Saturday, 6 February 2016

From Home to the Trenches


Sonny, it seems like twenty year,
     The while that you’ve been gone,
And left me lonesome for you here
Trying to do my bit — oh, dear! —
     By keeping steady on.

I promised and I’ve meant to do,
     But now and then at night
I’ve been to blame, the times it blew
Like guns that answered guns, with you —
     My you — amongst the fight.

But in the morning “Dear old fool”
     I’ve seemed to hear you say;
“Mother, no need to fuss, keep cool,”
Just like the cheeky brat from school
     You was the other day.

You wasn’t always quite so grand;
     Once you was mighty glad,
Chased by a puppy-dog, to stand
Behind your Mummy, slip your hand
     In hers, the way you had.

Small son turned big, now that you’re grown
     And in a real war,
And set to face it all alone,
I’m wild to run and guard my own
     Same as I did before.

You’d laugh at that; but keep your fun
     Till fighting’s through, and then
Hurry off back to where there’s one
All of a fuss to hear her son
     Say “Dear old fool” again.



This poem appeared in Punch, 19th May 1915.



Thursday, 4 February 2016

Hamilton Road Presbyterian, Bangor 1897-1947


Hamilton Road Church, Bangor, was opened for public worship on the 10th September, 1899, and in September this year special services were held to celebrate the Jubilee. Among the special preachers was the Moderator of the General Assembly (The Rt. Rev. Dr. G. D. Erskine), who brought the congratulations and good wishes of the Church to the congregation.

The congregation was erected, by direction of the General Assembly, on 8th June, 1897. The first minister was Rev. Robert Montgomery, B.A., of Portrush (brother of Rev. Dr. Henry Montgomery, Belfast). Mr. Montgomery’s ministry was brief, as he had to resign in May, 1898, owing to ill-health.

It was during the ministry of the next minister, Rev. W. A. Hill, B.A. (who had, prior to his ordination, been assistant, for two years, to Rev. Dr. Charles Davey, in St. Enoch’s Church, Belfast), that the Church building was erected and opened for public worship. The Church has seating accommodation for over 1,000 people, and is built of Scrabo stone. A particular feature of the building is a large glazed dome in the roof, giving light through the ceiling panelling to the whole of the centre of the Church.

As a memorial to the members of the congregation who gave their lives, and to those who served in the Great War, a pipe organ was installed in 1922.


In May, 1928, Mr. Hill accepted a call to Wexford and Enniscorthy congregations, and in October of the same year, Rev. J. Millar Craig, B.A., formerly of First Letterkenny, Sandymount, (Dublin), St. George’s, Sunderland, and latterly of St. Ninian’s, Golder’s Green, London, was installed as minister.

Largely due to Mr. Craig’s inspiring leadership and untiring efforts, the Church Halls, consisting of a Large Hall and a Minor Hall, seating 450 and 150 people respectively, cloakrooms and a kitchen, were built in 1932 at a cost of £4,500.

Electrical heating and lighting were introduced into the Church in 1939 (the Church being the first in Ireland to be wholly heated by electricity).

In 1945, Rev. J. M. Craig retired from the active duties of the ministry, and his successor is Rev. E. M. Borland, B.A., the present minister, formerly minister of Downpatrick congregation.

The congregation has shown a steady increase in numbers and givings throughout the years. 57 families, in 1897, grew to 160 in 1910, and to 487 in 1947. The givings to Missions increased from £50 in 1897, to £567 in 1947.

The members of the congregation have always been interested in Evangelistic work, and in Foreign Missions, and this is evidenced by the generous givings to Missions and by the fact that thirty-four members of the congregation have been, or are, engaged in active full-time Christian service at home and abroad.

A Booklet, giving the full history of the congregation from 1897-1947, has been prepared and published by Rev. E. M. Borland.


An extract from the Presbyterian Herald, December 1949.




Sunday, 31 January 2016

How to Deal with Submarines...

["The Syren and Shipping offers £500 to the captain, officers and crew of the first British merchant vessel which succeeds in sinking a German submarine."—The Times.]


In order to assist captains of merchant ships to deal with raiding submarines, a few suggestions and comments, which it is hoped will be helpful, are offered by our Naval Expert.

