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HUMAN WALES By George R. Sims

Originally published in 1907 this 2016 edition by Rainbow Dragon Transcribed by Norena Shopland


FOREWORD All who would study the conditions of the worker in modern industrial Wales should purchase Human Wales said the Daily Mail in 1907. The author, George R. Sims was an English journalist, poet, dramatist and novelist and had come to Wales in 1907 to write a series of articles. He had been commissioned by the Western Mail and Evening Express to look at how the people live in the cities on the plains and the towns on the hills of Wales. He was well qualified for the job. “No man,” said the Express “has devoted more time and attention to the study of the social conditions of the people.” Sims was a prolific writer covering numerous topics and had written extensively on the conditions of the poor particularly in London. He also published a number of ballads attempting to draw attention to the predicaments of the poor. His most famous being “It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse” (1877) which has been widely parodied. As he travelled around Wales collecting material for his articles Sims sometimes added descriptions of his travels: “I spent Empire Day1 motoring among the Welsh mountains. A splendid car, whose motto was ‘Excelsior’ in the matter of climbing, was most kindly placed at my disposal by Mr. Edward England, of Cardiff, and Mr. England, jun., drove me, taking the torrents and precipices with a nerve and a skill that won my intense admiration. So with England at the helm - wasn't that splendid for Empire Day? - and the British Flag flying at the prow, we rode triumphantly into Tonypandy, and so to the heart of the valley. There such a terrible storm burst over us that we made a wild dash for a colliery, and the manager very courteously had us lowered to the bottom of a shaft, where we remained snug and dry among the black diamonds until the storm was over. We took the British Flag down the mine with us to keep it dry. It was the only time it was lowered on that day of days. “I have the greatest difficulty this week in preparing the weekly salad which it is my privilege to offer to my kind friends in front. But it is all the fault of wonderful Wales. I have been in the Principality all the week, and am still there while these lines are being written. I have been whirled about Wales, and putting in some nice, healthy mountain-climbing under the expert guidance of my friend Mr. John W. Evans, of the Western Mail. I have been to Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil and Dowlais, Ebbw Vale and Tredegar, Pontypridd, Tonypandy, and 1

24 May. It later became Commonwealth Day


the Rhondda Valley. I have been down a coal mine and up in a balloon. I have been attending eisteddfodau and Hibernian sports, to say nothing of a service in a Chinese Temple and a Somali wedding in the Arab quarter of Cardiff. These things are absorbing, and leave little time for the serious occupation of life. But I hope to be back in London on Sunday, after which it will be my endeavour to drop back again into the ordinary routine of conventional nose-to-the-grindstone life.” Part of that grindstone was finishing Human Wales. “My endeavour,” he said in the introduction “will be to present a true and faithful picture of things seen in certain areas and districts, where the need for reform is frankly acknowledged by all who have become acquainted with the facts, officially or otherwise.” And he added “This, then, is a record of a journey through a land of contrasts in which wealth and poverty gaze at each other across the way, in which the mighty mountains towering to the sky look down upon miserable hovels in which human beings herd in squalor, and sometimes sleep, packed together in damp, dark dens, into which the light of day has never penetrated.”

NORENA SHOPLAND (The copy of Human Wales included here is a transcript and all spellings, opinions, and use of language now considered unacceptable are original)


HUMAN WALES By George R. Sims I - THE POINT OF VIEW It all depends on that. You can take the population of a town or of a country as a whole, and credit it with the result of its combination of enterprise and industry, or you can separate its human elements and consider them from the flesh and blood point of view. It is from the flesh and blood point of view that I propose to consider the people of certain districts of South Wales. A point not always borne in mind when the social and economic problems of the day, as they affect the masses, are discussed is that, whether the people affected are attractive or repulsive, whether their surroundings are picturesque or sordid, whether they are useful to the community or a burden upon it, each individual man and woman is faring his or her one brief span of earthly life between the two eternities. The duke and the docker, the millionaire and the miner, the landed proprietor and the labourer, Dives in his lordly dwelling house and Lazarus in the tramps’ lodging house, the plutocrat in his palace and the helot in his hovel, all meet upon common ground in this one particular at least. Each has his alloted span. That span may be long or short, but when it ends the rest is silence. It is only when we realise in all its tragic force the vital meaning of this inexorable law that we can appreciate how intensely human are some of the social problems which we discuss only too often from the purely class or party point of view. I propose in the articles which I have been permitted to write in the “Evening Express” to deal with certain problems affecting the well-being of a vast number of human beings in the great wealth centres of South Wales, and to deal with them from the human point of view. We are all of us familiar, to-day, with the shibboleths of militant Socialism, we know what the panaceas are that the propagandists preach for the woes of the workers, the miseries of the masses, the sorrows and sufferings of the submerged tenth. But though some of us who take the trouble to think out the remedies of the Socialists to their logical issues see that they could only be effected by two stupendous revolutions, a physical one and a moral one, it is folly to dispute the fact that the ills for which these remedies are advocated exist, and that it is to the extent of their existence that Socialism owes the constantly increasing support given to it by the toiling masses. One of the leaders of the Socialist Labour Party, the member for Merthyr, has told the labouring classes that when it comes to the great struggle “they have only their poverty to lose.” That is not the whole truth, but there is sufficient apparent truth in it to make it a serviceable battle cry.


It is through the evil conditions under which many of our brothers and sisters live and toil that Socialism has attained its hold both as a municipal and as a political force. The cry of its captains is: “We, who are your comrades, will do everything for you - those who are your masters will do nothing.� That is a cry which should not go unchallenged. In the interest of the masses and the classes alike, it needs a counter-cry. The time has come when it will be well for the owners of property and the employers of labour to recognise the strength of the human note upon which Socialism is relying, and to consider the situation more seriously from the human point of view than they have hitherto done. It is with the situation they will have to consider that I propose in these articles chiefly to deal. My endeavour will be to present a true and faithful picture of things seen in certain areas and districts, where the need for reform is frankly acknowledged by all who have become acquainted with the facts, officially or otherwise. But since it is not good to dwell only on the dark side of things, I shall broaden my canvas in order that the brighter side may also have its place in the picture. It is only when we pass from light into darkness that we realise how black that darkness is. This, then, is a record of a journey through a land of contrasts in which wealth and poverty gaze at each other across the way, in which the mighty mountains towering to the sky look down upon miserable hovels in which human beings herd in squalor, and sometimes sleep, packed together in damp, dark dens, into which the light of day has never penetrated. It is a land of rivers running foul and black through valleys sweet and fair. It is a land of beauty, of wealth and splendid enterprise, and of a noble people; and yet in some of its crowded, centres of industry the guardians of the public health have pleaded year after year for a proper water supply, and have pleaded in vain. It is a land of the best and the worst - a land in which you will find municipal effort crowned with a success which many of the great cities of England might envy, and in which you will also find every effort thwarted by selfish interests. It may not be wise for a stranger to say these things. But if, being a stranger in the midst of the most hospitable people in the world, I venture to make these statements, I can at least plead that I have a lifelong acquaintance with the conditions under which the labouring classes are housed in the capital and other great cities. I have been for 30 years doing my best to force the great housing problem upon public attention, and at the same time to deal honestly with the difficulties that lie in the path of the reformer. Our housing question in London is still as great a problem as ever. The reformers have in some instances increased the very evils they set out to remedy. The same difficulties exist in South Wales, and I shall not attempt to minimise them.


The investigator who has not a life-long acquaintance with the difficulties that beset the sanitary reformer sees a foul environment in which the people are living in dirt and misery, and he calls aloud for the abomination to be swept from the face of the earth. But he forgets that the housing problem is not only a problem of the houses, but a problem of the people who are to be housed. There are whole colonies of unskilled workers in some of the industrial districts of South Wales who will have to be taught how to treat decent dwellings before they are put into them. We will visit some of the districts together and study the habits of these people who, at the waving of the municipal wand, are to be transported to clean and comfortable homes. But there are at the same time a vast number of sober, industrious toilers who have every right to demand wholesome dwellings, in which they can live cleanly and rear their children amid surroundings that are not utterly disastrous to child life. These unfortunate people are compelled to remain in a foul environment because, owing to selfish and vested interests, the authorities are unable to secure at a reasonable price sites on which the accommodation that is so urgently needed can be erected. Of all these things I shall write fearlessly, for the question is a national and an Imperial one. There has been too much mincing of words in the past, and it is to the reticence of those who, for political or commercial reasons, have failed to speak the truth that the Socialists owe their strength to-day. They are able to pose as the champions of the poor, the fearless leaders of a movement for the abolition of the slum landlord, the house farmer, and the capitalists who refuse to consider the welfare of Labour. Some of the largest employers of labour are unfortunately the owners of the worst class of property, and in more than one district the arrangements between landlord and tenant are deliberate evasions of the Truck Act. These are the matters which cannot be ignored if a serious effort is to be made to combat the revolutionary doctrines which the Socialists are preaching to the working classes. With all of these evils we shall be faced as we travel on our way in search of object lessons. But our path will not everywhere be beset with problems. We shall find in the capital scenes to amaze us and scenes to amuse us. We shall see Cardiff at its best and at its worst; Cardiff with, the sun upon its splendours and its squalors; Cardiff in the quiet hours of the night, when, behind closed doors, weird scenes are enacted in its crowded cosmopolitan area. And when we have looked upon the hidden life that lies off the beaten track of the ordinary citizen we shall pass to other centres and see certain phases of human existence that only the pen of a Gorky or a Zola could paint in all their repellent realism. But though here and there, because they have direct bearing upon the great central problem, we may study these features of Human Wales, the one definite purpose with which this journey has been undertaken will always be borne in mind. That purpose is to show the deplorable conditions which obtain in many industrial districts with regard to the housing of the working classes, and to


submit for the consideration of the readers of the “Evening Express� certain suggestions for the amelioration of the evil. It was necessary that I should say so much by way of preface. Now let us commence a journey which will be long and varied, and not, I hope, uninteresting. Let us step out into the stately streets of Cardiff.


II - IN DREADFUL NIGHT STREET As I walk along a well-lighted and crowded marketing street in Cardiff on Saturday night, my head is bent and my eyes are on the ground. I am looking, where I always look, for the unmistakable sign of the standard of comfort of the passers by - at their boots. It is a well-shod crowd that fills the pavement and overflows into the road- way. I walk along for a good many minutes before I see a pair of bad boots. When I look up I find that the occupier of the bad boots is a street boy who is hawking newspapers. There is no surer sign of the general well-being of the masses than an absence of bad boots in a Saturday night crowd. It is a pleasant thing to see, and it exhilarates me. It is good to be among well clothed, cheery people, with money to spend in their pockets. It is a relief to me, because my last experience of Saturday night in a big city has been a very different one. There, in the principal thoroughfare, miserable, ill-clad women, barefooted lads, dirty children, and men in patched trousers and ragged jackets were wandering dejectedly past bright shops and gaily dressed stalls, the cheapest item for sale being apparently beyond their means. But I am out to see the worst as well as the best, and so because there is no poverty on view in the wide marketing streets of the centre of the city I set out in search of it, and to find it I wander off the beaten track of the “comfortable” classes. Through the brightly lighted arcades crowded with smiling, chattering young people, and smiling older people not, perhaps, quite so demonstrative, I make my way, thinking as I go how the many beautiful arcades of Cardiff would be appreciated by Londoners, who have so few of the kind. I come out of one of these splendid arcades flooded with light into a narrow street, where the lamps are making anything but a brave show. I cross that street and find myself suddenly in a Street of Dreadful Night. Stretching away on either side of a black patch of Poverty Land are houses. So far as I can discover, by the occasional reflected glow of a coke fire through an open door, they are two-storey houses. I have not been in the middle of the black patch many minutes before the character of the neighbourhood makes itself clear to my ears, if not to my eyes. It is nine o’clock at night, but here and there melancholy little mites five and six flit through the darkness. A man, the worse for drink, reels along the roadway, and from one of the houses comes a slatternly woman with a dirty face and unkempt hair. She is hurling a volley of bad language at someone who remains within. I can see that the woman’s face is dirty because the door opens on to a room in which there is a glowing fire and an oil lamp, and she stands framed in dim Rembrandtesque light. 8

Other doors open and other women appear at them - untidy, middle-aged women, some of them of the court and alley type, but three or four are young and have clean faces, and have arranged their hair after a fashion. The conversation becomes animated and general, for the lady who came first into view is shouting out in vivid language the story of her wrongs, and she explains what she is going to do to the unseen cause of her wrath, who discreetly remains indoors. If she carries out only a portion of her scheme of vengeance, there will be a coroner’s inquest. The general opinion at the doorways is that such a result would be hailed with joy. The invisible disturber of the vociferating virago’s peace of mind is evidently not a local favourite. If he were, at least one voice would have been raised to urge that he should be spared a fate more terrible than anything to be found in the records of the torture chambers of the Inquisition. Some of the houses in Dreadful Night Street are shebeens, and many of them have an evil reputation. Perhaps some of the liquor laid in for Sunday’s consumption “on the premises” and for the supply of lodgers and “guests” has been too freely sampled in advance. This may account, also, for the sounds of something more than a wordy fray which is going on in a house lower down the street. My desire for knowledge tempts me to linger in the roadway, but I have a long night’s journey before me, and, finding I am attracting undue attention, I move on, determining to come back that way later in the night. As I pass out of the street, I meet at the top of it, where there is a lighted lamp, a woman wheeling a battered and rickety perambulator. The child in the perambulator is crying and the mother tells it to “hold its row.” The request is unreasonable, for the infant’s position is one of extreme discomfort. The perambulator was not built to hold at the same a baby and a barrel of beer. ***** I am in a neighbourhood that reminds me at once of Bangor-street and the bad parts of Notting Dale, which, though it is in the Royal Borough of Kensington, the most aristocratic quarter of London, is known as “The Social Avernus.” But let me be just. There is a large criminal population in Notting Dale. The Bangor-street of Cardiff is inhabited by people who are not of the criminal class. But everywhere there are signs of poverty and drink. In one street almost every window is broken, and the spaces boarded or papered up or stuffed with rags. The women who are visible are ill clad and dirty. Many of the children are barefooted. Everywhere the property appears to be damaged and dilapidated. Some of the doors are split and one or two look as if they had been smashed in.


There are one or two little shops open, and the lighting is somewhat better than in Dreadful Night Street, so I think I can get a fair impression of what the general appearance would be in the daytime. -----But the impression I gather in the lamplight is too favourable after all, for when I visit this area in the daylight I find it worse than I had imagined. The scavenging of most of the streets of Cardiff is systematic and good. This is the only area in which I find the pavements and the roadways littered with filth on Sunday morning. Drink and the dirt that goes with drink are the difficulties that stand in the way of the sanitary reformer in this area and in the areas akin to it in condition. This part of Cardiff is in certain respects as bad as anything in the slums of London, almost as bad as anything in the slums of Liverpool. But it has one advantage over both. The streets are broad and there is plenty of fresh air. Many of the houses in the insanitary areas want pulling down. But the people will have to go somewhere. In what sort of property are the people who always drink and never wash, and who use the stairs and doors for firewood, to be accommodated? The first step to improving the environment of these people is to teach them to be clean. It ought not to be difficult. Unfortunately, it is. And that, as I have previously said, is one of the greatest problems in connection with the re-housing question. The working classes, the sober, industrious, respectable people, can all be well housed if the authorities are backed up by the sympathy of land-owners, the patriotic enterprise of private speculators, and the common sense of the community. But the dirty folks who make the slums so unutterably vile - what is to be done with them? ***** It is late when I find myself once more in Dreadful Night Street. As I come into it a wild shriek rings out upon the darkness. Again doors fly back and dimly outlined figures appear in the openings. A girl of about sixteen, her hair down her back, is standing against a wall, her breast heaving, her eyes dilated, “I won’t go in,” she shrieks hysterically. “I won’t - I won’t!” A stout grey-haired woman comes out of a house and seizes her by the arm. “Leave me alone,” screams the girl again. “I won’t go back-I won’t - Oh, I won’t!” She breaks away from the woman and runs a little way up the street. The woman goes after her. She is joined by another. For a moment there is comparative silence. They are talking to the girl under their voices.


