LIVERPOOL JOURNAL DECEMBER 1849
THE WORK HOUSE SHEDS, “FEVER SHEDS”
The night asylum in Soho St, has been for 2 yrs closed, and its place supplied by the Workhouse at Brownlow Hill, credited during the terrible crisis of 1847 as FEVER SHEDS.
In the middle of the night, I was surprised to learn there were, 164 inmates, 97, men and boys, 67, females, all inmates but one or two beggars, prostitutes or thieves, who come here to stay, to save the penny that lodging would cost. The most luckless and improvident have to make this their nightly home. It is also a resting place for itinerent vagrants, and occasionally by poor workmen, “on tramp.”.
The sheds are open all night, after 10pm it is necessary to seek a policeman to take them through the gates.
If presenting in a filthy condition the applicants are taken to a bathroom to soap and wash, very few object as the water is kept warm. A huge chest stands at the receiving office and out of this after he has been booked in, he receives, “a junk,” weighing about 6oz, of coarse workhouse manufactured bread. He then settles down for the night. At daybreak the house is roused, “the test,” is then applied. Every inmate young or old, is set to work, the men break stones and the women and young pick oakum. They are not limited to quantity, but are expected to work for about four hours with another “junk,” put in their hand as breakfast. The gates are opened at 10am and the beggars and rogues pour upon the town.
It is breach of regulations for those with money to enter and inmates are searched on entering. The experienced hide their cash, if any, before entering. The inexperienced sometimes enter with money, it is taken from them, and for the abuse of the charity, they are sent for a short time to gaol. The week I was there an Irish man had half a sovereign in gold and 4s and 3 and a half dollars in silver, a woman had, 8s-10d and a man was in prison having been found with 4s-6d sewn into the lining of his coat.
I was shown through the sleeping rooms and never will forget the scene! We went first in the female room . The heavy snoring would have enabled a stranger to find his way.
A huge fire was blazing at the end, the windows open, to secure ventilation and although December, the place was warm.
Seated on two long forms on each side of the hearth, I counted not less than, 17 ragged or half-naked women. Behind these on, “bunks,” lay the rest of the unfortunate women.
To describe a, “bunk,” in general terms I would use, “a box,” The side board at the foot was about 4 inches high, but gradually rises to the head. A plank runs across to serve the purpose as a pillow, neither mattress nor quilt is provided. The wretched tenants stretched across on bare boards with no covering, only the rags they came in with and wore in the day. They huddle together for comfort making pillows of each other. So crowded it was difficult to suppose there were 60 there.
A name was called that I might gain some of her history, a dark figure rose from a recess behind the forms, and adjusting her dress advanced, asking one little girl no more than 12 yrs old, how she got her living? She hung her head, and gave no answer. “Tell the truth!” exhorted a companion younger than herself, “she was on the town Sir!”
Of the 64 females not one half were virtuous , and 8 to 9 were known to be labouring under the ailment which, in Byron’s “Shipwreck” saved the life of the stout gentleman on whom the lot to be eaten, as fortune would have it fell. The lock wards are full and the ailing girls stay here in order that they be near the spot if a vacancy should occur.
Inquiring how it was the poor wretches were given neither mattress nor quilt, I was told they had both at one time, but the destructiveness was so great that they are now with held. The inmates are riotous occasionally and even break their bunks, they cut the mattresses open, tear their quilts and perform other unmentionable wanton acts.
The men on one occasion, scaled the partition and passed their quilts over to the women, who wrapped them round themselves under their clothes, and slipped out with them as soon as the gates were open in the morning.
The men are at the end of the sheds, a partition divides them in two classes, Irish and English. When the whole were together quarrels were interminable, and even then the Irish assorted themselves to a corner of the room.
There were all sorts in the men’s rooms, many sham seamen, many tales, I of course heard, “poor things,” was the frequent exclamation from my lips, on seeing their palpably, piteous plight. But when questioned the majority told such evident lies and the keepers gave the inmates such a bad character, my sympathy soon became disgust.
