. It is used as a condiment in Persia, and a gentleman connected with the Docks who happened to be accompanying me said it was capital with beefsteak. His description of the way in which a small portion of this pungent gum should be rubbed on a hot plate when thus used was most appetising. I do not think, however, that it is offered to anyone furnished with a 'tasting order'. This, as everyone knows, includes the privilege of not only looking at the outsides of the casks of port and sherry, but of boring into them, and proving by another sense than that of sight what they have within. The cellarman carries a gimlet, and soon lets out a thin red spout of wine. This is, however, immediately checked with a little tap, by which, after steady blowing into it — a process that does not look nice, and rather suggests the idea that he is first taking a long pull himself — he fills divers of the largest wineglasses ever seen. These he empties on the sawdust floor with the carelessness of abundance when each visitor has taken a sip. Indeed, if visitors were to drink up all that might be offered to them, I fear that, however manifold the stores of casks may be, they would soon see double. Wine and spirit tasters in and about the Docks swallow nothing while engaged at their business, and retain the keenest susceptibility of palate. I cannot help thinking, though, that the complete testing of, say, wine, should involve some drinking of it; and that the phrase, 'There is not a headache in a gallon of it', should be verified by at least some approximate experiment. Perhaps, however, flavour conveys more to experts than to other men. There are gentlemen to whom a sensitive tongue is thus worth any money. They are at no expense to taste the choicest liquor, but are paid handsomely to sit all day, and sip, and smack their lips. Then they go home to dinner. It must be a dullish life.
My readers will be pleased to know that in connection with the Docks, at least with the London and St. Katharine's, there are compulsory night-schools for the boys, and that well-attended readings and entertainments are given in the winter to the servants of the company. Moreover, a gradually ascending scale of salary makes the position of a well-conducted official a comfortable and encouraging one. Commodious residences are provided for many of them, and anyone who, not knowing it, fancies that Wapping is a scene of coarse toil and rude debauchery, would be surprised to see the quiet pleasant river-side square which characterises the place. This square is well planted with trees, and skirted on two sides by handsome edifices which look on the Thames. These are mostly occupied by dock officers. In respect to other residents whose presence might be objectionable, pains are taken by the vestry of Wapping to discover and suppress any disorderly house within their jurisdiction. Beside these official residences there is excellent accommodation for artisans and others, erected by the company over which Sir Sydney Waterlow presides, and there has lately been built a small Board school for their children. Altogether, Wapping is one of the most respectable and well-conducted parishes in London.
|Sir Sydney Hedley Waterlow
(1822-1906) was a politician - councillor, alderman, sheriff, Lord
Mayor of London and Liberal MP in three constituencies - and
philanthropist - for example, creaing Waterlow Park in Highgate as a
'garden for the gardenless'. He was chairman of the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company which built the artisan housing in Wapping to which Harry Jones refers, in Bethnal Green and elsewhere, under the 'five percent philanthropy' principle.
Curiously enough, the Orton family never lived there. Their house, which was pulled down this summer, was situated in St. George's, which extends nearly to the riverside. It latterly seems to have been used as an eating-shop, so that, as a man standing by it one day said to me, quite seriously, visitors might be able to say that they had dined in the room where 'Sir Roger' was born — a queer mixture of confused associations. This house stood near the Wapping entrance of the London Docks, and adjoined that in which it is said Lord Nelson got his outfit when he first went to sea. Both are now demolished to make way for warehouses, which promise to displace most of the old residences by the river-side in these parts.
|This is a reference to the
curious and much-publicised saga of the 'Tichbourne claimant'. Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne was lost at sea in 1854 en route
for New York and declared dead the following year, but his mother
refused to give up hope and advertised worldwide for news. Tom Castro,
a butcher from Wagga Wagga in Australia, claimed to be Sir Roger, and
she and others accepted his claim; but other famly members went to
court: in 1872 Tichborne v. Lushington
determined that he was Wapping-born Arthur Orton. 'The claimant'
nevertheless attracted popular support and funds; but in 1873 he was
convicted of perjury (R. v Castro)
and sentenced to fourteen years' hard labour; on his release in 1884 he
travelled the music halls with his story, but eventually died in
poverty in 1898, when, strangely, he was buried as Sir Roger Tichborne
- see here for more details. (The site of the house to which Harry Jones refers ceased to be in the parish when boundaries were changed.)
