He also graphically reports seeing, on the ramshackle bed, the latest addition to an already numerous family, a pale-faced babe, covered with an overcoat. Its expectation of life one would imagine to be small. Yet the luckiest kiddies in Kensington's royal slums are those who die young, without a doubt.
Dying as a baby or being shot - both preferable to life in the slums ? How bad must it have been ?
Some of his other observations include :
- the squalor which lurks at the back door of the Rich forms a terrible indictment of industrialism in general, and of the local authorities in particular. One hears much of the slums of Dublin, of Glasgow, of Manchester, and of the East End of London. They are infamous enough in all conscience but for sheer unadulterated squalor you need to walk round the Royal Borough of Kensington.
- right in the heart of Kensington are tracts that can only be likened to festering sores. Hidden away behind town residences, rented at anything in the neighbourhood of £1,000 per annum, are numberless hovels, for the privilege of inhabiting which the inmates pay 5s. and 6s. a week to the slum landlord. There are whole streets of these dens of disease and destitution.
- one thoroughfare is reputed to be inhabited entirely by human derelicts in the shape of prostitutes.
The article goes on to describe the stench which fills the alleys and the odours of the East which emanated from a nearby factory.
In one street stood a series of dilapidated middens (a heap of something nasty). These conveniences were provided for the dwellers in the row of dilapidated two-roomed hutches opposite in which human beings "live" — and pay 5s. a week rent. A number of the windows measured only two foot by one foot and were likened to a row of dog-kennels.
The little children who play in the alleys are inured to the reek of the stable refuse. Doubtless they find it less unbearable than the noxious smells which infest their own "homes".
It's not only the slum properties which are mentioned but the institutions around them : the elementary school, soup kitchen, police station and workhouse. The two principal institutions seem to be the workhouse infirmary — a monumental pile of drab ugliness — and the special school built for the feeble-minded children of the poor.
Thus when the child, having fortified his being by daily journeys to the soup kitchen, passes from the hands of the tired teacher (who is faced daily with the hopeless task of educating a class of fifty or sixty children) he is in a position to realise the boundless possibilities of life. He is free to become a criminal, a tramp, or a workhouse inmate !
The Barnardo "Home" for Girls and Boys is mentioned. Not for the kiddies who play in Kensington Gardens but for the gutter child. This building might interest some of the subscribers to that charity, with its broken windows, its peeling paint, and generally squalid appearance.
Some of the one story hovels were reached by a flight of wooden stairs three feet wide - a death trap in the event of fire. They look as if a puff of wind would demolish them. This, unfortunately, is not true. One of these hovels was marked "To Let," but a request for the keys was not taken seriously. "Lumme, 'Ria," exclaimed one dame to another, “come an' 'ave a look at these two toffs wot want to live 'ere".
It must not be thought that all the poor inhabitants of the Royal Borough of Kensington are compelled to live in ancient broken down cottages. Some of them reside in modern broken down flats !
Almost Italian Air
In another street a railed and rotten balcony, running the full length of the mews gives the place an almost Italian air, whilst the open bins, full of stable refuse, beneath each doorway, add to the picturesqueness of the scene. These arcadian dwellings of the lowly poor are, generally speaking, well ventilated. Most of them are beautified by broken windows, whilst quite a number of the inmates have only to look at the ceiling to catch a glimpse of London's azure. One tenant had covered the leak in the roof with a piece of sacking.
The flora of civilisation can be found in profusion. The most common of these blossoms seems to be the tin kettle, but the discarded boot, the ginger beer bottle, and the condensed milk can also flourish splendidly. An occasional dead cat adds to the charm.
Every day the carts come up, laden with the off-scourings of the palatial West End piggeries, wherein the Fat Men take their fill of food. Every afternoon the process of sorting is undertaken, and it is then that the local inhabitants, ever ungrateful, stop up the holes in their windows with what is left of the carpet, and get a vice-like grip upon their nostrils.
But one has to rise early to learn the fate of the more or less edible crumbs from Dives' table. In the small hours of the morning the bairns of Lazarus may be seen toddling up to the door of the works, carrying pillow-cases. The man in charge dumps into the outstretched pillow-case a quantity of crusts and scraps of varying age — the jetsam of the previous day's sorting — and the child toddles back to its "home".
Some of the crusts, covered sparingly with margarine, will form the family breakfast. For dinner the child will have more helped down with liquid from the soup-kitchen. Tea, same as breakfast. Supper, nowt, as they say in Lancashire.
The Council is not altogether apathetic. Indeed, with a view to tidying up the streets of the Royal Borough, it has passed a resolution to provide boxes in which to place discarded bus-tickets !
This is a revolutionary move, indeed, but the rebels of Kensington may be forgiven for suspecting that it does not solve the whole problem of slumland. Some of them, in fact, seem to think that boxes of nitro glycerine would be even more useful. We are inclined to agree. C. L. E
A few months later, the same newspaper reported that, since the articles, the streets mentioned have been, or are being, redecorated. Does that sound like a sufficient response ? No way.
- it would be 55 years later that the slums would eventually be demolished in this part of London.