childrenshomes.org.uk Info on 1000s of former homes

A DAY IN A PAUPER PALACE.

   IN some states of English existence Ruin is the road to Fortune. Falstaff threatened to make a commodity of his wounds ; the well attested disaster of a begging letter writer confers upon him an income ; the misfortune of a thief-that of being captured-occasionally ends in a colonial estate, and a carriage and pair ; both the better assured if he can tell a good story of misfortunes, and is hypocrite enough to commence as a Pentonville "model." In Manchester the high road to fortune is to be horn a pauper ;should especially orphanhood, either by death or desertion ensue.
  At the easy distance of five miles from the great Cotton Capital, on the road to the great Cotton Port, through shady lanes and across verdant meadows, is the village of Swinton. At its entrance, on a pleasing elevation, stands a building which is generally mistaken for a wealthy nobleman's residence. The structure is not only elegant but extensive ; it is in the Tudor style of architecture, with a frontage of four-hundred and fifty feet. It is studded with more than a hundred windows, each tier so differing in shape and size from the others as to prevent monotonous uniformity. Two winding flights of steps in the centre lead to a handsome entrance hall, above which rise two lofty turrets to break the outline of the extensive roof. The depth of the edifice is great — its whole proportions massive. Pleasure-gardens and playgrounds surround it. In front an acre and a half of flower-beds and grass-plots are intersected by broad gravel-walks and a carriage-drive. Some more of the land is laid out for vegetables. Beyond is a meadow, and the whole domain is about twenty-two acres in extent ; all in good, some in picturesque, cultivation.
  The stranger gazing upon the splendid brick edifice, with its surrounding territory, is surprised when he is told that it is not the seat of an ancient Dukedom ; but that it is a modern palace for pauper children. He is not surprised when he hears that it cost 60,000l.
  The contemplation of sumptuous arrangements of this nature for the benefit of helpless penury, naturally engenders an argument :— is it quite fair to the industrious poor that the offspring of paupers should be placed in a better position than that of his own? — that these should have better instruction, be better fed, and better clothed? — that a premium should thus be put upon the neglect of their children by vicious parents ; while, there is no helping hand held out to the industrious and virtuous for the proper training of their children : so that the care of their offspring by the latter is, by comparison, a misfortune ; while desertion or neglect by the former is a blessing to theirs, to whom Garrick's paradox can be justly applied, that Their Ruin is the Making of them.
  That is one side of the argument. The other stands thus; ought the misdeeds of parents to be visited on their innocent children? should pauper and outcast infants be neglected so as to become pests to Society, or shall they be so trained as to escape the pauper-spirit, and make am ends to Society for the bad citizenship of their parents, by their own persevering industry, economy, and prudence in mature life? Common sense asks, does the State desire good citizens or bad? If good ones, let her manufacture them ; and if she can do so by the agency of such establishments as that of Swinton, at not too great a cost, let us not be too critical as to her choice of the raw material.
  In order to see whether the Swinton establishment fulfils this mission we solicited a gentleman qualified for the task to visit it ; and from his information we have drawn up the following account :—
  Having, he says, passed through the entrance hall, we chatted for a time with the chaplain, -who is at the head of the establishment. From him we learnt that there are in the institution six hundred and thirty children, of whom three hundred and five are orphans, and one hundred and twenty-four deserted by their parents. Besides the chaplain there is a head master, a medical officer, a Roman Catholic priest, a governor and matron, six schoolmasters and four schoolmistresses, with a numerous staff of subordinate officials, male and female, including six nurses, and teachers of divers trades. The salaries and wages of the various officers and servants amount to about 1800l. a year, exclusive of the cost of their board which the greater number enjoy also.
   We went into the playground of the junior department, where more than a hundred and fifty children were assembled. Some were enjoying themselves in the sunshine, some were playing at marbles, others were frisking cheerfully. These children ranged from four to seven years of age. There are some as young as a year and a half in the school. The greater number were congregated at one end of the yard, earnestly watching the proceedings of the master who was giving fresh water to three starlings in cages that stood on the ground. One very young bird was enjoying an airing on the gravel. Two others were perched on a cask. The master informed us it was a part of his system to instruct his charges in kindness to animals by example. He found that the interest which the children took in the animals and. in his proceedings towards them, was of service in impressing lessons of benevolence among them towards each other. The practical lessons taught by the master's personal attention to his feathered favourites, outweighed, he thought the theoretic inconsistency of confining birds in cages.