Indeed, the High Street of Wapping is gradually being skirted by enormous piles of these buildings, and before long few beyond the model lodging-houses of Sir Sydney Waterlow and the residences of the dock officers I have alluded to, will be left for domestic use. Hitherto this neighbourhood, though its Stairs are celebrated in song, has been supposed to be very-little visited or traversed by the rest of the London world, especially the Western. Passengers by the Scotch steamboats have, however, always sailed from Wapping. And presently many residents in the West of London, especially those who live in the neighbourhood of the stations on the Metropolitan Railway, will be familiar with the railroad now rapidly approaching completion, which, running under the London Docks and cutting through St. George's and Wapping, will take them (possibly without change of carriage) to the Sydenham district and Brighton. This East London Railway will provide a very important outlet for the West as soon as the long-delayed work of boring under the Docks has been finished. The old Thames Tunnel already supplies a way for trains under the river, and gives access to Rotherhithe, which looks at us from the opposite bank. It is proposed also to provide a steam-ferry between the shores of the Thames at this spot. This, if provided, will be able to carry the loaded waggons which are now obliged to go round by London Bridge, some mile and a half off. As it is, I generally like to cross by a wherry, which provides a pleasant change from the usual modes of locomotion in London; and in this case, when the place to be reached is Rotherhithe, affords the quickest, most obvious, though sometimes the least conventional means of access. The first time I went to dine with my old acquaintance, the rector of that parish — who is, indeed, a near neighbour, though the Thames lies between us — I landed on the beach, not far from his house, among a parcel of naked natives, like Captain Cook. It was high summer and low tide, and half the boys of Rotherhithe were bathing there.
song about Wapping Stairs did he have in mind? There were various
broadside ballads that referred, but perhaps best known was Poll of Wapping Stairs, by Thomas Dibdin (1771-1841):
Your landsmen's wives, with all their airs [or, You London girls with
all your airs] must strike to Poll of Wapping Stairs; no tighter lass
From Iron Gate to Limehouse Hole you'll never meet a kinder soul, not while the Thames is flowing. Pull away, &c.
Her father, he's a hearty dog, Poll makes his flip, and serves his grog, and never stints his measure;
She minds full well the house aflairs, she seldom drinks, and never swears; and isn't that a pleasure? Pull away, &c.
And when we wed, that happy time, the bells of Wapping all shall chime; and, ere we go to Davy,
The girls like her shall work and sing; the boys like me shall serve the king on board Old England's Navy! Pull away, &c.
° Steamboat services to Scotland (Edinburgh and Leith) had indeed run from Wapping for many years - see, for example, this
1834 guide 'The Scottish Tourist, and Itinerary' which describes in
detail the routes of the principal tours [map right]. For how long did these
Harry Jones alludes at various points to the creation of the East
which he hoped would help regenerate the area, by providing good
connections and also demolishing some slum property. As explained here, it
originally connected to the Metropolitan/District Railway via the tight
St Mary's curve in Whitechapel, with trains running through to
Hammersmith, but it did not have through trains to the various
parts of south London - or the south coast! - that he hoped for.
° The steam ferry project (which was not a success) is discussed further here.
But I must get back to the business of the Docks before I can recover any consciousness of doing my duty by a chapter which I have designated as 'Trades and Industries'. I don't know, though, what more I should have to say about them, except I went chatting on into the endless and changing daily experiences which characterise this phase of St. George's business, but which would weary my readers. I cannot, however, resist noticing the sense of relief with which one sees the bales of Australian wool released from their restraint. They are made, of course, to take as little room as possible in the hold of the ship which brings them, and are thus before embarkation tightly nipped by enormous pressure and then bound with iron hoops, against which, like the cramped-up heart of the prince in one of Grimm's stories, they thrust and strain themselves, in impotent bondage, for long and weary months. At last the thus cruelly-laced bale is tumbled out of the ship's hold on one of the stone wharves which line the Docks. There it is presently laid upon its back by attendants, and a man sets it free with three or four smart and rapidly delivered blows of an axe. It is pleasant to see the immediate sense and hear the grunt of relief with which the iron-hooped truss of wool resumes its proper shape as its metal bonds are severed one by one and fly asunder. It soon becomes once more a plump and portly bale. Thus relieved, it is placed in the company of its fellows, who stand about comfortably, like aldermen with their waistcoats unbuttoned, and unsuspiciously awaits the visit of the wool-broker. He, however, at once takes advantage of its freshly recovered freedom by thrusting his hand into its stomach and pulling out its bowels. After this surprise and rough inspection by the brokers, the floors of the warehouses are knee-deep in wool, which has to be restored to the insides of the insulted bales by the servants of the Company before the goods are sold.