The girl begins to sob. The women take her between them and lead her towards the house she has evidently escaped from. She goes quietly for a few yards, then she begins to scream again. “I won’t, I won’t!” she shouts, you shan’t make me!” Her captors have got her close to the door. She makes one more desperate effort. The women are too strong for her. They drag her in. I step forward. I want to ask the girl what is the matter - to be of assistance if I can. The door is closed with a bang. A man who has been standing against the wall near at hand slouches forward. He is joined by two others from across the road. They stand in front of the door. It is too dark for me to see the number upon it, even if there is one. I look up and down the street. The few people I can see are not likely to welcome the questions of a stranger. What was it that the young girl had tried to escape from? To what had she been dragged back again? I stop in the middle of the roadway and listen. Not a sound comes from the house, and so I make my way to the broad pavements and gay lights of St. Mary-street. But I have not finished with Dreadful Night Street. In the morning, before the inhabitants are abroad, I visit it again, and this time I go armed with a passport which allows me to enter any house unchallenged. I am told that the street is not as bad as it used to be. It must have been terrible indeed if what I see is an “improvement.” In one house - a lodging house for women, but presumably not subject to Common Lodging House regulations - I find eight women of the worst class of unfortunates, accommodated in four horrible looking beds in a room which is little more than an attic. In the kitchen below, a room about the size of an ordinary coal cellar, there are seven more women of the same class. Some are cooking at a huge coke fire, which makes the atmosphere of the lowroofed little kitchen almost unbearable. Others are breakfasting at a dirty deal table fixed against a damp black wall. A woman in a faded grease-stained pink blouse and a draggled skirt comes in from the street with a haddock in one hand and a lighted cigarette in the other. The blouse is of the fashionable cut and her arms are bare. They are tatooed with pictures and sentiments that need considerable editing to make fit for publication. There are several houses of a similar character in this street. It was from one of them that the girl of sixteen ran shrieking. It was into one of them that the women dragged her back again. Heaven help the children and the young girls who grow up with God’s blessed gifts of sight and hearing in Dreadful Night Street. Over it the light of morning breaks only to make it Dreadful Day Street. 11

III - SUNDAY OVER THE BORDER You do not read a warning on any sign-post that directs you to Rumney. So far as it is possible to judge by ordinary observation, the land which lies just across the border-line that separates Glamorgan from Monmouthshire in the neighbourhood of Cardiff is pastoral and pretty. On a week-day in fine weather there is even an air of repose and innocence about Rumney and its environs, and the eye rests gratefully upon rural nooks and verdant stretches, with a brown sail or two in the dim distance that suggest salt breezes, and the breath of vigorous, wholesome life wafted over the clear green waters of the unpolluted sea. But, as I come by pleasant pastures and blossoming ways to the Border hamlet in the sweet of a Sabbath evening one of a hustling, jostling crowd, I see only the green glory - a beautiful background to a Hogarthian picture of Humanity In one of its grosser moods. The background to the great artist’s pictures of Gin-lane and Beer-street is of the devil-made town, not of the God-made country. I am to see, before my first experience of Sunday swilling across the Border is over, many of the Hogarthian details of Beer-street realised amid scenes of rural beauty and Nature’s peace. It may be argued that the picture is out of place in my portfolio, since I have stated that my main purpose is to deal with the difficulties of the housing problem. If it were not an unfit subject for a jesting answer, I might reply that the Sunday orgies over the Border are legitimate to my purpose in that they certainly bear upon the public housing of the people. But I have a more serious argument than that to justify a reference to scenes which are admittedly shameful and scandalous. These scenes are object-lessons in the perils of prohibition, in the attempts to alter the habits of the people, not by training, instruction, and education, but by Act of Parliament. This drink question has a distinct bearing upon the housing question, for it touches the misery of the masses at every point, and is one of the strongest arguments against the contention of Socialism that the poor “have only their poverty to lose.” They have to lose much more than that before they can attain a position of even comparative prosperity. They have to lose certain tendencies transmitted through long generations. One of these transmitted tendencies is to seek in alcoholic indulgence relief from monetary, mental, and physical strain, and compensation for all that they suffer as the victims of natural social, and economic laws. Socialism would order and regulate men’s lives by tyrannous ordinances. But, while human nature remains human nature, the more tyrannous an ordinance is the fiercer will be the determination to revolt against it and evade it. That the people may be made sober by compulsion one day in the week every public-house in Wales is closed on the Sunday. The result of trying to enforce complete abstinence upon a people before they have been educated up to ordinary self-denial is shown in the disastrous result.


The Sunday scenes across the Border are, of course, familiar by observation or by report to the majority of the readers of the “Evening Express,” but I may be permitted to present them from my point of view - that of an entire stranger to anything of the kind. I spent Sunday evening in visiting all the open houses in the district, and passed a certain amount of time in each. It was not a pleasant experience, even from the physical comfort point of view. To get near the bar in one house was an impossibility, the whole space was packed and jammed with men, and the atmosphere was that of an exceedingly badly-ventilated Turkish bath, with the fumes of alcohol and the reek of strong tobacco added. In the rooms adjoining the bar the crowd of customers was equally dense. In one house even the passage that led to the back garden was blocked with beer drinkers, and when I succeeded in getting into the garden itself it was to find “standing room only.” On benches and forms, on chairs and on window- sills, on the garden roller, on empty casks, and even on flower-pots turned upside down, men and women - two or three with babies in their arms - had settled down to the steady emptying of pint measures. These measures - mugs we should call them in London - were blue or white or brown, and they made a curious effect of colour against the mass of black-coated humanity in the beer garden. Even the walls were occupied; three or four wanton worshippers of Gambrinus had climbed on to them to gain more freedom for the lifting of the right elbow. In this house there were a number of working men in their workaday clothes, which meant that there was not sufficient money in hand on Saturday night to redeem the Sunday suit from pawn. Yet several of them had already spent enough of the balance of their week’s wages to lose their own balance and to make it, undesirable that the landlord should allow them, in the interests of good order, to spend any more. One of them, when ejected, stood in front of the door, and used language which must have been edifying to the female occupants of a break which had driven up filled with customers for the house. The occupants of this break, and of others which arrived from time to time, were most thoughtful for their horses. A halt of half an hour was made at each house at which there was a pull- up. And the breaks pulled up at each house in turn, although the distance between them was only a few yards. In one place of refreshment into which I managed to squeeze with considerable difficulty, not being a living skeleton, the police added to the pressure by coming in to coax out one or two men who needed fresh air. They had betrayed their need of another atmosphere by becoming quarrelsome, and not too coherent in their contributions to the free and easy conversation of the packed “parlour.” They could not very well betray it by the unsteadiness of their gait, because there was not room for them to stagger or even to sway. The police eventually got in and the men were got out. At one time I thought that the exit would have to be through the window. But the voice of authority cleared a passage at last, and the “invalids,” deprived of the support of their fellow-guests, suffered from the inconvenience of too much space directly they found themselves outside. 13

I am no temperance fanatic, I am accustomed to scenes of revelry by night, and I know the seamy side of the life of great cities, but these public-houses, packed and jammed in every available inch with men - the women were not very numerous, I am glad to say - who had deliberately walked for over a mile to spend the Sunday evening in drinking for drinking’s sake, were a revelation to me. The number of police, who were in evidence in twos, in threes and in fours, was convincing evidence that disorderly and disgraceful scenes are the anticipated results of the heavy and continuous drinking of the Sunday Beer Brigade. When later in the evening I drove back to Cardiff, the scenes upon the road were more Hogathian than ever. Many of the visitors on leaving the public-houses to go home had purchased flasks of whisky to drink on the way. The whisky flask takes less room in the pocket than the beer bottle. When drunken men drink whisky on the top of beer, the result does not make for the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Two or three men were already lying against the hedges, drunk within the meaning of the Act and beyond the shadow of a doubt. In the roadway quite a number were staggering about. It was not possible to drive rapidly. Again and again the drivers of vehicles had to shout, and frequently they were compelled to pull up. There was no necessity for any police traps to be set for motorists. The car that attempted to travel at any pace on the Rumney-road after closing time on Sunday night would indeed be a Car of Juggernaut. My driver assured me that many times on Sunday night, returning by this road, he had had to rein his horse up on his haunches in order to avoid going over men lying blind, speechless, and sense-less on the highway. ***** As I come into Cardiff the beautiful outlines of the new City Hall and the new Courts in Cathays Park stand out white and wonderful in the moonlight, silent and splendid emblems of the triumph of human endeavour. If ever there were sermons in stones they are there in the white wonders of these noble buildings, as artistic in design, as noble in execution, as anything the cities of the world can show. The last word of artistic effort in brick and stone has been spoken in a city which pours forth every Sabbath day an army of toilers to wallow like swine in the swillings of the beer barrel. Sunday over the Border is an object lesson in the perils of attacking an evil at the wrong end. It is because of the failure to recognise the real causes of much of the bad environment in which thousands of toilers are compelled to dwell that the evils with which I am about to deal remain a reproach not only to our humanity but to our common sense. We can no more house the people properly by Act of Parliament than we can make them sober by Act of Parliament.


This is the great truth that must be recognised if we are ever to solve a problem with which is bound up not only the comfort of the people, but the future of the race. The State has said that in Wales there shall be no Sunday drinking. All Wales knows that the result is not only “Hell over the Border,” but that shebeening is common, home drinking has increased by leaps and bounds, and a flagon delivery system has made Temperance legislation a farce. The Drink Problem and the Housing Problem touch each other at many points. As ill-considered legislation has intensified the one, so would it intensify the other. We shall see how disastrous that intensification would be in connection with the problem of the Housing of the People when to-morrow we find ourselves faced with the “Difficulties of Dowlais.”


IV - DIFFICULT DOWLAIS I climbed a long grey-black hill, with huge steelworks and collieries on one side of it, and row after row of miserable hovels on the other. I was in Dowlais, which is in the borough of Merthyr Tydfil, and it is here that the young children perish as from a plague. “Our death-rate,” says Dr. Duncan, the medical officer of health, in his report for 1906, is still abnormally high, and this, as in former years, is mainly due to the excessive infantile mortality that prevails.” In 1905, the infantile death-rate for Merthyr was 204 per 1,000 births, as compared with 140 for 76 large towns and 124 for the whole of England and Wales. Dr. Duncan’s report for 1906 shows an improvement in the appalling sacrifice of child life, but the rate still remains “abnormally high.” I have for the past six months being doing my best as a journalist to rouse the public conscience to the Imperial peril of this vast drain upon our national resources of life. One quarter of the total deaths every year in England and Wales is of children under twelve months of age. I am, naturally, greatly interested in the housing conditions in a district which has a terrible record in the Massacre of the Innocents. A low rate of infantile mortality indicates a healthy community; a high rate points in exactly the opposite direction. The high rate, as Sir John Simon has shown, is an indication of the existence of evil conditions in the homes of the people. It will be interesting to see if this contention is borne out by the housing conditions in a borough which has an unenviable position in the infantile mortality returns for the various sanitary districts of the county of Glamorgan. Only a year ago Merthyr headed the list. I had not been long in Dowlais before I discovered that some of the members of the borough council are sensitive on the subject, of publicity. They are willing to admit that they have insanitary areas, and a large number of houses which are unfit for human habitation, but which are still crowded with human beings. In the face of the report of the medical officer of health for 1906, they are bound to admit it. But they contend that, while the black spots have been written about with the blackest ink obtainable, very little has been said about the enormous difficulties with which the municipality has to contend in carrying out the very greatly-to-be-desired scheme of improvement. There is a certain amount of justice in the contention, and in the matter of the difficulties I will endeavour to be just to Dowlais. The congested insanitary areas are largely inhabited by people earning a very low rate of wage. I believe that I am correct in stating that a good deal of labour is paid for at the rate of one shilling


and ten pence per working day of twelve hours. Several men living with their families in dwellings of a vile type told me that they only earned sixteen shillings a week. Others confessed to one pound. Taking the higher figure, it must be evident that whatever the new accommodation provided, the rent must be low. Dwellings of the class desired can only be erected where the site can be obtained at a moderate figure, and unless the ratepayers are to be heavy losers by a municipal scheme of rehousing, the cost of building must be very seriously considered. There is a dearth of houses in Dowlais. It is, therefore, not desirable to condemn a large number which are utterly unfit for human beings to live in. In many cases there are only short leases to run, and the owners would, for financial reasons, rather close them than spend the money necessary to make them habitable. The closing of these houses would leave a large number of people homeless. In Dowlais, Penydarren and Cyfarthfa, where unhealthy areas abound, the house farmer, who is very much in evidence, is practically master of the situation. Trading on the dearth of accommodation for the poorer class of workers, he has raised his rents. If a tenant complains of the condition of his house, he can go. If the sanitary authorities are troublesome in their demands for small alterations and repairs-structural ones, as I have pointed out, would be impossible - the work is done after a fashion, and the tenant pays for it in an addition to the weekly rent. The plaint of an old lady in a Dowlais hovel reminded me of an experience I had a good many years ago, when I was engaged in the slums of London gathering material for “How the Poor Live.” A woman complained to her landlord that a portion of the wall in her room was broken away, and that the children in the adjoining room, which did not belong to her, kept putting their heads through the aperture. This was an intrusion on her privacy which she strongly objected to. She got the school board officer to see the landlord about it. The landlord came himself, saw the hole, and nailed the lid of a Fry’s chocolate box across it. The next week he informed the woman that he had raised the rent threepence a week for “improvements.” To a stranger, the most striking thing about the houses of Dowlais - some of them are little better than pigstyes - is their remarkable situation. There is a whole row of “cellar dwellings” of the worst description, from a sanitary point of view, and the back houses look out upon an Alpine valley. Back-to-back houses, with everything to be desired in the matter of thorough ventilation, and over and under houses are the features of the district. To these terrible homes men come daily from their terrible work to live their terrible lives, and often, alas! to die terrible deaths. A good deal of this property is old property, built, or rather “run up,” for the accommodation of the labouring class at a time when absolutely no supervision was exercised over sanitary matters. As the houses were built so they remain, and no patching will make them healthy, because they are structurally defective. The poor tenants pay the rent and the penalty, and in many of the worst dwellings a lodger is taken to ease the financial strain. 17

In this way it comes about that beds in damp, ill-ventilated rooms, with low ceilings and insufficient breathing space, are occupied for the greater part of the twenty-four hours. The day-worker sleeps in the bed at night - sometimes with members of his family - and the night-worker occupies it in the daytime. This is a “Box and Cox� arrangement, which has none of the humour of the famous farce about it. It more frequently ends in a tragedy, as the adult death-rate and the infantile death-rate of the district prove in figures of flesh and blood. The rents of some of the worst property are - thanks to the house farmer - higher than the rents paid in other neighbourhoods for good accommodation, with sanitary surroundings. In one wretched agglomeration of hovels, dirty, dilapidated, and evil smelling, and not a whole window among them, the rent is five shillings and six-pence a week for two rooms. Yet the new four-roomed tenements which the council are erecting can be let at eighteen shillings a month, and in these there will be a bath supplied with hot water from the kitchen range. The difficulty of obtaining land at a reasonable price is, therefore, not only causing a high rate of mortality, but it is compelling the earners of scanty wage to pay for vile and insanitary accommodation a rent which deprives them elf the means of purchasing proper food and proper clothing. In many of these areas the women are pale, emaciated, and spiritless. The children are ill-clad and dirty. The people are as desolate, as colourless, and as gloomy as the towering, grassless summits of the coal tips that look down upon them night and day. And yet these unfortunate people find money for drink. It was the holiday season in Dowlais, and in more than one wretched home I found that dirt and drink were joined together in unholy bonds. In one room, early in the afternoon, a man was lying dead drunk upon the floor. The broken window was stuffed with sacking. I climbed a steep break-neck flight of worn stairs to the bedroom above. The bed came to the edge of the room. The window of the room was below the level of the bedding. If it were open the wind would blow under the bed. At the door of the next house a girl of about eighteen was standing in rags, through which the skin of her body could be seen. In the narrow pebbled way in front of the house refuse and filth had accumulated and had become saturated with the pools left in the ground by a rain storm. The internal conditions of these houses - inhabited by unskilled labourers it is true, but none the less human beings for that - were squalid and horrible. But, bad as the dwellings were, the habits of the people had made them worse. One filthy upstairs room I found littered with the sealed corks demanded by the Child Messenger Act. The woman in it was drunk at three o’clock in the afternoon. But in a house in the same neighbourhood I found a Spaniard whose earnings were sixteen shillings a week. His wife was washing clothes at a tub. Two or three clean and comfortably dressed little children were in the room. The house was tidy and the family seemed to be in good spirits.


