Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Revelations About Sandgate



All who know Newcastle have heard of the Sandgate - a locality which, for filth, disease, and immorality of every description, has no equal in England, or in the world. It is pre-eminently conspicuous for everything low, debasing, and wretched. The very atmosphere breathes pollution and death. Misery and indigence seem stamped on every countenance you meet with. Crime and immorality exercise an unbridled sway in nearly every house or hovel, and the miserable inhabitants appear to be sunk in penury, wickedness, and vice.
Such is one of the quarters to which we wish the efforts of the Sanitary Association, and of all concerned for the common cause of humanity, to be especially directed. Nothing but a personal visit, such as that which we are about to describe, can enable any one to realise the condition of the population in Sandgate. It is deplorably wretched beyond description, but not beyond remedy; and therefore we offer the subjoined facts, gathered in company with Mr Buchanan, the devoted temperance missionary, with the view of promoting some ameliorative effort.
To readers at a distance, it may not be uninteresting to state that the Sandgate is a narrow street or lane, situated at the east side of Newcastle, and close to the river Tyne. The north side, to which we mean to confine our present observations, is built on a sloping declivity, and comprises, within a short distance, sixteen alleys or lanes, separated from each other by a narrow space of four or six yards. Scarcely any of these alleys are paved or flagged. Some are in a condition that only one or two parties reside in them, while others afford shelter, such as it is, to as many as twenty or thirty families. The untenanted alleys are devoted to pigs, donkeys, and horses, and are made common receptacles of the filth of the neighbourhood. There being few or rather no regular ash-pits, the people make a convenience of the landing-places on the stair-cases, the effluvia from which, we need scarcely say, is constantly generating disease. Drainage, or sewerage, to carry off the water, there is non; and, consequently, there is everywhere a polluted stream damed up, in each of these alleys, that makes it absolutely dangerous for persons having a regard to health, to enter them. As you venture to thread your way through the mass of pollution, the heavy killing miasma impedes respiration, and makes you feel at once that you are inhaling poison.
Such, in a few words, is the general character of the alleys. Let us look now at the houses and their unfortunate inhabitants. The property is all divided into single apartments. The tenants are the poorest of the poor. For a single room, scarcely fit for the reception of cattle, we found parties paying 15d a-week! Some hovels, without windows, and with the roof barely sufficient to keep out the rain, were let at 6d a-week; but the average price is 15d to 18d, and the sums are levied weekly, not by the landlords, but by collectors specially retained for the purpose, and whose office, if we may judge from the angry complaints of the poor tenants, must be a very unenviable one. In one of the alleys, where the property seemed in good condition, the new water had been introduced by the landlords, to the great satisfaction of the people; but, in others, the only supply for washing is brought from the ricer, and for cooking, they have recourse to a small "pant" at an inconvenient distance, where this indispensable element of health is doled out at a farthing a skeelful! 
Most of the houses are entered by a narrow flight of steps outside the buildings. On reaching the summit of these rude elevations, you are invited to grope your way into passages where light never enters, and up wooden stairs that threaten at every footstep to yield to the slightest pressure. The apertures made, in the shape of windows, to admit light, are the rudest contrivances imaginable. Few of them are glazed. Some consist of the patchwork of old rags, boards and straw, which are taken out when the weather permits, to allow the air and the light to enter. The narrowness of the alleys is another obstacle to the health of their occupants, the average of them being little more than four feet. Almost our first insight to one of these hovels, revealed a sad spectacle. Scarcely an article of furniture was to be seen in the room. The wife, as we were informed, lay ill in bed, the children, clothed in rags, were amusing themselves, to the best of their ability, and the husband was suffering from the effects of intemperance. The next case was even worse. A mother, bearing the traces of superior mental and physical qualities, met us at the door, with a fine boy, four years old, in her hand. She has fled from Ireland, with her husband and family, to escape the famine. The husband, though they had been several weeks in the town, had been unable to obtain employment. Two of their children had been seized with one of those epidemics so fatal to infant years, and were more like death than life. And yet, the poor woman spoke in hopeful tones! If her husband only obtained work, all would be well. Such cases, which we might easily multiply, show how patiently suffering is endured by the humbler classes. Another case that we met with, afforded a fine illustration of a great truth which Dr. Chalmers advocated in his Christian Economics, namely that the poor are the most active and generous supporters of the poor. In looking into a kind of hut, close to which was a large pig-stye, we found three women, an able-bodied man, and one or two young children. The occupier or tenant of the house was so poor that she could with difficulty obtain food or lodging for herself and family; and yet, with a generosity that did honour to our common humanity, she had given the shelter of her humble abode to a mother and two sick children that had been driven from Ireland by famine! Perhaps the most striking example of poverty-stricken individuals crowding together in this quarter, was the case of 27 individuals being huddled up in a miserable room of 15 by 12 feet in size! This group comprised four families. They had neither beds nor bedding, and almost no fire. They were all from the sister-isle, and complained bitterly of their woeful condition - without food, fire, and little or no clothing - lodged in a room so dark they could scarcely recognise each other at noonday!
Fellow townsmen - Such are samples of the misery and wretchedness at your own doors. While were are not insensible to the condition of Ireland, we think Newcastle has the first claim. It is a mockery to send tracts or missionaries to these famishing multitudes. They need, we know, moral and religious training, and such of them as we conversed with, deplored their ignorance and debasement. But, their first wants are those of nature - food and clothing. Supply these, and then talk to them of religion. Give them the opportunity, by enabling them to have better dwellings, and they will become better men and better women. At present, they are worse than savages. Every third or fourth house is the abode of disease, and not a few are the open and undisguised nurseries of vice in its most hideous forms. The disease which originates in Sandgate must, in course of time, spread to other parts of the town. Past experience shows that this has been the case. Let an effort, then, be made, to uplift the population of such quarters as Sandgate from their present degradation. It requires no lavish expenditure of money or labour. A little of the energy and self-denial which are directed to other movements would be perfectly sufficient for the one now suggested. Who will engage in it? Let the response equal the importance of the undertaking, and the result will be, one of greatest social and moral reforms ever attempted in Newcastle. 

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