|See here for more details and images of the wool warehouses.
As I have remarked elsewhere, it is obvious that one of the chief features of the trade in these parts must be carriage. The stores accumulated in the warehouses which line the Docks, and which have been brought from all parts of the world in large quantities, have now to be dispersed. Much is sent away in barges, which, with an ugly outside and a roughish-looking crew, often contain a far more costly and delicate cargo than the ignorant passengers on the deck of a penny boat conceive. We have somehow associated the word 'bargee' with the coarsest trade and most unscrupulous manners. But, especially on the Thames, the lighterman holds a very responsible post. A gang of barges may represent not only a large sum of money, but most precious commodity. I was talking with an old 'bargee' one day who had so gnarled a face and such rugged hands that somehow I found myself assuming that he must be in charge of the roughest timber or stone, when he parenthetically observed that he was obliged to sleep on board, as his freight of silk was unusually delicate and valuable. We little realise the varied wealth hidden under the tarpaulin of those lumbering craft which drift in the tideway of the Thames, or which, as they lie at anchor, often seem to be under the sole charge of a little barking dog.
|See comments and links here
on the distinctive position of lightermen on the Thames, and the
ancient Company of Lightermen and Watermen, which still regulates
traffic on the river, and maintains a close-knit community.
A considerable portion of the goods landed in the Docks is, however, dispersed by wheel and axle; and a 'carrier' here probably means a gentleman who has his country house, and comes in daily to offices hard by stables holding, say, a couple of hundred of the best draught-horses in London. Much business here, too, consists in the provisioning of ships, and especially in the furnishing of baskets and casks. Shops which make no very great display, and where one, ignorant of our trade, might think the neighbours chiefly got their brooms and mops, disclose unexpected relationship with distant parts of the world. I was talking with a neighbour once, who said, incidentally, he was rather hurried that morning, as he was sending off I forget how many thousand baskets to Buenos Ayres. A wholesale place like the border of the Thames exhibits at first many suchlike surprises to one who has been accustomed to associate shops merely with retail trade. The waggons which often block such thoroughfares as the Ratcliff Highway and Cable Street may be loaded with most precious or unexpected goods. I remember once my hansom being stopped by one which bore a mountain of cases, and noticing that they were marked 'Castor Oil' — a monstrous dose. We manufacture large quantities of cigars in what look like private houses. These are made by girls. It would only tire my readers if I were to dwell on the stores of ropes, sails, ships' lanthorns, &c. &c, which we provide and keep.
|See here for a note on cigar-making.
The trade of St. George's is, however, speaking broadly, in a somewhat depressed state, since a chief feature of it is the refining of sugar. I have remarked that this branch of industry is at present, by the action of the French Government, which gives special facilities to its own producers and exporters of beetroot sugar, seriously injured. Large and costly refineries are standing still. And the complaint is not unjustly made, that St. George's does not just now thrive as it once did. But commerce still has its lively phases among us, as anyone may gather from my imperfect hints of the business that goes on in our midst. And it is in the nature of the Englishman to grumble.
|Here are other contemporary accounts of the decline in what had been a principal local trade.
It must not be supposed, however, though I have quoted the sugar-refineries as characteristic of the trade of St. George's, that these represent even the chief trades and industries of these Eastern parts. Perhaps the immediate proximity of two tall sugar-bakery chimneys to our church makes me think more of them than of others. In fact, the East of London abounds with large and important manufactories, and has done its part in the great manufacturing and commercial development of these latter days. Such a statement may seem superfluously true to those who live in this part of the metropolis; but as the East — partly
through the influence of begging-letters, some of which falsely set forth Easterners as the scum of the metropolis; partly through the unconscious ignorance of those who live in the West, and who are loosely considered, I suppose, the chief exponents of London observation and thought — has been looked down upon, at the best, almost as a crowd of poor lodging-houses inhabited by the poorest servants of the West, I must be allowed, at the risk of repetition, to draw my reader's attention to some other phases of the industry that characterises it, besides those to which I have already referred, and which mostly concern the
immediate neighbourhood of the Docks.