In the absence of a 4.7 naval gun, a provision suggested as useful by a writer in The Times, any 13-inch shells that you happen to have on board might be hoisted over the side, disguised as bunches of bananas, and dropped on to the offending submarine. If this does not sink her at once, additional bunches should be dropped.

But before disposing of your shells be sure that your submarine is close alongside. In case she should hold off, let the first mate beckon to her, in a manner as nonchalant as possible, to come closer.

When the enemy boards your ship, the captain should endeavour to interest the boarding party with the latest war news from German bulletins, whilst the bo’sun, the second steward and the stewardess, with the aid of peashooters, pour liquid explosive down the submarine’s periscope.

If you are fortunate enough to have on board one of those trained sea lions which have been showing for somo years at the music-halls, you need not trouble to practise the subterfuges given above. On the enemy’s submarine making her appearance on the starboard side you should lower your sea lion over the port side, preferably near the stern, having previously attached to it a bomb connected with wires to a battery. When the sea lion is close to the submarine just press the button. Possibly you will lose your pet, but the general result should be satisfactory.

Owing to unavoidable circumstances you may not be able to put into practice any of these hints. If that be so, when the enemy comes aboard, work up a heated discussion on the origin of the War. If skilfully managed, you should draw into the discussion the entire company of the submarine, with the result that you will make time and possibly be got out of your difficulty by one of our patrol ships.

Should all and every one of these expedients be useless, as a forlorn hope you should read aloud the appropriate clauses of the Hague Convention, and at the same time take the names and addresses of the boarding party for future reference.

If you have an amateur photographer aboard, let him get going. The payment made by illustrated papers for pictures that reproduce the sinking of your ship will probably exceed the value of the ship, so that in any case your owners will not lose by the deal.

But it is always best, where possible, to sink the submarine.


From Punch, 10th February 1915.




Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Housing of the Working Classes - II


For the first time, in the United Kingdom, a Civic Exhibition will be held this summer in Dublin. This is due to the widespread interest now taken in the housing question, which has been greatly stimulated by the Report of the Commission that lately sat on the housing conditions of the working classes within the city. A large and representative committee of all classes has been formed, under the presidency of Her Excellency, the Countess of Aberdeen, who is promoting the movement with her usual energy and great organising capacity. The old Linen Hall, built in 1726, and now a long abandoned barracks, is being transformed; and here in the heart of a slum area the Exhibition will be held, which may prove to be the starting-point of a movement that will not only transform the city and make it fit for poor and rich alike to dwell in, but may also have far-reaching effects on many other communities elsewhere.

In the previous article on the housing question we pointed out the difficulties all old cities have to face, in trying to solve it under modern social conditions. While Dublin does not differ in this respect from other cities, its difficulties are intensified, owing to the extreme poverty of a large number of its inhabitants, and the somewhat peculiar heritage left to it by the great building schemes of the eighteenth century.