   The play-ground is a training school in another particular. On two sides grew several currant trees, on which the fruit is allowed to ripen without any protection. Though some of the scholars are very young, there do not occur above two or three cases of unlawful plucking per annum. The appropriate punishment of delinquents is for them to sit and see the rest of their school-fellows enjoy, on a day appointed, a treat of fresh ripe fruit, whilst they are debarred from all participation.
   The personal appearance of the pupils was not prepossessing. Close cropping the hair may be necessary at the first admission of a boy, but surely is not needed after children have been for some time trained in the establishment, in habits of cleanliness. The tailors of the establishment (its elder inmates), are evidently no respecters of personas. Measuring is utterly repudiated, and the style in vogue is the comic or incongruous. The backs of the boys seemed to be Dutch-built; their legs seemed cased after Turkish patterns ; white the front view was of Falstaffian proportions, some of the trousers are too short for the legs, and some of the legs too short for the trousers. The girls are better dressed. Amongst them are some of prepossessing faces, intelligent appearance, and pleasing manners. Here and there may be discerned however, vacancy of look, and inaptness to learn. Among the boys, sometimes, occurs a face not quite clean enough, and a shirt collar that, seems to have suffered too long a divorce from the wash-tub.
   During the time we spent in the playground, sundry chubby urchins came to the master with small articles which they had found ; it being the practice to impress on each, that nothing found belongs to the finder unless, after due inquiry, no owner can be discovered. One brought something looking like liquorice ; another produced a halfpenny, which the master appropriated. Perhaps, the master had dropped the halfpenny to test the honesty of some of his pupils. One little fellow was made happy by permission to keep a marble which lie had picked up.
   The children obeyed the summons to school with pleasing alacrity. This is owing partly to the agreeable mode of tuition adopted, and in some measure to the fact that the lessons are not allowed to become tedious and oppressive. As soon as any parties give unequivocal signs of weariness, either there is some playful relaxation introduced, or such children are sent into the play-ground. On the present occasion, as soon as the master applied his mouth to a whistle, away trouped the children in glad groups to an ante-room. Here, arranged in five or six rows, boys and girls intermixed stood with eyes fixed on the master, awaiting his signals. At the word of command, each alternate row faced to the right, the others to the left, and filed off, accompanying their march with a suitable tune ; their young voices blending in cheerful harmony, while they kept time by clapping their hands, and by an occasional enthusiastic stamp of the foot.
   To enliven the routine of school duties, the master's cur takes part in them He is a humorous dog, with an expressive countenance, and a significant wag of the tail. In the intervals of lessons, his duty — which is also his pleasure — consists in jumping over the benches or threading the labyrinths of little legs under them. Now he darts with wild glee into a spelling class ; now he rushes among an alphabet group, and snarls a playful “r-r-r-r,” as if to teach the true pronunciation of the canine letter; now he climbs up behind a seated urchin, puts his forepaws on the favourite's shoulders, and, with a knowing look towards the master, recommends his friend for promotion to a monitorship.
   It was surprising to find that the pupils took not the slightest notice of the antics of the master's dog. They heeded nothing but their lessons ; but we learned that the dog was a part of the discipline. He accustomed the children to startling eccentricities and unexpected sounds : he presented a small, extraneous, but wholesome difficulty in the pursuit of Knowledge. He, and the currant bush, the pretty treasure-troves, and other contrivances, were intentional temptations which the children were trained to resist. We beg very pointedly to recommend the study of these facts to the attention of the inventors and advocates of the Pentonville Model system. They involve an important principle, — and a principle equally applicable to adults as to children. The morals of the young, or the penitence of the criminal, which result from a system depriving the pupil of every possible temptation to do otherwise than right, will assuredly lapse into vice when incentives to it are presented. Evil exists very plentifully in this world, and it must be recognised and dealt with ; it is not by concealing it from the young but by teaching him to resist it that we do wise. It must at the same time be admitted that the principle can be carried too far ; and if the master did intentionally drop the halfpenny, it was exactly there that he pushed his excellent principle too far.
