HL Deb 31 March 1865 vol 178 cc543-56

in rising to move an Amendment of Standing Order No. 191, relative to the demolition of dwellings inhabited by the working classes, said: My Lords, during the last two years in this metropolis, in whichever direction we turn, we find great railway works in progress, which are for the most part constructed on the site of dwellings that are being removed. The question naturally arises where the population thus displaced are to go to, and whether any kind of provision is made for them? We are not only to ask this question with regard to those who are thus displaced, but we have also to consider what is to be done in respect of those who are coming year by year to reside in the metropolis; because, my Lords, the population of this metropolis is not only sustained by its natural increase, but also by a yearly immigration of from 30,000 to 40,000 persons. The question, therefore, is what is to be done with respect to these great displacements? The answer generally given to any inquiry on this point, is that the supply will be equal to the demand. But those who give this answer seem to have very little notion of what the demand and the supply are. The demand is for something immediate—for dwellings for artizans who are turned out of their houses; but the supply can only be provided in a long course of time. Again, the demand is for something near, for dwelling houses near the places of employment; but the supply is of dwellings very remote from the places of employment. It is not my desire to stop the progress of what is called improvement and civilization; but I do wish to lay before your Lordships and the country a view of the misery you are inflicting on the working classes by the demolition of dwellings and the want of any provision for those who are thus displaced; because it cannot be denied that the House of Parliament, having determined that these improvements shall be made, have decreed, I might almost say, the destruction of the intermediate generation. I do not say that ultimate good will not follow from these changes; but some measures should be taken to mitigate the immediate consequences, because the intermediate generation—that which suffers from the laws which you have passed and are about to pass this Session—must perish, if not bodily, yet at all events socially. According to the official Returns laid on the table the number of persons to be displaced in London and the suburbs is not less than 20,000, and the number of houses to be pulled down is about 3,500. Very well. But the first question that arises is, has any provision been made for the reception of these displaced persons? If your Lordships read the foot note appended to the tabular Returns, in most instances you will find two things stated—one of which is true and the other untrue. That which is true is that no provision is made for the persons displaced, and that which is untrue is that no such provision is necessary, as the people will find accommodation elsewhere. But where is this accommodation to come from? Take London and the suburbs. It is not to be found in the model lodging-houses, which are altogether full, and have many applications for the first vacancies. If these houses were all vacant they could only receive a small proportion of those displaced. I suspect that the whole of the model lodging-houses, if they were empty, could not receive much more than 10,000 persons. What is the class of persons about to be displaced? As far as I can make out the number of skilled artizans about to be displaced is 9,600 or 10,000, and the number of common day labourers is about the same. These model lodging-houses are very well adapted in most instances for the highly paid artizan earning his 40s. a week; but we have never yet been able, with all our experience, to construct houses suited to the poorer class of labourers, who can pay 1s., 1s. 6d., or even 2s. 6d. a week for their lodgings. Therefore these model lodging-houses, were they even sufficient in number, will furnish no assistance whatever for the labouring classes who may be displaced by the works now in contemplation. Again, if your Lordships look to the existing houses—those which are not yet pulled down—you will find that owing to former displacements they are at the present moment so overcrammed that there is not lodging room for a single additional human being. If you go to the outskirts of London you will see houses, not only very few in number compared with the numbers displaced, but houses of such a character that they are only qualified for highly paid artizans, and not for the dockyard workman, the costermonger, and the common day labourer. This state of things acts very seriously indeed upon the financial condition of the poor. It is said that all the model lodging-houses are not full; but anybody who is conversant with the habits of the working classes knows that in many of the houses there are sudden vacancies which cannot be immediately filled up. Notices are accordingly placed upon the doors of the lodging-houses stating that lodgings may be had, and persons who might happen to see a few of these notices suppose that there is plenty of space. The other day I went into a district for the purpose of seeing how far those statements were true. No doubt there were a few to be let; but those that were vacant would not accommodate one five-hundredth part of those who require accommodation. The last quarterly report of the Society's houses—the Society for improving the Condition of the Working Classes—states with regard to the amount of accommodation— Streatham Street.—The 54 dwellings for families are all occupied. Portpool Lane,—The family dwellings are fully tenanted; and of the 64 rooms for single women there are 8 at present empty. Wild Court.—Every room in this court is at present occupied. Tyndall's Buildings.—Of the 87 rooms in this court. 10 only are untenanted; the Men's Lodging-house, which makes up 38 beds, has had an average number of 34 nightly inmates. Clark's Buildings.—There are at present 2 rooms only untenanted. George Street Lodging-house, for 104 single men.