The wife of the man I had seen lying drunk upon the dirty floor told me that he earned twenty-two shillings a week. The Spaniard, on sixteen shillings, a week, maintained, you see, a far higher standard of comfort. Here is a proof of the contention that environment is not entirely responsible for degradation. The contrast I have quoted emphasises one of the difficulties not only of Dowlais but of all industrial districts. I said I would be just to Dowlais. That is why I quote these two cases in the same court. Dowlais has an old colony that is not yet educated up to respect for new dwellings. But it has a large industrious population who deserve far more consideration than they have yet received. They are toiling and moiling night and day, and by their ill paid labour assisting in widening the broad stream of gold that flows from Dowlais, but leaves Dowlais itself high and dry in desolation and squalid poverty. There are whole areas in Dowlais inhabited by human beings which are a black stain upon the humanity of those for whom these human beings toil. For these deadly dens the unhappy tenants pay a rent which is monstrously high for such vile accommodation. It is useless for them to complain, even when, in addition to paying extortionate rent, they have to deal with their landlord for the goods he supplies. If they complain they can go. The only place to which they can go is the work- house. And that is generally full. Some of the great employers of labour whose vast wealth comes from Dowlais would not kennel their dogs as they allow their unfortunate workpeople to be kennelled. In the interests of the sober, hard-working toilers we must demand a speedy solution of the difficulties of Dowlais. We only see them. These unfortunate people feel them. There is all the difference in the world between the two experiences. The municipality has failed to remedy the evil. It gives its reasons. We will see how far they are justified.


IX - IN THE RHONDDA VALLEY As the motor-car speeds swiftly through the picturesque valley of the Taff, and I admire the beauties that unfold themselves before me, the words of our Junior National Anthem sing themselves in my ears Among our ancient mountains, And from our lovely vales. Thinking of the unsavoury and saddening scenes that I have looked upon in similar romantic surroundings in South Wales, I cannot help regretting that among the ancient mountains there still linger a good many much too ancient dwellings, and that the unlovely things of the days when sanitary science was in its infancy are still responsible for a vast amount of human misery in the lovely vales. In Pontypridd my first impression is that the urban district council is in a position of much less difficulty than some of its neighbours. I find on referring to the report for 1906 that the death-rate was the lowest recorded for the district. A high death-rate was accounted for in 1905 by “exceptional outbreaks of diseases of an infectious character, which yield a high rate of mortality.” Again, in Pontypridd the infant mortality for 1906 was 164.6 per 1,000 births, as compared with 181 in 1905. This is much better than in the Rhondda Urban District, where, in the latest report I have been able to obtain, the rate was 199 per 1,000 births. In the same volume that contains the figures of the general death-rate and the high infant mortality the fact is I recorded that the house refuse is not destroyed, and that the circumstances under which it is tipped are dangerous to public health. The majority of the sites on which the tipping takes place are within a hundred yards of a considerable number of houses. These refuse tips are the breeding grounds of germs. The germ supply in the Rhondda is more abundant than the water supply. As I glance through the medical officer’s 1906 report for Pontypridd, while I am waiting for a friend who will guide me through one or two quarters I wish to visit, I find that a very emphatic protest is made against the water danger. “Besides peat and vegetable matter, which are always more or less present, worms, insects, and lizards were frequently brought to my notice by house-holders.” In addition to these luxuries - a lizard found in the water supply was in an advanced stage of decomposition - there is lead in the water, and cases of lead poisoning have been frequent. But since the publication of the report, an official statement has been made that the water is now “all right.” The town is to be heartily congratulated on the fact. Decomposed lizard is highly undesirable as a water flavouring. But the fact remains that there is an increased demand for the natural water of life and a diminishing public supply. “The prospects of a water famine may soon be realised, with its attendant horrors, unless -” It is to be earnestly desired that the “unless” will happen speedily, and that the peril of Pontypridd will pass away. 20

In Pontypridd the houses of working-class occupation to which I am taken are superior in condition to those in the hill-side rows of Dowlais and Ebbw Vale. They are inhabited by a different kind of people. I am nowhere faced with the terrible spectacle of drink-sodden men and women and barefooted, dirty children. But there is a lack of proper housing in Pontypridd, where the population is rapidly increasing. Owing to this fact there are a large number of cases of two - and even more - families occupying the living space sufficient for one family only. The common lodging-house evil, which is so serious a one elsewhere, does not, I am assured, exist in Pontypridd. The tramp does not patronise the town, and the guests of the common lodging-house are mostly navvies. But for these there is not sufficient accommodation. Up to the present Pontypridd, in common with other large and wealthy industrial centres of South Wales, where the occupation of the toilers is dirty to a degree, denies itself the luxury which, from a sanitary point of view, is a necessity - a public bath and wash-house. The absence of these most desirable establishments in all towns where there is a large working-class population, and especially a population employed in coal-mines and in occupations carried on amid grimy surroundings, is to a stranger an astonishing thing. In the Rhondda Urban District the housing question is considered to be dealt with on fairly satisfactory lines. A large number of new houses have been erected and passed for occupation, but there is still a great demand. Here, again, the water supply has in former years been such as to cause the sanitary authorities the most acute anxiety. The supply of a vast number of houses owned by colliery companies is in the hands of the companies themselves. The supply has been officially declared to be bad in quality and frequently insufficient. The whole of the water supplied by one company to its tenants was unfiltered, and all the sources were liable to pollution. “There may occur,” runs the official report, “at any moment an epidemic of some water-borne disease such as typhoid fever.” In the houses owned by one employing company, it has not been unusual for the unfortunate tenants to have to sit up late at night waiting, with bowls and pails, to catch any rain that might mercifully descend, in order that they might have sufficient for ordinary domestic purposes. There is, I believe, some improvement in these conditions, perilous not only to the company’s tenants, but to the entire community, but that these conditions existed, and existed to such an extent as to justify the scathing report of the medical officer of health, is deplorable from every point of view. One incident in the record of the Rhondda furnishes startling evidence of the danger of the tramp lodging-house and the peril of the free roaming of the professional vagrants who are the curse of every district through which they pass.


An outbreak of small-pox was traced to an Irish vagrant. He had come from Ireland by a tortuous course, and had made many halts by the way. He stayed at a common lodging-house in Cardiff and came on to Wattstown, where he “shared a bed” in a tramps’ lodging-house. At this time he had developed the disease. He gave it to his “bed-fellow,” who, in his turn, gave it to the only unvaccinated person in the house; and so the disease began to spread. These vagrants are a constant source of public peril. They carry with them wherever they go vice and dirt and pestilence, and it is high time the vagrant question was seriously considered by the Legislature in the interest, not only of public morals, but of public health. The evil results of the free circulation over the United Kingdom of hordes of vagabonds, dirty, dishonest, dissolute, and diseased, are only known to those who have an intimate acquaintance with their characters and their habits. In the course of my professional wanderings by the highways and byways, I have come frequently in close contact with the tramp in the open, the tramp in the rural “padding ken,” and the tramp in the big doss house of the cities. I have learnt something of his cant or secret language, and spent more than one night around the coke fire with the foul company, male and female, and I can heartily endorse the view of that close student of vagrant humanity, Charles Leland, who declared that the tramps of the padding ken and the doss house carried physical and moral infection with them wherever they passed or wherever they stayed. This is a matter that does not, perhaps, concern the Rhondda so directly as it does other districts, but it is worth emphasising here, seeing what one of the class did to infect the district and the great anxiety and expense caused to the ratepayers by his temporary sojourn in a lodging-house in their midst. There is, however, a question that does very seriously affect the Rhondda in connection with its working class housing, and that is the fact that the large employers of Iabour are owners of a vast number of the houses inhabited by their work-people. They deduct the rent they receive from the wages they pay, a system which leads to very great evils. In this district many houses accommodating working class people are also owned by local tradesmen, who make it a condition that the tenants shall deal with them for groceries, draperies, and other necessaries of life. This is a flagrant breach of the Truck Act, and its cruel unfairness to the tenant is obvious. When employers own houses the conditions should be such as to make in every possible way for the welfare of their work-people. That this is not the case in the Rhondda is proved by the official report of the medical officer of health. These are among the wrongs of Labour in its relation to Capital which have given the Socialists their hold over the masses, and which have already had the effect of making the Socialist Party politically powerful. Its power has been seen in recent legislation, which has been of a Socialist character, and harmful, not only to the employing classes, but to the small trading classes and the ratepayers generally.


Let those who are responsible for the evil conditions in the Rhondda recognise the dangers ahead, and accomplish with a good grace and at a reasonable cost the reforms that are so urgently needed. It is far better that they should do so than that they should have to consent with a bad grace to the work being done for them, and done at a heavy cost, not only to themselves, but to the whole body of ratepayers.


V - MENDING OF MERTYR “Merthyr has improved her housing accommodation. Why should Dowlais wait?” These words reach me in the hum of general conversation as I shelter from a heavy rainstorm with some local friends, and wait for a tram with room inside. I have seen something of Dowlais, gathered a general impression of it in a short tour of the bad property, the worse property, and the worst property, under expert local guidance, and I am on my way to Merthyr. I gather from the remark that Dowlais is inclined to think that Merthyr is more concerned with Merthyr than it is with Dowlais. Dowlais, for all I know, may have sufficient control of her own affairs. But the remark of a Dowlais man, who is one of my kindly escort, sets me thinking. The crux of the re-housing question is in the wards of Dowlais, Penydarren, and Cyfarthfa, where slums abound, but some of the worst areas cannot be cleared because there is no housing accommodation for displaced tenants. The Town Ward has not a very considerable insanitary area, but suffers to some extent in its figures through the number of common lodging-houses it contains. Wherever I go in Merthyr town in search of useful knowledge I am told there are great improvements. Many of them I see for myself. In some of the old spots that had an unenviable reputation houses of a good description, built, on modern lines, have been erected or are in course of erection. So far as I am able to judge, the majority of these houses are arranged to suit the requirements of the class most in need of new accommodation. But quite unofficially one block of buildings is pointed out to me in which the conditions are stated to be very much the same as those obtaining in a set of model dwellings erected some time since with a great flourish of trumpets in one of our London boroughs. I met a year or two ago a costermonger who had been evicted from an insanitary area, and who had been fortunate enough to be accepted as the tenant of a flat in one of these model dwellings. I asked my friend what he had done with his donkey, which used to walk through his parlour in the old home and stable itself in a back yard, and also how he arranged in his aristocratic residence for the accommodation of his barrow. He explained to me that he left his donkey every night with a friend, who for a consideration kindly made it up a bed in his back kitchen. As to his barrow, he tilted that up in the court from which he had been evicted. He had had “the office,” as he called it, that though the area had been cleared, the Council were not likely to do anything with it for a long time to come, as they hadn’t got the money.” Relieved on these points, I asked my old friend of the costers’ court how he liked his new abode. 24

“Oh, it’s all right, sir,” he said, “and wonderful convenient. I can lie in bed in my bedroom and cook my breakfast at the kitchen fire with one hand, and if anybody knocks I can open the door of my sitting room with the other.” The story is worth telling, for its sequel illustrates one of the dangers of over haste in the dishousing of the poor even in the interests of sanitary reform. The costermonger’s prophecy, that he would be able to leave barrow in the old court, was amply justified. The area from which hundreds of families had been evicted, some of them to go into the workhouse, and others to drift into congested criminal areas remained untouched by the house- breakers for two years. At the end of that time it was seriously proposed by the body which had caused the area to be cleared of its occupants that some of the houses should be re-let, as there was no immediate chance of re-building them. That is the difficulty Merthyr is faced with in some of the outlying wards. A wholesale clearance of the worst areas would mean a dishoused population, to build new accommodation for whom would involve a large outlay and take a considerable period of time. New accommodation would have to be provided, because there is no old property unoccupied of a better character than the slums. But Merthyr has made a good beginning the centre. She has still something not to be proud of in Caedraw and the two Isles of Wight; but she states officially with regard to her outlying horrors that “it is hoped that the new Housing Bill promised by the Government will, by enabling us to acquire land more easily and to borrow at cheaper rates, stimulate us to more energetic action.” So the hope of the Borough of Merthyr for Dowlais, Penydarren, and Cyfarthfa, where the children perish and the conditions in which a portion of the population live are destructive alike to body and soul, rests on the action of the Government! That is to say, rests with legislation of a Socialistic character to make the municipality master of the situation. I have twenty years’ experience of Government Housing Schemes. I have been before a Royal Commission to give evidence, and I have for the last quarter of a century been constantly in touch with the people in the slums and poverty areas of the British Capital. I am not, therefore, speaking hastily or without sympathy for the badly housed when I say frankly that I think it is a bad thing for the owners of property and the great employers of labour that it should be necessary for an Act of Parliament to be passed before land in the neighbourhood of such huge industrial enterprises as those of Merthyr can be acquired at a reasonable price for the decent housing of the toiling masses. The conditions in the homes of the masses in Merthyr are responsible for an appalling rate of infant mortality and for an “excessive general mortality,” which is duly chronicled and deplored by the medical officer of health in his latest report. Why should the remedy for an evil which - taking it entirely outside the humanitarian point of view is a racial and an Imperial peril be left for Socialism to take in hand? 25

I do not say there is any idea of an appeal to Socialistic legislation in Merthyr’s official pronouncement; I only put forward my own idea that an appeal to the State to do something which will cheapen building sites for working-class dwellings can but tend to the tightening of the meshes of the Socialistic net in which capitalists, mainly through their own short-sightedness and carelessness, are now wriggling. I have seen the conditions in the worst wards of Merthyr, and, with a full sense of the gravity of the words, I have no hesitation in saying they are a disgrace to Capital and a degradation to Labour. It is intolerable that this curse to the community should be allowed to continue on the plea that nothing can be done until the State comes to the rescue. I cannot say - lacking the knowledge which would justify me in assigning the blame - how far in Merthyr the property owners are responsible for the scandal. But I do know that in other industrial centres in South Wales there are owners who stand in the way of reform, and that, a large amount of the worst property is held by the employers of a working population, for whom only insanitary dwellings are available. I also know that there are instances glaring instances - in which wealthy employers are carrying the relations of landlord and tenant perilously near to an impudent evasion of the law. When we come to these districts we will look the facts straight between the eyes, since they concern not only those responsible for them, but the whole community. For the whole community will have to suffer if, owing to the neglect of duty by individuals, laws are passed which in their working will injuriously affect the ratepayer, the small trader, the private citizen, and all whose capital is invested in industrial enterprises. Merthyr has furnished me with a text which has led me far beyond the confines of the borough. It is only fair to say that in Merthyr itself the improvement that is claimed is to be seen, and it is only justice to say that the contention of the municipality that it is hampered in its desire for further improvements by special difficulties, is borne out by figures and by facts. But half these difficulties would disappear if the big employers of local labour would assist in the solution. It would not only be to their credit, but to their interest to do so, and they could come to the rescue on the sound business lines of what has been happily called “Five per cent philosophy.” “Year after year,” says the official report on the health of the people, the older districts - that is to say the insanitary districts – “exhibit an excessive mortality.” This means that hundreds of human lives are being sacrificed year after year in Dowlais and the other bad districts by the failure of the capitalists employing labour to rescue that labour from foul and filthy dwellings, which are death traps and murder holes. In using these plain words I run the risk of being charged with exaggeration and sensationalism. My answer is that the statement is not mine, but that of the medical officer of health for the borough of Merthyr Tydfil. He words his statement differently, but it amounts to the same thing. Merthyr, owing to the housing conditions, “in the older districts has an excessive mortality.” “The 26

death rate is still abnormally high, and as will be shown farther on this, as in former years, is mainly due to the excessive infantile mortality that prevails.” (Annual Report for 1906.) Merthyr does not destroy its refuse, but it destroys its children. And to stay the massacre of innocent children Merthyr must wait until the Government brings in a Bill which will enable the municipality to “acquire land more easily.” In the meantime, in the annual report of the medical officer of health, 1,055 houses are tabulated as more or less, “unfit for human habitation.”


