Poverty and living conditions in the Wisemore district
Walsall Free Press and South Staffordshire Advertiser 25th January, 1888

The neighbourhood round Garden-streets, Hateley's Lane, the Wisemore is prolific in cases of poverty. Many of the population are huddled together in cold, dreary, and even filthy dens, for in many cases rent is in arrears; 'landlords won't do anything'; and so the houses are allowed to get into a state of disrepair, dirty as well as dangerous.

In one house I found 5 shivering little mortals, huddled round an almost empty grate, on the hob of which was stewing 'the dinner'. 'Pigs pudden', the lad said it was, and delighted he seemed to be. One of the children had no boots or stockings on, and in answer to my enquiry, he said they fallen from his feet, there was no money to buy others, and he had to stay at home. On a wooden semblance of a sofa called I believe a 'squab' lay a poor little child thinly covered with a rag, the other little ones were thinly clad. There were 6 children in the family, the eldest lad aged 11, who said the father was a waggoner, who had no work lately, and the mother had gone out ‘stitching’. How the children slept together, how on a Sunday they had some bread and butter given them for dinner, how ‘mother had been obliged to pawn all the things’, I need not tell. Gaunt poverty was all around, the place was none too clean - how could this be with the mother always away? And from this the children come to school hungry, and to think they go hungry away.

In the next place I visited, the father was out of work, and when in work he could only manage to earn 7s.6d. a week with which to keep six persons on. I am afraid he was not all he should be, but the children suffer, and it is of them I speak. The house was comfortless and devoid of furniture....

In another case ‘A hail fellow well met’ ready to drink, capable of earning £1 a week and keeping 10s. for his own pocket. The wife had to manage on 10s. a week but the half dozen little ones come very badly off and 'a warm meal is what they don't get once a week'.

In another family 7s.6d. was the income. 'Out of that I pay 2s. a week rent, and 8d. for schooling, because you see I don't like my children to have a pauper's ticket'. 'How many have you?' 'Four, sir, and the oldest is ten' Husband is in a lunatic asylum, wife having seen better days struggles on, it cannot be called living.

In a dirty court, ankle deep in mud, I found my next case. On entering house I found it to be, with the exception of a squab, a small round table and one chair, utterly devoid of furniture. The paper in many places was stripped from the walls, parts of the floor were dangerously broken, and most unpleasant draught came whizzing through the crevices. 2s.6d. a week was paid for this house and had been for the last 7 years. 3s. was received from the parish and out of this the occupant and 4 children - the eldest l3 - had to exist. As the woman rightly said, ‘it aint living - it's starving’.

Bradford Street. From an old postcard.

The next case was that of a widow with 8 children who by a bit of washing, and the usual parish pay - for I found that in all these cases the relieving officers were as kind as relieving officers could be - had to keep a house going. While talking it was pitiful to see how the ragged garment was drawn round the shivering form; how the little ones kept their hands in the folds of their ragged clothes or huddled up to the almost fireless grate.

'7s. a week from the parish. I have got eight on' em to keep and only one works. I pay 3s. a week for this dog kennel, and do a bit of washing when I can'. The speaker was a tall, raw-boned woman with hands deep in a washing tub. A number of little children were gathered around her and in the interests of scrubbing and washing she attended to their infantile wants.

The next house proved the folly of judging by appearances. Judged by externals its occupants might have been in decent, comfortable circumstances. The place was very clean but I found the father, mother and children pitiably poor. Some time ago the husband met with an accident; he was uninsured; all they had was spent on him; the rent - 3s. 9d. a week and was shared by a daughter. There were 4 children, one of whom earned 5s. a week, and as the husband declined to let the wife apply to the parish they were literally starving in genteel poverty. Clothes, furniture, and almost all portable articles had been pawned for bread, and for want of boots the children could not attend school.

The next house was that of a lockmaker out of work - he had not done an average of more than 4 days a week up till Easter and since then had done nothing. There were 5 children, the eldest of which earned 5s. a week. The wife said she had been obliged to make away with everything, but yet appeared to be struggling on in hopeful poverty.

A page of the paper would be required to record all the sad sights and scenes of one afternoon's visitations. A widow, 5 little children, all living in a clean but shockingly bare house. About 3s. got by washing and 4s. from the parish. This was all they had to live upon and out of this 2s.5d. a week had to be paid for rent.

Almost next door in a house dirty, dilapidated and void, I found a man busily engaged filing the edges of iron buckles at a small vice. 15 gross of these, at a penny a gross, was all the work he had had for some time. There were 7 in the family, one at work, and the father, a poor, sickly, thin man, had only earned an average of 5s. a week for the last 12 months.

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