It is, as it were, a manufacturing city in itself, though its proximity to the colossal centre of commerce, known as the 'City' of London, has so dwarfed it that people in general have very erroneous ideas of its industrial importance. It is, moreover, though counted as distant, not far enough from the West to appear in due perspective. Large provincial towns, such as Leeds and Sheffield, stand out distinctly in the manufacturing scenery of England. Everyone sees and recognises their commercial individuality and importance. Perhaps this is clearer from the fact of their being characterised by special manufactures, such as woollen cloth and cutlery; still their prominence is partly due to their distinctiveness. Were they suburbs of London the case might be somewhat different.
Now East London, though attached to the metropolis, and forming a part of it, is in some respects almost a separate centre of industry. It is poor by the side of the concentrated luxury of the West, and the riches of the City, but not poor in the sense of being a depraved and pauperised section and servant of the metropolis. Its industrial products are spread far beyond London. True, it is not characterised by the production of any one article of commerce which gives it an exclusive place among centres of industry; but many who look on it as representing merely the poor and toilsome side of London, ministering mainly to the wants of the metropolis, would, I think, be interested in realising to some slight extent how widely its manufacturing industry is felt.
It would be impossible for me, in a chapter touching the Trades and Industries of the East, to do more than point to a few examples of what I mean. Take, for instance, the chemical works which distinguish the East. I am thinking now of one firm, which owns the largest distillery of gas-tar in the world, and has branch establishments not only in other parts of England, but in France, Belgium, and Russia. One feature of its work is the creosoting of railway sleepers, which it turns out at the rate of some 30,000 a week. It moreover makes pitch, naphtha, &c, and transforms what used to be waste into material for some of the most beautiful colours used in textile fabrics. The central works of this firm cover some 17 acres; and it is obvious that here we have an aspect of East London industry, which shows an independence of what Easterners are I think justly touchy about, mere ministration to the rest of London.
Take again 'matches'. The match-making trade is capable of such subdivision as enables much to be done at the homes of those employed in it. All recollect the irruption of match-makers, when it was proposed to lay a tax upon these common articles of domestic use. They would have been equally remonstrant if the centre of match-making had been hundreds of miles away; but because it happened to be in the East of London, those engaged in it were able to make a personal demonstration against the proposed tax under the eyes of the Legislature, which for once saw, at short range, some of the toes of this centipede nation that objected to be pinched. And their unexpected presence was, it seemed to me, counted as a revelation of the poor servants of the metropolis. Not a bit of it. They are really fellow-servants, with the rest of industrial London, to the realm. We make matches for the whole kingdom. When I say that the firms of the Messrs. Palmer, Bryant & May, Bell & Black, &c. &c, are situated in the East of London, I give another instance of one of the independent industries which mark these parts. Perhaps, however, the match-making business, or rather the manufacture of wooden match-boxes, in the East of London, has done as much as anything to create an impression of our indigence. Some years ago a piteous picture was drawn of this trade, especially of the share which children had in it in the homes of working-people. There is nothing more fragile and transitory than the common wooden box which holds lucifers. It would perhaps be difficult to think of any article in large use which could be more easily made. It requires very small skill in its manufacture. Thus the children of poor people in the neighbourhood of the match manufactory have a chance of earning a few extra halfpence, and what is counted by some as a sign of depressed and depressing industry really indicates a phase of honest work which enables the unskilled to add to their means. Anyhow, the manufacture of matches, carried on largely in the East of London, shows a form of industry which is widely felt, and helps to deliver us from the charge of being a sort of pauperised hangers-on to the metropolis. Look into any small shop in any of the villages of England, look on the shelf of any farmhouse or cottage throughout the land, and you will find a sign of one of the trades and industries of the East of London.
|The gas-tar distillery to which he refers was some distance from the parish, at Beckton Gas Works. Similarly, the match factories were further east. The celebrated matchgirls' strike
of 1888 at Bryant & May in Bow has been the subject of 125th
anniversary events - one of them in St George's Gardens which would
surely have delighted Harry Jones - and the revival of a musical,
performed at Wilton's - see this newsletter.