Hugh LAVERY, aged 9yrs, has been coming here for a month, he is barefoot and attired in filthy rags, the remnants of a shirt having not been washed since it was made.
He told me an extraordinary tale:-
I belong to Liverpool and lived in Circus St, my mother died in the medical ward of the workhouse. My father, Charles LAVERY is,” an engineerer,” He run away and left me 3 mths ago, when we got to the gate my father told me to get something to eat and he would come back later that night. He never did!
My brother George went with him, and I haven’t heard from them since. The night my father left I slept in a petty. I stayed there 3 weeks, I looked for my father, chiefly at the corner of Circus St were he used to stand at night. I begged before my father left me.
“Tell the gentleman about the pocket you picked,” said the superintendent.
The boy continued – On Tuesday last I was in Brownlow Hill and met a boy, we called him, “Soldier,” because he wore a soldiers jacket, I don’t know his real name.
He asked me to put my hand in a gentleman’s pocket. I did and got a shilling. I bought some bread and brought the rest of the money here. In the entry the girls took it off me. I had got a handkerchief before that, but it was no good and I gave it to the girls. I asked where he went with the pickpocketers, “They follow the tumblers Sir,” was the reply. “And what do they get?” “Handkerchiefs,” “What do they do with them?” “Sell them in Fontenoy St,” “And what will you get for a good silk handkerchief?” “twopence or threepence.” “I don’t know where those who follow the tumblers live, I go with Little Johnny HUGHES a-begging in the daytime, and we lodge here at night.
The truth of LAVERY’S statement has been tested by the Retiring Officers and he is now gladly removed to the Kirkdale Industrial School.
Little Johnny HUGHES, I next spoke to, but he was a head taller than the juvenile who had added the adjective to his name.
He said: My father has been dead for 12 mths. He was a labourer, a bricksetter and lived in Oldham Rd, Manchester, there were three children besides me and I was the youngest. My mother died before that in the fever ward at Manchester. I am going on 11 yrs, I was sent to the workhouse at Manchester, but ran away. My eldest brother was a stone cutter, and I lived with him for a fortnight after I ran away. I don’t know what became of the rest of my family. My brother got out of work and we walked all the way from Manchester to here, and slept once in the Night Asylum at Warrington. They give you a quart of gruel there, night and morning.
My brother brought me here and told me to go in, he said he would be back in an hour. I did, and saved bread for him all night, but he never came. In the morning I didn’t know what to do, but went begging. I got that day a pair of shoes and 2 pence. I paid 3 and a half pence for my lodgings and bought a half penny worth of milk. I lodged in Addison St, a boy showed me the place. He showed me afterwards, A HOT ENTRY, I never go there now, there are lots of people there, [with a mock virtuous look] , “they used to get on with such bad language there.”
I asked what streets did he beg in? “There was one at the bottom of Gill St,” He did not know the name, “but you go past the market and go down to your left.” Poor people live there he told me, poor people get shoes, he gives them to the cobblers round Brownlow Hill, there is a few round there. “What do you get for the shoes?” I asked, “Well if they are good we get a penny of two pence a pair.
I don’t know were my brother is, he remarked, but I heard from a boy, in this place one night, he had gone to sea.
Inquiring for cases of a positive and undeserved distress, I was pointed to two parties.
The first was James MC BEAN, a stout, able bodied, Scotchman, with a thick accent, he had an honest looking countenance. He was barefoot, dirty and ragged. His chin had been unshorn for a month, and his toilet had cost him no care.
He was a native of Dundee and had been brought up as a house, carpenter. He had been out of employment for the past three months. He had been 3 and a half years in this town. His first masters were, Messers WARBRICK and SIMM in Oxford St, North, the next Mr OWENS in a street off Williamson Square. Afterwards he worked for 18 mths in the Clarence Foundry, chiefly on the pattern line. The place is closed now, and he has tried all the shops in the town but could get no work. Before coming to Liverpool he had worked, 2yrs in Glasgow. He had never tramped much and I asked, why he didn’t leave this town and look for work elsewhere.
