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Its rise, progress, and decay, are topics of no ordinary interest. Spitalfields, including large portions of Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Mile End New Town, and Shoreditch, was the spot on which, in the year 1685, the French Protestant Refugees colonized, having been expatriated from France in consequence of the Edict of Nantes, made by Henry IV., in 1598, in their favour, being revoked by Louis XIV. This incident resulted in the introduction of the manufacture of rich silks and stuffs into England, and was attended with great advantage to the nation; and, locally consi. dered, they were a blessing to the inhabitants in the immediate vicinity, being bright examples of piety, intelligence, thrift, honesty, industry, and sobriety.
The impulse thus given to the manufacture of silks in England was considerable, as may be gathered from a statement made in a petition presented to the House of Commons by the Weavers' Company, in the year 1713, in which it is declared, that “ owing to the encouragement afforded by the Crown, and by divers Acts of Parliament, the silk manufacture at that time was twenty times greater in amount than in the year 1664.” They flourished in trade, and increased greatly in the number of their artizans in the reigns of Queen Anne, and George I. and 11. And they became so numerous, that in the year 1773, an Act was passed prohibiting any silk weaver having more than two apprentices at one time. The piety and respectability of the neighbourhood now began rapidly to decline, and as if to accelerate its degeneracy, about thirty years ago, it became the practice of parochial authorities to farm out and apprentice workhouse children to such as would take them, by which some thousands were added to their numbers. These poor little creatures were set to work, having allotted to them a daily task, which required a long round of hours, close application to fulfil, to the exclusion of opportunities for education. Thus these poor, destitute, deserted ones, many of whom never knew anything of their parentage, grew up with the ill-trained offsprings of their petty masters and mistresses, under the disadvantages of neglected education, and the evil tendencies of bad example, and both have now become the men and women of the present age, and the parents of the future race, well fitted to propagate the evils of irreligion and ignorance. It is thus that vice, like a noxious weed, has so widely spread, inflicting its baneful consequences amongst the inhabitants, to the destruction of morals and religion, though not to extinction, yet in such vast odds that the pious and well conducted are lost in the multitude.
Sundry efforts, though of a comparatively small character, have been made here and there, with a view to the cultivation of some green spots in this morally waste wilderness—such as schools for the untaught, and free places of worship for the poor, with a retinue of benevolent institutions in the rear. These, by the blessing of God, have been means of great good, but comparatively to a few. The masses remain untouched -youths and adults are to be numbered by hundreds who can neither read nor write. The Sabbath is fearfully desecrated. The market scenes in Brick Lane and Church Street, from early in the morning until midday, are scarcely to be equalled in any part of London-gardening, dog and bird-fancying, pigeon-flying--and on fine summer evenings the elder folks are at their doors and windows, smoking, drinking, and gossiping ; while the children and youths of both sexes swarm the streets, playing their various games, such as the shuttlecock, skipping-rope, or rambling in the adjacent fields and tea-gardens, to play at trap-bat-and-ball, or engage in the race.
Poverty, the consequent result of departure from Christian principles and practice, has most signally characterised this locality. Lack of domestic comfort and priva: tion is the rule ; independency, competency, and comfort, are the exceptions. The extremely low price paid for labour, its occasional scarcity, and the general absence of economy, contribute greatly to the extensive suffering that prevails.