—The average number of weekly inmates has been 101. Hatton Garden House, for 54 single men, has had an average number of 50 weekly lodgers. Charles Street, Drury Lane, Lodging-house, for 82 single men.—The average number of weekly lodgers has been 74. During the greater part of the last quarter many of the tenants left for the hop-picking season,' but they have again returned; and in the last week of the quarter there was only one empty. The sanitary report of all the Society's houses is good. The above report gives a fair average of the occupancy of our houses. The superintendent of the Streatham Street house states that he has always many applications for the first vacancy, and should have no difficulty in finding tenants for another building of equal accommodation—and so for all the other societies. Now, I want to show how very seriously this state of things operates on the condition of the labouring classes. It is difficult to draw a minute distinction and to define how they are affected financially, socially, and physically as all these influences act and react on each other. Let your Lordships first look at the financial effects. There is a large proportion of workmen, such as shoemakers, tailors, printers, and dockyard labours, who cannot remove to a distance from their places of employment without finding their occupation wholly destroyed. See how this displacement acts on many poor families—on widows who have to obtain their livelihood by their mangle. When these persons are turned out of their houses and removed to a distance they lose their connection, and as these departments of labour are generally well filled in the new locality they go away to certain destitution—they go to localities already preoccupied—and the only effect is to swell the amount of pauperism and reduce the wages of labour. A certain number of skilled artizans must live near their work. They are for two or three days, perhaps, without any work, and then they receive an order at a minute's notice which must be immediately executed. The notes that I made during a visitation over one of the most populous districts of this metropolis will show exactly the real condition of things. I went over many parts, and found many of the very bad districts already destroyed. I came to one place which I knew very well, it is now a great mass of large buildings, the site of which was formerly covered by a large number of houses exceedingly crowded. Those houses are removed, and a magnificent model lodging-house has been erected upon the site; but none of those who lived in the houses that were taken down were allowed to enter it—they could not pay the rent and the proprietor will have none but those of the highest condition. A great number of working men were thus driven across the river to seek for lodgings, and upon many the displacement came so suddenly and with so much severity that a large proportion, having nowhere to hide their heads, sought shelter in common lodging-houses, where they were called on to pay for a single night's lodging of their family, as much as before would have rented a room, and, from want of the requisite space, were forced at great loss to sell their furniture, which afterwards they could not replace for thrice the sum they obtained for it, and they thus not only lost their homes, but were prevented, in all human probability, from ever getting others. The proprietors of the meanest houses, seeing the great demand for accommodation, instantly raised their prices; so that poor people, who before lived in decency and comfort in two rooms at a comparatively low rent, were forced to pay much higher rents for single rooms. Nor did the inconvenience end, as your Lordships can easily imagine, with the increase of rent; they had further to put up with the discomforts and indecencies consequent upon sleeping seven, eight, nine, or even ten in the same apartment. The answer of the proprietors to any appeal made to them was, "Go when you like, and go as soon as you like; there are plenty of others anxious to come in your place." The result soon is, that the occupants of these rooms, finding them much more expensive than they can afford to pay for, are obliged to leave, and with their departure from the district ceases their employment; so that, from supporting themselves by honest industry, they become reduced to the condition of vagrants, wandering from place to place, till brought down eventually by this abominable unjust system of wholesale eviction to a condition of absolute pauperism. This is the story, not of hundreds, but of thousands. And see, moreover, how the change affects their social condition. Numbers among the industrious classes have invested in burial clubs and sick clubs, are members of reading-rooms, or are in the habit of attending meetings for what is called social improvement. Compared with what their condition was some twenty years ago, the working people of to-day have made enormous advances, socially and morally; but the very persons who have done so much to improve their own social position are now to be turned out and scattered in all directions. The clubs are broken up, the reading-rooms destroyed, social meetings rendered no longer possible. These poor people are forced out into other neighbourhoods, where they found none of these comforts, and are, in addition, highly unwelcome arrivals, from the fact that they come still further to burden a labour-market already overstocked—their arrival raises rents and reduces wages; raises rents by the great demand for house room, and reduces wages by the increased supply of labour. Can you wonder that, under all these circumstances, they cling with tenacity to the neighbourhoods to which they belong, and would rather thrust themselves into unhealthy rooms, regardless of the certainty of contracting diseases and relinquishing the old comforts and decencies. I have seen examples of this feeling which your Lordships would hardly believe. It is not very long ago that I went to a very remote place, one of the filthiest in London, and I went purposely at a very late hour and in very bad company, that I might