Having received an acknowledgement to his first letter to Prince Albert, Henry Moule writes a second letter giving more more details of the conditions at Fordington. In an attempt, one suspects, to keep up the pressure, he also informs the Prince that the correspondence will be published.
FORDINGTON VICARAGE, Sept. 21st, 1854.
MAY IT PLEASE YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESS,
I beg most humbly to thank you, for the gracious acknowledgment, which I have received through the Honourable Colonel Phipps, of my letter of the 12th inst.; and I trust I shall not be guilty of any breach of etiquette, but rather be rendering that which is due to your Royal Highness, in publishing it — together with this my second letter.
That your Royal Highness ” has no separate or personal authority in the management of the property of the Duchy of Cornwall,” I am fully aware. But I must confess, that I write under a strong conviction, that the judgment of the President, who not only stands in your high and peculiar position, but who is possessed of that practical wisdom which on so many occasions your Royal Highness has displayed, must possess in the Council of the Duchy, on all matters that call for its exercise, no ordinary influence. I write also in the grateful recollection, that the Consort of the Queen of England has taken so benevolent an interest in the physical condition of her Majesty’s subjects, as to apply his active mind not only to the improvement of the cottages of the working classes, but even to the relief and removal of the evils of sewers and cess-pools. And cheered by this recollection, I neither fear that I shall offend your Royal Highness, by the further detail I am about to give, of filth, and wretchedness and vice : nor do I for one moment doubt, that I shall obtain your lively sympathy on behalf of this suffering people.
That which aggravates the blame of the several parties to whom the state of things, of which I complain, is attributable, is that it is of such recent origin. Whilst improvement has been so general throughout the country, this spot has every year grown worse. And the very parties, who have been the loudest in complaining of its state, have either quietly permitted it, or have even taken an active share in increasing the evil. In the latter class I include, as in another letter I shall show, many of the neighbouring landowners.
After most careful enquiries, I find that within the period mentioned in my last letter, there were not in the whole district about which I write, so many as fifty cottages.
There are now in Mill-street, ninety dwellings, and in the other district one hundred and forty-two; and these two hundred and thirty-two tenements are owned by about forty-six different proprietors. Mill-street, as I have before stated, is for the most part freehold. But how much of the rest of this, or how much of the other side of the Mill-pond is copyhold, or how much was and is regarded by the Council of the Duchy as ” the lord’s waste,” and how far under this view of the case the blame of the origin and continuance of the present evils has consequently rested on their officers, whether central or local, and so in a measure on themselves, it is not for me to say. The history of the occupation of the ground in both cases is most curious; but I must content myself with saying that, when about forty or fifty years ago the piece of freehold land in Mill-street was sold out in small lots, the borough of Dorchester, as it then existed, was compelled, partly the improvements in its streets, which then commenced, and partly by an increasing population, to seek an outlet for its poorer inhabitants. Hemmed in almost entirely, as the borough was, by the copyhold land of the Duchy, over which also for the most part the tenants possess commonable rights, this wretched piece of ground appeared for a time its only outlet. The demand for cottages, occasioned directly or indirectly by this, caused rents to rise. The erection of one or more cottages with some assistance from borrowed capital, soon appeared a good investment of the occasionally unemployed labour of the mason, the carpenter , and even the labourer. And after a time 50/. or even 3Ol. beyond his labour, producing a return of 51. or even til. a. year, seemed to warrant a little risk of encroachment or of bad title. In this way the occupation of the ground went on; and the only two objects in view with the party building appear then to have been, either a cottage for himself with less to pay for it than the now increasing rent, or a good return for money invested. The ordinary style of building in such cases has been that of one room down stairs, 14, 12, or only 8 feet square, and opening to the street; with the same space, sometimes divided into two apartments, up stairs. But in a very large proportion of these erections there is scarcely even a closet; there is no accommodation for washing; and, I believe, I speak much within the exact truth, when I say that there are not thirty