   The teaching of the juniors is conducted mainly viva voce; for the mass of them are under six years of age. The class was opened thus:
  “What day is this?”
  “Monday.”
  “What sort of a day is it?”
  “Very fine.”
  “Why is it a fine day?”
  “Because the sun shines, and it does not rain.”
  “Is rain a bad thing, then?”
  “No.”
  “What is it useful for?”
  “To make the flowers and the fruit grow.”
  “Who sends rain and sunshine?”
  “God.”
  “What ought we to do in return for his goodness?”
  “Praise him !”
  “Let us praise him, then,” added the master. And the children, all together, repeated and then sung a part of the 149th Psalm. — A lesson on morals succeeded, which evidently interested the children. It was partly in the form of a tale told by the master. A gentleman who was kind to the poor, went to visit in gaol a boy imprisoned for crime. The restraint of the gaol, and the shame of the boy, were so described, as to impress the children with strong interest. Then the boy's crime was traced to disobedience, and the excellence of obedience to teachers and parents was shown. The fact that punishment comes out of, and follows our own actions was enforced by another little story.
   By this time some of the very young children showed symptoms of lassitude. One fat little mortal had fallen asleep ; and this class was consequently marshalled for dismissal, and as usual marched out singing, to play for a quarter of an hour.
   A lesson in reading was now administered to a class of older children. For facilitating this achievement, generally so difficult, the master has introduced the phonic system, in some degree according to a mode of his own, by which means even the youngest children make remarkable progress. We need not discuss it here.
   The scene the schoolroom, during the reading lesson, presented, was remarkable. Groups of four or five little fellows were gathered in various parts of the room before a reading-card, one acting as monitor ; who was sometimes a girl. It was a pleasing sight to see half-a-dozen children seated or kneeling in a circle round the sane book, their heads almost meeting in the centre, in their earnestness to see and hear, while the monitor pointed quickly with the finger to the word which each in succession was to pronounce. All seemed alert, and the eyes of the monitors kindled with intelligence. Meanwhile the master wan busied in passing from one class to another, listening to the manner in which the pronunciation was caught, or the correctness with which the rapid combination of letters and syllables was made. Sometimes he stayed a few minutes with a class to give aid, then proceeded to another ; and occasionally, on finding by a few trials, that a boy was quite familiar with the work of his class, he would remove him to another more advanced. These transfers were frequent.
   In an adjoining room were assembled, under the care of the schoolmaster's wife, some of the more advanced scholars. One class in this room was particularly interesting — a class composed of the monitors who receive extra instruction in order to fit them for their duties.
   After an interval the whole attended a class for general knowledge : in this the mutual instruction system was adopted. A pupil stood out on a platform — the observed of all observers — to be questioned and cross-questioned by his or her schoolfellow, like a witness in a difficult law case, until supplanted by a pupil who could answer better. A degree of piquancy was thus imparted to the proceeding, which caused the attention of the pupils not to flag for a moment. One girl, with red hair and bright eyes, weathered a storm of questions bravely. A sample of the queries put by these young inquisitors, will show the range of subjects necessary to be known about. What are the months of spring? What animal cuts down a tree, and where does it live? Which are the Cinque Ports? What planet is nearest the sun? What is the distance from Manchester to Lancaster? How high is St. Paul's Cathedral? What are the names of the common metals? What causes water to rise and become Clouds?
   One urchin who could scarcely be seen over the head of another, and who was evidently of a meteorological turn of mind, bawled out in a peculiarly sedate and measured manner,
  “What does the wind do?”
   To have answered the question fully would have taken a day, but a single answer satisfied the querist, and was of a sanitary character.
