“The Cry of the Poor- A Letter from 16 Working Men to the 16 aldermen of the city November 1871″
This is a rather extraordinary document, the author(s) of which are unknown, but it is a beautifully written document, and tells us much about life in Bristol at the time. It claims to have been written on behalf of 10,000 fellow workers. They asked for clean air, a peoples’ park, free bathing places, no toll bridges a fish market and a flower show. This is their request for a newsroom and free library was:
“We should be glad to be able to sit in our own room and read a bit out of an interesting book to our wives and families or get one of our children to read to us. Such a book would keep our boys from idling on street corners, where they learn no end of mischief and wickedness; and would maybe, prevent many of them going to the public house and dancing and going to the bad. We wish our children well, just as you do yours, and should be glad for them to know a great deal more and to make better use of what they learn, than we have done, so that if they have got the ability they may not all of them always remain, if poor, ignorant working men.
Now by the newspaper accounts we find that Bristol is far behind such towns as Cardiff, Newport, Hereford, in that matter – to say nothing of Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham which were little villages we are told, when Bristol merchants were given a library and books for these of their poor fellow city.Gents, though we work for our bread, we do not believe in ignorance any more than we do bad air or in dirty skins, so we ask that Bristol may be planned under the Free libraries Act.”
It ends with a really old fashioned plea, a reminder of how much times have changed:
“let us see you more frequently among us, not with your young branches and paid agents on the eve of some political fight, the hollow hand-shaking, kindling up party strife to disturb, when the struggle is over, until a similar occasion arises – but as our friends, as well as our employers and magistrates.Do not rest satisfied with a dinner and a dole on the evening of the day when the bells tell us mournfully that the good Colston’s anniversary has again come; but if you will copy his example, or better still withhold not your kindness till death robs you of your wealth; pleasanter and better by far would it be for you to listen to the thanks of a grateful people in the life than to have the dumb peals tolled yearly “