28 December 1888
The police have succeeded in tracing Mrs. Mylett, the mother of the woman found dead in Clarke's yard, Poplar, a few days ago. The deceased woman had frequently spoken of her mother living somewhere near Baker's row, Whitechapel, and it was near this thoroughfare - in Pelham street - that Mrs. Mylett was found to be residing. Upon visiting the Mortuary Mrs. Mylett had no doubt that the body there was that of her daughter. She stated that she last saw the deceased alive on Sunday week, when she called at Pelham street. The mother had frequently remonstrated with her daughter upon her mode of life, but without success. Mrs. Mylett, who is an Irishwoman, stated that her daughter was born in London. Some years ago the deceased married, unknown to her mother, a man named Davis, whom Mrs. Mylett believed was an upholsterer by trade. The young couple had one child, but as they frequently disagreed they separated. The child is now in the South Metropolitan School at Sutton, and is about seven years of age. A man named Charles Ptolomey, who is a lunatic attendant at the Poplar Union, has come forward and made a statement to the effect that he saw the deceased on the night of her death near Clarke's yard, having an altercation with two men who appeared to be sailors. This bears out the assertion of the woman Alice Graves, who said she saw the woman walking along in a very intoxicated condition arm in arm with two men dressed as seamen. This is practically the only clue, if such it can be called, that the police have.
In a letter we publish today the Rev. G.W. McCree asks the momentous question, "Is London growing better?" and answers it with a cheery affirmative. No man is better qualified to answer it, for Mr. McCree has laboured for just forty years in mission work in the London slums. He has seen the worst of Westminster and of Southwark. He has especially seen the worst of Whitechapel, and what has happened lately in that region gives his question the very peculiar significance which it has today. A few months ago all night have answered it as he does; now a sort of despair of progress has seized on many minds, and all the good is forgotten in the horror excited by one abnormal development of evil. Mr. McCree comes to the rescue with an optimism for which he can show chapter and verse. At the close of so long a period of service among the poor he naturally takes stock of his own labours. His conclusion that those who have worked as he has tried to work will leave the great city better, happier, and nobler than they found it has its deepest comfort for his own conscience and his own heart. The path such men tread is not one that leads to worldly prosperity, but it has its goal of happiness nevertheless in convictions of the kind he feels entitled to express. Mr. McCree is not content with generalities. He is ready to show how and why the capital has improved - and in this respect, of course, the capital stands for the whole country. We are better off, according to his testimony, in almost every way. The social, religious, and educational agencies which are peculiarly characteristic of the period covered by his survey have at length told on the welfare of the entire population. The streets are cleaner, and in the deeper sense that those who use them are cleaner mannered and cleaner mouthed. Younger people will be disposed to take the decencies of our outdoor life as matters of course, but those born in the earlier part of the reign may confirm Mr. McCree from their own experience. There are fewer oaths in the air than there used to be. If the Metropolitan Railway had existed forty years ago, its closely packed third class carriages would have been unbearable from other causes than the badness of the air.
Our correspondent is ready to carry his catalogue of improvements into other details. There are fewer fights, he assures us, in the back streets. There are enough of them now in all conscience, but, in such matters, more or less is the all important word. Prize fighting has definitely acknowledged the reign of law in so far as this country is concerned. The championship of what was once thought the most national of all our sports has now to be decided in France; and, with proper vigilance on the part of the gendarmerie, the disgusting business will soon he relegated to Timbuctoo. Dog fighting is all but extinct as a sport; it is now confined to amateur curs who might truthfully subscribe to the declaration that they have never earned a shilling. The great remedial agencies, material and moral, all working converging lines, have begun to tell. It is not one thing; it is many things. Sanitation has done something; cheap fares by road and rail have done something; cheap clothing, furniture, and food have had their part in the change. Beyond and above these, of course, we must reckon with the religious revival, the Temperance movement, the Board school, the Ragged school, and the Refuge. The Board school, according to Mr. McCree, has given us a quite new type of children of the industrial class; the ragged schools and other institutions of that kind have saved us from a whole generation of criminals. Mr. Giffen, among others, has told us all this in another way, but it is refreshing to have the observations of economical science confirmed by those who know the poor as men and women rather than as figures in a statistical table. Mr. Giffen is perhaps more optimistic than Mr. McCree in his grave affirmation that the poor have had almost all the benefit of the great material advance of the last fifty years. What must it have been before that? The average rise in wages has been over 70 per cent. in some instances, and in others, affecting the welfare of large classes, it has reached 150. As wages have gone up in amount, hours of labour have gone down. The cost of living, taking it all round, has not increased, while the food indispensable to subsistence is far cheaper. If meat is dearer it is only, as Mr. Shand has pointed out in his admirable "Half a Century," because the working class now use as a regular article of diet what their fathers were compelled to regard as a luxury. Rent has unquestionably increased, but, as a rule, the workman now demands and obtains superior accommodation.
