BRISTOL SOCIAL HISTORY ARCHIVES.
A tour of Bristol and its Densely populated Poor Areas by a sanitary reformer
THE STICK CHOPPERS’ HOME AT NIGHT: Our visit is on an evening when an unusually large supply has just come to hand from an unloaded vessel and the stick choppers are working far into the night, sawing and cleaving wood and preparing bundles for sale in the morning. In nearly every case the women are doing the work, but here is one industrious man sawing away at some heavy timber for his wife to chop in the morning.
The room is about 7 ft. square, and the lamp throws an uncertain light on the floor which appears, at first, to be covered with nothing but splintered wood already chopped. But examination shows on one pile of sticks, close to the fire grate, what appears to be a bundle of dark rags. This proves to be two children lying in their clothes on their uneven bed, and as sound asleep as though they were on a bed of down.
In the next house the floor of the living room is covered with wood which has fallen from the chopping block, seated on the ground before which is the eldest daughter, a brawny-limbed girl of 19. Her bared arms are as big and sinewy as a blacksmith’s, for she is constantly cleaving wood, and in the cart, the shafts of which we have stumbled over in the dark outside the door she could pull four or five cwt. of timber. She is dexterous at her work, for though the large basket is piled up with tied bundles, her younger sister cannot keep pace with her as strip after strip of wood flies from the chopping block.
The ruddy glare of the fire, aided by the red ochred walls, throws a cheery glow over the room. There are some pictures on the walls and the mother apologises for the untidiness of the place and the fact that 'the other pictures are not put up' because the room has just been ochred out.
Under recent regulations formulated by the Watch Committee, and now sanctioned by the Home Secretary, all children under eight years of age will be prohibited from selling any article in the streets, and those under 13 years will be prohibited from being employed after nine o’clock in the evening from April to October, and after eight o’clock in the evening from October to April.
This will remove what has been for some years past a crying disgrace to the city - that of children of five and six years selling articles in the streets till 10 and 11 o’clock at night, often in the winter.
On the books of the River Street Board School there are 320 children, 260 of whom are present during the week, and of these—the poorest class of children, some of these without shoes and stockings, the average attendance is 190.
About one-half of this number are known to sell articles in the streets at night; and the School Board Officer has had to remonstrate with the parents for beating with the strap of children of tender age who have not earned the required amount of money in the streets. The dull, stupid boys attend with the most regularity, the smartest ones being often kept away for the purpose.
ST. AGNES: There are now only a few tumbledown cabins left to mark the place where the colony of 'Squatters' held possession of the Newfoundland Gardens and these are to come down next March. Several of this remnant are already closed, and they serve,to show the wretched straits to which some of these poor people were driven in housing themselves in homes which look unfit for pigs to be littered in.
In one of them died the wife of the old man whom the Rev. E. A. Fuller, wading through the water, rescued by carrying him on his back through the flood of 1882. In olden times, the ground was let in garden allotments, the holders of which first built tool houses and then summer houses there; gradually a fire grate and chimney were added, and then squatter after squatter took possession, some living in the wooden structures at first, and then replacing them with brick cabins.
Whenever the man who leased the ground and sub-let it to the squatters saw a chimney appear, he added a shilling or two to the yearly rent of the garden ground, and so long as no 'upstairs' was constructed the squatters were unmolested.
Upwards of a hundred cabins were thus erected, and the colony gradually increased to 500 or 600 people, who bred fowls and ducks and pigs, and were famous for monster vegetables. Lanes and avenues were formed through the squatters’ land and St. Nicholas road now stands on what was Beehive Lane, the broad Newfoundland road cuts what was Middle Lane.
Then there were Taylor’s Lane, Hancock Lane, and the 'Lane by the Pump', where there was a noted spring of splendid water.