see things exactly as they were. More disgusting spectacles have rarely presented themselves than I saw that night; but in one place I met a very decent woman who spoke freely of the motives which induced her husband and herself to remain and expose themselves to all those discomforts. Among other things she drew attention to four or five large hole in the walls, and, alluding to her husband, said, "We are just over the main drains, and the walls are so very ruinous that Jack and I take it in turns to sit up at night; the rats come up in such numbers that if we did not do so we are afraid they might carry off the baby." That is a state of things which is simply horrible—positively disgraceful to any country. But why did that man remain there under the circumstances? Because he knew that if he left his dwelling he could not find another in the neighbourhood, but would have to go a long way into the country, and there engage in work very different from what he had been accustomed to. It is said that these things are all governed by the law of demand and supply. But how is it after all these displacements of population that a supply of new houses does not present itself to meet the demand? In the course of a short time your Lordships will be asked to pass Bills, by which 20,000 persons will lose their dwellings. I ask, how can a supply be created to answer such a demand? Go where you will, when you do see houses of the humbler sort rising, they are intended, at least, for the better sort of workmen, earning 50s. or 60s. a week. For dockyard labourers, for crossing-sweepers, for those who live by running messages or executing ordinary jobs, there is no provision of any kind in the way of modern dwellings. And yet they cannot leave the spot where their occupation lies; their whole chance of earning a livelihood turns upon their being always at hand. Every one knows that 200, 400, or 600 men may wait for employment about the docks day after day, but it is only those who are actually there when the gates open to admit a certain number who gain the advantage of being hired. The fault by which all this suffering and misery is entailed lies, I regret to say, to some extent at the door of those who pass these displacement Bills so very recklessly. Various remedies have been proposed from time to time, but most of them have been found altogether inadequate. The proposition put forward by myself in 1854, that accommodation should be provided for all those who were displaced under the provisions of any measure in practice was pronounced untenable Then it was proposed that compensation should be given to occupiers as well as owners. I do not throw aside compensation altogether—no doubt there is a great deal of justice in the proposition, and the case may be urged with great force—but I want something tangible and immediate. I want to know how best we can mitigate the suffering already produced. It is very easy to say, "Build a great many model lodging-houses;" but those conversant with this matter know how extremely difficult it is to carry out such a project. Looking to the cost of model lodging-houses built by our Society, I find that the highest figure was £60 and the lowest £30 per head. Taking the most moderate estimate, I find that in the present year alone no less a sum than £600,000—that is to say, lodging accommodation for 20,000 persons at £30 per head—would be required. Now, where is the money to come from? I know it may be said that we should appeal to the Government to lend us this money; but to do so we must have security to offer. And what security have we? We never can hope to raise such a sum as £600,000 either by public or private benevolence for this purpose in a single year; and to meet the full evil suitably, our efforts should really aim at the making provision for 100,000 families. Model lodging-houses, however, are by no means remunerative; ours have scarcely ever received 5 per cent upon the outlay, and certainly have never exceeded it. The erection of lodging-houses upon the scale which is required in the metropolis would necessitate an outlay of £8,000,000 or £9,000,000; and how are capitalists to obtain what they would regard as a suitable return? In the present state of things I am confident that the great mass of persons would never be able to pay such a rent as would yield any profitable return for the expenditure of so large a sum. Then we have had a proposal for suburban villages with cheap trains. Now I have made a great deal of inquiry into that subject, and I have arrived at the conclusion that we are not at the present moment in a position to construct those suburban villages with any prospect of success. The proposal to have cheap trains is no doubt a very good one, and I should like to see a provision guaranteeing them introduced into the Railway Bills before your Lordships' House. But cheap trains inevitably pre-suppose houses for the people to go into. The experiment, I may state, has been made on the London, Chatham, and Dover line, and I am indebted to the courtesy of the general manager, Mr. Forbes, for a statement of the result. He says he cannot come to any decided conclusion as yet as to the ultimate success of the experiment, inasmuch as the workmens' trains were not introduced until the 27th of last month, and he goes on to say— Two of those trains run each day, in the morning and evening. There is an additional train on Saturdays at half past two o'clock, for the convenience of the workmen who make half-holyday on that day. The numbers carried increase week by week, and I have very little doubt that they will in the end be profitable to the company while I am sure that they will be appreciated by the working men. For my own part, I entertain no doubt that eventually a new state of things will arise, and that these cheap trains will be found to be a great advantage to those for whose benefit they are intended; but what I fear is that the present generation will meantime continue to suffer to a very great extent, and I pray your Lordships to do whatever lies in your power to remedy the hardships to which they are likely