Pass from the most fragile to the strongest products of the hand of man, and ask where some of the most ponderous and perfectly-finished armour-clad ships of war in the world come from, and you will find that they have been built in East London. I wonder what the yearly expenditure in wages alone is in the yards of, say, the Messrs. Samuda, who have furnished ironclads far and wide.
Take the trade of another Parliamentary firm, which, with the last-mentioned, represents the Tower Hamlets in the House of Commons: I mean the jute manufactories of Messrs. Ritchie & Sons. There we have another large example of East London industry. I have been informed, but I really forget, how many thousand yards of jute-cloth this firm turns out daily; but it is only an item in the mass of testimony which goes to exhibit the East of London as one of the great districts of industry in the land, and one which worthily takes its place, not as dependent on the rest of the metropolis, but as sharing with it the honour of being the greatest centre of work and commerce in the world.
|Again, neither of these were actually in the parish: Samuda Brothers, founded by Jacob and Joseph d'Aguilar Samuda, was at Cubitt Town, and Ritchie & Sons at Stratford.
It would indeed be hard if we did not find London itself one of our best customers for much that we produce: take, for instance, the great wholesale clothing establishments which characterise the East. We cannot of course boast of the most fashionable or expensive tailoring shops, but we make immense quantities of clothing, much of which is sold and worn in London. And the manufacture of silk, which some twenty years ago had certainly fallen to a low ebb in these parts, has, I am given to understand on good authority, seen a revival. I should weary my reader if I were to go through the list; and even Birmingham has not the questionable monopoly of providing cheap guns for bloodthirsty African tribes. These weapons, of which I have seen heaps in the course of manufacture not far from my house, are certainly doubtful to look at, though I assume they are
'proved'. I am inclined to believe that the Ashantees were armed with them in our late 'little war', and that such
of our men as were hit were wounded from British barrels, if not from some that had long lain in the Tower. I came one day on a number of Tower muskets which had been sold by the Government, and were, I was told, on their way to Africa. Your Ashantee, at least your East African warrior, is, they say, glad enough to use the old flint-lock 'Brown Bess'. I bought one for a few shillings, as a weapon fast becoming a curiosity,
together with a heavy pair of large flint horse-pistols which had been
laid up in the Tower after the Peninsular War, and which, when
discharged, make as much noise and smoke as small cannons. Talking of
cannons, we could at St. George's supply anyone who wanted them with
every variety of ship's guns: I do not mean such as are used in
warfare, but those carried by merchant vessels for the purpose of
signalling. I see them in shop-windows, along with small anchors and
patent logs, which last look like spinning-baits for sharks. In these
parts, moreover, we have large cork manufactories, where life-buoys and
belts may be had in abundance.
some of the above, the work of 'proving' small arms was established in
Commercial Road in 1875 and remains active there, at the Worshipful
Company of Gunmakers' Proof House: in Harry Jones' day it fell within
the parish of St Mark
Whitechapel, but is now within St George-in-the-East. More detail, and
Anglo-Ashanti Wars, between the Ashanti region of Gold Coast [now
Ghana] and the British Empire, between 1824 and 1901, are described here. Harry Jones is thinking of the third episode, in 1873-74 [right].
As he explains, the 'Brown Bess' [left], which had been the standard weapon of the British Army until 1838,
was still widely used in Africa in his day. The 'British
Pattern Musket' existed in various forms, including the Long Land
Pattern, Short Land Pattern, India Pattern, New Land Pattern Musket,
Sea Service Musket and others (the differences related to barrel
lengths). The name probably derived from the German 'braun buss'
(strong firearm). Whether Harry Jones ever used his is unclear!