VI - THE SEAMY SIDE OF SWANSEA A happy remembrance of pleasant ways and pleasant people, of busy streets and fine buildings, of breezy by-ways and slums perched high enough to be Hygeias if man had been as considerate as Nature, a blaze of sunshine and a blur of rain, and, in the heart of all that prosperity and good citizenship mean, one scene that has seared itself into my memory, never to be effaced until all things fade in the great forgetting. There are houses in the courts and the rows of the poverty area that can hold their own for unpleasantness with the slums of any city. There are back-to-back dwellings and hovels on the hills looking out on to a wilderness of refuse and huge rubbish heaps masquerading as miniature mountains. In one room in a terrible den a family take their rest, where it is not wise to stand upright unless you want to bring down portions of the ceiling. In another private residence, in which the scheme of general dirtiness must have caused its occupants much trouble to carry out, a woman is weeping tears of alcohol, seated in the baby’s cradle, and her husband is contemplating her with apparent envy. He explains that she has had more than her share of the contents of some beer bottles which are balancing themselves in their emptiness on a table with three legs. Indistinctly, but with an heroic attempt at emphasis, he also volunteers the information that she has fallen into the cradle, and he has left her in it because she is safer there than on the only chair in the place, which stands near the fire. In a courtway in front of some dreadful houses, a young woman, with a face that has for some considerable time avoided contact with soap - possibly with an idea that it might contain ingredients harmful to the complexion - is standing at the door of a room in which some weatherbeaten fowls are pecking the potato peelings that lie about the floor. This young woman has on a dress which brings to my mind the question so delicately put by Theodore Hook to a man who was no friend to his laundress: “Where on earth do you get your dirty shirts?� said Hook, and I feel inclined to ask the young woman where on earth she found her rags. But dirty people and clean people - and there are both in the slums that Swansea still has to her debit - there can be no question as to the bad condition of the property on which some of them are residing. It is old property, and probably as bad when its occupants went into it as it is now. Possibly it was worse, for there is a very vigilant system of inspection in Swansea, and all that can be done is being done. Here, again, is the difficulty which, go where you will, in London or in the provincial towns, or in the rural districts, rises up before you, a spectre that declines to be laid. Not long ago one of the worst houses in an insanitary area in Swansea, because it was beyond all temporary repair, was closed.


The family, consisting of a man, his wife and six children were evicted. Unable to find fresh accommodation within their means, they were compelled to go into a common lodging-house. The common lodging-houses for married couples are not at all desirable places for people who wish to retain a few shreds of self-respect, and the mixed lodging-houses of Swansea, if I may I judge from the one I see, are in no way superior to the general run. There were four beds for married couples in one room. The space between each bed was that required by the Act. But the partitioning intended to screen bed from bed consisted of three narrow boards coming out from the wall, and the whole of the passage between the beds in the centre of the room was open and unscreened. A conscientious officer thinks twice before he closes a house, if the effect of the closing will be to force respectable people into a mixed lodging-house of this kind, or of a kind even more terrible, which I have yet to describe. The evicted tenant whose case I have quoted is a working man. There is nothing against him. The house that he had the misfortune to rent was the cause of his having to take his wife - a respectable woman - to live amid surroundings which must, in the long run - it would be nearer the truth to say in the short run - end in moral degradation. Here we have an instance of the injury done, not only to the poor, but to the whole community, by the failure of the great body of citizens to appreciate the perils of indifference in the matter of the housing of the people. Society pays in the end for the physical and moral degradation of the masses, and it pays in hard cash. The payment is compulsory for workhouses and gaols and lunatic asylums, and is voluntary for hospitals and charitable institutions. Unfortunately, the bulk of the people who pay are in no way responsible for the evil for which the payment is a penalty. Let us visit another area in this district of difficulties. It is a low neighbourhood in a lofty situation. It is so lofty that from the back doors of one lot of houses you look out upon the roofs of the row below. This arrangement has its inconveniences, especially when the sanitary authorities have insisted upon the top row being repaired and certain out-houses in the front of it being pulled down. Standing in the front yard of the top row an elderly lady with grey hair and the attitude of a warlock, extends a denunciatory finger. “Look at that,” she exclaims to my companions, who are known to her, being, men in authority over her. “Look at that, and say if it’s right that a Christian being and a respectable married woman shouldn’t be able to come out of her front door without some-body else’s bricks and mortar and rotting rubbish falling on her poor old head?” The lady lives in the court below. She has come up above to protest. The repairs to the yard above her residence have not included the building of a wall at the edge. There is nothing but a scaffoldpole placed across the end of the sloping yard to prevent the people living in the court below receiving a landslip by instalment. 29

With the assurance that a wall shall be built and the grey head preserved from further premature burial, my companions lead me gently from the hanging garden on the hills down to the level land that lies by the waterside, and is known as “The Strand.” It is there that I see the scene that has burnt itself into my brain and that haunts me as I write. When Maxim Gorky wrote his terrible book “Creatures That Once Were Men,” he drew a picture of a low Russian lodging-house that was horrifying in its realism. Not once, but a dozen times, in the doss houses of The Strand did I wish that Maxim Gorky had been by my side to see “Creatures that once were women.” The sun is shining as we go down the Strand, and three or four women are lying stretched at full length asleep by the dead wall, through the arches of which here and there you can see the black sides of a ship. Young women, bareheaded and blowzy, and with bloated faces, are sitting on the kerb exchanging bestial banter with rough-looking young men. Inside a drinking bar, apparently catering specially for the dreadful denizens of the doss houses, a number of men of the lowest type are lounging. They are quiet enough, but the scene is gruesome in its silence and its drab monotony of hue. The faces of the women who are drinking with the men are not good to look upon. From the bar I pass into a women’s lodging-house close by, and there, accustomed as I am to Zolaesque human documents, I shrink back. My first impulse is to go out again quickly from this Devil’s darkness into the wholesome light of day and the sunshine that is the smile of God. With swollen lips and staring eyes, with distorted features and faces, some of them loathsome with disease, these creatures that once were women sit - a dozen of them - in a long low room, lit at one end by a gleam of sunshine that comes through the open door, and at the other end by the dim red glow of a coke fire. The faces lit by the red glow are terrible, but oh, the horror of those on which the sunshine falls! And among this terrible wreckage of womanhood, flung by the black waters of the River of Sin upon the Strand of Shame, are girls of twenty who are old already, with the bleared eyes and bloated features of the dram drinker. Their admission card to the hospital is already blotched and scarred upon their fearful faces. That this social and physical pestilence should be concentrated is well. It is safer far that it should be where it can be kept under systematic supervision - far safer than that it should be scattered to the four quarters of the town. But its existence, even where it is, is a deadly peril. There will come a day when such a peril will no more be permitted to pollute the by-ways of a city than the sufferers from the infectious disease now tabulated by the medical officer of health for isolation will be allowed to move at will among their fellow-citizens.


VII - IN EBBW VALE As the train toils slowly through the Western Valley of Monmouthshire I have ample time to enjoy the scenery. Now wild and rugged, now green and fertile. I feast my eyes upon the ever-changing picture, and forget that I have spent the better part of the morning in travelling from Cardiff to Ebbw Vale. I am content to look out upon the mountains, their summits hidden in soft grey mist, the white farms on the verdant slopes, and the peace of blossoming dales. And then as the train runs into towering chimneys belching black smoke that hangs lowering over great stretches of black earth and heaped up hills of grime, a protest leaps involuntarily to my lips: “What vandalism to disfigure a lovely valley with the hideous signs of the greed for gold.” It is a natural thought at the first sight of an infernal region planted in the heart of a Paradise. But I reflect that man cannot live by scenery alone, and that smoke and grime are the outward and visible signs of the world’s progress, and I comfort myself with statistics. For here, in the heart of the blackened Paradise, between 7,000 and 8,000 men find work for their hands that means the food for their mouths, and for the mouths that look to them for food. For this is Ebbw Vale, with an output of coal of a million tons a year, half of which is used in the manufacture of iron and steel, and the other half exported. I think of the vast wealth which those figures represent, of the herculean labour, the ceaseless toil, the deadly perils involved in its amassing, and as I climb the hill from the station I look around for the dwelling places of the toilers. The first view is picturesque. High up on the slopes of the black hill are rows of white buildings. These are the workers’ homes. The outside whiteness is encouraging. But, alas! on closer inspection they prove to be but whited sepulchres. Fair with-out - in the distance only - they are foul within. In our London suburbs we give our little houses pretty names: Laburnam Villa, Sunnyside, Fairview, Lilac Villa, The Nest - you may find these names painted on dozens of doorways in lanes of workingclass occupation. But there is no idyllic nonsense in the nomenclature of Ebbw Vale. The first line of living, places that I approach is called “Furnace Row.” Its surroundings amply justify its designation. The approach is dangerous to the unaccustomed traveller. Unskilled in acrobatic feats I have to walk warily over the rubbish patch that leads to the row. I pick my way over a cinder garden, climb over ridges of refuse, ford a slimy quagmire of decaying unpleasantness, and so reach the front door of a family residence. The general condition of the people is as black as their surroundings. The presence of an old man in one of the houses astonishes me. I should have imagined that the attainment of old age in such an environment was a physical impossibility.


But we will take several “rows,” and judge the general condition by cases taken haphazard from each. Here is a row, one end of which has been unroofed, either at the bidding of the sanitary authorities or of the weather. The roof is off two of the houses lower down, but signs of recent habitation linger in old rags and battered tin ware. In one of the two-roomed houses I find a family of five. A boy of four with the dirtiest face and the bluest eyes I have ever seen toddles towards me gnawing a piece of bread that, presumably, was once white. There is a baby in a soap box by the wall, and the rain has dripped down the wall by the side of the baby. The little boy grins through such a cake of dirt that when I admire his blue eyes the mother, a young woman, apologises for the blackness of his face. She really seems rather ashamed of it. “Where did you get those blue eyes?” I ask, and the mother introduces me to a young man with, “That’s his father, sir.” The young man, thin and dilapidated, but smiling, greets me with the Kerry accent, and I find he is from Killarney. I stand with him at the door and look out at the black desolation that is his daily view, at the mammoth nightmare, at the hellish vapour that hisses up from the great works in the hollow below, at the black coal tip that hems in his habitation - at the rotting refuse scattered around, and I ask him if he ever thinks of his home by the Killarney Lakes. He shrugs his shoulders and smiles a Kerry smile. He doesn’t think about yesterday at all. His trouble is to-day-and to-morrow. I visit a cottage in another row. The living room is in a deplorable state. A little girl of six is sitting on a broken and filthy floor with a baby in her arms. A family of seven occupy the two rooms. The father and mother and two children sleep in a room that the bed fills up. At the back of this room is a small cupboard. There is no light in it, but a small hole is cut in the front “bedroom,” and through this comes all the ventilation the cupboard gets. I peer into this dark hole and see that this also is filled up with a bed. The little girl tells me she sleeps with her two sisters, one sixteen and one seventeen, in this loathsome little cellar, a bedroom that suggests the Black Hole of Calcutta. There were more in this family, but no accommodation is now needed for them. Two are dead and one has just been taken to the hospital. In another house there is quite a gay note. A canary originally yellow, but now exhibiting signs of the proximity of the coal industry, is singing merrily in his cage. But from this house a case has just gone to the fever hospital. At the top of this narrow street, within two yards of the open doors of the houses, there are sanitary conditions which cause me to light my pipe hastily, though I have made up my mind not to smoke before lunch. The rents of the houses in this street are three shillings and tenpence a week, with coals. The place is perpetually enveloped in mist, which is the steam from the works below. Sometimes it is white, sometimes it is blue, sometimes it is black. In many of these terrible rows and streets the “Box and Cox” arrangement is carried out. Lodgers are taken in. When Saturday night comes, the day and the night occupants of these dens huddle together or repair for air to the slag mountain at the back. 32

Some of them play cards on the refuse and cinder heaps. The free refuse heap is a healthier place than some of the rooms for which they pay rent. Here is a row of houses that were condemned as unfit for habitation two years ago. They are still inhabited. In another row I find a family of ten in two rooms. Two children have died within twelve weeks. The people here are cleaner than in some of the other rows in spite of bad surroundings. The women are busy washing. The tables have their legs in trousers to protect them. There are polished brass candlesticks on the mantelshelf. One woman, who has had notice to go because the sanitary authorities consider her habitation absolutely dangerous to health - which means life - tells me that she cannot find a place to go to. Her husband earns thirty-five shillings a week. But if these people fail to find new accommodation, they must go “over the hill to the poorhouse in Tredegar.” And Tredegar Workhouse is full. In another row of “working class” houses the general condition is disgraceful. The rain drips through the roof. You can see the dark stain of oozing water on the walls. Two white faced boys are seated on Mount Black, which rises precipitously behind these hovels. It has been raining, and the boys have left their wet homes to go and sit on the coal tip and get dry. Here, in Ebbw Vale, the same cry of lack of accommodation is raised that I have heard almost everywhere. For lack of safe shelter the people are being driven into the workhouses. There they come on the rates. The rates in Ebbw Vale are ten shillings in the pound. In spite of the gloomy surroundings and the wretched way in which a large number of them are housed, the people are law-abiding and quiet. Drink is their principal weakness. Can one wonder at it? I asked a man in a wretched hovel why he got drunk. “Why?” he answered “I’ll tell you why. Drunk, I’m a king and the world belongs to me - sober, God help me, I’m the miserable wretch that you see me now in the filthy hole that I have to spend my little bit of life in.” Frankly, the housing conditions in Ebbw Vale are appalling. A large number of toilers are not housed at all. They are kennelled. Many a fine lady would consider it cruelty to animals to put her pet dog into some of the “rooms” in which these poor creatures pass the hours in which they are not at work. Many of the worst places are the property of the employing company. The tenants work for the company and have the rent deducted from their wages. If they complain, they complain to their employers. The work of the urban district council becomes difficult in these circumstances, though it has upon it men who are doing their best to secure better accommodation for the unfortunate toilers cruelly neglected by those for whom they toil. It is possible that long familiarity with their own property has blinded the owners to its real character. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that some of it is a disgrace to the civilisation of the twentieth century. Moreover, to compel people to live in such conditions by refusing to grant facilities for the building of proper dwelling places for them is a form of “contributory negligence” to fatal results. Surely the time has come when the wealthy companies of the South Wales coalfields and industrial areas might do something for the human beings they employ. 33

In such housing conditions as those of Ebbw Vale it is not merely a question of the comfort of the people. It is a question of the lives of men, of women, and of children. Is it too much to ask that wealthy employers should take a deeper and more practical interest in the housing of their workers? There are great employers in the Midlands who have rendered it impossible for the Socialists to make the housing question one of their arguments for the revolt of the workers and a justification for organised and damaging attacks on capital and private enterprise. Ebbw Vale depresses me. Some of it nauseates me. I want another atmosphere - I want to breathe where there is no fear of foul exhalations and the germs of deadly disease. A mountain rises mistily before me. I will climb it and so drop down into Tredegar.