The line of communication at an early age between Leinster and Ulster crossed the Liffey by a ford of hurdles near the present Whitworth Bridge. On the height overlooking it, now crowned by Christchurch, stood a number of wattle huts, the nucleus of the future city. Here the Vikings raised the capital of what was in effect a Danish kingdom; the pool in which their ships lay was Dubh Linn (Dublin). The Anglo-Normans made it in time a stronghold, and the centre of administration. Walled, towered and gated, it suffered the usual vicissitudes of stormy centuries, and retained its mediaeval character until the Viceroyalty of the Duke of Ormonde, under whose government modern Dublin may be said to have made a beginning. No residential part of the present city is older than Queen Anne’s reign, and little of that now remains. The eighteenth century saw a complete rebuilding, and a vast extension, until by its close the city was left in its main lines pretty much as it now stands. Vast sums were spent in the laying out of squares and streets, in public buildings which are the pride of the city, and in the erection of long lines of fine dwelling houses, the homes of the aristocracy who thronged to the capital, and at boundless expense made it the second city in the Kingdom, and one of the gayest in Europe. Troops of servants within, and crowds without ministered to the wants of the gay, extravagant, and most generous nobility and gentry, who, so far, created the capital, and made it their home during a period of the most intense political and social activity. But economic the whole life was not, for the age nowhere was economical. During the whole period the wants of the working classes in the matter of housing was unthought of, as far as any general scheme went. They were relegated into courts, laneways, alleys and old rookeries anywhere. Sanitation there was none, as now understood; cesspools, periodically emptied, lay covered in the thoroughfares; the streets were ill-paved, ill-kept and excessively filthy, as many accounts testify, while the crowds of beggars who infested them were commented on by every writer who visited the city and gave his experience of it. Of the poverty of the lower classes we have ample evidence, were it only to note the charitable institutions, founded in that generous time which still exist. While there was much to be sentimental over in eighteenth century Dublin, there is enough in the darker side of it to strip the glamour off that gilded age. In the last eighty years Dublin has suffered as great a change in another direction; the fine houses once occupied by the gentry, especially on the north side of the city, have lapsed into tenements, many of the worst description. The older quarters on the south side have suffered an equal decay; the result is that there are derelict sites everywhere, dilapidated houses in every street, while day by day houses are being condemned. The provision of necessary accommodation has not kept pace with the process of decay, so that the poor are driven into existing tenements no better than what they came from, and to consequent overcrowding and congestion. To what an extent this exists will be best understood from the following figures. Of the total population of the city (304,802) the number of the working classes and their dependents amount to 194,250, about 63 per cent. Various companies and societies have provided accommodation for some 32,000 of these. Dwelling in 5,322 tenement houses is a population of about 118,000, and small houses furnish provision for about 10,000. This accounts for 160,000, the remainder living in small better class houses. The 5,322 tenement houses contain 35,227 rooms; in these 20,108 families occupy single rooms, so that Dublin has been styled among the towns of the United Kingdom a city of one-room tenements. Omitting rooms occupied by one and by two persons, there are 12,042 families numbering 73,973 persons living in single rooms. The total number living in each tenement house is very varied, depending on the size and number of rooms. A rough average is a house of 8 to 10 rooms with from 40 to 50 people. We have found a house with 90 persons living in it, but this is exceptional.


The death-rate among the inhabitants of tenement houses is a heavy one, which, if lowered, to the average for the whole city would be a saving of 1,000 a year of human life. This heavy death-rate among the poorer class must, however, be put down to other causes as well as the housing; these are a low standard of living, insufficient food and clothing, cold and exposure, and in general a poor physique, all of which render the slum dweller peculiarly susceptible to disease, and its so frequent fatal results. Excessive poverty prevails over the whole slum area of Dublin; and some idea of the extremity, to which the poor are put to tide over daily difficulties, may be had from a report made by Sir Charles Cameron some years ago, in which he states that from inquiries made, over 2,800,000 pawn tickets were issued in a year, the loans amounting to over ^540,000. About one-third of the population and their dependents belong to the unskilled working classes—day labourers, yardmen, hawkers, odd jobbers, and such like, of whom an undue number are casual workers and unemployed. The average wages of a great majority vary from 15s. to 20s.; the casual Labourer less, which intensifies the difficulty of the housing problem. With such wages as prevail, how a worker can feed and clothe himself and his family, and provide housing accommodation sufficient to preserve any of the graces of life it is difficult to imagine. The margin of evil — moral and physical, between tenancies at 3s. 6d. per week and 2s. at best is small, and too often the occupier is driven in spite of himself to take the cheapest he can get, and, therefore, the worst, with the consequent real risk to himself and his family. When one comes in contact with such conditions, as we have literally in thousands of cases, the wonder is that any escape from the relentless force of the fate that lies behind them. Of the life of the slum-dweller under them no adequate description is possible here. From a thorough investigation of all the lower quarters of the city, we consider there is nothing to choose between the various slum areas in the matter of housing; the prevailing conditions are everywhere, the same. Open doors and common stairways — dirty and ill-kept, with temptation to vice day and night, exist throughout. Neglect in general is shown in the dilapidated roofs, walls, and the timber of the buildings; and there are few houses in which broken windows will not be seen within and without. One or two outside water closets suffice for the entire sanitary accommodation of the occupants of a house, and the passer-by in the streets, while a tap in the yard gives the water supply to all. From a pole or line in the windows hang the clothes to dry, and often a string across the room suffices. The washing, such as it is, sinks to a minimum when water has to be carried to the third or fourth landing of the tenement house. Few are the rooms containing a can or bucket for any such purpose. In from the gutter the children go to rest with all the dirt of the day, or many days, upon them. The fire-place is of the worst description, being both wasteful and utterly useless for any real cooking purpose. The furniture in the majority of cases hardly deserves the name. A bed at the most, with the poorest of covering over a miserable worn-out mattress, a chair or two and table, and a few cooking utensils and food vessels fill the list. But the tenement room is often lacking of any such accommodation — a heap of straw, sacking, or a bundle of rags form the bed for many a family. We have found rooms totally empty with not a thing to sit on, so far does the slum dweller sink into destitution before he is driven on the rates. It is folly to expect citizenship in any real sense of the word to arise out of such a depth of squalid poverty. Citizenship in a room, naked to the walls, with fireless grate from a family of 5 to 11, stripped to the last shred of clothing that could reach the pawnshop! Condemned to such a life what can a woman do for herself and children? To speak to her of cultivating any of the little accomplishments she ever had is little short of idle mockery. What she wants is a living wage coming in, and a couple of self-contained rooms for a home, free from the inferno of the vile streets, laneways, courts and alleys into which she is plunged by fate. Thousands of children given all the freedom of the streets never get a chance, and there is no worse training for life than the licence and liberty of the thoroughfares. They learn little or nothing at school, there is no education or provision for the worst cases; but they early acquire how to live by their wits in the practice of lying, deceit and pretence. They are expert in every trick that can win a copper from the kindly-disposed passer-by. Under-fed, undersized, undisciplined, they arrive at maturity; they find a mate, marry and repeat the old cycle of the tenement room story that has come down to us for generations, in this city of casual labour, unemployed and unemployable, street loungers and loafers round monument steps. We have bred the unfit for centuries, and we still persist in doing it. Side by side with any extensive housing scheme must go the schooling, feeding and training of the children of the poorest classes, and eliminate once for all the waste of human life and human force that have so long prevailed amongst them.