In respect to the work of the labourer and artisan, this immediate
neighbourhood differs from that with which I became well acquainted
during my sojourn at St. Luke's, Berwick Street. The bulk of trades in
that locality are unknown here. There we turned out enormous quantities
of the most highly-finished and skilled hand-work that is associated
with luxurious civilisation. Here our work is good, but more severely
useful. There we made jewel-boxes and dressing-cases, cut diamonds,
strung pearls, painted church-windows, sewed fine clothes for the
'upper ten thousand', provided lathes for amateur turners, and
manufactured all kinds of curious projectiles for the most elaborate
and scientific sportsman. There we produced thousands of artificial
teeth and wax-flowers; we made sausage machines, window-blinds,
fiddles, and lasts. Here we load and unload great ships, drive heavy
vans, stitch sails, twist ropes, tug at lumbering barges, sort, store,
and distribute mixed cargoes in warehouses. Every kind of work here,
even the commonest, is associated with interests that are obviously
large; and, as I have remarked elsewhere, I think that the consciousness which it
involves of contact with the ends of the earth is not without effect on
the character of the people. They are, I think, more large and
cosmopolitan in their views and conversation than my old friends at St.
Luke's, who are imprisoned for long periods in close streets and rooms,
with heads bent over some small process in the skilled ministrations of
artificial life. Here most seem to have seen something of the world,
and disclose unexpected experiences in conversation. I think this
moment of three men who are daily engaged about our church and
churchyard, and who might any morning be seen together at our gate. One
was for many years guard of a popular mail-coach; another, apropos
to some remark of mine one day, incidentally showed that he was
familiar with Constantinople; and when I had been here some time, I
found that the third had twice been round the world.
Another contrast may be seen in what certainly appears to me the
superior physique of the Easteners. The nature of our work (I am
thinking now especially of St. George's) takes us much into the air. I
have repeatedly been struck with the healthy looks of our children; and
children, if they survive carelessness in nursing, are sensitive
sanitary meters. We have more colour in the cheek and lip, and more
laughter in the eye, than some I have seen elsewhere. The notion of the
poor in the East of London being a white-faced stunted race is a
mistake, at least as far as the neighbourhood of the Docks is
concerned. If you were to weigh the first hundred working-men that passed your door in these
parts, against such a hundred in (say) Soho, I am persuaded that we
should bring down the scale. But these considerations belong more
properly to a chapter in which I shall try to notice something in
respect to the physical condition of the people in these parts, than
one in which I ought to confine myself to observations on the trades in
which they are engaged. The dwellers in the East of London in general
are, as I have observed, engaged largely in manufactures which concern
the country at large; and in respect to the particular locality in
which my work lies, the trades, as my readers will have seen, are
determined in great measure by the fact that we are among the first to
receive and handle the riches of the earth which are poured into
London. Our contact with distant places is fresh, our people are
related to sailors, our estimate of commerce is formed before the
wholesale importation of goods is divided into the many rills of retail
trade. The main stream of business, like the Thames v/hich carries it,
flows through our midst; and while we see it bringing varied and
abundant stores to the great city on whose skirts we live, the space
afforded by the Docks and River, and the nature of much of the work
which they exact, delivers us from the closeness and pressure which
characterise most parts of London, and certainly presents a result
which contrasts remarkably with those central districts in the
metropolis which I know best. We have more room, in and out of doors;
and as the wind is frequently in the East, we send our smoke West, and
see the sun through a thinner cloud of blacks than if we lived in some
fashionable streets where the sky is yellow from the fumes of a million
The ebb and flow of the tide has, moreover, I fancy, some effect upon
the atmosphere in these parts. However still the air may be, yet the
constant movement of a large volume of water must more or less affect
it. The River is, indeed, my chief source of refreshment. When weary, I
have again and again betaken myself to the Thames Tunnel Pier, which is
ten minutes' walk from my door, and had an airing to Blackwall and back
for a few halfpence in one of the Woolwich boats. This little run is,
moreover, always full of incessant change and interest, the varying
states of the tide ever presenting some fresh aspect of river life.
Sometimes when the wind is strong, and many red-sailed barges are
making the most use of it, the course of the river steamers is
critically tortuous or intermittent. The experts who steer them, or
rather the captains who direct the helmsman, are wonderfully clever in
dodging other craft. The success with which they calculate on barely
shooting between two approaching barges in full sail is such
that one ceases to think of the mischief that might follow a collision.