VIII - THE TRAMPS OF TREDEGAR It is not an inspiriting day to climb the mountain that divides Ebbw Vale from Tredegar. The atmosphere is close and rain is falling. Near the summit a house of refreshment boasts the sign “Mountain Air,” but the summit is desolate and the air is by no means obtrusive. Once over the brow Tredegar looms into view in the valley below. The first impression is not cheering to the traveller. It looks almost as gloomy as the seething caldron that I peered into from the terrace of hovels in Ebbw Vale so appropriately named “Furnace Row.” The descent is easy, and to the stranger suggests the most familiar Latin quotation of schoolboy days - “Facilis descensus Averni.” But when I have “dropped down” into the black narrow streets, and made my way to the park, in which the offices of the urban council are situated, I forget all about the Latin quotation. For the park is green and glorious, beautifully wooded and gay with flowers. Never, surely, had an urban council a more picturesque spot in which to consider the sanitary inspector’s reports and discuss Tredegar’s terrible incubus - its plague of tramps. Tredegar, like Ebbw Vale, has its housing difficulties. But it is making valiant efforts to cope with insanitary conditions by erecting new working-class houses as rapidly as circumstances will permit. One hundred and thirty-seven new houses were erected last year, and every one of them was of the best type of workmen’s dwellings. The houses unfit for habitation are being gradually closed or re-constructed; but, in the words of the medical officer’s report, there still remain “a not inconsiderable number of cellar dwellings, back-toback houses, and other insanitary habitations.” These houses are to disappear as suitable accommodation is provided for those at present inhabiting them. Tredegar has been more fortunate than some of its neighbours. It was formerly a very bad patch, indeed, but as leases fell in in great numbers Lord Tredegar granted new leases on favourable terms, in many cases to the occupiers, and they built their own houses. The council have also met with great consideration in the acquiring of certain areas they wanted for the improvements they have been able to make in the housing of the people. But - and it is a very big but - the worst parts still remain. Here, for instance, is an area of dreadful-looking houses in which the conditions are deplorable. They could be condemned with a stroke of the pen and closed. But look at the people who are standing about at the doorways. This area is inhabited by one of those colonies of dirty folks who are born dirty and die dirty, and are the despair of the Reformers. Some of them have been re-housed in new dwellings in Tredegar. What is the result? Comparatively new dwellings are already in a filthy condition.


We suffer from the same trouble in the Capital. I know whole blocks of “improved dwellings” in the south-east of London which were opened with a big flourish of trumpets and are now as bad as any of the old slum dwellings from which the tenants came. But the dirty folks to whom I have referred are a class by themselves, and the cleanly, sober workers are not to be confused with them. Tredegar is still suffering from the houses of the older days, run up in a hurry, without the slightest consideration for the health or comfort of the people. To these old houses it is impossible to apply modern means of sanitation. These are the cellar dwellings, the back-to-back houses, without proper ventilation or proper anything, which figure unfavourably in the reports of the medical officer of health. But the greatest trouble of Tredegar is the tramp. That is Tredegar’s burning question - the thorn in the flesh of the urban council, the problem with which the sanitary inspector is perpetually faced. Tredegar is the centre of the Poor-law district embracing, among other places, Ebbw Vale, Tredegar, Blaina, and Nantyglo. The workhouse is in Tredegar, and in Tredegar the relieving officer lives. The consequence is that Tredegar is the Mecca of Trampdom. There is no room in the workhouse. It serves a population of 85,000 and is filled to its utmost capacity. So the common lodging-house-keeper has had to be summoned to the rescue of the situation. The average number of tramps Tredegar has to lodge nightly is 500. Of these, of course, a considerable percentage find their own bed money. But last year several thousands applied for accommodation at the rate- payers’ expense. Tredegar, having its workhouse crowded, must find room for this vast army of undesirables somewhere, so it contracts with the proprietors of common lodging-houses to take them in. The result, as may be imagined, is a public scandal. The common lodging-houses are constantly overcrowded - abominably overcrowded. If complaint is made, the proprietors say, “What are we to do? We have contracted with the council to take these people in, and we take them. If we refused any of them because we could not give them the space demanded by the law we should be breaking our contract with the council.” The habitual vagrant is a curse where-ever he goes. He carries with him dirt, disease, immorality, and crime. The criminal areas of our large towns have been, most of them, brought to their evil reputation by becoming a centre for the accommodation of tramps and vagabonds. Directly a number of common lodging-houses used by the non-working class are established in a locality, it rapidly becomes a place of retreat for low born criminals and the dumping ground for squalid vice. The tramp difficulty looms so large in Tredegar that to the stranger studying the conditions of the district for the first time it dwarfs all other phases of the housing problem. One lodging-house I visited accommodates 180 inmates. It is constantly full. In another I found a state of things which calls for the instant interference of the law. A low lodging-house accommodating the worst type of male tramp has only double beds in it. No separate sleeping accommodation is provided at all. Into one bed are huddled at night two and often 36

three of these degraded types of humanity. The thing from every point of view is abominable. It is overcrowding in the very worst sense of the word. When I went over the dormitories after studying the company in the kitchen and saw the sleeping arrangements I was astounded. I could hardly believe that such places could continue to hold a licence. But the tramps surge into Tredegar and break down all the barriers of health and decency. The annual report contains these terrible words: “The conditions in which many of these people were found to be sleeping were not only insanitary in the extreme, but almost beyond belief, disgusting and disgraceful, and conducive to immorality in its grossest .and most revolting form.” Some of the common lodging-houses of Tredegar are a black stain upon Christianity. I have seen nothing worse in England, Wales, or Scotland. And the council so far, because of the torrent of tramps that pours in upon Tredegar all the year round, has been utterly unable to stamp out this pestilence. As far as the overcrowding in the lodging-houses is concerned, it can only hold up its hands in righteous horror. It cannot as yet remedy the monstrous evil. It can only record its dismay and its despair. On one occasion in these dens of depravity - for that is what many of them are - 447 people were found sleeping in space only sufficient to accommodate 280. And such people. You shudder even as you look at them in their loathsomeness in the gloom of the common kitchen. In consequence of the inability of Tredegar to deal with the reign of tramp terror, many lodginghouses are now run without any licence at all. These defy the regulations, with shocking results. In one of these - a “mixed” one - a man, his wife, and five children were found sleeping in a bed in a room in which three other beds were occupied by “family parties.” ***** It is a relief to turn from these horrors to the contemplation of better things. It was good after an afternoon spent in the foul common lodging-houses, among the dirty and disreputable vagrants of both sexes, to go out in the open and meet an army of colliers coming from their underground toil. They came along from the railway station at a quick swinging pace - fine, brave, sturdy fellows ready for the wash tub, the decent home, the helpful wife, and the happy children. Fine fellows and good citizens, brave and brainy lovers of manly sport and lovers of good reading, it was a splendid tonic after trampdom to see them going gaily to their homes after a long day’s toil in the depths of the black below. I went into some colliers’ houses and found them as wholesome and as clean as the tenants - after the tub. But the tub made me ask a question. I presumed that sometimes the colliers enjoyed a plunge and a swim at the public baths. 37

To my utter astonishment, I learnt that in Tredegar, with its thousands of brave workers who come up nightly from the mines black with the golden grime, there is not a single public bath or washhouse.


X - THE NOTE OF NEWPORT The note of Newport is the hopeful note. It is even more than that, for it is the confident note. When I step out of the train I am gaily greeted by a natty Newportonian, who has a bright smile upon his face and a white flower in his buttonhole. The face and the flower are reassuring. I have been told that there is very little bad housing in Newport, and I am glad. When one has been ferreting for a fortnight in foul courts and “terraces,” climbing crazy stairways, with broken bannisters, in order to pass from rooms unfit to live in to rooms unfit to die in, the prospect of a pilgrimage that shall be pleasant instead of painful is, indeed, a relief. There is no nervousness in Newport over the presence of an inquisitive stranger. Dr. Howard Jones, the medical officer of health, who, knowing that I am deeply concerned in the campaign against our appalling infantile mortality, very kindly gives me the special and deeply interesting report he has made upon the subject, gives me also a list of the worst spots in Newport, and places me in the expert hands of the chief sanitary inspector. And all the time the natty Newportonian, beaming and borough proud, gazes at me sympathetically and with a look that seems to say: “If you think you are going to find anything dreadful here you are very much mistaken!” Let me frankly confess that the sympathy is misplaced. Not being in search of sensational detail, but merely of facts to serve in the consideration of the re-housing problem in South Wales, I am delighted to spend a summer afternoon in a town that has most of its poor perched on picturesque heights with little garden plots facing them and a beautiful view of the town lying in a glorious green setting far below. In one of the little houses in a picturesque slum - it is a slum, for it is to be pulled down because the houses are back-to-back, and only the people in the front get fresh air - I find a Spaniard, and because I have a smattering of the language I am able to gather his views as to the situation. He waxes eloquent, and his black eyes gleam as he points to the green glory that is his to look upon. Why is this cheap Paradise for the precarious livelihood gainer to be pulled down? I do not know sufficient Spanish to explain to him that the buildings are old and structurally defective, that there is no through ventilation, and that the people in the back part of the buildings are not able to look out on life from the same point of view. There are poverty areas in other portions of the borough which do not make up in scenery what they lack in sanitation. There are some in the neighbourhood of Canal-parade that leave much to be desired both as regards the housing condition and the condition of the tenants, but Newport has no overcrowding to speak of and the scheme of re-housing the tenants of condemned areas presents very few difficulties. The slums in the heart of the town are being systematically dealt with, and the people are being rehoused on the out-skirts. 39

There is no scarcity of dwellings in Newport. There is ample accommodation for all who need houses, though the medical officer of health states that “there is an undoubted need of cheap cottages for the labouring classes who are in receipt of small wages.” But there are local troubles that make little wrinkles on the fair face of Newport. She has not only to meet the demand of the very small wage-earners; she has her difficulties with some of the good wage-earners. She has one set of workers who are beyond her powers of persuasion. The houses they inhabit are among the worst she has to regret. The tenants have damaged their dwellings so badly that they show symptoms of having suffered in a seismic disturbance or a Russian pogrom “with loot.” Every bit of woodwork has been stripped away by the tenants, who have been imported for a certain class of work, and who are past building for and past praying for. If you were to put them in Buckingham Palace the sanitary inspector would have to call there on business within a week. For these people entirely new houses were erected only a few years ago. To-day these houses are the most dilapidated and worst “conditioned” in the borough. Every town has its troubles, but Newport has fewer than any that I have yet visited in connection with the task entrusted to me by the “Evening Express.” Her common lodging-houses - with one exception, to which I shall presently refer - are among the cleanest and “homeliest” in the best sense of the word that I have yet seen. Those which accommodate the navvies, who have been brought in large numbers to the town in connection with works now in progress, are quite devoid of the usual objectionable features. But there is trouble with the sub-let houses. There is a need of constant supervision and constant inspection, for oases of overcrowding are far too frequent. Here, again, the eternal tramp trouble has to be faced. Newport has to “house” six hundred of these undesirables every week, and the “charge of the six hundred” plays Balaclava with the best organised campaigns of medical officers and sanitary inspectors. In this connection, because of something I had heard, I sought information from the officer of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, who had just locked up a male and female tramp who had come into the town with two children. The unhappy little ones were in a pitiable condition. Their feet were cut and bleeding, and were covered with half-healed sores that had broken out again. These unhappy little ones had been compelled to trudge in torture a distance of eighteen miles from their last resting place. This abominable cruelty to children is one of the phases of the tramp problem upon which I have not previously touched. It is such an important phase that I make no apology for dealing with it in Newport, where a flagrant instance is brought to light before my eyes. Nearly two hundred of these unfortunate children were relieved in Newport last year. To ascertain all that these innocent victims of vicious vagrancy suffer you must see them limping along the rough roads, foully cursed if they lag behind, and often driven forward with brutal blows.


The officers of the society have to keep a sharp look-out to detect this phase of cruelty, for the tramp is a cunning beast. Many of them, especially at the fruit-picking and hop-picking seasons, wheel a dilapidated perambulator in front of them. This contains the wallet they are too lazy to carry and whatever unconsidered trifle they can pick up by the way. When the tramp scents danger, he (or she) seizes the child that is in the most pitiable condition and rams it into the wooden “pram” until the danger is past. The ordinary idea of cruelty to children is actual violence or long deprivation of food. But the phase which is the commonest and the most difficult to deal with is “cruel neglect.” In Newport I came upon the case of a child who had not had any portion of its unhappy little body touched with water for three weeks. This is passive cruelty, but it is cruel neglect, and little short of slow murder. The practice of forcing these poor, half-starved, ill-clad, vermin-tortured children to walk with agonising sores upon their feet for ten or fifteen miles at a stretch is infamous. Yet it is a common form of cruelty to children with the tramps who are the curse of the country. Some day I hope to have an opportunity of dealing at length with the terrible cruelty to little children which is rampant in overcrowded towns. Here I have only mentioned it incidentally in the limited sense in which it has to be considered by those responsible for the health and well-being of the people of Newport. I have said that the common lodging-houses in Newport are, as a rule, as satisfactory as any in South Wales. But there is one large lodging-house which I frankly confess I do not like. It is clean enough and well conducted enough, but the sleeping arrangements do not appear to me to be either wise or wholesome. It is a big lodging-house, accommodating a large number of men. There is a long common kitchen, and the patrons are principally, judging from the specimen I see on the premises, of the tramp labouring class. For their accommodation long rows of cubicles or “bunks” are provided, with only a narrow passage between the rows, and a wire-netting ever the top of each little rabbit hutch. In some of these rabbit hutches, there is a bed “above” in one cubicle, and the space hollowed out below is filled, e.g., with a bed on the floor of the adjoining cubicle. Thus, the lower man sleeps actually under somebody else. I did not care for the atmosphere in the daytime with the cubicles unoccupied. What the place must be like when the daylight dawns over the closely packed human hutches I can only judge by my experience of similar - though better arranged - establishments in the East End of London. I have taken strong men through such places before breakfast on Sunday morning, and they have wanted no breakfast. Putting this place and the one or two bad areas with which the authorities are doing their best to deal on one side, I have only compliments for Newport. 41

When I shake hands with the gentleman who greeted me on my arrival, he is still smiling, and the white flower in his button-hole is still fresh and fragrant. As he bids me good-bye he says, perhaps with just the least tinge of defiance in his tone, “Well?” I smile reassuringly at him from the carriage window and pay him my farewell respects. “Wear your white flower without fear,” I say. “No word of mine shall sully the fair fame of your beloved borough.” Fifty years ago there were 369 bad characters in the town. To-day, the head- constable testifies to the licensing justices that the sum total of bad characters in Newport is only twenty. And the population is close upon 80,000. No wonder that the white flower is the favourite buttonhole of the burgesses.


