Зображення сторінки

with emotion, “ do you know what might have been the result had this fruit been eaten? We should have had cholera amongst us.”

My dear Alderman, it is a mercy for which to offer up thanks in all our city churches, that the plague in question is not so easily evoked. People live on garbage such as that in the bushel basket; and the sickening odour that compels your nose to seek refuge in your pocket-handkerchief is the daily breath of their existence. Farringdon Market is not many minutes' walk from the Mansion House; and it might be wagered with a certainty of winning, that this sultry September afternoon there may be found at least a score of halfnaked, dirty little children rooting over the scavenger's swept-up heaps, exactly after the manner of pigs or ducks, and gobbling up plums decayed out of all shape, rotten apples, oranges turned blue and with quite a hairy hide of mildew on them anything. Is this true ? I seriously assure you that it is, and that it may be witnessed in Covent Garden or Farringdon Market on any summer's day. But at last there is some hope that this shocking condition of things as regards the juvenile market prowlers will eventually be mended. There cannot be more than six or seven hundred of them, and after some weeks of skilful manœuvring the active officers of the School Board have captured almost a dozen.

But as regards the courts and alleys. For humanity's sake, it would be well, were it possible, to cut away a good sized block out of an acre of fair average London squalor, and carry it out somewhere, into Hyde Park, say, where it might be safely and conveniently exhibited. There is a broad field for selection. In the south, between London Bridge and the Elephant and Castle, to the right is the Mint, with its awful colony of Irish; and to the left is Kent Street, with its network of slums that give harborage to as many individuals “known to the police” as Newgate would hold, even if they were packed close as barrelled herrings. Or you might take the Surrey side of Blackfriars Bridge, and cut your block out somewhere about Windmill Street, in the New Cut, or from the neighbourhood of Vauxhall, where the potteries and the gasworks are. In the east you might take your pick from a hundred examples; but I should recommend a neighbourhood between Rosemary Lane and Limehouse Hole. In the north a remarkably choice sample-a rich, full-flavoured specimen-of alley life may be met with between the Philharmonic Hall and Islington Green. If you went westward, the choice might lie between Peter Street and Parker Street, in Drury Lane.

But it would be fairest, perhaps, to take a slice out of the centre of the city. It is rotten to the very core. You may stand on Holborn Viaduct and bawl loud enough for the inhabitants of the very filthiest spot in London to hear. It lies between the magnificent new meat market built lately by the Lord Mayor and the Corporation and the great, gloomy Sessions House, that squats on what is funnily called the “green” at Clerkenwell. The block I allude to is bounded on one side by Turnmill Street and on the other by Red Lion Street; and how it has escaped the vigilant eyes of the Sanitary Commissioners and their large staff of officers, who are, and have been for the last five and twenty years, constantly on the look-out for this kind of thing, is a puzzle to me.

To be sure, the Sessions House, in which the judges have so often publicly expressed their opinion that half

the vice and immorality existing among the lower classes is due to their herding together in pent-up slums, overshadows the place in question, and thus they may, in the semi-darkness, have missed it; but surely they might have smelt it—it stinks aloud. If that square half acre, including Broad Yard, and Bit Alley, and Fryingpan Alley, could be taken up, just exactly as it is, without so much as disturbing a donkey stabled in a kitchen, or a gutter with a baby playing in it, and transported to Hyde Park—it might be railed in so that none of the creatures could escape, and a deep trench filled with some pleasant disinfectant might surround it -I venture to predict that it would prove an exhibition that would attract more visitors than did the first palace of glass and iron.

Mind you, there must be nothing artificial or sham about it. Everything must go on just as it did in Turnmill Street—just as it has been going on during the memory of the oldest inhabitant—just as it is going on now. I would not even take down the board from over the two-feet wide entry of Bit Alley, on which is inscribed the particulars of houses to let, and the notice that applications are to be made to the owner, a gentleman who resides far away in some charming rural spot in the country.

As guide and expositor at this amazing exhibition of the wild tribes of Turnmill street, I would engage the worthy missionary Mr. William Catlin, who would have stranger stories to tell of those among whom he has laboured so long and so faithfully than had a namesake of his, who, years ago, published the narrative of his experiences among the North American Indians. I have explored these dangerous regions with the gentleman in question. In his safe company-for they recog

nise in him a true friend, and never dream of molesting him—I have penetrated the fastnesses of Little Hellso Broad-yard is called—and I have trod with him the dark places of Fryingpan-alley, where, excepting his own, and that of the policeman, the face of a white man is never seen, the natives being at best of a greyish slate colour. There was some stir at that time, now nearly four years ago. I found that, for the use of about a hundred and fifty inhabitants of the alley, there was but one water-closet, which was in a horrible condition. And it would have been infinitely worse, had not some needy old soul occasionally laboured there with a mop and a pail, her reward being a few cinders, bestowed on her by the grateful residents, wherewith to make her a fire. Some hasty improvement was, I believe, made in this department. Then the water supply was acknowledged to be defective, and a peremptory requisition was made on the owner of the houses to fix up a capacious cistern, and he complied ; but I may mention that several months afterwards no water had as yet been laid on, and that the said cistern served as a secluded roost for the ragamuffins who were bold enough to climb up into it.

I could not promise that the misused water tanks should form part of my Hyde Park Exhibition. Still there would be no lack of other novelties and curiosities such as would fill a crowd of fashionable visitors with awe and amazement. They could have a fair opportunity, for instance, of being enlightened as to the simple way in which cholera is propagated in these regions, the marvel being that, under the circumstances, that baleful disease is not at this moment raging through the length and breadth of the City ; for, permit me to repeat, that the courts and alleys of Turnmillstreet are only a few of a thousand, and that in their main peculiarities they more closely resemble each other than members of a family. Green-stuff-cabbage, greens, turnip-tops, &c.--are the media through which death and devastation are conveyed into many innocent and unsuspecting families.

Scores of costermongers inhabit the alleys of Turnmill-street. On hot summer nights you can see the poor tired fellows reclining on their barrow-boards, seeking that necessary repose that is not invariably to be found on an aged bedstead, with frowsy hangings, located in a little room in which, summer and winter, a fire to cook by is kept burning. The costermonger's best chance of making a penny is when there is a glut of greenstuff in the market and a few waggon-loads are left over, which, at last, are sold for what they will fetch, as they rapidly grow stale and discoloured. It is then that the industrious barrow-man loads up (on the Friday, may be) and conveys his bargain home. It is bestowed in the stable, or in the cellar, till next morning.

But now the greens are green no longer: the outer leaves look about as succulent as whitey-brown paper, and they are limp to their very hearts. They must be revived. This is only to be done by means of water, and, as may be easily understood, when ten or a dozen costermongers have each a barrow-load of greenstuff to “ 'liven up," it comes rather hard on the cistern. But they are economical with the precious liquid to a horrible degree. They make no secret of the operation. Standing in Turnmill-street any Saturday morning in the season, you may look in at the mouths of the alleys, and there see the washing-tubs in which the cabbages are in soak, while the slimy leaves of the “waste trim

« НазадПродовжити »