"Our London Letter" The Norfolk News, August 31, 1872
The curious wanderer in London streets who has noticed the police offices where, by the way, especially on Monday morning, the strangest sights in London are to be seen, must have marked the frequent exhibition of a printed placard - there is a form specially provided for the purpose - announcing that a dead body not owned had been found in the Thames and requesting people to identify it. This placard is significant and suggestive of the true character of that vast under current of London life which seldom or never comes to public view. Frequently there is no identification. The description of the clothes often seems to show that the wretched creature who has thus met a miserable death could hardly have been a solitary vagrant, and yet no claimant appears. If any member of any circle into which the Norwich Mercury goes were to vanish suddenly what a hue and cry there would be ! Every source of information would be eagerly and persistently questioned, and if the mystery remained unelucidated it would abide in people's memories as a thing never to be forgotten. But in London human beings slip out of existence unknown and unnoticed, without leaving so much as the smallest gap. It is wonderful, horrible, and the thought of the loneliness through which these poor cast-aways have passed is too oppressive to be held for more than a moment. Fifty-two bodies, says a return now before me, were found in the Thames during the year 1871, not including those who it is known were accidentally drowned. Thirty-two were afterwards recognised, but to the remaining twenty no clue could be traced, and nobody ever asked after them. The lives of those twenty men and women if they could but have been faithfully written would have been more interesting and more profitable than all the remaining history of the year in which they died.
Nobody says Goethe takes any interest in the nacht vergangenen that is to say, in the recently past. Parliament and the public have nevertheless just been reminded by the Chief Commissioner of Police through his report for 1871 of a deed done by Fireman Ford in 1871 which ought never to be forgotten, and ought to be put in the world's record of heroisms. There was a great fire in Grays-inn road in the dead of the night of the 7th October, and several persons were cut off in the upper part of the house waiting to be burnt to death. The fire escape came in charge of Ford, who placed it against the window of the third floor. He went up, and, assisted by a constable, got a woman down in safety. He went up again alone, and took out four other people, whom he sent down, he himself remaining in the flames to search for more. The canvas of the escape was set on fire, and the flames surrounding him, he dropped to the ground burnt and insensible. He was taken to the hospital and died the same day. Such power has duty still over man. To say that Ford went up that ladder to meet his fate for the four shillings allotted to him as that day's wages is absurd. There was compulsion upon him, resistless compulsion, and so long as men are to be found upon whom such compulsion operates, so long we need not despair of the race.
That there is something in light inimicable to evil deeds is well known. There is no way of preventing burglary by the back door like a good lamp, and London jewellers are of opinion that steel shutters are not so good as gas. The different Government offices in London which deal with the British public are tolerably well watched, because everybody can see into them. If the Home Office, or the War Office, or the Admiralty goes wrong, it goes wrong with persons who are represented, or who can write to the newspapers. But the India Office, as a rule, has no dealings with the class which can cry out. It is a closed department working in the dark, with no gas whatever. Hence there is no department where there are such scandalous delays. I heard of two cases last week. In one a letter was written to the India Office in 1869 and not a single syllable was received in reply till a week or two ago, when its receipt was acknowledged, and a kind of answer given. In the second case, a letter was written months ago upon a subject which might have been settled at once, but nothing more was heard about it till a few weeks since, when a special messenger came post-haste asking for further and immediate information. The information was given the same afternoon, and now the subject has again gone to sleep. What would happen if such a department as this were called upon to face any emergency it is easy to see.
At the meeting of the British Association, at Brighton the other day, mention was made of a new grate, which although it had an open fire, would effect a saving of fifty per cent over the common old-fashioned grate which sent the heat up the chimney. The grate was originally introduced to the public by Captain Galton in 1868, at the meeting of the British Association in that year. Unfortunately, in the printed report of the proceedings of the British Association in 1868 no description of the grate is given. This week I made it my duty to go and see it and, so far as I can judge, it is with the exception of the closed stove the most economical means for warming a room which has yet been discovered, and of course the open fire gives it an enormous advantage to English people over the stove. It is something like the old register grate with large hobs, and the sides are cast-iron. But there are two essential differences between it and the register grate. It is not packed round with bricks, but a chamber is left at the back and at the side, which is fed with cold air by a pipe from the outside wall. This current of air circulates round the grate just as the hot air in an ordinary kitchener circulates round the oven and finally being heated escapes into the room through a grating. The second difference is that the smoke instead of ascending vertically from the fire, and so carrying the heat with it as compelled to pass through a flue at the back of the fire so that all the heat from the surface of the fire goes into the room. The grate is called the hospital grate, and is supplied by Messrs. Adams, in the Haymarket. It derives its name from the fact that it has hitherto been used for hospitals, where ventilation is of the first importance. But after all, if economy is the one thing to be studied, there is nothing like the old slow-combustion "Walker" wrought iron stove, the most ingenious stove ever devised. It is now considered out of date by foolish persons, intent upon the latest new thing, but it has never been surpassed, and never can be, as it is impossible to make more out of fuel than Walker made out of it. At every point it is perfect ; it cannot get red hot, it wants but little attention, one stoking in twelve hours being sufficient ; it does not burn the air, and it is remarkably cheap.
That the Licensing Bill is attracting much attention is evident from the fact that boys haunt the omnibuses and offer it for sale as if it were a newspaper. As yet there has been no disturbance in any part of London.
Mr. Gladstone, it appears, is to be formally accused at the next Lord Mayor's dinner on certain distinct charges.
1. That he has raised the price of meat and coals.
2. That he is the cause of the potato disease.
That is not a joke, as most persons would suppose. The indictment has been gravely proposed by a Tory contemporary, who in some way seeks to substantiate it. It would certainly be a taking cry at the next general election : "Vote against Gladstone, the cattle plague, and potato rot."
The Anti-Game-Law Committee is actively at work, and has received accession of strength by the support of several prominent members of Parliament. We may reasonably expect that this subject will speedily become one of the subjects of the hour. The Liberal party will soon be in want of new articles for its creed ; and a large number of the Radical party are determined, if possible, to force the Government to make up their minds on game. The Government lacks not the will, but the strength. It will be much more difficult to deal satisfactorily with game than it was with the Ballot, and defections from the Liberal side of the house will be so frequent as to prevent all chance of obtaining a bill good for anything.