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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Chapter VII. — Cotton and Waste.—Big Black Manchester.—Relation of Housing to Industry.—the Stain on Modern Civilisation

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Chapter VII.

Cotton and Waste.—Big Black Manchester.—Relation of Housing to Industry.—the Stain on Modern Civilisation.

Lancashire is the workshop of the world. It is the apotheosis of British industry. It rises from the sea that bears its merchandise to mingle beyond the flat strip of its shoreline in hills and vales of surpassing loveliness, but Industry has run riot through the land. Every town, city and village have been enveloped by tire and steam. The land is black, blighted and dreary. Its forests are the chimney stacks and its cloudland the smoke. The petals of the red rose, that once was dyed with ancestral blood, are polluted and drooping. From all the days of its romance and wonderful folk - lore, it has come down to the twentieth century a bewildering arena of men and machines, of huddled unbeautiful cities and towns manacled by ribbons of steel, of fierce dazzling activities that have engulphed hundreds of thousands—man, woman and child—in this process of wealth production. Nowhere is the force that concentrates it more powerful, more malevolent. It is one vast throbbing orgy of Mammon, and at the heart of it is big black Manchester.

The dominance of the commercial capital of Lancashire is one of the most telling examples of rapid growth and expansion with all their adjuncts of congestion, dirt, poverty and wealth. It is the octopus of the north. From all sides it puts out tentacles of steel to a ring of important centres comprising Widnes, Warrington, Wigan, St. Helens, Blackburn, Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Oldham, Glossop, Gorton, Preston, and Stockport. The area of activities this vast circle represents, converging as it does on to the capital by a network of railways, tramways, canals, and motor services, is the most remarkable the world can offer. It has no parallel in industry, nothing greater than its palpitating energies galvanising the whole to the maximum of organised production. It is not alone the might of the cotton industry. It carries with it miles of iron and steel works, locomotive and rolling stock builders, chemical plants, glass factories, paper mills, piles of electrical works, of felt hats, linoleums, clothing, makers of marine engines, boilers and machinery, pumps, hydraulic and electric lifts and cranes, textile machinery, monster lathes, planes, drills, guns, and so on through the gamut of industrial enterprise. The complexity of it is like one of those wonderful Oriental Mosaics. Collectively it all focuses itself into one big scheme, the kernel of which one hundred and forty-live years ago took shape in a man's brain as he sat watching the lid of a kettle calling to the housewife to make the tea. Out of that scheme has come not only great industries, but all the social and economic problems of the age, and nowhere are they so strikingly materialised as in Manchester itself today.

Together with Salford (which to all intents and purposes is part of Manchester) the population of the metropolis is 764,829. One would naturally expect to find it concentrating in its midst to the highest degree the activities of surrounding districts, but it is not so. Manchester is the goods shed of the whole business. The city proper is made up mostly of warehouses and slums. This grim contrast of wealth and poverty is unassait- page 50 able. As the city grew great works went to the outskirts, and in their place came gloomy areas of warehouses, reaching to five and six storeys in their black unembellished ugliness. The heart of the metropolis is the Infirmary, a long rambling building that seems to concentrate in its sombre walls the essence of the architectural gloom that pervades the whole city. From this central point, on to which the monster traffic of the capital converges, the areas of occupation can roughly be encompassed in a series of circles. A radius of half a mile contains, outside of the main business thoroughfares, little else but acres and acres of these black forbidding palaces of the merchants. They are pierced by narrow irregular thoroughfares where hundreds of lorries loaded with merchandise clatter by hourly over the stone cobbles. The area of the business property is in turn hemmed in by a wider circle of works and factories, on the inner fringe of which the four principal railway stations lie, together with numerous other goods and sub-stations. To a distance of one and a half miles from the central point the factory area constitutes the second circle, wedging in amid all its smoky and hopeless environment densely crowded and far reaching areas of slum properties. To traverse the circumference of this second belt, one would walk over ten miles through some of the most appalling streets in all England. Arms of railways are flung out on all sides from the stations, and wherever they pierce a narrow belt of manufacturing areas on either side go with them, reaching eventually to the outskirts of the minor centres that contribute to Manchester's commercial supremacy.