to be subjected. Two years ago I brought this matter before the House, and my noble Friend the President of the Council told me that my proposition would be considered in the Committee which was then sitting on Railways; but it has never been acted upon. The Committee recommended that four weeks' notice should be given before any houses could be taken, and there appears to be very little difference between that recommendation and my present proposition, that the notice should be extended to eight weeks. If eight weeks' notice was required to be given, then those poor people would have more time to look about them and to provide themselves with new quarters. One man told me that having but a week's notice he spent the whole of that time in looking out for a house, thus loosing an entire week's wages, amounting to 14s.; but if a notice of eight weeks is rendered necessary, the loss will be spread over a more considerable period, and will be less felt. And now, in order that your Lordships may have some idea of the inconveniences to which the working men are subjected by the pulling down of houses without due notice, or without others being provided, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to read to you a letter which I received from a working man. He says— I hope you will pardon the liberty I take in addressing you this note. I am by occupation a labourer, and have been a resident in Old Pye Street, Perkin's Rents, and Fisher's Court for the last twenty years. I was compelled to leave, about four years ago, Fisher's Court, which was pulled down to erect Rochester Buildings, and repair to Orchard Street, where I rented a room for ten months, when I was compelled to leave this, in consequence of the place being required for pulling down by a Westminster Improvement Company. I was then compelled to take a small attic in Perkin's Rents, which had been used for keeping rabbits (the rabbits being actually there at the time), there being neither chimney nor fire-place in the room. I had to put up with this inconvenience, with my wife and two children, for a week, there being no rooms in the district to be had within my means of paying. From there I removed to Cooper's Arch, Dacre Street, and remained about three months, when we had notice to quite again, through the houses being required for pulling down. I forgot to mention that in Orchard Street they began pulling the roof off the house before I had sufficient time to get another room, as we only had one week's notice. I write your Lordship this statement to show the inconvenience the poor of Westminster are subject to by the pulling down of houses without making any remedy for them. The houses that are situated in Old Pye Street, called Rochester Buildings, are so high in their rents that it is impossible for a poor man to occupy them, and a man who is compelled to earn an honest living by selling his wares in the street is refused entrance. Many of those poor people live in such entire ignorance of what is going on that they do not think of stirring until their homes are actually on the point of being pulled down about them, But then it is often said that they are, as a general rule, only weekly tenants, and that they are ac customed to receive a week's notice. There are, however, hundreds of weekly tenants who, as I have ascertained by inquiry, have regularly paid their rent fifty-two times in every year, and who have lived in the same houses for ten, fifteen, and twenty years. Indeed, the last woman to whom I spoke on the subject had been paying her weekly rent for the same place for upwards of thirty years. And are such persons, I would ask, to be treated as mere weekly tenants, and to be thrown on the world all of a sudden without any regard to their convenience or their associations which they may have formed? Surely they are entitled to rea- sonable notice:—and I would also require that there should be placards placed in the streets about houses to be destroyed, stating that they were to be pulled down at a certain time. And what possible objection, I would ask, can there be to this proposal? Is it not a matter, if not of general right, at all events of clear mercy? It appears, perhaps, to be a small matter, but I can assure your Lordships it is not so in the eyes of those poor people, who would be grateful for any expression of sympathy and kindness at your hands. I trust, therefore, you will not refuse to give your assent to my proposal; and if you do not deem it right to do so, then I hope you will at all events excuse me for having trespassed upon your attention with these observations. The noble Earl concluded by moving the following Amendment of the Standing Order, No. 191:— Ordered, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, that in the case of any Bill for making any work, in the construction of which compulsory power is sought to take fifteen houses or more inhabited by the labouring classes, the promoters be required to deposit in the office of the Clerk of the Parliaments on or before the 31st day of December a statement of the number, description, and situation of the said houses, the number (so far as they can be ascertained) of persons to be displaced, and whether any and what provision is made in the Bill for remedying the inconvenience likely to arise from such displacement, and that such statement be referred to the Committee on the Bill, and that the said Committee do inquire into and report thereon; and that in every such Bill a clause be inserted to enact that the company shall, not less than eight weeks before taking any such houses, make known their intention to take the same either by personal notice to heads of families inhabiting the same at the time of giving such notice, or by placards, handbills, or other general notice placed in public view, upon or within a reasonable distance from such houses, and that the company shall not take any such houses until they have obtained the certificate of a justice that it has been proved to his satisfaction that the company have made known their intention to take the same in the manner required by this provision.