He cast a melancholy look at his tattered garments and bare feet, and said, “I should like to be in a better position before I went, no one would engage me in this state, besides, I should have to carry tools, and I scarcely have any left now.”
He afterwards said, “I have come to the asylum night after night for a month, It is seldom I get aught to live on except here. I go down to the docks and sometimes pick up a few potatoes when vessels are discharging them, I have them roasted on the pitch kettles on the quays. The police never interfere with me.” He was not married and I asked why he didn’t get a job as a dock labourer. He said he had tried, but without success.
When in work he used to lodge in Raymond St and Oriel St, Vauxhall Rd. I asked did he beg, he shook his head and said warmly, “”Na I’ve no come to that yet.” He had sometimes got a shilling or 18 pence from his shopmates, “and many times meat also.”
MC BEAN, I was told was one of the quietest, and best behaved of the inmates, and he was, to all appearances very willing to work.
The sheds are visited twice a week by two town missionaries, these with the exception of Dr GEE, one of the workhouse medical attendants, Mr BROUGHAM of the Bankruptcy Court, in this town [nephew of the great Harry] are there only visitants, and all honour to them for their solicitude.
The inmates especially the women, are I am told, often bathed in tears after the ministrations of the Rev’s SUNNERS and ROBINSON, strange that the most hardened should be so easily moved!
The sheds are under the superintendence of Mr HOLGATE, an intelligent officer, well worthy of a better place.
The nuisance which they have caused in the half aristocratic neighbourhood of Mount-Pleasant is bitterly complained of.
The denizens gather in great numbers, especially in the summer on the door steps of the different Gentry – their language and actions alike disgusting, they reply only by gross insolence in attempts to drive them away.
The most famous, HOT ENTRY, in town, I thought it my duty to visit.
It runs from Duckenfield St to Great Orford St, being the first passage met from Brownlow Hill.
A bake house extends beneath the flags of the entry, the oven heats there, and hence the attraction. As soon as the Night Asylum, opens its doors, the released horde, resorts here, it is their day house, and the most active of police efforts fail to drive them away.
The life of the old baker who lives below is embittered by efforts to abate the nuisance, he goes out with sticks occasionally, the tenants retreat, the females indulging in obscene gestures as they go, but the moment he resumes his occupation they are back. The worst is, his business is becoming injured by the perpetual assemblage of Goths in the neighbourhood. Mr DOWLING of the watch committee is shortly to make his appeal.
The Baker told me of one young fellow who congregated here, 18 to 20 yrs of age, his language and manners bespoke he, had better breeding.
This was, Tom FIELDS, the baker had no hands and was busy, he thought he would try the integrity of Tom, and sent him to deliver bread to some customers. He was then barefoot, would it be safe to buy him shoes? Would he return?
The benevolent Baker trusted, and in this place his confidence was not misplaced. He was often afterwards employed.
It turned out that Tom FIELDS, however sunken then, was of decent descent. His father is an Innkeeper, keeping the, George Hotel in Luton. Tom chose a roving life and was shipped on a vessel leaving London, he had gone on one voyage, but on his return, had sacrificed his money at, “folly’s shrine” and then turned vagrant on the town.
His fiends being apprised of his condition, his stepmother and sister came, clothed in silks, and provided him with decent attire, and all immediate necessaries, and as he did not choose to go home a situation was got for him with, Mr HITCHEN, Baker, Limekiln Lane.
He has, I have learned since, left and resumed the attractions of a gypsy life amongst his old associates , he begs through the town, but added, the Baker, he does not frequent, THE HOT ENTRY, “For he now is ashamed to come here.” – one hopeful sign.
Copyright 2002 / To date