There is very much to be said on the other side, and chiefly perhaps this. All these estimates are, and must be, strictly relative. The true measure of progress is the existing standard in comfort and in taste. The question is not merely what we are, as a community, according to the number of yards of cloth on our backs and pounds of food on our tables, but what we are in relation to what we aspire to be. Here again the supply is not to be considered apart from the demand. The ideal grows larger, more exacting. Many men are, and ought to be, more sincerely miserable on three meals a day, and the rest in all reasonable abundance, than their fathers were on a garret and a crust. Our dissatisfactions, or, to put it in another way, our aspirations and our wants, are the motive power of the machinery of life; and no conceivable advance of the community, in whole or in part, can ever enable us to dispense with them. The plane of suffering is a higher one, but there is the suffering all the same. The optimists must therefore learn to make due allowance for growth before they strike their entrancing averages. The statisticians have already set them the example in those weekly returns of the registrar General, which tell us, not merely whether we are more numerous or more healthy than we were a week ago, but whether we are so healthy and so numerous as we might have expected to be. A certain confusion of thought on this point often sets extremely well meaning people by the ears. Those who see cold mutton on the poor man's plate, where there was hardly a red herring before, are apt to blame him because he is not the most contented of mankind. Those who ignore the red herring stage, are apt to wonder why he is not the most miserable. In each case, and in regard to far higher things than the materials of his dinner, we have to take account of his quickened intelligence, his enlarged horizon of life, before we can estimate how he stands. The poor no doubt are truly better off than they were; but we shall not prove it by showing that they were worse off under the Heptarchy. The more stimulating thought is what is yet to do for them rather than what has been done. Mr. McCree's survey of forty years of achievement is of most interest as a promise for the forty years to come.
In reading your article on the Poplar mystery, in which the surgeon and the police differed in opinion as to the cause of the woman's death, I am of opinion that the police view is the correct one, for I had a very similar case some years ago when practising in Barnsley. A young man, about 35 years of age, who was much addicted to drinking, had an acute attack of rheumatism in the knee. I kept him in bed free from drink until he was able to walk, when he determined to attend the funeral of a member of the same club, and he promised me that he would refrain from spirits until he returned home. He was lodging with a very respectable middle aged couple. They went to bed early, as the husband had to go early to his work. The lodger had a latch key, and would come in when he pleased. It was a four room cottage. The front door opened into the parlour, with the kitchen behind it. He returned home after the public houses were closed, passed into the kitchen, and left his necktie and pin on the table, and returned to secure the front, when he dropped close to the door, where the landlord found him, raised him up, and put him in a chair, and came for me, when I found he had been dead for some hours. I gave notice to the police for a coroner's inquest, and the coroner ordered the surgeon of the police to make a post mortem examination. When the body was stripped there was a mark found on his neck as if he had been strangled, and the surgeon charged the landlord with doing it. I attended the post mortem, when the surgeon called my attention to the mark on the neck. I accounted for it by his having on a tight collar the pressure from which, in consequence of the position in which he was found, had forced the blood out of the capillaries; hence the mark. I removed the skull cap, and when we examined the base of the brain we found the ventricles were filled with serum, proving that death was caused by serious apoplexy. I found that between his going to the funeral and returning he drank ten glasses of whisky, and had nothing to eat. It is probable that this unfortunate woman was in the same predicament with regard to drink and want of food as my patient, and that serious apoplexy was the cause of death.
Andrew Rowan, Physician and Surgeon,
35 High street, Lewisham.
IS LONDONG GROWNING BETTER OR WORSE?
This question is of great moment, but I am prepared to answer it. I have been a Christian worker in London since 1848. For twenty six years I visited the poor of St. Giles from house to house, slum to slum. For five years of that time I was chaplain to a City house. For thirteen years I was an official of the United Kingdom Band of Hope Union. I have carefully explored all the lowest parts of Westminster and Whitechapel. I have preached at the Derby and the Old Bailey before public executions. I enjoyed the friendship of Thos. B. Smithies, Dr, Brock, Samuel Morley, and Lord Shaftesbury. I have now been a pastor in Southwark for fifteen years. I may therefore venture to offer an opinion on the present condition of London. What then do I think? This, that the sanitary, educational, social, and religious condition of London is vastly improved. There is, for instance, less profane language in the streets. Animals are better fed and more humanely treated. Public baths and laundries have increased personal cleanliness. There are far fewer fights in back streets. Dog fighting is almost extinct. A pugilistic contest for the championship of England like that between Sayers and Heenan could not now be "brought off" at all. Every man can now have his newspaper, his magazine, and his cheap edition of Shakespeare, Dickens, Burns, or Scott. A New Testament sells for a penny. For a halfpenny a tired work girl can get a "life" across the bridges on a rainy night, and an aged toiler with his bag of tools can reach home for twopence - often for a penny. Clothing, food, fruit, and furniture are cheap. In hundreds of tidy establishments hot coffee, plum cake, peasoup, good milk, and a rare vegetarian dinner on easy terms await the hungry man. And so on. Well, what else? Moral agencies abound. Temperance halls, religious services for the people, Bands of Hope, and Sunday schools have produced a new generation of young people. Our Sunday schools are comely to see, and pleasant to know. Board schools have given us boys and girls far superior in manners and morals to any London ever had before. Ragged schools and refuges have almost entirely prevented another generation of criminals. No young fallen woman, weary of her wanderings, need perish in the streets. Open doors and kind sisters await her full of mercy. Many public houses have been closed, and haunts of vice - long popular, like Cremorne, and the Coal Hole - have vanished for ever. Public executions, with all their devilries, are over. Life in London is therefore sweeter and purer than it ever was. The People's Palace, the Children's Dinner, the Blue Ribbon, the Board School, the grand services in St. Paul's, the cheap Press, the excursion train to sea, hill, and distant castle, the Tonic Sol-Fa system of singing, the cultivation of flowers, the County Councils, the increasing sympathy between the rich and the poor, the employer and employed, and the brighter religious habits of our time, show that we are improving all round, and that those of us who have long done what we could for the redemption of London may hope to leave it better, happier, nobler, even more beautiful than we found it.
George W. McCree.
Borough road, S.E.