It is not until the two mile radius is reached that anything like presentable residential areas come into existence, and it is only when one approaches the suburban limits like Heaton Park on the north and Rueholme or Levenshulme in the south, encompassed in a radius from five to six miles from the centre the detached dwelling, gardens tree lined streets and other evidences of enlightenment are met with.

The effect of this vast accumulation crowding in from remote areas to a black and congested centre, is overpowering. For the stranger it carries depression until the importance of the problems it presents and the examples it offers are realised. Nature adds to its gloom by a rainfall that is far above that of London, whilst the city is freequently enveloped in thick soupy fogs. The majority of the people are indifferent to these climatic peculiarities, and, in fact, are proud of their big black metropolis. Its great attraction is that it presents an activity and bustle of life that is not any more intense in London itself. The principal streets, though comparatively spacious, are taxed to the utmost by the incessant stream of traffic. Manchester people are, by temperament, more energetic than Londoners, and they infuse into their street life a vigour that is characteristic of the whole commercial life. The dominant factor of the traffic is the electric car, which within the last decade has revolutionised the problem of transit incidental to the life of a big city. Hundreds of cars pass every hour up and down and across the main artery of traffic—Market-street. By the Exchapge the pressure is as great and as busy as at the Mansion House comer itself. Blocks are frequent. Humanity, like bees, love a swarm. Life, stir, excitement and bustle are the elements that hold them spellbound to the big city. The swirl of the traffic and the din of thousands intoxicates all grades. Overflowing streers, with shops ablaze, endless faces, nose, light, laughter, movement are the eternal novelty, the delirious joy, the bewilderment and the madness of the age. Man- page 51 Chester foctisses these things to an intense degree in its universal ambition to make dollars. It has little of the finer distractions that enrich London with art, music and historic associations, it cannot comprehend the radiance and the classic beauty of Paris. The grandeur of Berlin means nothing to it, the loveliness of Vienna is not even a dream. Commerce alone is the God of this monstrous reeking congestion that so glaringly reveals the anomaly of riches and poverty.

It is a remarkable fact that for a radius of one and a half miles from the heart of the city there are no parks or open spaces where people can get away from the sea of bricks and mortar, save one small area in Salford. Yet it is estimated that nearly a quarter of a million people exist within that radius, under the demoralising influences that appertain to the slum. The figures may give a suggestion of magnitude, but the realities of the frightful congestion and disorder that permeate the acres and acres of Manchester slums are almost beyond expression. The evils were summed up, briefly and dispassionately, by a report compiled by Mr T. R. Marr, Secretary of the Citizens' Association in 1904—a document that had a great influence in promoting subsequent reforms. "Poor physique," says the report, "impaired health and premature senility, drunkenness, sexual immorality and other vice; betting, thriftlessness, decay of family life and lack of pure spirit; these are all too common. We find, too, poverty, houses unwholesome from many causes, lack of provision of open spaces and other means for healthy recreation, narrow gloomy streets, an excessive amount of coal smoke and a superabundance of public house. As to which group of evils is cause and which effect the truth seems to be that we have a vicious circle and they are both cause and effect."

An investigation of conditions to-day shows that out of the total population of 764,829, no less than 230,000 live in poverty and want. The density of population in several districts comprising each 500 acres is as high as 120 people per acre. In these areas there are districts between ten and twenty acres in extent where the density rises to 200 people to the acre. In such cases the death rate and infantile mortality goes up in proportion to the overcrowding. On 12.67 acres in Ancoats—a slum district—there were found recently no les3 than 600 dwellings in existence from six to two rooms each, and one hotel license to every 40 houses. The number of people living on each acre of the district was 203.

Amongst a host of individual examples given by Mr Marr as to how the people live under these conditions the following will suffice:—

Widow with two children rented a house of three rooms, and kept five boarders male and female. The house was back to back, old and dirty. Two slept in one room and five in another.