XI - IN LLANELLY AND MAESTEG A railway station not too inspiriting on a damp and cheerless afternoon. The visitor’s first view of the town as he gives up his ticket and leaves the company’s premises somewhat depressing; an old tramway system, an old horse in an old car, a middle-aged driver and a lad of apparently sixteen to collect the fares, and everywhere the language of Wales in the Welsh mouth. That is the first impression that I get of Llanelly as I squeeze in between the market baskets, some proud mothers, and some smiling babies on a Saturday afternoon, and add to the burden of the old and faithful animal who has not been ousted from the tramway company’s service by the Goddess Electra. I confess to feeling a little triste in the tramcar. The baskets and the babies take up a good deal of room, and I have spent the morning in a downpour which makes me anxious to avoid too close companionship with a damp overcoat and a wet umbrella. But when the tramcar stops the sun has peered through the black clouds, and when I enter the quaint old-world Market-hall, having passed through a long avenue of stalls laden with savoury and appetising delicacies, for which I do not know the Welsh but which in homely English we call “faggots,” I find myself breathing once more the spirit of the true romance. For here are flowers fair and fragrant in vast abundance, and the beaming old Welsh ladies and the pretty young Welsh ladies who preside at the laden flower-stalls offer me not only beautiful bunches of the garden blooms of June, but bouquets of orange blossom, or of something that looks very much like it. My first view of Llanelly, with the grimy works frowning at me the moment I came out of the railway station, had suggested the smoke of the flaming furnace rather than the flowers of flaming June, the suit of solemn black rather than the white raiment of the maiden kneeling at the altar of Hymen. And suddenly I find myself wandering between banks of summer flowers, and fair hands outstretched offer me what is apparently bridal blossom. I do not purchase any. I wish I had done so for, on my return to Cardiff, my story of this wealth of orange blossom on the stalls of Llanelly market was received with the elevated eyebrow of unbelief by an amateur horticulturist who happened to be among my audience. But there were others who in their youth had dwelt in Llanelly, and who remembered the old horse when he was first harnessed to the tramcar, and they stoutly maintained that orange blossom is cultivated on the outskirts of the town. One spray in my possession would have put my contention beyond cavil; but how could I carry a bouquet of orange blossom with me on a tour of the slums - or what I imagined was to be a tour of the slums? Here, again, however, there was a great surprise in store for me. Just as the eminent historian headed a chapter – “Snakes in Iceland,” and wrote beneath the heading, “There are no snakes in Iceland,” so I mention the, slums of Llanelly only to say that they do not exist.


The feature of Llanelly housing is air-space. At the backs of the meanest houses there are wide lanes and long gardens. But the widest lanes and the longest gardens do not afford day and night accommodation. In these times, so far distant from Eden’s happy days, the lack of workmen’s dwellings leads even in airy Llanelly to occasional overcrowding. There are defective houses, mostly in the outlying portion of the town, which are being gradually dealt with. Only seven have been declared unfit for human habitation. But 51 have damp and dilapidated basement floors. The only housing trouble, so far as I was able to ascertain, that Llanelly has is a lack of the class of house in which the small wage-earner and his family can be comfortably and healthily accommodated. There is no lack of land on which to build the houses. Here the trouble is the drastic nature of the bye-laws relating to new buildings. The requirements under the bye-laws make it impossible for houses to be built cheaply enough to let at the rents which the smaller wage-earner can afford to pay. Other conditions in Llanelly are all favourable, and so before I reach the railway station I assure my kindly guides, who are justly emphatic in their praise of their airy and well-ordered town, and even point with pride to the age of the old tram horse as a proof of Llanelly’s salubrity, that I had seen no part of it in which I could not have I carried a bouquet of orange blossom without a sense of incongruity. ***** On Sunday there are no trains to Maesteg, but it is a glorious motor-car run by Ely, Bonvilstone, Cowbridge, Bridgend, and Tondu, and so through the beautiful Vale of Glamorgan I motored to Maesteg Valley to see it in its Sunday calm. My amiable and courteous host., who placed his tyred steed at my disposal and drove it himself, deposited me at the closed portals of the Castle Hotel before noon, and leaving him to glide gracefully into the garage I set out to see in its domestic environment on the day of rest as much of Maesteg as was not at chapel or church. Romantically situated in the hollow of encircling hills Maesteg has no excuse for not being in a sanitary sense beyond reproach. Maesteg, like Llanelly, has no slums. But she has an old area of dwellings that might be improved upon. They are, however, picturesquely placed, and flowers and green trees grow luxuriously around them, which is a proof that they enjoy a naturally healthy environment. But even where Nature has been most lavish man can mar, and in one rather dilapidated row with a magnificent outlook I find a morass of sodden refuse at the end of the narrow paved way and a gully choked with potato parings and vegetable waste that would have been better bestowed in a dustbin with a lid to it. Rising abruptly at the end of this row is a black mound, on the top of which is a terrace of houses.


I fancy that somewhere in this direction there is a club, for, although it is only just noon on a sunny Sunday, a man comes down the mound with a rolling gait, and, staggering when he gets to level ground, goes on his way humming a hymn tune. I watch him attentively as, problematically pious but indubitably drunk, he reels into the main road and lurches on, presumably, in the direction of the home in which his faithful wife and loving children are waiting for the pleasure of his presence at the family dinner table. This ugly spectacle of a decently-dressed working man reeling drunk at noon on Sunday in a land in which the public-houses are rigorously closed on the Sabbath makes me wonder if in Maesteg, as in some of the other valleys where the great collieries are, there are clubs to which the toilers resort on Saturday night, remaining in them for the best part of the Sunday. Soldiers of the Salvation Army are busy distributing “War Crys” at the doors of decent little dwellinghouses in another row, and, though one or two of the figures in the doorways suggest that the water supply is not as plentiful as it might be, the general impression conveyed is one of comfort and cleanliness in an invigorating atmosphere. In that part of Maesteg in which the greatest congestion is found there is a floating population made up of many nationalities. The Negro and the Greek, the Breton and the Italian, the Spaniard and the Pole all bring their national peculiarities to bear upon the housing conditions. Here the beds in the houses are occupied night and day, and more accommodation is undoubtedly required to do away with a practice which is from every point of view undesirable. Maesteg has also during the summer months an insufficient supply of water, and this is a question which it is imperative that the council should deal with at the earliest possible date, Maesteg has been very unfortunate in her water supply. A new reservoir was commenced in Blaencwmcervy a trench about 80ft. deep was sunk in the valley and had to be abandoned owing to no rock being found in the trench, after an expenditure of £18,000. As things are, when the streets require considerable watering in the summer time, it sometimes happens that the inhabitants of certain districts have to go without sufficient of the fluid that is the first essential for comfortable home life and domestic well-being. There is one thing in Maesteg that occasionally perturbs the spirit of the medical officer of health. The inhabitants are almost as partial to the presence of “the gentleman who pays the rent” as the Irish are. But they go too far, or, rather, too near, in their affection. The pigs are kept so close to the dwellinghouse that it has been found necessary to remind the owner of the styes that there are bye-laws, on the subject, and that, though the pig is an obstinate animal, his owner must go the way that the authorities would drive him, not only for the sake of his own health and the health of his family, but for the sake of the health of the neighbourhood. But in Maesteg, as in Llanelly, the environment is healthy and the conditions are all favourable. As an investigator of housing conditions I have little fault to find with the romantically situated colliery town. 45

But as an automobilist I cannot help breathing a devout hope that the members of the Maesteg Urban Council will have started motor-cars of their own before I am again called upon to travel the slough of despond that is locally dignified by the name of “the road to Caerau.�


XII - IN NETHER NEATH As the train steamed out of Neath Station I turned to my friend and companion and said “Well, what do you think of it?” “I am astounded,” was the reply. “I have been to Neath a dozen times before, and have always looked upon it as a town in which the conditions left very little to be desired. I had no idea that such horrible places as we have seen existed. I have never seen anything worse!” The verdict of my companion was a perfectly honest one, but as, to the reader, ignorant of the circumstances, it may convey a false impression, I feel that I ought, in justice to the local authorities, to make the position perfectly clear before going further. In giving the title of “In Nether Neath” to this article, my desire is to emphasise the fact that the worst portion of Neath, and not Neath as a whole, has furnished me with my material. The medical officer’s report, which he has kindly given me, is a model of frankness, and in it the good that has been accomplished in recent years and the evil that still remains are stated with great clearness. Both are made the text for a common-sense and convincing little sermon on sanitation, which cannot fail to impress the council and to bring about a general condition of better being in the borough. That the efforts of the officials to improve Neath have been recognised by the governing body is proved by the fact that the worst property is now on the list for closing orders, and the new municipal housing scheme has met with wide recognition as a sound and sensible effort to deal practically with a crying evil. But this is a record of “things seen,” and as the plague spots are not yet removed and some of the worst property is still inhabited I can only take things as they are, giving at the same time full publicity to the fact that the good name of Neath is to be purged of such abominations in the near future. There is housing accommodation still available, we are told, for decent wage-earners, yet decent wage-earners are still allowed to live in a vile agglomeration of back-to-earth houses, which are a disgrace to the town and should long ago have been closed as separate dwellings. In one terrible court in which I surveyed the scene while the rain was pouring down in torrents, the black and broken ground was filled with a pool of pollution, on which the fouled forms of house refuse and street garbage were afloat. From the wretched houses, which were tottering in the last stage of senile decay, sallow-faced women and haggard, unhealthy-looking children were gloomily surveying the damp desolation. In another court I entered the houses were insanitary to the last degree. In one kennel I found that the occupants were a man, his wife, and eight children. The living room in the front was filthily dirty. One of the children, a boy, was almost nude, and caked with dirt from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.


The bedroom in the back was a wretched cupboard, with a small window about the size of a school slate, high up near the ceiling. It is needless to add that the window was not open. With regard to this closed window question, let me digress for a moment. It has always been popularly supposed that the low Italian quarter in London, where the organ-grinders, the monkey boys, and the ice-cream vendors live is a place of foulness and dirt. I have been in many of the poorest homes in the despised Italian quarter, and in every bedroom I found a printed notice in Italian requesting that the windows of all sleeping rooms, large or small, might be kept open for a certain number of hours a day, and in no single house visited during the morning hours did I find a bedroom window that was closed. But closed windows in the stuffy sleeping rooms of the slums of South Wales are the rule and not the exception. To further add to the flavour of the atmosphere, it is also the custom to board up or paper over the fireplace for fear a breath of fresh air should come down the chimney. This was especially noticeable in some of the most overcrowded and insanitary houses in Neath. In Neath last year there were 38 deaths from consumption, or tuberculosis, as it is officially called. The total number of deaths from all causes was 203. Therefore, we have the appalling fact that in Neath nearly one in every six of the total number of deaths was due to consumption. Consumption is a disease of darkness, dampness, and dirt. In another part of the town I enter a two-roomed house - a room above and a room below. There the sanitary conditions have at least the merit of originality. I climb a dark narrow stairway to the bedroom above, and find, not two feet from the bed in a low, stuffy room, sanitary arrangements that ought long ago to have been condemned by the authorities. Here is a row of hovels standing on the refuse-strewn bank of a foul canal. I am about to visit a home in which, three months ago, a boy died of consumption. I make my way through a group of dirty children, playing on the canal bank, and I reach the house. The door is wide open - but I do not enter. Lying in the corner of the room facing the front door is a coffin covered with a white sheet. In the coffin, which is not yet closed, lies the body of a young girl of 18, the sister of the boy who died a few months back. The poor girl has been dead for four days. Yet she still lies under the white sheet in the room in which the family live. Young children are playing in the room in close proximity to the corpse. On a little table something for the midday meal is laid out. The children playing about outside do not peer into the room. The presence of a dead body lying by an open door in the banks of this dreadful canal is apparently no novelty to them. The poor girl, at whose sheet-shrouded coffin I look sorrowfully, while the children of the family play beside it, died of galloping consumption.


As I became more familiar with the homes of the people, I cease to wonder that one death in every six is due to that fell disease. It would be folly in such circumstances as I see in Neath to request a healthy person not to spit in the street, lest the germ of consumption might be spread by this uncleanly act! Imagine what the two-roomed crowded houses must be like in which the poor victims of consumption waste to death. When the Queen’s Nurses took over the patients in this house of weeping by the waterside, the conditions in the little back room were, I am told, pitiable indeed. A similar scene was to be witnessed recently in a neighbouring house. The mother, aged thirty-nine, lay dying of consumption in a black back room, and the son, aged eighteen, sat day after day by the kitchen fire, with the seal of death upon his haggard face. The mother had infected the son owing to the circumstances in which they lived. The Queen’s Nurses have been as angels from Heaven in the poor of Neath stricken down in these damp, dark homes with consumption, diphtheria, and typhoid. Until the nurses came the conditions were revolting. When I eventually heard the appalling record of this unclean canal I registered it on the tablets of my memory as “The Water of Death.” Some years ago, in the house next to the one in which I had seen the girl of eighteen lying dead, a person lay ill with typhoid. Everything that came from the sick room was flung into the canal. It was summer time and the lads and children of the neighbours used the canal as a swimming bath. There was an out-break of typhoid. Can you wonder at it? And there were 170 cases dealt with before the epidemic was stamped out. From the banks of “The Water of Death” I make my way to the common lodging-houses. Many of them are in every way ill-adapted for the use to which they are put. In one of them, used for the housing of tramps for whom there is no room in the workhouse, the proprietor tells me that the people he has to put up with “are not fit to be on the earth.” He should know. Some of the “rooms” in this lodging-house are mere cupboards. In each cupboard two tramps, strangers to each other, sleep nightly in one horrible bed. But the most terrible place in Neath is a large mixed lodging-house; that is to say, a lodging-house for both sexes mixed. In one room in this house I find eight double beds for “mixed” occupation. Here there is not even an apology for a screen. Eight married couples - often with little children sleep in this room nightly, and there is not even a board or rag or curtain to conceal them from each other. It is frequently the habit of the tramp to sleep nude. In the centre of the room is a large battered tin pail. With the exception of the beds, this utensil completes the “inventory” of a dormitory which would be an outrage on even the elementary decency of the savage. I have given a faithful record of “things seen” in Nether Neath. On the Neath that lies around it I have not touched. It is a greener, cleaner land, with which I have no concern save to chronicle the fact that its happy inhabitants know probably very little of what is going on in their Nether World. 49

But the authorities know and the officials know, and, therefore, in justice to them, and, lest I should be charged with unfairness, I repeat the statement I made at the beginning of this article. It is intended that these things shall cease - presently. In the meantime the superior workmen’s dwellings built by the municipality are housing at a rental of 4s. and 4s. 6d. a week a certain number of small wage-earners, who have been persuaded to quit the old insanitary areas and “live cleanly.” But what is going to be done with those disgusting lodging-houses for “married*’ couples and children?


