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TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF EAST LONDON.
LOOK backwards over twenty-five East London years, discovers
the growth and decay of things good and bad. The end is better than the beginning. It may be that the love of excitement has grown and the sense of reverence decayed, but during the same time there has been a growth of order and of mutual consideration, a decay of brutality and of superstition. The change has been for good.
The leaven which works changes is for the most part out of sight. The kingdom of heaven cometh not by observation. The most powerful forces which during this period have been modifying East London are not to be discovered by any human instrument. As it was in the beginning so it is now. He whose voice was not heard in the street—not Theudas with his noisy band and not the Roman power—was founding a world-wide empire. Those now whose work will appear in the Last Day are those who, perhaps anknown even to themselves, have
* Taught weak wills how much they can,
Thou must be born again!” The greatest help to every society is a human life, and although it may be impossible to say of " him ” or “her” that it is by them the best changes in East London have come, it is possible to assert that it is someone's unselfish service given humbly as by “one under authority,” some one's communion with God, enjoyed as if by right, which lie at the root of lasting changes.
It is tempting to speak of such people as they have come under one's notice. There is a man, cultivated and not to say brilliant, who year after year has gone in and out among the families of a small neighbourhood. He has made no converts, established no institutions ; bat the example of his chivalrous service, the contact with his spirituality, the touch through him with an eternal and a good God, have stirred ap sleeping natures and created a reforming fire fed from beneath.
There is another—a woman—who, belonging to no society and having no list of the rescued, was for many years & power among fallen women. She had an indignation against wrong which made the lowest feel they had a friend who so cared for them as to be angry at their sin. She made vivid to them a power which their conscience recognised, and taught them through their own experience that God is in the world.
Those people—the unknown good—those who make daily gifts, and never blot them with a name—those who in their families and neighbourhoods let their light shine for the glory of God-these are the real reformers of the world. It was a few disciples and not a great organisation by which Christianity was spread, and it is still by individual lives—even if they are associated with charches, chapels, armies, or missions—that the Christian spirit permeates society. The great ones are, in one sense, those whose deeds are to themselves unknown, and who ask, “When saw I Thee an-hungered and fed Theo ? ”
This fact as to the real spiritual force must be remembered as in the following pages various agencies are passed in review. The unseen, the power of forgiving sins, is the real; but the seen, the power of making the lame walk, is that alone by which judgment can be made.
The agencies for good are themselves numberless, and not to be estimated by one observer; bat eminent above all is the School Board, which twenty-five years ago opened its first school in Whitechapel. Its subsequent buildings have shown almost continuous improvement, and its methods of teaching have gone on developing. Its influence has been far more than that which is measured by the inspector. The buildings show signs of a care rarely given even to churches in East London. Every department bears evidence of thoughtful arrangement and everything is kept in repair. Windows are cleaned and mended, the right thing is used for the right purpose, and the “make-shift” with which East Londoners are so familiar is here absent. The staff, moreover, offer an example of business methods applied to the concerns of the people. The members come as regularly and work as responsibly as those who are employed in some great brewery, factory, or dockyard. The idea is encouraged that education is a serious matter-as serious as business, something other than a parson's fad, and not to be lightly neglected.
The Board as a piece of machinery has done much; but it is so much more than mere machinery. The teachers and managers are
human, and, up to the present, official control has not prevented them from showing their human sympathy. Many have used their position to become friends both of children and parents. These delight to make the schoolroom interesting with flowers and pictures and pets; they go walks together into the country or to public exhibitions ; they form school clubs and hold together old scholars with traditions of school honour.
The teachers who do these things would be the first to testify to the help they receive from local managers. In fact, it is local managers who have restrained officialism.
At times they may prevent the smooth working of some rule or fail to understand the importance of some detail; but they give to School Board methods a variety which is life, and commend measures which, without their gifts, would be resented.
A School Board may at any moment become a hindrance to education, a mere educational drill-sergeant. The London Board has not been such a hindrance, and its success is largely due to the presence of managers who give & sort of human touch to the necessary machinery, and make the schools what Matthew Arnold used to hold the best test of efficiency—“human.” One man--a manager--visits his school almost daily before going to business. He is the trusted friend of teachers, to whom he lends books, with whom he goes expeditions, and whom he frequently entertains. He is known to all the children, and from his sympathy come the plans for meetings and parties, the suggestions for recreation, the provision of flowers and pets. If breakfasts or dinners are organised for the hungry he frequently takes the meals with them. He thus humanises both discipline and relief.
