THE contents of these pages have been contributed from January, 1875, till same time in 1876, to the columns of the East London Observer. The several Works selected for description, have been treated as specimens each in its kind, and for the purpose primarily of supplying such information as will enable the reader to infer the character, variety, and extent of Industries in East London. For example, in Ship building, the Works of Messrs. Samuda Bros. were selected, not because they alone are worth notice, but that from their character, the amount of capital at stake therein, the number of ships built, and the general conduct of the work-people, the condition in a. Politico-economic sense, of this Industry may be gathered. Also in the Chemical line, the Works of Messrs. Howards were taken as a specimen; and as will be seen by referring to the chapter under this head, they are treated as a specimen in all things that can interest the public, whether in the locality or elsewhere, of such Industries. In like manner the Works of Messrs. Bryant & May are selected to show that the making of Matches affords a large amount of employment and brings into profitable use a vast sum of money, while it also enlists talent, encourages invention, and is in all respects an Industry of great utility to the public.
But the facts presented in these pages have been so arranged as to bring out, as far as possible, the condition of working people of East London, especially those engaged not only in the Industries described, but in others also, left out for want of space. It will be seen, moreover, that the facts so brought under notice, and many of the popular statements circulated as to the condition of East Londoners, are in direct conflict. For example, one hears the cry from every corner of East London, that the poor people are over worked, receive little or no wages, and are in a condition beyond all description of poverty, whereas the truth stares me in the face that were it not for the employment given in peoples' houses, especially at such work as making boxes for matches, and at factories where they are made, that state of things which is said to exist, but does not, might soon come upon the locality. The popular cry in favor of East London is "Wolf, Wolf," but the truth is, the criers alone see any such enemy; and were the people not so misrepresented - be the motive however good - by ignorant friends, they would most likely be greatly more contented. But as my object is not primarily to contradict prevailing errors, but to propagate palpable facts, I trust the testimony borne by this work will show that there is considerable prosperity and comparative plenty in the district, and these are dependent on two causes for their existence. First, on the outlay of capital, and the bringing of enterprise to bear on the establishment of profitable Industries on the part of employers, whereby every class of laborer willing to work may get a considerable amount of employment, and all good workers may really rely upon plenty to do every day in the year. Secondly, on the presence in the locality of skilled and unskilled laborers, juvenile and adult, of both sexes, and in every branch attempted, who willingly "give a fair day's work for a fair day's wages."
I do not attempt, however, to hide the painful fact that there are employers who "grind the face of the poor," but these are few and far between, nor do I shrink from stating that there are workpeople who do as little as they can, and less than they are well able to do, and who grumble at having to work at all, and when they work, at getting so little for it. These are so exceptional, that except as a necessity of accuracy, it would scarcely be needful to notice them at all. But while these people are respectively an incubus on the progress of the locality, and the grinding masters the greater of the two, it is obvious that if ever days of darkness deep and sore fall upon the employés at East London Industries, they will come as a consequence either of careless work, such as drives masters to seek better workers, or dishonest dealing as to the amount of labor rendered for a given sum in wages, which in the end puts it out of the masters' powers to compete with foreign rivals in the markets of the world. If ever East Londoners have to choose between a "living death" at home, and the hardships of making new habitations in some foreign land, it will then be evident that such calamities are only the consequences of the above-named evils culminating into their natural condition. I have, therefore, ventured to warn again, and often, all such as I supposed in danger, and trust I have neither gone beyond my legitimate business, nor done what I have attempted (con amore) in vain. I regret to be compelled to say that a certain class of thoughtless public teachers tamper with the peace and contentment of working people very much, by saying that to eat one's bread in the sweat of the face is a curse, whereas be the character of the Omniphic fiat what it may, it was given in love, and operates in goodness, for labor is man's highest glory, whereas that idleness after which such teaching prompts half-instructed people to yearn would be an evil the most deplorable that could possibly fall upon them. On the whole, however, but few give place to any one who teaches them to be discontented, idle, or improvident, all which is indirectly done by a few whose intentions lie in an opposite direction, but whose ignorance and incompetency produce only such results as stand at the antipodes of what they profess or desire to do. There is also amongst work people, as a result of extravagance more than anything else a great deal of occasional poverty; but even this does not justify the cry that East London all over is poor, and its people living either in luxury partaken of vulgarly, or in deep poverty and abject degradation. For this clamor so prevalent in print, and so popular on platforms, there is no evidence in the least degree justifying its propagation. This cry is rung in the ears of the people of other parts of London, of Ireland, Scotland, and the Provinces, until it has become common, for certain persons sometimes to sum up all possible epithets of opprobrium by saying he or she "is an East-Londoner.'' If heaping opprobrium without evidence on the head of one's neighbour be slander, then the slanderers of East Londoners are innumerable, and chiefly do they utter these baseless calumnies under the cover of professed philanthropy, or concern for the spiritual interests of the people.
