Immorality at the Works

IN Lady Bell’s wonderful book At the Works she describes in great detail the lifestyle and conditions of the workers, but she does not flinch from describing the less impressive aspects of some of them:

“There is a good deal of immorality among the ironworkers, but perhaps not more than in other communities living under the same conditions. .. the conditions of the lives of the young people before marriage are apt to conduce to it; also, perhaps, the fact that the only way of housing the many single men working in the town is that they should be taken in as lodgers, often into households already cramped for room. There is ot, on the whole, a strong enough pressure of opinion in the community against lapses of what is commonly called morality to be very efficacious as a means of prevention.  A visitor going to a cottage one day, found the old woman to whom it belonged with an infant on her knee, whom she was tenderly nursing. This woman had 2 daughters, one of whom was married, the other not. ‘Your grandchild?” said the visitor. ‘Yes,’ she replied proudly. ‘F’s child, I suppose?’ naming the married daughter. ‘No’, the woman said defiantly, ‘it’s the other girl’s’. And she added, on the defensive agains t any possible criticism or disapproval, ‘A good job too, she’s got the child and she’s not got the man; he was worthless, and she is well rid of him’ And this represents a not infrequent attitude among the people described. One thing that becomes more and more impressed upon one’s mind after observing many regular and irregular homes, is that the received panacea of insisting upon marriage is not always the best for dealing with the irregular ti, either in such a case such as that recorded above, or in a more permanent home, where the man and woman have set up home together, have had children, and things seem to be satisfactory. In such cases, the fact that the woman is free to go if she chooses gives her a hold over the man, and if he ill-treats her she simply threatens to leave him. I remember one such story in which a well-meaning visitor had urged a couple to marry who had lived together for some time contentedly enough and had more than one child; and the woman told her afterwards it was one of the worst days’ work she had ever done in her life. As long as they were not married, she said, the man had never dared to go too far, and she could keep him steady by threatening to leave him, but once they were married she had no hold on him, he did not care what he did or how he behaved to her, because he knew she could not get away; he had gone utterly to the bad, and her life was now miserable. This was the result of the visotrs’ well meaning advice.

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