said, he had no objection to the general principle of the proposed alteration, nor to the reduction of the number of houses specified to fifteen; but then he thought it desirable that after the words "fifteen houses," the words "in any parish or place," should be added. The noble Earl had given a very interesting account of the hardships to which those poor people who were ejected from their homes were subjected; but his statement, he could not help thinking, was somewhat tinged with exaggeration. Taking, for instance, the case which had been mentioned, of a couple who had been obliged to sit up all night to prevent a child from being devoured by rats—was it not quite evident that such a house as they inhabited must be in so dilapidated a condition that it could not stand very long? In all that part of the town also to which the noble Earl particularly referred, the land on which such houses stood was worth £100,000 an acre; so that it would be utterly impossible to rebuild on land of that value houses for the working classes, and they would therefore be as completely turned out of them by the process of decay as by the operation of railway companies. The noble Earl had not suggested any method by which the wants of these people could be supplied, nor did he think that they could be met in the localities from which they were removed. There was so little space, and land was so valuable, that no new houses could be erected; and, therefore, if improvements were to take place, there must be a change of residence. It was very desirable that security should be taken for the giving of notice to the occupants of these houses before they were turned out he had no doubt that some hard cases occurred; but he had been informed by persons who had great experience in these matters that in many instances poor tenants had received ample notice. In some cases the houses had become the property of the railway company long before the tenants were displaced, and families had been allowed to remain in them without paying rent on condition that they should leave as soon as it was necessary to pull down the houses; but, even under these circumstances, they often made no provision for the time when their removal would become absolutely necessary. The noble Earl had said that it appeared that 20,000 persons would be displaced under the Bills now before Parliament; but it must be borne in mind that the Order applied to all houses within the limits of deviation, but that in practice no more were pulled down than was absolutely necessary. He hoped that the noble Earl would not object to the trifling Amendment which he had suggested, and with that alteration he should be happy to support his Motion.