It is a gratifying fact to know that, in addition to an increased agency for bettering the condition of this necessitous neighbourhood, which has been established of late
ears, there are in active operation ten Ragged Schools, * which are conferring their benefits on about 1,500 children daily : 880 on the week evening, and 2,000 on Sabbath days. The following is a brief sketch of the commencement, operations, and results, of one of these, namely :
NEW NICHOL STREET RAGGED SCHOOL. It was in the year 1842, that the London City Mission, having explored the whole of the necessitous parts of Spitalfields and Bethnal Green, and obtained funds, sent a band of devoted Missionaries to labour among the needy poor. The one appointed to this district opened a meeting-room, and was successful in collecting some few adults on the Sabbath evening, to whom he was wont to impart instruction, but the tumult from without, arising partly from opposition put forth, and partly from the noise of those engaged in their pastimes and sports, was such as greatly to disturb those within. He therefore resolved on endeavouring to open a Ragged School, and havin made known his purpose to a few poor, but well-disposed working men in the neighbourhood, they cheerfully volunteered to assist him. A room belonging to a poor shoemaker was engaged, at a small rental, and, on the 15th April, 1849, the Missionary with his little band was to be seen sallying forth in quest of scholars. They accosted groups of gamblers, and those idling about, and returned in triumph, having succeeded in persuading about 30 to attend. Thus encouraged, they repeated the experiment on the succeeding Sabbath, and the number was increased to 50. The room became too small, and another, close by, was taken, in which, with one enlargement, the school was conducted for a period of three years. The attempt to benefit the children of such debased parents was regarded by many as literally hopeless and useless. But, notwithstanding, the numbers increased, and the teachers persevered in spite of the difficulties they had continually to encounter, arising from frequent insult and opposition offered by many of the neighbours. The extremely filthy condition of most of the children admitted, together with their numbers being considerably more than the premises could conveniently accommodate, greatly tried the health of all who laboured in the cause, and actually resulted in the death of one of the female teachers—the daughter of the Missionary. It became at length needful to take the premises of three houses adjacent, and convert them into one room, and erect on the ground adjacent an additional room for infants, which was done at a cost of about £300. And here the City Missionary and his devoted local Superintendent, aided by the little band already referred to, and young friends from Islington, are incessant in their labours, and making astonishing progress with the young, and also the parents of the scholars.
It is said that the premises now occupied were once the dwelling-place of Judge Wilmot, whose mansion still stands in the square, and opposite the long street in the Bethnal Green Road, which was built by him, and still bears his name. The expensive character of the mantelpiece, situated in what is said to have been the parlour of the judge, adds credit to the tradition. But an incident more interesting, though somewhat painful, is worthy of note. The Missionary, while prosecuting his duties of domiciliary visitation, found here a gang of petty thieves, who were accustomed to meet in this very room, to prepare their stolen fowls for sale ; and in the same room, on one Sabbath evening in the month of February, 1845, he held a religious service, occasioned by the death of one of their number, who in the morning of the previous Sabbath undertook to walk for a wager from Shoreditch Church to Cambridge Heath Gate. He completed his engagement, and returned, having a minute or two to spare, apparently well, and exulting in his exploit; but at two o'clock he took ill, and at five o'clock the same afternoon he died. Thus the dwelling-place of the once famous administrator of justice, and subsequently of the lawless, is now set apart for the education of the ignorant; and we trust that the good resulting will exceed the evil practised here in days gone by.
In connexion with this institution, there are a Day School, with an average attendance of 119 boys and girls, and 112 infants ; a Week Evening School, with an attendance of 100 boys, and 77 girls ; a Sabbath School, with an attendance averag. ing in the morning, 202; afternoon, 351; and evening, 304. Three paid, and thirty
* New Nichol Street, Anchor Street, Hope Street, Wilke's Street, Spicer Street, Dolphin Court, Thrawl Street, Albert Street, North Street, Twig Folly,
voluntary teachers, two-thirds of whom have been brought to a knowledge of the truth, and added to the number of the Lord's people, by the instrumentality of the City Missionary and the Ragged School. Twenty-three of these teach twice, and nine three times on the Lord's day. The annual expenditure of this institution is about £110.
There is also a free place of worship, with an average of 120 attending on Sabbath evenings; and a City Mission Meeting, at which about 80 attend. Also a Bible Class, consisting of about 50 young men and women. A Penny Bank, only opened last Christmas, numbering 200 members, and having contributed about £12.
The benefits conferred by this institution have been considerable. The outward appearance of the streets has become greatly improved. The opposition, as at first shown towards the school, is exchanged for kindly feeling. The landlord of the public-house nearly opposite has recently affirmed, that the school is against his business. The children, who a short time back were very filthy, are now tidy and clean. A few days back a gentleman visited the Day School: “Oh!” said he, “do you call this a Ragged School ? the children are too tidy and too clear, they ought to pay.” The teacher replied, “Every one of those tidy pinafores you see, sir, were made by the ladies for the children, and as to their faces and hands, if they come dirty, we can easily wash them.” Scarcely had that gentleman left, when a little girl, one of the tidy ones referred to, came to the teacher, and crying said, “Oh! teacher, I am so hungry; I have had nothing to eat all day; mother hadn't got nothing to give me.”