The chief cause of accident, however, arises from carelessness or
ignorance on the part of those in boats. The way in which a parcel of
cockneys will sometimes row in a crowded river and a strong tideway
almost exceeds belief. Were it not for the wakeful skill of the
steamboat captains, skiffs would be incessantly run down during the
summer months. I have known a steamer pulled up short, not without
maledictions on the part of its crew, twice in a few hundred yards on a
June evening, when your cockney is disporting himself on the water.
Minor accidents, however, continually happen which are nowhere
recorded. Some of the larger ships on leaving the Thames are
occasionally, it seems to me, very heedless. The other day I was
standing on one of our piers when a foreign steamer, an iron screw,
came tearing down and fouled a brig at anchor. The steamer apparently
got the worst of it, for the brig's nose scraped a portion of her
bulwarks off, which came splashing down into the water. But she paused
only, it would seem, to be assured that no man had been dragged
overboard, and then steamed off as hard as she could, with a volley of
impotent oaths after her. These sort of scrapes, however, happen only
with the least reputable vessels which are ill-found and under-manned.
The larger ships are handled with excessive pains. See how carefully
one of these will back out the Docks at the top of the tide before she
is picked up by her attendant tug, and towed down the Thames. It is
fine to see a dozen or so of these being dragged towards the sea, when
the floodtide has just turned, and the river brims.
The Blackwall Pier is, I think, the best from which the Londoner may
see the traffic of the Thames. It is certainly reached by a railway
which has some of the dirtiest and shabbiest stations and carriages to
be found anywhere, and thus the contrast presented when the door of the
Blackwall Terminus has been passed is the more striking. You exchange
in a moment its dingy interior for the view of a grand bend in the
river, alive with a crowd of red-sailed barges and other craft, through which a few big ships proceed slowly, like oxen among
sheep. To the right the masts of the vessels in the West India and
Millwall Docks show like a larch plantation in the winter-time. Both
ways there is a long view down the Thames.
This spot was once chosen as a likely site for a temple of whitebait,
but the hotel is now converted into an Emigrant Depot. With its
bow-windows commanding a finer prospect than 'The Ship' at Greenwich,
it is now a hive of swarming emigrants, at least just before each
shipload of them is despatched. The large balconied dining-room has
exchanged the 'purple and fine linen' of its white cloths and coloured
wineglasses for a number of plain bare deal tables.
I must say a word about this, as it is indeed in some measure
characteristic of the business that goes on at this end of London. Not
only are we in contact with the uttermost parts of the earth by means
of the merchandise which we receive from thence, but this depot is our
door of departure for New Zealand. I have frequently to sign the papers
of those who sail hence. The first day I visited it the dining-room was
filled with a crowd of hungry emigrants waiting for dinner, and the air
with the odour of its advent. They sat in messes of eight or ten, to
each of which was a captain, who kept his nose steadily pointed towards
the door through which the smell came.
Presently a signal was given, and each disappeared, receiving a ticket
as he passed out. With this he descended to the kitchen, returning in a
minute or two, mostly grinning, and bearing a large brown oval dish,
divided in the middle. One half was filled with roast-beef and the
other with potatoes. There was enough and to spare for all. 'They waste
a lot', said one of the officials. But I don't know; it seemed to be
appreciated. 'Ah!' remarked a country-looking fellow to me, with his
cheek bulged with a huge bite, and a twinkle in his eye, 'I wish, sir,
they would let me stay here for a month'. 'Rare good victuals', said
another. 'I believe you', added a third; ''Tain't allus we've had a
bellyful of cooked meat every day'.
The emigrants are fed and taken to New Zealand free of charge,
excepting £1 each for 'bedding-money' for those over twelve, and 10s.
each for those under that age. I was struck with the air of confidence
displayed by most. They were leaving the old country with less regret
than I liked to see, though some of the elders looked sad. The majority
were labourers. The officials told me that on the arrival of the ship
at its destination they were for some time lodged in a depot free of
expense, but that they were generally engaged at once, or soon fetched
away by friends.
The sleeping arrangements at the depot prepare the emigrants for their
inevitable crowding on board-ship. The married couples have each a
berth to themselves, but dozens of these sleep in what would be called,
on shore, the same apartment. Their discomfort, to use the mildest
word, especially during the first week of the voyage, must be extreme.