The cost of solving the housing problem in Dublin has been estimated at a sum of four millions, which puts it beyond the possibility of solution by the Corporation, within any appreciable measure of time. Some relief will come under the financial scheme of the present Budget; but the extension of the principles of the Labourers Act of 1908 to urban areas is essential for a full solution of the problem that presses so sorely upon the inhabitants of Dublin. The very magnitude of the housing problem shows that whatever faults lie at the door of the Corporation, and the Report of the Commission is not slow to pass judgement upon that Body, it is beyond their powers, since it is beyond their means to solve it. It is to be hoped that no further building scheme, however small, will be undertaken until a proper survey of the city is made, and a well-devised town-planning scheme is decided upon. The generous prize of £500 offered by His Excellency, Lord Aberdeen, for such a scheme, in connection with the Civic Exhibition will, no doubt, produce one worthy of the city; and should the Exhibition bear no other fruit than this, it will have justified its existence, and be a sufficient reward for the cost and labour expended on its promotion.

John Cooke, M.A.


From the Church of Ireland Gazette, 5th June 1914.

Images taken from the Dublin Housing Enquiry 1914.
Top – Ward's Cottages, off Church Street (Dublin 1914)
Middle – General view of Blackpitts, showing old and ruinous houses (Dublin 1914)



Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Australian


["The bravest thing God ever made." — A British Officers opinion.]

The skies that arched his land were blue,
     His bush-born winds were warm and sweet,
And yet from earliest hours he knew
     The tides of victory and defeat;
From fierce floods thundering at his birth,
     From red droughts ravening while he played,
He learned to fear no foes on earth —
     "The bravest thing God ever made!"

The bugles of the Motherland
     Rang ceaselessly across the sea,
To call him and his lean brown hand
     To shape Imperial destiny;
He went, by youth’s grave purpose willed,
     The goal unknown, the cost unweighed,
The promise of his blood fulfilled —
     "The bravest thing God ever made!"

We know — it is our deathless pride! —
     The splendour of his first fierce blow;
How, reckless, glorious, undenied,
     He stormed those steel-lined cliffs we know!
And none who saw him scale the height
     Behind his reeking bayonet-blade
Would rob him of his title-right —
     "The bravest thing God ever made!"

Bravest, where half a world of men
     Are brave beyond all earth’s rewards,
So stoutly none shall charge again
     Till the last breaking of the swords:
Wounded or hale, won home from war,
     Or yonder by the Lone Pine laid,
Give him his due for evermore —
     "The bravest thing God ever made!"