  “The wind,” replied the female Rufus, “cools us in summer and blows away the bad air.” An agreeable enough answer as we sat in the middle of the schoolroom on a hot day, when the thermometer was seventy-one degrees in the shade, and a pleasant breeze stealing through the open windows occasionally fanned our warm cheeks. This concluded our visit to the junior department.
   Meanwhile, the education of the elder children was proceeding in other parts of the building. The lessons of the senior sections are conducted in a much quieter manner than those of the junior classes ; even in a way which some persons would consider tame and uninteresting. This quietude was, however, more than balanced by another department. As we passed to the elder boys' court-yard, the chaplain threw open the door of a room, where a small music class was practising the fife and the drum. The class consisted of eight youths, who had not learnt long, but performed the “Troubadour” in creditable style. When they marched out, they headed about two hundred boys, who were drawn up in line ; the music-master acting as drill-sergeant and commander-in-chief. After passing through some drill-exercises, they marched off, drums beating and colours flying, to dinner.
   We need say no more of this pleasing ceremony than that it was heartily performed. The viands were relished in strong illustration of Dr. Johnson's emphatic remark, “Sir, I like to dine.”
   After dinner, we visited the workshops — a very active scene. The living tableaux were formed chiefly by young tailors and cobblers. A strict account is kept of all manufactured articles and of their cost ; and we learnt that a boy's suit of fustian (labour included) costs 4s. 10½d. ; a girl's petticoat 12¾d. ; and that the average weekly cost of clothing worn by the children was estimated at 3½d. per head making 15s. 2d. for the wearing apparel of each child per year. This may be taken as a commentary on the “slop work” prices to which public attention has been so forcibly drawn of late.
   In all the industrial sections, the children are occupied alternately at their work and in school — labouring for one afternoon and next morning, and then attending their classes in school for the next afternoon and morning. This is a decided improvement on the Mettray system. In that agricultural colony the boys only attend school once a week, and work at handicrafts, or on the farm, during the other five. There is, however, something defective in the Swinton plan, as applicable to advanced pupils ; perhaps they are not stimulated sufficiently ; but it happens that no pupil-teacher had ever passed a government examination ; although last year the grant of money, by the Committee of Privy Council for the educational departments of the Swinton school, amounted to 531l. Those among the scholars who have gone into other lines of life, have generally conducted themselves well ; and when absorbed into the masses of society, have become a help and a credit instead of a bane to it. Indeed, having been brought up at the Pauper Palace appears a safe certificate with the public, who are eager for the girls of this school as domestic servants. Both boys and girls, on leaving the institution, are furnished with two complete sets of clothes, and their subsequent behaviour is repeatedly inquired into.
   As we descended the steps of the school we scanned the prospect seen from it. The foreground of the landscape was dotted with rural dwellings interspersed with trees. In the distance rose the spires and tall chimneys of Manchester, brightened by the rays of the evening sun, while a sea of smoke hung like a pall over the great centre of manufacturing activity, and shut out the view beyond. It typified the dark cloud of pauperism which covers so large a portion of the land, and which it is hoped such institutions as the Swinton Industrial Schools are destined to dispel. The centre of manufacturing activity is also the centre of practical and comprehensive education. Why does this activity continue to revolve so near its centre? Why has it not radiated over the length and breadth of the land? The Swinton Institution is a practical illustration of what can be done with even the humblest section of the community ; and if it have a disadvantage, that is precisely because it succeeds too well. It places the child-pauper above the child of the industrious. Narrow minds advocate the levelling of the two, by withdrawing the advantage from the former. Let us, however, hope that no effort will relax to bring out, in addition to Pauper Palaces, Educational Palaces for all classes and denominations.
   Thus ended our visit to the “Pauper Palace.” As we issued from the iron gate into the open road we met a long line of the elder girls, accompanied by a master, returning from a walk which they had taken, after school hours and before supper, for the benefit of their health. The glad smile of recognition, and the cheerful salutation with which they greeted us as we bade them good evening, were a touch of that gentle nature which “makes the whole world kin.” It refreshed us like a parting blessing from well-known friends.

The uncredited authors of A Day in a Pauper Palace were WH Wills and Philip Taylor.


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