The single men and women are of course kept scrupulously apart, and
their berths, especially those of the former — which were 22 inches
wide, and separated by a wooden division some 6 inches high — looked
unpleasant enough. However, free carriage and food can hardly be
expected to be luxurious. Some of the men wore red-carpet slippers,
which were an odd finish to an earth-stained suit of fustian or
corduroy. Divers, however, had on their 'Sunday' clothes. The vessels are fine-looking
and roomy. But the 'roominess' of a ship, like that of any other place,
is comparative, being determined by the number it is made to hold.
Several of them were waiting; their turn in the Docks hard by, and
sticking their bowsprits over the quays in that long masted line which
fringes the land in these parts, and to which the dirty Blackwall
Railway ministers with incessant trains. The depot associated with this
at Plymouth sends emigrants to Sydney, Adelaide, and New Zealand. This
at Blackwall is a point of embarkation for New Zealand alone, and has
seen the departure of seventeen thousand emigrants from May nth, 1874, to
August 7th in this year, which gives an average of more than a thousand
a month. I found divers Scotch and German families awaiting the next
ship. It looks as if New Zealand were filling up fast, since this is
only part of the human stream which is incessantly being poured into it
number of clergy hereabouts - but not Harry Jones - saw sponsored
emigration as the solution to the problems of the urban poor, and
various church-based societies were established. It had begun with
'distressed needlewomen' - William Quekett
(along with Charles Dickens) was involved in the foundation of the
Female Emigration Society in 1849 - but the focus shifted to
able-bodied youths and men; Harry Jones' curate Sidney Vatcher
from 1873-75, and his wife Marion, were active in the East End
Emigration Society and Self-Help Emigration Society, though mainly
after they had left this parish.
A generation later, Blackwall Pier had become a centre for immigration - a 1906 picture [right] comes from a supplement to a disreputable magazine The Sphere: 'Our Alien Immigrants: How the New Alien Act Operates'.
The training of carrier-pigeons forms, apparently, part of the
business of the East of London. I was waiting for the boat the other
day at Blackwall, and found a young girl with a basket of birds. Each
bird had a small compartment and lid to itself. Every five minutes, by
the station clock, the girl opened a lid and let out a bird, which
after flying up and taking an airy glance, made off home. Next day, the
girl said, she was going to let the basketful loose farther down the
river. Anyone leaving London by the Great Eastern Railway must have
noticed the numerous slight structures, used for pigeons, on the roofs
of the poorer houses which skirt the line. We have a good many of these birds about us, and
a colony of them has this year established itself in the tower of our
church. This their 'castle in the air' is also shared by numerous
sparrows, which I think have increased in number since they found out
the water-pans with which we supply our cocks and hens. It is difficult
for them to get what they want out of the Docks, for the sparrow must
sit at the edge of his liquor in order to drink, and a sheer descent of
some 10 feet of quay-side wall puzzles him, however thirsty he may be.
|For a long time, the keeping and training of pigeons was a popular pastime across the country, and this
article charts some of their commercial uses until technology replaced
them. Harry Jones refers to a colony of pigeons in the tower; for the
last three years this has been replaced by a pair of peregrine falcons,
who have successfully bred chicks, and gobble up any unfortunate
pigeons who get in their way.
In looking back over the present chapter on the Trades and Industries
of the East of London, I see I have omitted to state that we are
conspicuous for our manufacture of the best fireworks, which we supply
to various parts of England, sending with them, if needed, experts to
superintend and direct their displays. Indeed it would seem that even
the expedition of the Prince of Wales to India is furnished with them
from these regions, and that the sparks which will dazzle the eyes of
our fellow-subjects in our Eastern dominions will have been prepared in
the Eastern portion of our metropolis.
But, whether the need be small or great, anyone wanting such things had
much better buy them here at first-hand. Last year, while away for my
summer vacation in the country, I contributed a box of mixed fireworks
at a village-school feast, and it was surprising not only how much
fire, noise, and smell we got out of a pound's worth, but what a
variety of elaborate wheels and rockets came out of our parcel. They
were most vehemently applauded by the rustic lads and lasses, and left
an impression on their minds that a place which could produce such
brilliant fabrics must be altogether a dazzling and beauteous realm —
which is complimentary to the East of London.
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