W. H. O.


Poem: Punch, 15th December 1915
Image: Painting depicting the Battle of Polygon Wood, September 1917


Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Housing of the Working Classes


Few, if any, social questions in the past few years have forced themselves so irresistibly on public attention as that of the housing of the working classes. This has been done without any of the agitation that usually accompanies political issues. The housing question is free of all colour of creed and party, and appeals for its solution to men and women of every class alike.

Down to our own day it may be said that in most countries town planning, as now understood, did not exist. Mediaeval towns grew round the citadel or stronghold, and were enclosed within walls or protected by some natural lines of defence. As they extended, with the growth of civilisation and the advance of more peaceful times, the difficulties of housing the increasing population have taxed the best energies of communities everywhere. In rural districts the peasantry in many countries are still housed in a primitive and haphazard fashion. In Ireland, until recent years, the agricultural labourer lived under deplorable conditions; but thanks to the Labourers Acts of the past 25 years a vast change has been made throughout Ireland, in providing proper housing accommodation for the rural population. The Clancy Act (1908), the last and most generous, provided 4¼ millions, and now some 50,000 dwellings have been erected as the result of this and the previous most useful measures. The State grants 36 per cent, of this fund, and the 64 per cent, falls on the rates, set against which are the rents paid by the occupiers. The repayment extends over a period of 68½ years at 3¼ per cent., which covers interest and sinking fund; the Rural Councils are thus in the happy condition of being able to borrow money at the low rate £2 1s 7d per cent. As far, therefore, as the agricultural labourer is concerned the evil conditions under which he so long existed will soon be a thing of the past.

But the housing conditions in the old cities and towns remain pretty much as we have always known them, a disgrace to our common humanity, to our civilisation and the century in which we live. There is no beneficent measure, such as the Clancy Act, for the Urban Councils to take advantage of, and the ratepayers are unequal to the burden of borrowing at the present rate of interest under which loans can be had. Were a full report of the housing conditions of the urban districts in Ireland possible, the number escaping censure and criticism would be few indeed. An Appendix to the Report of the recent Housing Commission in Dublin gives interesting extracts from statements submitted by certain urban authorities, who are making what efforts they can to meet the needs of the working classes. The extracts are painful reading:— "The need in Limerick is a crying one." In Waterford "there is an urgent and genuine want for the erection of suitable houses." In Arklow an outbreak of typhus in 1910 broke out in a slum district, and the medical officer "could prove justification for the levelling of 100 houses." From Clonmel the borough surveyor says – "The houses are overcrowded, old, badly constructed, badly lighted and not ventilated . . . the housing of the working classes is bad, so bad as to menace the health of the town and to call for instant remedy." Drogheda has erected 116 houses at a loss to the rates of 1¾d. in the pound, and about 800 more are required. In Dungarvan 45 have been built and 300 more are needed; the present condition of the occupied houses "as regards room, light, air and sanitary arrangements is most defective." The sub-sanitary officer's report of this town, taking street by street, is instructive; and a sad light would be thrown on the condition of Irish towns in general, if reports on them were presented in the same business like way. Kilrush, with rates at 7s. 3d. in the pound, can do nothing; and here "the housing compares favourably with the lowest slums of Dublin for insanitation"! In Mallow, notwithstanding the Council's efforts, "lanes, houses, and conditions condemned as insanitary still prevail." In Nenagh "the housing accommodation is altogether inadequate and unsuitable for the unskilled labourer, who constitutes about 90 per cent, of the working population." The report from Sligo is interesting, where the "poorer classes in the outskirts are housed under very bad conditions." The report is illustrated by half a dozen plates; and there are few towns in Ireland which could not show similar views of the low, thatched, single storeyed cottages with which we are so familiar. The particulars of these cottages indicate how, in general, every known sanitary law is violated within their disease-infected walls. But enough examples have been given to show that the cry for housing reform in the urban districts throughout Ireland is an "exceeding bitter cry." The reason urged by one and all is that, the ratepayers cannot bear the burden, as the terms of repayment is too limited, and the rate too high. The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909, which extends the repayment of loans over a period of 80 years, does not apply to Ireland. The Local Government Report for England (1913) shows how satisfactorily the Act is working, and the general advantage the local authorities are taking of it throughout the country. So active have they become, it is stated that preparations of schemes are being made in many places under the Town Planning Section of the Act, comprising tens of thousands of acres. Perhaps in a generation or two the unsightly cinder heaps and forests of chimney stacks, now never out of sight, will stand far apart from the homes of the working classes in industrial England.