XIII - IN THE RHYMNEY VALLEY Through the Taff Valley as far as Tongwynlais, a wonderful run up the steep Nantgarw Hill that spoke volumes for the quality of the car as a climber, on by roads that here and there reminded one of the ancient couplet If you’d seen these roads before they were made You’d lift up your hands and bless General Wade. - which roads, it is needless to say, are not those selected for his Majesty’s motor trip on the 13th and so to Caerphilly of the castle and the cheese. The first labouring class house that I enter presents undeniable evidence of the agility of the aged Caerphillians. It is a house of two rooms, one below and one above. The occupants are an elderly gentleman and his wife, the fourth bride whom it has been his privilege to bring over his threshold. The living room leaves everything to be desired. It is dirty and dilapidated. Ashes and refuse are heaped up in an unsavoury corner by the fire, on which the mid-day meal is cooking, and in front of which the fourth bride, an elderly woman, is making a certain mysterious re-arrangement of garments which suggest that her trousseau is limited. The bridegroom, who has apparently passed the alloted span, seems somewhat infirm, but the appearance must be deceptive, for every night he performs an acrobatic feat in ascending to his bedroom and every morning he repeats that feat in descending from it. The only means of reaching the sleeping apartment from the room below is by an unprotected perpendicular ladder which passes through a hole cut in the ceiling above. In most homes that I have visited I have “gone upstairs.” In the present instance considerations for the completion of these articles caused me to decline the invitation to “go up higher” cordially extended to me by the thrice-widowed veteran. Surveying the scene I am filled with wonder as to how the coffins of the three previous brides were brought through the hole in the ceiling and down the break-neck ladder. The exterior of this bower of brides is as rough and uninviting as the interior. It was in this house that some time since smallpox broke out. The medical officer of health for Caerphilly takes a very strong tone on the smallpox question, for Caerphilly has had to pay heavily for the privilege of entertaining cases unawares in the persons of tramps, who, coming into contact with local labouring men, infected them. In another set of dwellings in Caerphilly there are conditions which are almost unbelievable. For a number of houses thickly inhabited the sanitary arrangement - a strict regard for truth forbids the use of the plural - is of a kind which defies description in these columns.


Caerphilly has much that is beyond reproach. It is building new houses and improving old property as fast as it can, so it must be understood that I am dealing only with its black spots. But it has its refuse trouble for the whole district, and the undestroyed refuse contains the germs of a score of ills. And it has its water trouble. The latest discovery in the water supply was the body of a dog which had wagged its tail for the last time on earth a month previously. No wonder that after one analysis in the summer time it was deemed necessary to issue a printed leaflet to the unfortunate inhabitants advising the boiling of the water before use. From Caerphilly I go on to Llanbradach. There two houses in the same street, standing side by side, afford a remarkable contrast. The first house is neat and clean and the people living in it are the same. In the next house the conditions are abominable. On a filthy floor, littered with evil-smelling refuse and loathsome rags, a child absolutely encrusted with dirt is playing with a pail of slops. On the dirty stairs outside, stairs to which the ordure trodden in from the roadway by someone’s boots still adheres, there are three loaves of bread. A young woman, almost as dirty as her child, picks one of the loaves up, cuts a slice from the outside that has been lying on the polluted stairs, and gives it to the child. The child takes a wet hand from the slop pail, grasps the slice of bread, and begins to eat it. The mother of this “home� is from a lovely English town. Her husband is at work at the colliery and earns thirty shillings a week. The house is the property of the company, and the rent and payment for coals supplied are deducted from the wages. Another street in Llanbradach is so foully insanitary that it has the official reputation of being the worst spot in the whole county of Glamorgan. In this area there have been a number of new houses erected, and tenants from the old quarters have been re-housed in them, but many of the new and improved dwellings are already showing signs of bad treatment. Here, as elsewhere, the human problem forces itself to the front for consideration side by side with the housing problem. But in neither of these problems is an excuse to be found for the failure to supply the inhabitants with water which can be used without peril to life or the failure to find a method of destroying refuse instead of depositing it where the four winds of heaven sweep over it and scatter the germs of disease far and wide. From Llanbradach I go by Bargoed along the valley until I come to Troedyrhiwfuwch and the landslip. Here there are a number of houses which it was my intention to visit, but the houses of Sebastopol, which present the appearance of having suffered severely in a recent earthquake, take up all the time at my disposal. Sebastopol Row, in the valley below the mountain that has given way, is still inhabited. The walls of the houses have gaping cracks and the bricks are bulging ominously. The woodwork is split and some of it has been wrenched away by the violent displacement. All along the row there are signs of impending collapse, but in its interiors I find families apparently as resigned to the situation as after an eruption you invariably find the peasants residing around Vesuvius. 52

In one house the ceiling of the passage has partially fallen, and there is a bulging mass of lath and plaster that I hesitated to stand beneath even to take a cursory glance at the rooms beyond. But in this passage tiny children are playing boisterously. Some of the houses have been closed as uninhabitable, but the tenants of the others are allowed to linger on, presumably for lack of other accommodation in the immediate neighbourhood. From what I glean of the conditions of some of the homes before the landslip I am inclined to suggest that the compulsory closing order executed by Nature came none to soon. The whole neighbourhood of the catastrophe furnishes interesting evidence of its severity, and there are some remarkable alterations in the position of property. A portion of the Troedyrhiwfuwch Inn, the garden, which was formerly on a level with the back door, is now some fourteen feet below. The outbuildings accompanied it to the lower level. On the other side of the valley there is a great chasm in the mountain’s side. It looks as though it had been quarried for years. The colliery immediately below the mountain has suffered severely. It is to be hoped for the sake of all concerned that “the moving mountain” has completed its moving, and that the tenants of the tottering and dilapidated houses in the immediate neighbourhood, which are now only too evidently “unfit for human habitation,” will speedily make arrangements to follow the mountain’s example and move too. I accomplish the return journey in a blinding rain storm, which makes it impossible for me to stop in Bargoed, but I am assured that here there is no lack of working class accommodation or of suitable sites for the erection of whatever may be required. The “bad spots” that I have been able to study at close quarters are in Llanbradach and Caerphilly, but nothing in Caerphilly equals in badness the black patch in Llanbradach. The whole of the district is, like most others that I have seen in South Wales, infested with vagrants, and the presence of these pests is such a dominant feature of the problem of crowded areas that I find it as difficult to keep them out of these articles as Mr. Dick found it difficult to keep the head of King Charles I out of his memorial. In this instance, as I have exhausted my vocabulary of denunciation, I will ask the medical officer of health for Caerphilly to testify on my behalf. In 1905 there were three cases of smallpox. The first, which broke out in the Town Ward, proved to be of a virulent and confluent character. The patient, who was found to have contracted the disease from a tramp who had accompanied him one day to his work, was isolated and all the contacts who would consent were revaccinated. A lodger refused and he soon paid the penalty by developing the disease. It was apropos this outbreak that the medical officer of health made certain remarks which deserve all possible publicity, for they bear upon the most serious peril to the public health with which South Wales is faced. 53

“Some means will have to be adopted in connection with the public works carried on in the various parts of the country to see that the men employed are protected from smallpox, for the expenses incurred in dealing with these outbreaks are enormous, and it is really scandalous that districts are infected by the tramp class with such a horribly loathsome disease as smallpox, when it can be readily stamped out by re-vaccination. This is the fourth year in succession we have had to contend with the disease as an importation by tramps of the labouring class.” The only words that I would add to these so pregnant with warning are that dangerous as are the tramps of the “labouring class” the tramps of the “loafing class” are a hundred times more so. And the loafing class swarm where labour is most congested and the housing problem most acute.


XIV - BED-TIME IN BUTE STREET The hour is late, but Bute-street has not yet settled to rest. Strange faces pass in the night. Black faces, brown faces, yellow faces, and white faces seem to commingle in odd patches of colour that change with every movement like the bits of coloured glass in a kaleidoscope. The doors of some of the seamen’s lodging-houses in Bute-street are still open. The lights in the cafes or shops attached to them are full on, and picturesque-looking foreigners are lounging at the doorways. We pass through Bute-street and turn into Tiger Bay. A seamen’s lodging-house, kept by an Irishwoman, has dainty curtains festooned in the entrance hall. Some of the lodgers are in the kitchen. They are the decent-looking, well-behaved men you expect to find where white curtains decorate the entrance hall. The proprietress is proud of her establishment, and especially of her private apartments. Her sittingroom is quite smartly furnished, and has a brand new and elaborately decorated piano in it. Her lord and master is at sea. An oil painting of him hangs in her sitting-room, and we are introduced to him in a fine Waterford accent as “My husband, gentlemen.” Instinctively I raise my hat and say, “Good evening” to the painted proprietor. The introduction had been so formal the salutation seemed demanded by ordinary politeness. A few steps from Maggie Murphy’s home for seamen and we are in the heart of Africa. A Somali warrior or hunter - in broken English he claims to have been both in his day - receives us kindly, and the black company rise and grin a flash of gleaming white. Here are varying shades of blackness. One young fireman, elaborately got up and quite a dude in his way, speaks excellent English, and tells us where his well-dressed fellow-lodgers hail from. Some are Arabs from Aden. Three or four are negroes. From the Somali chief’s own land there are one or two. In one room upstairs every bed is occupied. Here are nine black heads lying on nine white pillows, and I think of the song of my youth: “Nine little nigger-boys all of a row.” Only they are all big niggerboys. In another room, licensed for six beds only, one or two black gentlemen are preparing to retire. They are mostly well-dressed, their linen is spotless, their clothes of the fashionable cut. The provision made for the comfort of the foreign firemen is perfect. It has to be. The law says that it shall be, and the inspectors enter day and night to see that every regulation with regard to comfort, cleanliness, space, and sanitation is carried out. As we enter lodging-house after lodging-house, accommodating men of almost every nationality, we find that the proprietor is invariably a foreigner, and that, black, white, or yellow, the wife is a white woman and generally an English or a Welsh woman. In some cases “girl” would be the more accurate word.


In all the Chinese lodging-houses we enter opium smoking is the dominant note. In one lodginghouse the opium is being prepared in a big pan on the kitchen stove. It has a strong odour, but for that we are grateful. Fish is also in preparation for some lodgers who have recently arrived. The Chinese here have a fancy in fish that does not appeal invitingly to the nose of the Briton. They buy it and put it out in the backyard for a few days to get the sun. When it is “high” it is considered a great delicacy. The house we are in is rather a low one. The inmates are noisy, and the proprietor is not amiable to us. Something has ruffled his temper. He makes an ugly face and shouts angrily to his lodgers, who gather round us in a formidable-looking little crowd. Of course, no harm is meant. But, not understanding the Chinese language, I remember the Boxers, and wonder if, were I alone, I should be introduced to any of the unpleasantness which, according to novelists, befalls strangers who wander and lose their way in the city of Peking. The next Chinese lodging-house we visit is of a different character. Here Ah Sin smiles his blandest, and conducts us to “the Temple,” a wonderfully-decorated room arranged for religious rites. There are couches in the room and opium smoking is in dreamy progress. Lying on one of the couches, smoking silently is an old friend of mine. He rises and greets me and we converse. I have had the honour of meeting him in the Chinese quarter in London and in Liverpool, and I find that he has business interests also in Cardiff. He is an intelligent, good-looking Chinaman, with an English wife and his lodging-houses are the best of their kind. He is not entirely uninterested in the Firemen’s Union, of which Mr. J. Havelock Wilson is the devoted head. From the Chinese house we pass to a Spanish house. Here the men have retired. There are not many in the place. The proprietor, a handsome Spaniard, and his Spanish wife do the honours with punctilious Castilian politeness. The Spanish lady is impossible in English, but she speaks Welsh excellently. It is, I learn, a peculiarity of the Spaniards employed in South Wales industries, especially the children who attend the schools, to pick up Welsh very quickly and speak it with a good accent. I have Spanish blood in my veins, but my efforts at Welsh have so far been extremely unsatisfactory. The feature of all the seamen’s lodging- houses we enter is their cleanliness and their excellent sanitary arrangements. In no seaport in which I have “done” the lodging-houses at night have I found anything quite so good as in Cardiff. A house, of which I fail to note the exact nationality of the proprietor, is interesting. The lodgers have the appearance of Persians. They wear velvet caps, their hair is glossy black, and their features somewhat sombre. Some of them are sitting at tables in an Orientally decorated room and playing cards. Unlike the lodgers of the other houses, they take no notice of the presence of strangers. They go on with their game and do not even look up at us. At the next place - a Greek house – a young girl is scrubbing the floor of the front room, which is arranged as a cafe and has a bar. All the liquors are of the temperance order. The proprietor is a 56

Turk. We only see his English wife. In the centre of a large room at the back, a room used evidently as a kitchen, for there are cooking utensils and strange comestibles on the dresser, there is a cradle. In the cradle there is a baby. The Anglo-Turkish baby is certainly not overcrowded. It has the vast apartment entirely to itself and rests immediately under the gaselier, which must be rather trying to its eyes. A Greek house is closing as we enter. The Greeks are mostly upstairs asleep. Every bed is occupied, but the proprietor has not retired, neither have his family. In a big kitchen at the back two remarkably good-looking young women are seated by a roaring fire, on which is a saucepan which gives out a savoury smell. The Greek and the two good- looking young ladies are about to sup. The girls are well dressed and English (or Welsh), but they not communicative. They look like sisters. They are reading periodicals of the penny novelette order, and a number of parrots who occupy the dresser supply most of the conversation during our visit. A tame dove walks about and says nothing. In a big workmen’s lodging-house, accommodating nearly 200 men, only one or two of the lodgers are still in the kitchen. The place is in perfect order. All the recent sanitary regulations have been carried out. But there is not about the few lodgers still on view that air of well-to-do-ness we have seen everywhere among the foreigners. In none of the workmen’s lodging-houses do we note the white linen of the black, or the wellpreserved, well-cut clothes of the Oriental’s and the Levantines. At one house we are received by the proprietor en deshabille. We have roused him from slumber, but he opens the door with a polite bow, and smiles into the night. He is a well-shaped Greek, and wears a closely-fitting night-costume of soft white material. He might be an athlete attired to wrestle in the Olympian, games before the crowned heads of Europe assembled at Athens. From beginning to end of a night inspection, which includes the whole of Bute-street, there is no evidence of drunkenness or disorder, although I am assured that shebeening is by no means unknown in these houses. One big Chinese fellow, it is true, lies stretched across a bed in an attitude which suggests that he has indulged not wisely but too well - in something. Possibly it was opium. All is coleur de rose? Yes, so far as “things seen.” But all is not coleur die rose BELOW the surface. In addition to occasional shebeening there is something which is in the last degree objectionable. Very few of these foreign lodging-house keepers have women of their own nationality for wives. The native “wives” in some cases justify my inverted commas. In certain houses these “wives” have been changed more frequently than is consistent with pleasant relationship, good manners, or good morals. 57

In one foreign lodging-house the proprietor has during his tenancy changed his wife a dozen times. So far as I can ascertain, the unfortunate girls were turned into the street with very disastrous results to themselves and, in some cases, to the ratepayers. Seeing that these houses are filled with foreign sailor men, the presence of young women who can be turned out at any time the proprietor desires a change in his domestic circumstances is, surely, not desirable. The evils that may result from the pernicious system of allowing young women of this character to live in seamen’s lodging-house are obvious. The remedy for the evil that undoubtedly exists is a simple one. The proprietors of these establishments should either produce marriage certificates or no young women should be allowed to live on premises licensed as seamen’s lodging-houses. That is a matter to which the authorities may very well give attention. We have gone through the lodging-houses for foreign seamen. We have seen the cleanliness which is enforced, the comfort which the proprietors are compelled by the law to afford the aliens, single men and sailors, who are their temporary guests. Contrast this cleanliness, this comfort, this air space with the conditions under which thousands of the hard-working native population are compelled to live with their wives and children. As I leave the houses in Bute-street where the Chinese, the Spanish, the Greek, the Italian, the Turkish, the Russian, and the Scandinavian firemen lie snug in their clean and wholesome surroundings, the constant care of the municipal authorities, I think of scenes I have witnessed in Dowlais, in Ebbw Vale, in Neath, in the Rhymney, and the Rhondda. There is a moral to be found in Bute-street by night. Let us see if we can discover the moral of Nigger Town by day.