Coachpainter earning 30s per week, his wife and four children occupied a two roomed house. All six slept in one room 8 x 8 x 10 feet high.

Three adults and five children occupied four rooms of a damp, dirty and rat infected house. Six of them slept in one room containing 865 cubic feet of air space.

Hawker and wife with three children, one male and one female lodger—seven in all—occupied a two-roomed house. All slept in one room.

What accentuates the problem is the extensive system in existence in the slums known as "farming out" or subletting. A tenant rents from an owner one or two houses. In crowded areas they are usually the type of dwelling occupied by the business man in Manchester one hundred years ago, and con- page 52 tain from five to six rooms. Whilst the framework is usually sound the houses are generally sadly in need of repair. The tenant furnishes each room with some apology for a bedstead, possibly a table or a chair or two. The "furniture" is frequently eked out by a free use of packing cases. Each room is sublet from 5/- to 6/- per week, according to position, and sub-tenants are given the joint use of the kitchen—usually a poky little scullery. The return made by the tenant on each house (for which the rent is 6/- to 7/- per week) amounts to 15/- to 20/- per week. The class of sub-tenants as a whole are very unsatisfactory, and often include a whole family who sleep in the one room. The methods of the tenant to secure his rent are in keeping with a good deal of the practices that obtain in deriving revenue from slum property. Women form a large class of the "farming-out" tenant, and in the conduct of this business arc generally more successful than men. The houses are often damp and defective in roof, doors and windows, but the practice of the landlords is universally to make no repairs.

It is necessary to say here that it is not owing to the lack of municipal spirit that Manchester has not abolished the horrors of its housing condition. The city, in fact, is regarded as a foremost example of modern municipal government in England. The City Council has been endowed with a social conscience, and its affairs are as much the concern of its citizens as in any of the progressive communities to-day both in England and Germany. Its activities have not been hampered by any narrow theories as to the limitation of municipal functions. The vested interests of any particular set of individuals "nave not been allowed to prevail in the endeavour to secure the rights of the community. The housing evils shown above only serve to reveal what are the almost insuperable difficulties that assail a municipality once the problem is neglected and allowed to intensify. In twenty years Manchester has either caused to be demolished or closed for human habitation nearly 9,000 dwellings. Compulsory methods taken in hand too vigorously often result in the production of overcrowding in adjoining areas to that dealt with. The work of the Manchester City Council had regard for this probability, and by distributing their attention over the whole area of crowded districts, and not making a general clearance in any particular one, the displacement of a great number of persons in any one district was divided and the evils in part mitigated. By a special Act, the Council, acting on the advice of its Sanitary Committee, can order the destruction of a defective house, or prohibit its use for human habitation until the landlord makes such recurs or alterations that are in the opinion of the committee and the Medical Officer of Health, necessary. By closing the house up, the Council is not liable to compensate the owner. When the landlord is forced to repair a house to bring it up to the "average standard of a habitable dwelling," the cost of remedying the defective conditions falls on to the shoulders of the property owners who created them. Under the process by which some Councils clear out whole areas and build corporation dwellings, the ratepayers have to compensate individual landlords for the destruction of their property, besides paying for the cost of the land and the new building. The policy thus pursued in Manchester has been a steady effort towards the improvement and the prevention of crowded areas.

The great network of tramways which has been extended over the city in recent years has also assisted in relieving the pressure on particular areas. The question arises whether, with this factor page 53 considered, the policy of the Sanitary Committee will solve the overcrowding problem? The expert opinion I gathered in Manchester was emphatically in the negative. The income of the majority of the poorer classes does not, even with the enticement of workman's cheap fares on the electric cars, permit of it. Dr. Niven, the Medical Officer of Health, who is an authority on housing, says, "It is far better for the poorest class of persons that they should be under government in Corporation dwellings, paying a regular rent, than they should be free to live under what conditions of crowding and squalor they may choose to be able to attain." That is the keynote of expert opinion in England in regard to housing. Private enterprise will only provide for the poorer classes, who live by sweated labour in the manner shown above. The Corporation dwellings on Corporation-owned land, and the elimination of the private landlord, seems to be the only course by which the terrible consequences of overcrowding are to be avoided.