As a manufacturing locality, East London differs from all other parts of the metropolis. It is not, however, unlike in many respects to other manufacturing towns, especially such as are also sea-ports. But whether it be like or unlike other places, it is the equal, so far as the conduct and condition of its people affects its general character, of any other sea-port where manufactures are carried on extensively. There is no reason, then, for any one to raise a howl, respecting the state of East Londoners such as is dinned into the ears of people at a distance, and by which they are held up to public opprobrium as scarcely civilized. There is, however, some reason why both manufacturers and the working classes should show more public spirit by holding up the reputation of the locality to that degree to which it stands fairly entitled. In this respect it obviously is behind such places as Manchester, Glasgow, and Belfast; but is not a whit worse in any other respect - the representations of certain persons to the contrary nevertheless - than these places. If this opinion, which pervades these pages, be well founded, there is something to be done in and for East London. But viewed from whatever stand-point, that which is needed most must be done, not by the advent into the locality with a ''flourish of trumpets" of some self-sacrificing stranger, nor yet by "forced marches" of any kind. For the same reasons in fact, however different in form, that the people of Kensington, Hampstead, and Blackheath need that reformers of things spiritual and moral should more actively grapple with growing evils, so is it in Bethnal Green, Stepney, and Shadwell. I do see enough to satisfy me that "works of faith and labors of love" attempted in East London have stronger claims on society in general, than if the scene of their operation was in one of the other divisions of the metropolis. But I do see also that local manufacturers are neither asked to help as they would, nor are such things always undertaken in a way deserving assistance. Besides, instead of training employés to contribute to such things as they are able, a large amount of benevolence is perverted to the purposes of premiums to idleness, and encouragement to people in extravagance. Working people are disgraced by many of their number who, instead of providing for bad times, spend all their money weekly, and much of it in gluttony and drunkenness, and then rush off to "free breakfast" or free "tea meetings," to be flattered, when they ought to be denounced, and to be encouraged in laziness and wasteful habits, when they ought to be taught that manly independence is an indispensable element, without which no human being can be other than a weakness in the body social. But I must ask my readers not to suppose that while I must admit that some of those who disgrace humanity in East London are working people, that it follows they are fair specimens of their class. On the contrary, the very reverse, as I have endeavored to point out is the fact.
The condition and wants of East London have been very ably dealt with in a work lately published from the pen of the Rev. Harry Jones, M.A., Rector of St. George's in the East, entitled, "East and West London." I should like to have quoted from this work, but I have not space to do so. Besides no extent of transferance to my pages of this able and well timed work would do it justice, or be fair to my readers, to whom I commend most cordially a perusal of this very readable and highly instructive book. Mr. Jones does not represent his parishioners and their neighbours as wholly destitute at once of food, raiment, and every attribute of manhood, as some do. Indeed, I believe his book will enlighten the public to an extent never before known, as to what East London and its people really and truly are. Services of this sort are much needed on public grounds; and if I have had one object more than another before my mind, next to a simple narrative of facts, it was that I might aim at the same end. Property in the locality has been depreciated, in consequence of false ideas of the place and the people; and while I by no means presume to be a contributor to the increase of the one in value, or the elevation of the other in reputation, I have tried to tell the truth about both. It is surely not too soon to make these statements, especially as one finds in printed productions purporting to place East London before the public, allegation covertly if not openly made, that each person within its bounds is a possible, if not an actual, transgressor of propriety, whilst young girls, those particularly brought up in lodging houses, are represented in one of these prints as being trained to be "sinners." In view of such inexcusable slander, I trust that which I have written may be regarded as a just censure upon all who exaggerate what may possibly exist, and make the condition of a few to be the character of all. This is done in order to show cause why money for the relief of distress, and the elevation of the degraded, should be subscribed. If the doctrine be true that "the end justifies the means," then I have nothing to say, except that whilst one class of theologians in East London act upon it, and another by their silence approve it, I have, as a Political Economist, to deal with facts as they are, and to disapprove of every violation of truth, be the object what it may. The truth is, East Londoners are no better and no worse than other people. It does not follow, however, that in saying this there is any attempt made to disparage special efforts for the elevation of the masses, such as the praiseworthy endeavors by Mr. F. A. Charrington. On the contrary, I believe that so far from the ends of progress being baffled by what he does, by his training up people in idleness to rely on others and not to help each himself, he is actually raising from a class which would otherwise be a weakness and a burden on society, not a few who promise in due time to play a proper part as honest and industrious citizens. I have endeavored to warn working people, with all sympathy for desperate cases, from taking anything for nothing - not even spiritual services - so long as they are able to pay for what they need; and should any of such philanthropic efforts, as seem to be so far useful become an occasion of discouraging self-reliance, the sooner they are put a stop to once and for ever, the better.