The infidelity professed by many of the fathers has been affected by the instructions imparted to the children, who, impressed by the lessons taught, have naturally, asked their sires whether they have been born again? Whether they love Jesus ? And whether when they die they will go to heaven? Some have complained, that the teachers by this means make the children the tormentors of their parents.
One youth, when admitted into the school, was a bold blasphemer; when he had been in the school about twelve months, he said to the Superintendent on one occcasion,
Sir, when I entered your school I kept bad company, and was an habitual swearer; but by the instructions I have received, I have been led to feel I have a wicked heart, but I pray to God to nange it, and that he will make my father a good man. This once blaspheming boy is now a respectable, pious young man, and an occasional teacher.
A little boy, a scholar in the Day School, only seven years of age, happening to fall from a first-floor window, was, on account of the serious injuries received, taken to the hospital; the nurse concluded that he must be the child of pious parents, for he would not take his food until he had asked a blessing. Upon being questioned, he stated that he had been taught to do so at his Ragged School.
The opposition shown at home by some of the parents is truly affecting. A little girl, only three years of age, but a few weeks since was found by her infidel father reading the Scriptures; for this, an offence to him, he beat her most unmercifully ; but when she can, she perseveres in making her way to the school.
Several instances, however, have occurred in which infidel fathers have come to the school, and with tears thanked the Superintendent for the care taken of their children; acknowledging that they are at a loss to understand the principle of love which prompts the teachers to such acts of benevolence and self-denial to benefit them; and that it is evident to them, that there must be something in Christianity to which they are entire strangers.
When the school was commenced, a tinker's boy, whose Sabbath mornings were generally occupied in carrying home mended pots and pans, joined others in the evening to annoy by making a noise outside ; he, however, at length was induced to enter, and take his seat with the rest; and He who changed the heart of the Bedford tinker, was pleased to bring this depraved, blaspheming youth to a knowledge of the truth, and he is now a member of a Christian church, and a teacher in the Sabbath school.
Another, when admitted three years back, knew not his letters ; he is now nineteen years of age, and can read the Bible, and it may be said of him, that he is not ashamed of Jesus. He, too, has sought and obtained admission to the Lord's table, and is an active and useful teacher in the school.
A sister of the above, somewhat older, who was also taught to read in this school, is now a teacher, and a member of the church of God. These two have been instru: mental in leading their parents to the house of God: their intemperate habits have been broken off; with them old things have passed away, and all things have become new. They, too, with their son and daughter, unite in commemorating the Saviour's dying love.
These are but a selection of a few of many instances of known individual benefit resulting from the effort, which, like a little leaven, has been working, bringing under its influence old and young, and exerting its Christianising tendency. And when it is considered that this is but one of several similar institutions, there is much reason to praise God and take courage, adding effort to effort, and benevolence to benevolence, in the exercise of faith and prayer, that the leaven of the Gospel may by these, and auxiliary means, prevail, until the great masses shall be brought under its happy influences, and Spitalfields be again restored to its pristine state of piety and peace.
REFORMATORIES FOR JUVENILE CRIMINALS.
On Wednesday Evening, April 12th, an adjourned general meeting of the Society for Promoting the Amendment of the Law took place, at the rooms of the institution, Waterloo Place, under the presidency of Lord Brougham.
The special business of the evening was to consider the Report* of a Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Reformatory Institutions, which was presented at the previous meeting, and which concluded with a recommendation that the following Resolutions should be adopted by the Society :
"1. That the powers of summary conviction given by the 10 and 11 Vic. c. 82, ought immediately to be extended to all offences where the child is under fourteen years of age.
“ 2. That in all such cases the justices should, upon conviction, have a discretionary power, either to commit the child to a Reformatory School, for any period not exceeding such child's minority, or to inflict the punishment now provided by law.
“ 3. That the sole object of such school should be the reformation and training of the child, so as to render him, on his discharge, a self-supporting and conscientious member of society.
“ 4. That by such commitment the managers of the school should be placed in loco parentis, and have all the powers of a parent over the child.
“5. That the managers should have power, when the child leaves the reformatory, to apprentice him.
“6. That the parents should be liable to contribute to the cost of the child's maintenance in the reformatory; and that when the child is illegitimate, the putative father, or, if the father cannot be discovered, the mother, should be so liable.
