ADVERTISER 150: Edwardian poverty—bakery ‘slave’ worker dies from overwork and street tramp dies of starvation
PUBLISHED: 19:00 28 November 2016
ADVERTISER 150: Our nightly celebration of the 150 years of the East London Advertiser’s news coverage since November, 1866, reaches the Edwardian era, an age of eloquence in High Society—but poverty and deprivation for the East End’s working class. An Advertiser investigation into the death in Mile End of a bakery “slave worker” through overwork lands the paper with threat of legal action by the bake house owner.
It is one of the many stories of poverty that year like the tramp dying of starvation in the street—along with other news of escaped criminals on the run in Limehouse, attacks on workhouse staff by inmates, illegal abortions, lady pedestrians run over by “dangerous motor-carriages” and Greek gypsies setting up illegal camp at Tower Hill…
1905: An inquest in January shows how 41-year-old Henry Sautter had worked himself into his grave. East London coroner Wynne Baxter remarks about the long hours.
Sautter would leave his rented rooms in Olive-street in Mile End to work through the night at Bernard Nordheim’s bakery at 256, Oxford-street (today’s Stepney Way), locked in the bake house from 7pm Friday until 9pm on Saturday on slave wages—his master Bernard Noroheim had even wanted to stop his free loaf of bread allowance.
He dies from “the effects of overwork” struggling to keep his wife and five children, the inquest jurymen rule. A verdict of “overwork in accordance with the medical testimony” is returned.
An Advertiser reporter covering the inquest hears that “slavery conditions” which killed Henry Sautter are “general throughout the East End”.
He goes off to interview Mr Jenkins, general-secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Operative Bakers & Confectioners.
“Too true—the average baker generally finishes at mid-day, but rarely gets to bed until four o’clock in the afternoon,” Jenkins informs the reporter. “Having been locked up in the bake-house all night—a prisoner from the time he enters until he leaves the next morning—it is natural he should want a little recreation before turning in.
“But at 10 o’clock (evening) he is up once more to be locked in the bake-house again by 11 o’clock, so that the master may trot off to his club or favourite public-house for his recreation before going to bed.”
The bakery workers can’t go home and would be found sleeping in the troughs next to the ovens, the union tells the paper. A trade-union campaign is organised to end such conditions and to induce the “bake-house slaves” to join up and fight to reduce working hours.
“Nothing but a compulsory eight-hour day will settle this perplexing question of slave labour,” Jenkins tells the man from the Advertiser. “We held scores of meetings for the workers, but found the game was not worth the candle.”
The story brings an angry response from solicitors Hatchett-Jones & Co in Mark Lane, Tower Hill, who send a letter to the paper claiming “no truth whatever” that the bakery workers went to sleep inside the troughs.
Yet that is what witnesses said at the public inquest—which we reported faithfully. Bernard Nordheim and his lawyers could not deny the evidence and verdict that the jury had returned of “overwork in accordance with the medical testimony”.
But the Advertiser bows to business pressure and says it regrets publishing “if it caused Mr Nordheim any inconvenience” as an employer of labour and Master Baker. Edwardian stiff upper lip, after all, has to be maintained.
Some other news the Advertiser runs in 1905…
• Arrests made at 97a Edinburgh Road, Limehouse, where Police Inspector Kemp finds three convicts. One of them, Chas Griffiths, had been arrested for housebreaking three years earlier, in 1902—punishment for which he had escaped by jumping out of a railway carriage while being conveyed under remand to Holloway Prison. A policeman trying to prevent his escape over a wall into a yard 20ft below had been badly injured. Insp Kemp dispatches a passer-by to Limehouse police station requesting half-a-dozen constables as he has “some dangerous convicts in custody”.
• A constable finds homeless labourer John Galey, 71, on a doorstep in a weak and feeble condition and conveys him to Whitechapel Infirmary, but the old man dies that night. The parish Medical Officer tells the inquest that the deceased had not tasted food for days and had been sleeping in the streets in a weak, neglected and dirty condition, his body absolutely destitute of fat and suffering the effects of a rough life. The coroner is astonished to find people who “prefer this kind of life instead of going to a workhouse”.
• Sarah Allen, 63, is arrested for performing an illegal abortion on an unmarried 24-year-old lady’s maid, Lillian Spiby, now residing at Jubilee-street, Mile End Old Town. The maid had the acquaintance of a boarding lodger, Theopole Vivian, at her previous employer Mrs Stoneman’s house when “an intimacy sprang up”. Mrs Stoneman had taken the maid to Mrs Allen’s to have an abortion for £1. But the maid became dangerously ill and a doctor was called for. Mrs Allen sobs in court: “This is what you get for helping girls out of their trouble.”