XV - IN NIGGER TOWN The spirit of human brotherhood might suggest a more courteous designation for the black quarter of Cardiff. The more sensitive of the members of the African community might prefer “Colouredville.” But “Nigger Town” it is to those who know it best, and it is not for a stranger within the city’s gates to re-name its notorious localities. I have no desire to argue the colour question or to be in any way unjust or ungenerous to a body of people probably possessed of a good many excellent qualities, and who have, undoubtedly, produced some very able men and some very worthy citizens. But the conditions obtaining in the “coloured” quarter of Cardiff do not make for the right sort of ability, and are certainly not calculated to produce good citizens. I have seen Nigger Town by day and Nigger Town by night. I have had the privilege of entering most of the lodging- houses and of being present at the little family parties which gather in the mixed domestic interior of the black and white alliance, and if I am to give an honest opinion and to speak without reservation, I can only say that the conclusion I have arrived at, as the result of “things seen,” is that the black people by themselves and the white people by themselves in this quarter may furnish acceptable excuses for their manners and their methods, but that for the black and white domestic “mixing,” there can be nothing but condemnation. There is a state of things in the relationship of the black men and the white women which makes not only socially and morally, but physically, for evil. I do not suppose that outside the authorities who are brought by the nature of their duties into close contact with the black quarter, many people in Cardiff know the condition of things that exists there. The black boarding-houses are mostly well conducted, and those I have been over at night were clean and orderly. The coloured men who come to the port must be accommodated, and it is as well that they should have their boarding and lodging-houses in a special quarter. But there are a large number of houses in Nigger Town which are of undisguised disreputability, and in which the white women are, in the accepted sense of the phrase, the “white slaves” of black men. The master of the house is a black, the mistress of the house, who pays the rent, and earns it, is white. Some of the domestic interiors, it is true, are entirely black, or rather of varying shades of black. Against that there is, of course, not a word to be said. It is a perfectly natural condition of things in a great seaport. But it is not pleasing to find a domestic interior in which the man is black and the woman is white, and the colour of the progeny ranges from ebony to gamboge. On a fine sunny morning, when I lounged about Nigger Town for a couple of hours, I saw sitting on the doorstep of their home three children of one family - a boy and two girls. The boy was black, one girl was brown, and the other girl was a muddy white. In a house, in which the conditions were about as bad as possible, dirty, insanitary, and unwholesome, a young white woman, who told me she was a Gloucester girl, was suckling a baby whose face suggested an orange that had been damped and rubbed in soot. Another 59

white girl, from Devonshire, had an all black baby at her breast. In several homes there were halfcaste girls, growing up with a white mother, who had not seen their black father for some years, and are not likely to see him again. The conditions which prevail in this unpleasant quarter are responsible for a grave scandal. It is a scandal which would not be tolerated for one moment in, say, America. There are a large number of black men who settle down to keep house with a white woman, or to let her “keep house” for them, who after a year or two get a ship and sail away. They make for other ports and other wives. On the morning in the holiday week that I hung about Nigger Town and watched its white and black population sunning themselves in the streets, well-dressed young white women were strolling about Tiger Bay with black bucks whose attire was the last word in coon elegance. One African Adonis, in an immaculate suit of grey and a Trilby hat, had put on riding boots and spurs to accompany a fair, golden-haired girl, in a soft, green gown and champagne-coloured shoes, on bicycle back. The booted and spurred “Cavalier” had a diamond horseshoe pin in his scarf and wore an elaborate floral emblem of purity in his buttonhole. At every door in the streets up and down which the pair were riding black men stood and smiled upon the white girl, and white women gazed in admiration at the negro Narcissus. But of the pride that goeth before a fall there was an object-lesson in Nigger Town that sunny morning in Bank Holiday week. The black cyclist, gazing intently upon the bicycling blonde, omitted to observe a lamp-post, and ran into it with a crash that laid him low. The all-black young lady is not found in large numbers in Ebonyville, but one was very much in evidence at the door of a black boarding-house. A coon customer of the establishment persisted in addressing her as “Topsy.” The all-black young lady resented the familiarity, and with many playful, but vigorous, punches by way of emphasis exclaimed, “You call me Miss Davies! You call me Miss Davies!” The dusky belle displayed more dignity in her demand for respectful treatment than some of her white sisters. Outside a public-house, in close proximity to “Topsy,” it happened by an odd coincidence that “Uncle Tom” was smoking a pipe. Except that the original “Uncle Tom” did not lean up against publichouses, the Cardiff “Uncle Tom” might have stepped out of the old familiar illustrations to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s immortal story. One incident of the Bank Holiday morning in Nigger Town was peculiar and suggestive. Two cabs with a wedding party drove up to St. Mary’s Church. Directly the bride and bridegroom and the witnesses had entered, the door of the church was locked. I tried to get in to see the wedding and failed.


Two white tigresses of Tiger Bay, with baby tigers in their arms, were as disappointed as I was, but my protest against the locking of church doors during the solemnisation of a marriage was a silent one. Theirs found vent in a flow of local language. I presume the church doors were closed against the public as the Bay on Bank Holiday was suspected of being likely to furnish a female congregation that would be anything but an ideal one for a blushing bride to walk through from the altar. In many of the houses in this quarter of Cardiff, in which black rules white, there is a standard of comfort which astonishes you until you get the explanation. There are cosy sitting rooms, well-furnished bedrooms, and kitchens, Dutch in their cleanliness and Alsatian in their suggestion of a well-stocked larder and a generous table. In a cosy kitchen, bright with brass candlesticks and shining ware, with a fine old brass warming pan hanging on the wall, and with a magnificent brass trivet in front of a glowing fire, I found a burly black seaman satisfying a Gargantuan appetite. He was seated in a big armchair in his shirt sleeves to give his elbows free play for knife-and-fork work. In front of him was a plate containing two large chops, some potatoes, some onions, and some carrots. On the hob was a savoury mess in a stewpan, and a good-looking white woman was superintending the administration of these creature comforts to the coloured gentleman in clover. In another house an ebony picture was settling to his siesta after an elaborate repast, his head pillowed upon a yellow satin cushion. His hostess was Welsh, well-dressed and well-favoured. The white landlady with the black lodger is a feature of the district; which does not tend to the softening of what is, I believe, sometimes denounced by the all-men-are-brothers school as “race prejudice.” A good many of the “establishments” in this quarter are kept up on the money of “absent friends” in the shape of sailor’s “half-pay. When the ship with the “absent friend” on board is due in Cardiff, the black lodger who is the “present friend” bids his hostess good-bye and lays his woolly head elsewhere. That is the most unpleasant feature of Nigger Town from the white man’s point of view. The district has, of course, a number of respectable inhabitants, honest and decent people, black and white, who toil and trade and are superior to their environment. But it has certain features which make it one of the most repellent places in which a Briton, blest with pride of race, can spend a morning, an afternoon, or an evening. The great outcry against the Chinese compound in South Africa is that it contains no Chinese wives. The Black compound in Cardiff is plentifully supplied with “wives.” But they are of another colour.


XVI - THE ROAD TO REFORM I have completed, to the best of my ability, the task entrusted to me. The circumstances in which my investigation of the housing conditions in the industrial areas of South Wales was undertaken precluded the possibility of making it an exhaustive one. I have but touched the fringe of a far-reaching problem; but I have tried to deal fairly with the areas selected as object lessons in the need of housing reform, and to acknowledge frankly the superior conditions obtaining in districts that were less beset with difficulties. I said at the commencement of these articles that I would endeavour to show how some of the evils which I had been commissioned to describe might be minimised. It would be presumption on my part to pretend that I possess the knowledge of experts who have devoted their lives to the study of the social problems which chiefly affect the toiling masses. I cannot, a simple journalist, hope to succeed where scientific students and practical reformers have failed. But I am entitled to take a common-sense view of the situation, and, judging from what I have seen and from the facts that I have learnt, to arrive at certain conclusions, and upon those conclusions to found my own theories. The poor we have always with us, and so long as the poor remain with us so long will there be difficulties in the way of housing the people in conditions which, to be effective, must be maintained, and which can only be maintained by a great reformation in the habits of the tenants. There are a vast number of slum dwellers, warm-hearted and well-meaning people, hard workers and honest folk, who have never been trained to the habits of care and cleanliness, which are the first necessities in the maintenance of sweet and sanitary surroundings. There are vast colonies of unskilled toilers who have inherited through the centuries tendencies which are not to be eradicated by the moving of two chairs, a table, a bedstead, a cradle, and a few pots and pans from two dirty, ill-ventilated rooms into two clean and well-ventilated ones. I have seen the experiment tried in London and in big provincial cities, and again and again I have seen its utter failure. The failure was due to the fact that the people had not improved their habits in their improved dwellings. Some of the new dwellings in South Wales industrial centres are fitted with baths. In several cases these baths are only used to keep coal in. In all schemes of re-housing, it is essential for the sake of the property that the more suitable tenants shall be the first to be re-housed. The best people must be put in the good houses, and the worst people must, be dealt with as a problem by themselves. It is the worst people who are, after all, the really great difficulty in the way 62

of re-housing. Here the one hope is in the young. The grown men and women are rooted in those tendencies which are the reformer’s despair. The young may be trained if the training begins at the beginning. It is in the schools that cleanliness, respect for property, and domestic hygiene must be taught. It is in the schools that the effort to loosen the inherited bonds must begin, for with every year of life the bonds of inherited habit tighten. The drinking habit, which is one of the results of poverty, is also the cause of poverty, and it always increases poverty. The drinking habit is invariably found disastrously developed among the dwellers in dirty and overcrowded areas. The dirty home and the drunken home are, as a rule, under the same roof, and under that roof only is there the cruel neglect of children which leaves them to grow up ill-clad, unclean, ill-fed, and mentally and physically unfitted for the battle of life. In many of the most poverty-stricken homes money is found for drink. A portion of the week’s wages are too often set aside for it. It is impossible for any man or woman who has a close and intimate acquaintance with the slums of our great cities to endorse the message of Socialism to the poor, that they have only their poverty to lose. They have their unthrift and intemperance to lose. The money that goes weekly to the pawnbroker and the drink dealer would pay for two rooms where one now shelters a family; for four rooms where two are now considered sufficient for a man, his wife, eight children, and a lodger. I am no temperance fanatic. I hold that we shall kill the “drink demon,” not by illogical restrictions with regard to the drink-sellers, but by the logical enforcement of reformation in the habits of the drinkbuyers. Teach motherhood, manners, and domestic hygiene, thrift and sobriety to the girl children in the school. Teach cleanliness and self-respect, manners, thrift, and sobriety to the boy child in the school, and you will be taking the first steps towards rearing a race of toilers who, though lacking the skill to become big wage-earners, will yet live cleanly in the clean surroundings. In their generation the inherited tendencies which are now the despair of reformers will weaken, and in the generations to come they will die out. I have expressed, at the risk of being misunderstood, my belief that a certain amount of responsibility for “things as they are” rests on the “difficult” people themselves, but I should be very much misunderstood, indeed, if my words were held to convey absolution to the owners of slum property for their exploitation of the helplessness of the small wage-earners, and of the poor earning precarious livelihoods. The house-farming system is a system of grinding the faces of the poor. The house farmer is the worst landlord the poor tenant has to deal with and the worst landlord the municipality has to deal with. He is the persecutor of the widow and the robber of the orphan, and in every case of neglect that the authorities can bring home to him he should be dealt with as a public enemy, and punished to the utmost limit of the law. But we must remember that it is the lack of housing accommodation for the toiler with a small wage and a large family - the two things generally go together - that gives the house farmer his opportunity. 63

The big employers of labour who in South Wales are large owners of insanitary property, because they house their workpeople to-day in the hovels that were run up years ago, are almost as difficult to deal with and as defiant of the law as the house farmer. There is a reason for their indifference and their negligence with which I will deal. But before I do so let me say a few words on the great tramp question. Nothing that I have seen in South Wales has filled me with such astonishment as the freedom with which these pests are allowed to invade a district, and to become a peril to the community and a burden on the ratepayer. In one district the system in force is a direct encouragement to the invasion. There is no casual ward accommodation at the workhouse, and, consequently, regiments of tramps are provided with beds in the common lodging-houses. I have shown how scandalous are the conditions of some of these houses. Apart from that, the tramps who come to these districts get free lodging without having to wash or to work. If they were taken in at the work house they would be compelled to have a bath. There is no bath in the common lodging-house. If they went to the workhouse they would have to do a certain amount of work before they were set free. For their bed at the lodging-house they do no work at all. The visitation of vagrants is in South Wales as a plague of Egypt, for it is a death-dealing plague. These tramps are not only vicious and often criminal, but they bring with them loathsome diseases, and have again and again been the means of spreading such diseases through the town upon which they descended. There is a royal road to the lessening of the tramp evil. When the ratepayers pay the piper they have a right to call the tune, and the authorities should call a tune that the tramp fraternity will go miles to avoid dancing to. Wherever they are housed, make them wash and make them work. Let them earn the bed they are given, and, in the interests of public health, let them be cleansed before they are sheltered. And now I come to the consideration of that which I believe to be one of the greatest difficulties that stand in the way of the authorities in dealing with the insanitary areas in which thousands of their poorer fellow citizens are compelled to pass their lives. A very considerable quantity of very bad property is held by influential people, against whom it is not, from a personal point of view, good policy for the officers of the borough and urban councils to act. That is one of the difficulties with which conscientious officers are frequently faced in their endeavour to effect substantial improvement in the housing conditions of the people. Among the owners of bad property in some districts are members of the council, by whose favour the officials retain their posts and the accompanying salary. Every medical officer of health in the 64

country knows that this is true, and, though medical officers and sanitary inspectors are not likely, for obvious reasons, to endorse my contention in the columns of the “Evening Express,” I doubt if any will be found to deny that this is one of the points at which “popular control” breaks down. The medical officer of health receives his appointment from the council and retains it at the council’s pleasure. The sanitary inspectors are the servants of the council, and can by the council be dismissed. The object of a certain number of gentlemen in giving their services to their fellow citizens is to protect their own interests. On many councils the big employers of labour are represented, and the house farmer, the owner of bad property, and the local tradesman who owns insanitary houses and compels his tenants to deal with him, are members of them. Here, then, is a serious difficulty in the way of efficient control. When sanitary inspectors imperil their position if they are too zealous in demanding improvements, the cause of reform is heavily handicapped. The medical officer of health and his staff of inspectors should not hold their appointments by favour of a body largely composed of the owners of local house property. The position is a false one. The first step towards remedying a condition of things which may be, and often is, a stumbling-block on the road to reform should be to make the medical officer of health and his staff of inspectors more independent of local influence. They should be in a position to perform their duties without local fear or local favour, and until they are in such a position it is certain that, with the best intentions in the world, they will often have to remain discreetly silent, and see their efforts frustrated by interested opposition on the part of influential members of the body which stands in the position of “employer” to them. I am putting this suggestion forward with a knowledge of facts that more than justify its serious consideration. If the “Evening Express” will use its powerful influence to arouse public opinion on this grave danger in “Popular control” - especially dangerous in connection with the housing of the labouring classes it may bring about a most important reform. If it should succeed in so doing, the investigations that I have been privileged to make on its behalf will not have been made in vain. One reform, at least, will be the result - a reform that will have a great and beneficial effect on the housing problem far beyond the borders of “Human Wales.” THE END


Human wales by george r sims (foreword by norena shopland)  

In 1907 the writer and social reformer George R. Sims was commissioned by two Welsh newspapers to write a series of articles about life in S...

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