The housing of the agricultural labour in Ireland under favourable conditions followed as a natural sequence to the Ashbourne and Wyndham Land Purchase Acts, and the difficulty of acquiring sites and ascertaining titles were easy in the transfer of the land. But in urban districts these are not easy matters; sites are limited, many interests may be involved, and the investigation of titles may prove a long and costly undertaking, with the necessary compensation in the ultimate purchase. Added to these is the clearing of the sites of tumbled down or condemned dwellings, so that the initial cost before the foundation of a single house is laid may prove an insuperable difficulty to a necessary housing scheme. Vacant spaces where houses once stood should be compulsorily acquired by the Urban Council, and derelict and condemned houses, which the owners refuse to rebuild or put in repair, after a period of a very few years should be similarly acquired. This may sound like "rank Socialism," as indeed the whole housing question is to some. It is quite true that to-day too much is demanded of the State, and that there is a real danger of the public being too much dry-nursed. When private enterprise can fully meet public demands the State or local authorities have no need to interfere. Few, however, would now like to go back to the days when there was no postal service; nor later still, when there was no water supply, no sanitary drainage, no general scheme of education, and other great works of public organisation of which we now reap the advantage. Such measures naturally fall to the State or local authority, although some may not be worked as economically, nor better than they would by private enterprise.

A fair day's wage for a fair day's work is an axiom that may be accepted without question. The wage to the worker should be such as to cover the expense of food, clothing and housing. The community owes him that and no less. Every advance in the price of food and other articles is followed by a rise in wages; otherwise the worker could not fully perform his daily labour through want. Private enterprise provides the food and clothing, but that it has signally failed to provide proper housing, is evident to the bodily senses in the urban districts throughout the country. If private enterprise cannot economically supply houses at rents which the worker can afford to pay out of wages, the community must either pay a wage by which he can pay an economic rent, or supply houses at a rent which he can afford to pay out of the lower rate of wages. The community are generous in the matter of jails, asylums and workhouses, which the independent minded worker does his best to take no advantage of; and within its limits medical treatment, which he is but equally pleased to dispense with if he can. Handicapped in the matter of bad housing, and so often at an extortionate rent, his work suffers from the conditions under which he lives. Bad air, bad light, over-crowding, uncleanliness and want of proper sanitary accommodation take their toll in a low standard of health of himself and his family, and the heaviest toll is taken on the children. The campaign against the "White Scourge," consumption will cease to be the great necessity it is, with the disappearance of the slum cottage and the reeking tenement in our towns and cities. The unit of the urban community – the unit of the State – is the family. Both should see to it that the family should be so housed that it may reach to its fullest and freest development, and that every member may in time give forth his best service. We have given the workman education at enormous cost; we have given him the vote and made him in a sense our master; and we house him infinitely worse than the criminal and pauper. The wonder of it is that he does not turn round and rend us. What he can do when goaded by the wild tongues of fanatical agitators, Dublin has had a bitter experience of in weeks not long gone by. But the argument of fear has no place in the plea for the proper housing of the masses. The ground upon which it is based is one of common justice and pressing necessity, and further, it will pay. No money can be better spent than in the making of competent, healthy and happy men and women for the duties of life. There is no greater waste in these islands to-day than the waste of human life. How can children grow up happy, obedient, virtuous, with all their capacities developed, when housed together in cottage styes or crowded tenements. The child's inherent right is to be made fit for citizenship, but as long as the working classes are housed as they are, this cannot be accomplished.

Disease arises from over-crowding, dirt and insanitation. The drink habit follows from bad housing with equal certainty in many cases. We cannot wait for good habits to arise out of bad before we properly house the working classes. If every public-house in Ireland were closed tomorrow, and general total abstinence prevailed, the housing question remains for solution. The urban dweller has equal claims with the agricultural labourer for proper housing conditions, and these claims, in all fairness to the service he renders, must be met without delay.

John Cooke, M.A.


