Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 6/Where the flag, there the family


I have been hailed and beckoned to from many parts lately, to look and see what the working men and women are doing in those parts; and what I have observed has impressed me so strongly, that I cannot but ask some of the most practical-minded of my readers to come up my mountain, and take a seat beside me on my sofa of moss, and gaze abroad over land and sea, and consult together as to whether there is anything that we can do in a matter of pressing urgency.

We will take the nearer scenes first. Almost under our feet there are smoke clouds hanging; but they are not so dense as usual, for the Lancashire mills are not all at work. From many of the tall chimneys there is no smoke at all: for there is no cotton to spin. The same thing is the case over yonder, where those slim spires rise, not very far off. At Coventry there is plenty of silk to be had; but the lack is of demand for ribbons. As Peeping Tom pries round the corner there, through his inquisitive-looking spectacles, let us too see what the neighbours are doing.

In both the cotton and silk districts many of the work-people’s dwellings are empty. The landlord detains the loom, and has turned the key, and put it in his pocket. The late residents are in the workhouse. They held on at home as long as they could; but the hunger and cold became too pinching; and they are warming themselves at the workhouse fires. In others of these dwellings the people are at home. Some are rubbing up their furniture,—having nothing else to do; and the women are not cooking; for there is no fire in the grate, and no food in the cupboard. Here is one patching clothes, to look decent to the last. There is another, trying to get a place, however humble, for her growing girl, that the child may get fed if she cannot earn wages: but the market of domestic service is just now overstocked; ill-qualified maidens cannot expect to get into a gentleman’s house; and the shopkeepers are turning away their maids of all work, till trade revives. So mothers and daughters go home again, hungry and hopeless. Every day they sell one more article which they had considered indispensable, or don’t sell it because there is nobody to buy. I need not describe further. I will only just observe that the women thus hankering after work and food in the manufacturing districts are scores of thousands.

We will see what is doing in the workhouses before we turn in another direction. It is not a pleasant sight,—that of the young women and girls. They do not, on the whole, answer to the usual description of English maidenhood. Some new-comers are modest, and intent upon their work; but there is a boldness, a carelessness, an Page:Once a Week Dec 1861 to June 1862.pdf/467 Page:Once a Week Dec 1861 to June 1862.pdf/468 Page:Once a Week Dec 1861 to June 1862.pdf/469 Page:Once a Week Dec 1861 to June 1862.pdf/470