Charity at The Works

This is from Lady Bell’s At the Works, her account of the ironworks at Middlesborough . Here she is describing the struggle for some to survive financially:

“the amount expended on charity by the very poor, who, with self-sacrificing kindness, seem constantly ready to help one another. It often happens that if one of heir number is struck down by accident or sudden illness, a ‘gathering’ is made at the works, the hat is passed runs and each one contributes what he can to tide over the time of illness, or, in the case of death, to contribute to funeral expenses.

The expenditure on funerals – cabs, mourning, etc. – is usually greater after an accident,, as it appeals to the public imagination more. Even when a man has been insured, and there should therefore be a small sum to tide over the first moment of great need, it often happens that nearly all the insurance money goes in the funeral. ‘I put him away splendid,’ you will hear w widow say, forgetting, or at any rate accepting, the fact that her house is nearly bare of necessaries, and that in a day or two she may not know where to turn for bread. Another said with pride after her husband died that she had ‘buried him with ham’, meaning that the assembled company who came to the funeral had had sandwiches of the best description.

A funeral, indeed, is one of the principal social opportunities in the class we are describing. ‘A slow walk and a cup of tea’ it is sometimes called, and the busy preparations in the house for a day or two before the baking, the cleaning, the turning-out, are undoubtedly often tinged with the excitement and anticipation of the entertainer.And after all we must not forget that to many women, at any rate, giving a party, having a great many people in the house at once, is in itself a stimulus and a pleasure and that for those of the community who are debarred by their conditions as we’ll as their habitations from giving an ‘at-home’ or a dance, the justifiable crowding of he funeral mans absolutely the only opportunity for keeping open house, and his accordingly eagerly seized. “

This is interesting as it is written by the wife of a  wealthy Quaker ironmaster. There is no mention of any church involvement in helping the poor, though the town had a wide range of religious houses, as many workers didn’t attend church. Many the men were simply too exhausted  after a 6 day week of varied shifts, so, according to Lady Bell,they mostly spent their Sundays in bed. The other aspect which I question is all the effort put into visits by Lady Bell and her fellow affluent ladies: there is no suggestion anywhere in the book of them helping these poor people, even when in the direst of needs, so her fine work and words are not translate into any real help for these people, which is a far cry from what happened in established towns where town councils, churches and charities were all active


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