It seems to me strange that men and women, capable of such work as I have seen at each of the Industries I have visited, should allow anyone to patronize them into mere play-toys for pseudo-philanthropists, and perchance mere speculators in popularity. The chief cause of this evil is as palpable as its existence; and it is the want of wisdom in spending the wages so well earned. There is more money spent from Friday night till Monday night, in many instances, than would lift people above the necessity of "free seats," or free anything. But I have not treated this case from the money aspect, because the loss of millions annually is as nothing to the deterioration of mind, body, and emotions by the modes of enjoyment resorted to by many working men. There are many zealous reformers of these sad abuses. I have not attempted to do anything beyond placing the facts before the minds of those whom it concerns, except to say to the man who makes the mistake made by so many as to what enjoyment is, and how it is to be got, that he has the power of reform in himself, and ought like a man to use it. It is neither consistent with their character as workmen, nor creditable to them as men, that the working classes should expect special attention from any one as to their mental culture, moral improvement, and spiritual progress. Besides, reform in these matters ever has come, and must always come from within; and if the fact that it has been so, and must be so still, were more respected by reformers, and if those whom they seek to reform were treated as men capable of understanding things which cannot be estimated by money, probably reformation would be less rare. The "man" must be first brought out, and then the work-man; and if I have kept any idea more in view than another it was that this should be made more and more clear and plain, if any good is to come of what is written in the ends of truth and progress. There is another, and to me a sad fact, which came up during my visits to the seats of East London Industries. It is, that young people seem to get above obedience to parents, and in some cases there are slight signs of restiveness under the wholesome discipline of masters. If these things grow, they will lead us into a serious dilemma, and one all the more to be dreaded as we expand in manufacturing. Besides, I also notice, with deep sorrow, how the idea of "home" seems assailed on every side. Reformers assume that the working-man ought to be amused here, there, everywhere but at home. The reform, however, which has not as its natural and necessary result sending every one ''home," is one which had better never have come upon us. But not to enlarge as to matters affecting our Industries, though I have left many untouched, I have only to add, that to the silk trade I have given special prominence. I have been led to do so for several reasons. The trade itself is one of East London's oldest Industries; and it never was in a more interesting condition than at present. It may, as matters are now, take a firmer hold on the locality than it ever had. It has already got into a position which places it on a fair footing in competing with rivals in all other places. There are in it already not a few able to carry it on successfully, both as regards skill and capital; and to their credit be it recorded, the operatives are also as a class all that could be desired. What it lacks, however, seems to be invention, and a larger accession of young people into its ranks. Facilities special to these times exist for training talent, if it only shows itself; and if I have not observed in vain, I feel called upon to say that if only the right class of capitalists, and such workmen as like their calling and are capable of making improvements, get into the trade, its future may safely be predicted as one of far greater prosperity, based also on a more secure basis, than it has ever had. Silk is also that branch of the fibrous and textile trades of the United Kingdom which specially suits East London. In saying this, as I have endeavored to show such trades as that carried on by Messrs. Ritchie & Son (Jute), ought also to be cultivated largely in the locality, because the raw material of such is more easily got at, being the product of a foreign soil, in the port of London than in most parts of the United Kingdom.
But without further introduction, I respectfully invite attention to the following pages, hoping that they may be approved or condemned in proportion as they bear true testimony to the condition of East London Industries. Besides which, I have to request the favor of being allowed to say, that obviously and evidently this portion of the metropolis stands entitled not only to as high a place as any other, but also and more especially because it is that portion in which Industries are carried on more largely than in any other, it is worthy of double honor. It is really the most useful of all others, and ought to be respected and spoken of accordingly.
In one word, if the ground I have attempted to occupy be tenable, then all who represent East London as a place of degradation, wretchedness, destitution, immorality, and spiritual depravity, in a sense which applies not to other places - and such testimony is every day borne by not a few in respect to it - are guilty of an inexcusable disregard for truth, if not of actual falsehood. The matter is a serious one. I have approached it with a deep sense of its importance; and therefore I once more earnestly solicit the consideration of my readers, believing that their verdict will in substance assert, that East Londoners and the locality they live in, have long been slandered, and that these pages contain evidence to justify their being regarded on the whole, however different in many respects, as neither better nor worse than the inhabitants of the manufacturing towns and sea-ports in the United Kingdom generally, while the locality itself is quite the equal of the average of such places.
As already stated, controversy is not my aim. But rather than allow matters to remain in respect to East London and its people as they are, and that those who take upon them to speak of them should be left undisturbed in the propagation of what to me seems flat contradictions in many cases, and in others gross exaggerations of facts, I trust that which I have written may at least lead to discussion, which would unquestionably prove a stepping stone towards bringing out "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."