The effects of social disorder which seem to reach the maximum in Manchester are common in a proportionate degree to the ring of "little Manchesters" that surround it. Bolton, Oldham. Halifax. Preston, etc., are possessed by the same problem, the same vista of dirty, ugly streets where there is not a single tree-planted street or square, or a single building which is looked upon. Each one is a Manchester in embyro, and as they grow, their problems will grow with them so long as the Municipality is unable to enforce prevention instead of applying cures. They and their thousands are all subordinated to the demands of industry which have to be satisfied irrespective of individual welfare in the mass. Standing in Bolton Park one gets a characteristic impression of the environment under which Lancashire workers live. The park is an isle of green in a sea of desolation. It is surrounded by grimy blackened buildings that have nothing but naked ugliness in their composition. Hundreds of chimney stacks rise up in the immediate vicinity pouring out the inevitable trail of smoke. It is all a medley of mud and manufacture compressed with over a hundred thousand men, women and children into three square miles of desolation. For twenty miles round Manchester there is the intolerable extraordinary ugliness. At Widnes, where the chemical works abound, the whole countryside is blasted and barren. The effect of the gases has completely destroyed vegetable life in the vicinity. At Oldham one finds acres and acres of cotton mills—many of them old, dirty and poorly ventilated—and the same repulsive lines and lines of houses reaching for six miles and more into the heart of Manchester itself.

It is a remarkable car ride that from Oldham to the Infirmary in the metropolis. Beyond the squat roofs that line the roadway the cotton mills rise up on hill and mound. They work night and day as in Bradford, and the story of the workers is much the story of the textile workers that was given in the preceding chapter. The houses accumulate as the car sweeps on to the city lying in the distance blurred and faint with smoke. The few green fields that lie beyond the roofs, speedily vanish. The street becomes a vista of dirty cramped shops crushed between piles of industrial concerns. The density of building is at its maximum. Long narrow streets flash off crowded with men in shirtsleeves and women in shawls, whilst crowds of children, for the most part ragged and unwashed, play in the streets. It has been raining and the roadways lie wet and heavy beneath a sullen sky. Lines of lorries creep slowly away from the city and the evening shadows gather over page 54 the restless multitude surging through the street. A wet Saturday night has fallen in the long gloomy vista of Oldham-road. The car glides between lines of ill-lit shops. All Manchester seems to be moving over pavement and roadway. The driver's bell clangs incessantly. Lines of itinerant tradesmen with barrows packed with meat, vegetables, rabbits, fish, and uninviting sweets gather by the kerbstones. The smoke of a hundred naphtha torches climbs lazily the zenith. There are endless figures moving in all that panorama of a city's life, figures in shawls, figures with bundles that pass for babies, figures of poverty and dirt knowing only the pleasures of the night. They draggle through the falling rain like an army astray. A wall of mist creeps down the street and smudges the whole scene into a mass moving indefinitely beneath the turgid glare of the torches. Then the picture swings out of sight as the car takes a fresh turn and glides smoothly towards the black, drunken outline of the Infirmary itself.

In front of the iron railings that guard the building, a single row of seats stretches for nearly its whole length. Those seats hold one of the most terrible impressions that are indelibly associated with the great city. They assemble there the dregs of life, lines of men and women, filthy and ragged beyond conjecture, lost to humanity. They are the overflow of civilisation crushed in the economic process, and doomed to the pauper's grave. They speak for Manchester as much they they do for London or Paris, the children of congenital defects, swamped in an ocean of toilers. It is that grim lifeless picture of the unemployable created by society and damned by mankind, that is the stain on modern civilisation.

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Another Aspect of "Town Cramming."

Another Aspect of "Town Cramming."

Liverpool slum, in which 300 people live to the acre, and the water supply furnished by the owner is on the basis of one tap to forty houses.