“ 7. That the parish in which the child's fixed place of abode may be, (if any,) at the time of committing the offence, should be liable to contribute to the cost of such maintenance.
“8. That existing Reformatory Schools should, when found to be fitted for the purpose, be licensed by the Crown for the reception of a certain number of juvenile offenders ; the managers of such schools, after such licence had been given, receiving the
expenses of maintenance of each child committed to their care; and that Government should have power to aid such schools, and other similar ones, established by voluntary contributions, and, if it shall see fit, to establish other Reformatory Schools to be under its own direct management.
“9. That counties and boroughs should have power to rate themselves in like manner as boroughs may now do under the provisions of the 8 and 9 Vic. c. 43, ' An Act for encouraging the establishment of museums in large towns'-and that sums so raised should be considered as voluntary contributions.
“ 10. That the constitution of the board of management of Reformatory Schools should vary according as they may have been established by the voluntary contributions of individual subscribers, or by a rate raised by any county or borough, or by these means conjointly; in the first case, the board to be elected by the subscribers ;
* We hope to be able to refer to this Report in an early number. -Ed.
in the second, to consist of persons elected in like manner as managing committees are under the statute referred to; and, in the third, a joint board to be elected. All these schools to be subject to Government inspection, and to be annually reported upon.”
Mr. Power, in moving the adoption of the above Resolutions, said, that the real question for the Society to decide was, ther it was better to wait until a child had been sent to prison again and again, until at length he was sentenced to a course of penal servitude,—to be followed probably by another career of crime,-or to take the child the moment he came within the grasp of the law, remove him to a reformatory, and endeavour to train him into an honest member of society. The number of crimi. nals in this country, instead of decreasing, was at present increasing ; at sessions after sessions, assize after assize, the same kind of persons were brought up for trial, and it now became them to see if they could not meet the evil at the right point, namely, in childhood. He should therefore propose the adoption of the Resolutions.
Mr. F. Hill seconded the motion. He could not agree with the preceding speaker that crime was on the increase. His experience as an inspector of prisons had led him to a contrary conclusion; and if the number of commitments was greater now than it was a few years back, the increase was to be accounted for by the improvements in the police system, and by the circumstances that offences--such, for example, as cruelty to animals—were now prosecuted, which formerly were entirely passed over.
Mr. Ayrton thought that, with regard to the age up to which the system was to operate, it was impossible to provide that parents should support their children in reformatories up to the age of 18 or 19. They generally ceased to support them at about sixteen; and the sixth Resolution would, in that respect, require modification.
Mr. M. D. Hill conceived that in reformatories everything should be based on moral restraint. The inmates should have full power to walk away; though, of course, they would be liable to subsequent imprisonment if they deserted. At the reformatory establishment at Stretton-on-Dunsmore, in Warwickshire, which was founded in 1817, and which he regretted to say was closed in the previous month for want of funds, the best effects were always produced by kind and judicious treatment; and, without meaning to say anything invidious, he must observe that the system pursued at Parkhurst, with its walls and sentinels, appeared to him to have but little tendency towards reform. So well had the reformatory system operated, that among five hundred boys who were subjected to it during the past year, there was no occasion, he believed, to send one back to prison for gross misconduct. He strongly approved of voluntary management. The system required managers who had a natural bent for such occupations, and who, like Demetz, the great criminal reformer of France, would be ready to exclaim, “My desire is to live with these children-my desire is to die with them—my desire is to rise again with them."
A discussion ensued, in which Mr. Pitt Taylor, Mr. Waddilove, Mr. Sergeant Manning, and other gentlemen, took part, as to the precise wording of the Resolution, so as to meet the views of the Meeting. It resulted in the unanimous adoption, on the motion of Mr. M. D. Hill, seconded by Mr. Ayrton, of the following Resolution as the basis of the whole scheme :
“That in all cases of a criminal nature in which the offender is under sixteen years of age, the court or judge before whom the case shall be tried may, upon conviction, either commit the offender to a Reformatory School for any period not exceeding such child's minority, or inflict the punishment now provided by law.”
The remaining Resolutions, with the exception of the first two (for which the one adopted was substituted), were referred back to the Committee for revision.