Next to the School Board as an agency eminent among those which have effected change must be placed “the Dockers' Strike.” Battles, with their bloodshed and fierce antagonism, have often marked the crisis from which improvement has begun. They may not themselves be the cause of good, but they mark the rise of forces long active, and give, as it were, a name to a spirit. Ideas have often to be baptized in blood. The Battle of the Docks provoked at the time much strong language and some strong action. Untrue things were said, violent feelings were aroused, and suffering was caused. No one would say that a strike or a battle was wholly good, but the Dock Strike gave form and permanence to two hopes long struggling for expression ----one to get rid of casual labour, the other to redeem dock labour from contempt.
The casuals bave diminished increasing, perhaps, for the moment, the number of vagrants. There can be no transition without suffering, no growth without sacrifice. Other agencies must deal with such results, but the diminution of casual labour is the diminution of a cause most destructive of character.
Irregularity induces a dislike of regularity, and the powers of sustained action fail. It offers inducements to drunkenness and idleness. The casual hand is always poor and often dissolute. The limits put upon casual work and the consciousness among the regular . hands that their position is due to their own efforts have made a distinct change in the prevailing opinion of East London.
The fact that in the hour of trial some educated men put their powers at the service of the Dockers' Committee has also entered deeply into the memory of many. .
These men attended committee meetings, kept accounts, distributed pay, and, if need be, worked all through the night, getting neither notice nor credit, while they shared the burden of the strikers.
Opinion is contagious, and the improved habits of late years are very largely to be traced to the presence of forces shortly summed up in the phrase, “the Dockers' Strike.”
Other agencies for good are, as it has been said, numberless ; some altogether unknown to the present writer, and some, like the Salvation Army, outside his experience. Those with which he has been associated, and of which he can speak with authority without depreciating others, may be described as agencies whose motto has been the “Best for All."
Mr. Edmund Denison, who, with Mr. Edmund Holland, was pioneer of the new way of charity, used to say that “ East Londoners did not pat on their gloves till they reached the Bank.” This is a parable, and by it is implied that the second-rate was held to be good enough for the poor.
The churches, of which many had lately been built, were cheap structures, with signs of cheapness manifest in brickwork and woodwork. They had no endowment, and the only resource available for repairs and service expenses was the small pence of the offertory. The people of the West End felt for themselves the aid to worship to be found in the awe or beauty of their places of worship; the people of the East were left to use mean, draughty, and often leaking buildings, anhelped by music or even clean surplices.
To take another example. There was one standard of order for rich neighbourhoods and another for poor. The police enforced, at any rate, the appearance of respectable conduct on the people who walked West London thoroughfares, while they allowed noise and rioting and fighting to be common in East London. Criminal quarters had their convenience. They formed a sort of reserve in which to find criminals; and the disorderly, degrading life of such a quarter did not matter in Whitechapel as it would have mattered in Belgravia. And it was not only the police who applied a low standard of order : other authorities were content that the streets should be less well made and less often cleaned, that there should be less lighting and
less space, that the dwellings should be less fit for habitation, and the relief of distress less adequate.
Twenty-five years ago there were great criminal quarters which have now been scattered; there were houses covering acres of ground which have been condemned as unfit for habitation; there were then in tho whole Tower Hamlets no public baths where now there are five-still very few for half a million people; there were no public libraries where now there are four; there were only one or two small open spaces where now they are frequent-quiet oases in the desert of houses in which the tired may rest. The local boards employed one inspector where now they employ two or three, and paid scant attention to the needs for health and order which have now their first consideration. The Boards of Guardians were more or less careless of administration of vast sums on relief which did not relieve. The infirmaries, hardly free of pauper nurses, were gloomy places and dreaded by the poor, and the out-relief given by favour produced only habits of grudging and cringing. The philanthropists, competing with one another, made one recipient drunk while they left another to starve. In the West End the present standard had not been reached, but methods had been applied there not dreamed of as necessary in East London.
But the most striking example of the difference in the treatment of the two neighbourhoods remains to be noticed. In the West there was some provision for higher education, in the East there was none. A boy employed during twelve hours a day travelled late in the evening to a West London class that he might learn chemistry. There were no institutes with low fees and high teaching, no technical classes to interest those weary of book learning, no history or literary lectares to give wings to a longing to rise out of the narrow ruts of the present, no picture exhibitions to suggest the thought of a larger world, no high-class music so plentiful and so popular as to help to order the tastes and the hopes of the people. Such things were “gloves," only necessary west of the Bank.
Those who felt otherwise believing that what was good for the rich must also be good for the poor-set before themselves as an ideal an East London as well furnished for life as West London. Their motto was—as has been said—“The Best for All”; and their efforts may be traced in the following order :
(1) The reform of the methods of relief.