From the Church of Ireland Gazette, 29th May 1914.


Images taken from the Dublin Housing Enquiry 1914
Top – Dickson's Lane, off Robert Street, off Marrowbone Lane (Dublin 1914)
Middle – Storey's Buildings, off Taylor's Lane, off Marrowbone Lane (Dublin 1914)




Thursday, 14 January 2016

Housing and Morals – Dublin 1914


The Housing Committee of the Dublin Corporation has issued a statement, with a memorandum by the chairman, in reply to the recent report of the Departmental Commission on the housing of the workers in Dublin. It is not a very hopeful document. Since no effective machinery exists, or is likely at present to come into existence, for restraining the Corporation from dealing as it likes with the question, it goes far to destroy the fair promise of reform that came into view with the Departmental Commission's report. One of the most important of the recommendations, it will be remembered, was the gradual clearance of the slum areas and the erection of cottages in the healthy outskirts of the city. The Corporation, apparently, will have none of this. It insists that its present housing policy is the best and most practical in the present circumstances. That policy is one of tinkering with existing slums, of pulling down tenements here and there to erect new ones on the same or similar sites — in a word, of dealing with the question piecemeal.

The Corporation is reluctant to look economic facts in the face. It asserts that the main cause of the social evils of Dublin is the dire poverty of the greater part of the working classes. This is true enough. But it is a simple waste of words to say that "If work and wages were plentiful and ample the solution of the housing question would be simple." Of course it would; but work and wages are not plentiful and ample, and, as long as Dublin is a city of little manufacturing enterprise, so that the larger portion of the working classes are unskilled labourers, work and wages are not going to be plentiful and ample. If nothing is to be done until these conditions are altered, nothing will be done until long after the children of the tenement-dwellers of to-day have grown up and died in the appalling surroundings that now exist. It is regarded by the Corporation as unjust that the casual labourer should be removed to a healthy habitation in the outskirts of the city, because this would make him live at a distance from his chances of employment, and add to his expense and labour.

It does not seem to occur to these critics that, even if this consideration were wholly true — which it certainly is not — what the labourer and his family would gain in health, comfort, and cleanliness by their translation to the suburbs would more than recompense them for any incidental inconvenience. A secondary objection is raised to the proposed removal of the slum-dwellers to the suburbs. It is asked whether the small traders who cater for the wants of the workers must also migrate and open new shops, which might conceivably put them to more expense than they could afford. The plaintive dilemma is suggested that they must move or starve. It is more fair to ask, must the honest worker suffer so that the parasitic middleman may be protected? As a whole, the rejoinder of the Housing Committee displays a sad lack of imagination and vision.

One part of this document is more or less irrelevant, and, indeed, tiresome. This is the part where the chairman finds that the references in the Commission's report to immorality in Dublin "left a bad taste in his mouth." The Commissioners are told that this is dangerous ground, and that they should have been more careful when they trod it. It is not true to say that their report conveyed the impression that the tenement houses in Dublin generally are "haunts of vice." It did say that the dense overcrowding and congestion, and the almost entire absence of any decent privacy, necessarily and inevitably conduced to immorality; and this is perfectly true. The Corporation apologists go on to develop a general brief for the morality of Dublin. We are told that the figures submitted by the police of "crimes against morals" are very small, that the morality of the Irish people is extraordinary, that it is proverbial throughout the world, and much more to the same effect.

A vast amount of sickly cant is, and always has been, talked about the astonishing virtue of the Irish race. When it is intended to apply to Dublin such talk is really ludicrous. Whether the housing question has little or much to do with it, the fact remains that Dublin has been severely criticised.

The attempt to "vindicate the good name of Dublin" by calling in aid the police statistics of "crimes against morals" is not convincing. Everybody knows that the police are grossly lax in their duties in this connection. The remedy for this state of affairs may lie in various directions, but it certainly does not lie in the direction of shutting one's eyes to facts, and saying that Dublin is a paragon of virtue among cities. The people who say that it is demand evidence to the contrary. One wonders whether business or pleasure has never taken them through the chief thoroughfares of the city just after nightfall.

The Church of Ireland Gazette, 29th May 1914.


Images: Blackpitts, Dublin, 1914 (top) and other images from the Dublin Housing Enquiry 1914.