• Police track down a counterfeit gang after following suspect William Linton, 60, from Whitechapel Road to a house at 11, Lingen Street, Bromley-by-Bow, where they find 107 fake shillings (today’s £5.35) and four coin-manufacturing moulds. Linton had been spotted in the Weavers’ Arms in Whitechapel with another man who was also arrested, John Potter, 40, a painter, for “circulating the fake coins amongst the men who frequented such places”. Potter later tells a magistrate: “It was only poverty that made me do this.”
• A butcher is arrested in Bromley-by-Bow after throwing a meat hook at boys stealing rice from his van in Bright-street after it misses them and, instead, hits a seven-year-old girl on the head on her way to school. Thomas Taylor is charged with unlawfully and maliciously wounding little Gladys McDowell, who needs a fortnight in Poplar Hospital to recover.
• Greek Macedonian gipsies set up camp at Tower Hill with two caravans drawn by shaggy ponies followed on foot by men, women and children. Fires are lit and al fresco breakfast cooked. A large force of police arrive and order them to strike camp and move on. If resistance is offered, members of the encampment are to be sent to the lock-up. The gipsies are escorted by police along the Whitechapel Road en route for the wastes of Essex.
• St George’s workhouse in Cable Street is hit by violence from inmates, with cases before Thames Police Court. John Reed, 35, is arrested for destroying clothing belonging to the workhouse Board of Guardians. He wants to go back to prison “to get another 10/- (50p) when I comes out”—but instead gets three months’ hard labour “as a rogue and vagabond”. Another workhouse pauper, Joseph Tucker, 76, is arrested for wilfully misbehaving himself and assaulting the Labour Master. He also gets three months’ hard labour.
• Engineering mechanic George Ceresh is arrested for driving a motor-carriage without licence and giving a false name and address to a constable. A lady alighting from a tram in Kingsland-road, Shoreditch, has been knocked down by Ceresh, who insists it was an accident and asks for time to pay the £4 fine for no license and 20 shillings (£1) for false name. He remarks that he is only 18 (but looks much older). The magistrate tells him: “That might be a reason why you should not drive these dangerous things.”
• Passive resisters are summonsed to St George’s Town Hall in Cable-street for not paying the Parish Poor Rate. They refuse on conscious grounds “that part which goes towards indoctrinating children contrary to Scripture” and on legal grounds that the half-crown levy (12.5p) is illegal.
• Naval Seaman Bill Mahoney is arrested for being a deserter from HMS Fire Queen after giving himself up to a constable in Poplar, saying he is anxious to get back to his ship to fight “now there had been a sea battle between Russia and Japan”. The magistrate obliges and sends Mahoney back to the Navy.
• Princess Louise Augusta of Schleswig-Holstein arrives in Shadwell by motor-carriage to open the new whooping cough isolation wards at the East London Children’s Hospital. For once, the district “looks bright and gay”, the Advertiser reports. It is “an exceedingly poor and thickly-populated area with abnormally high child mortality rates from neglected cases of whooping-cough”. The Bishop of Stepney invokes Divine blessing upon the new hospital wards.
• The London County Council applies to Parliament for powers to take over as the Highways authority from the new Metropolitan boroughs to erect cheap overhead trolley-wire electrification for tramcars. The trolley scheme is opposed by Stepney Council which has withheld consent to the “unsightly wires” above the street, which they fear would cause “terrible danger if they should fall across such a thoroughfare as the Whitechapel Road”. It is not an argument they win. The LCC also asks Parliament permission to lay tracks through the new Blackwall Tunnel to link the northern and southern tram systems, but is refused.
• One of the most accomplished little girls in East London is 13-year-old Louise Klinozynsky, daughter of Lithuanian immigrants from the Russian Empire who attends Jews’ Free School in Spitalfields. The “little alien”, we report, is taken on as interpreter at Stepney Coroner’s Court whenever Lithuanians appear, as she speaks Lithuanian, Russian, German and Polish as well as English. She translates newspapers to her people when she is not at school or helping her parents at slipper-making. Louise is asked if she would ever like to go back to Russia and tells the paper: “No—everyone is very poor and they have no tea to drink.”