said, that if their Lordships could not devise a remedy for this grievance, they ought to be careful not to increase it without necessity, and therefore, as in close connection with the subject, he desired to call their attention to what would be the result of the proposed concentration of the Courts of Justice on the Carey Street site. The space to be occupied was 7½ acres, and the number of houses to be pulled down would be between 300 and 400, all of them being filled by inhabitants of the lower class. It was proposed to remove the six equity courts from Lincoln's Inn.


rose to order. The noble and learned Lord was speaking about a Bill which had not yet come up to that House.


said, that he would then suppose that such a proposition had been made somewhere. The Lord Chancellor, the Lords Justices, the principal Vice Chancellor, and the Master of the Rolls, all had good courts at present, and the last-named Judge was very anxious not to be removed from the neighbourhood of the Record Office. There only remained two Vice Chancellors to be accommodated, for whom Lincoln's Inn was quite ready to provide suitable courts. It was, therefore, he maintained, quite unnecessary to remove these courts to the proposed site, while to make room for them there it would be necessary to pull down a large number of houses. There could be no doubt that a greater number of houses would have to be pulled down than was at present anticipated because not a few must be displaced in order to provide suitable approaches to the new building. The late Sir Charles Barry told a Committee of the House of Commons some years ago that the provision of such approaches by removing Clare Market and opening up the Turnstiles must cost a million of money.


said, he saw no reason why the provisions of the Lands Clauses Act should not be extended so as to give to lodgers in houses taken under compulsory powers compensation for the loss which they suffered from their removal. It was most unfair that a man who might have occupied the same rooms for twenty years should be turned out without receiving as much money as would pay the expense of his change of residence. He hoped that some measure would be sanctioned by Parliament which should secure to these poor persons the same notice as was given to leaseholders, and insure to them reasonable compensation. He did not desire that they should have anything unreasonable for the loss and damage which they might suffer from being compelled to remove. 3,082 persons were to be turned out of their homes by the operation of the Courts of Justice Site Bill, and, therefore, Government by introducing it had taken upon itself the responsibility of relieving these people from incurring hardships through their forced removal.


suggested the omission of the words "inhabited by the labouring classes," in order that the Returns might included the whole number of persons of whatever class whom it was proposed to eject from their houses. Besides the labouring classes the houses in question were occupied by superior mechanics, earning 30s. or 40s. a week, who were desirous to find a better place of residence if possible than those out of which they were about to be turned. In point of fact the Irish labourer in his turf hut by the roadside was actually living under superior sanitary arrangements to those surrounding the skilled mechanic in London.


said, he had no objection to the Amendment suggested by the noble Earl. He was only anxious to get a full Return. He had been charged with exaggerating the evils caused by these forced removals, but when he sat down he felt that he had not said half enough on the subject.


said, he did not think it desirable to strike out the words relating to the labouring classes.


said, he was convinced of the necessity for omitting those words, as otherwise the promoters, whose interest it was to reduce the apparent number of persons ejected as much as possible, would only return the numbers of the very lowest class of labourers removed; and thus the Return would be practically valueless.


said, the number of gentlemen's houses pulled down was not required, and therefore it would, perhaps, be better to insert the words "labourers and shopkeepers" in the Order.


thought the largest possible term should be adopted in order to include every person ejected.


said, if the words were omitted as proposed the Order would be reduced to a nonentity, as its object was to insure notice being served on labourers who might be living or lodg- ing in the houses about to be removed. He thought some amendment of the Order was absolutely necessary, and if the noble Earl would consent to postpone his Motion he would be most happy to offer his services in drawing up a new Order in more inclusive terms.

Motion (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.