of these two hundred and thirty-two houses that have what can be called a privy. I must own that in some of the cottages more recently constructed by persons of better means there have been improvements. Some of them, belonging to one of our builders, have a small piece of garden ground attached to them, and attract attention by their neat outside. But your Royal Highness may in some degree judge from these improved dwellings what must be the unhealthiness of the rest, when I tell you that for twenty-three such cottages averaging six inhabitants to each, there are five ” conveniences ” with only three vaults; that in these vaults the water is within about four feet of the surface of the ground; and that the wells from which the cottagers drink, are within ten or fifteen yards of them. Is it to be wondered at, that when the Cholera had been once introduced, one of the most rapid and painful cases should occur in the cottage standing close to one of these places and always rendered offensive by it ? But no, the wretchedness and unhealthiness of other portions of this place is not to be conceived from this. In a square of 13 miserable cottages on the same side of the water there cannot at present be said to be any ” convenience” and on the other side one is frequented by families numbering ninety, and another by those numbering more than one hundred, men, women, and children. The filth and the vice involved in this one feature of the case can scarcely be conceived by any one who has not almost daily for many years descended from a high and pure atmosphere to live and breathe in this, and to observe what passes amongst a people so circumstanced. But in connection with this, must be taken the crowded state of these dwellings. The rent of them is seldom below Is. 9d. a. week, generally it is 2s. 2|rf., in many instances 2s. 6d. and 2s. f)d. For a pauper to meet the lower of these rates, or for a labourer, with no assistance from his children and with wages of only 8s. or 9s. or 10s. a week, or for many of our mechanics with large families, to meet the higher is very difficult. The consequence is, that in most of the better cottages the wife takes in washing; and in almost all of them, if the family be not very large, there are lodgers. In one of the cottages in Holloway, in which there was one death from Cholera, nine persons were sleeping in the single bed-room. In another with one room down stairs and two above, there were three unmarried women, and four children — two of the women and two of the children are dead. In a similar dwelling, directly opposite, that is, with a passage of four feet between them, lived a labourer, his wife, and five children, with occasionally a lodger. Here the mother and one of the children are dead. In another such dwelling, two families, each with one child, are living; and two or three of these places are lodging-houses for travellers. And yet it must not be supposed, that in the midst of such a state of things all are filthy and vicious. No — there are instances indeed of quiet industry, and of cleanly habits, and of Christian conduct. But these again are the very cases in which the evils are most deeply felt. I called yesterday on a poor widow, whose husband spent his life and labour on one of the farms of the parish. She has ever since, with some little aid rom the parish, supported herself by honest industry. But she, with a son who is apprenticed, a daughter who is a pupil teacher in our national school, and a younger child, live in two rooms without any kind of accommodation. On leaving her, I could not help saying, ” I long to see you in a better dwelling.” “Yes, sir,” was her reply, “but where can I get it ? I pay 2s. 2jof. a week for this. What, if I could find one, should I have to pay for a better ? Who will build cottages for the poor ? “
Your Royal Highness will, I trust, pardon me, when I say, that this widow’s questions, echoed as they are by numbers, ought not to be unheeded; that the species of oppression on the part of the neighbouring landowners, to which I have already alluded, and of which I will write, if it please God, in my next letter, ought to be resisted by those who have any lawful means of resisting it; that the call of God in the present cry of sickness and death should promptly be obeyed; and that they who have the land, and who almost exclusively have the land around us, and to whom therefore nearly alone belongs the ability, directly or indirectly, to transform these dens of wretchedness into healthy dwellings for the working classes and the poor of this place, ought not ” when they see their brethren have need, to shut up their bowels of compassion from them.” There may be difficulties; doubtless there are many difficulties in the way. But I am equally certain, that under the influence of Christian love, and compassion, and equity, the greatest of them can, with God’s blessing, be surmounted. May that blessing be vouchsafed !
I have the honour to be
Your Royal Highness’s
Very obedient humble Servant,