Thursday, 26 June 2014

The census enumerators challenge

Here is testimony of Mr. Charles James White who had acted as an enumerator for the 1881 census for an area of Mile End Old Town including Ernest Street, Ely Terrace, part of Duckett Street. He testified on 10 March 1890 before the UK Treasury committee on the census; here is an extract from his testimony found on page 81 and 82 of the report. Starting at paragraph 1850.

Q. Did you have any difficulty in distributing the papers?
A. No, because I had special advantages. I had been five years poor law officer, and under the school board for several years. I know nearly every family in the district. I could go and knock at the door, and knowing I treated them properly, they would do as much for me, and perhaps a little more, than they would for a stranger. Of course there would have been very greater difficulties for an inexperienced person.

If you will permit me, I will give you an instance or two. In Ely Terrace I delivered two schedules; on the day in question, when I went for them, the landlady gave me hers. I was satisfied with hers, as I know all the children, know her husband, what he was, and know the wife. I said, "Where is the schedule for the family upstairs?" She replied, "I do not know." I said, "Is he at home?" She said, "Yes." I said "You go on, and I will manage my business," because you see a lodger does not like a landlord to interfere – – sometimes, you know – or a landlady either. I knocked at the door. Down came a man, partially paralyzed from the waist. He said, "What do you want?" I said, "I want your schedule. Do you know that in accordance with law you are bound to fill up of this paper?" "What is it for" he said. "What is it for" said I. "Why; the government require it to know something about the statistics of the country." And he said, "Well, I do not want to bother with it." Now I said, "You did not treat me so glibly when you used to come over to the house when you were poor, look, and you may remember." Then he softened down. "Now let me proceed to business," said I. I know his name, really. I then said, "Your name is so-and-so; then the wife." There were no children. I put that down. "Now," said I, "What are you?" "A cooper," he said. "Well," I said, "are you? How long have you been a cooper?" So he said, "Why, I am a cooper." I said, "I do not think so. Do you remember when you came into the board of guardians one day and said if they gave you tools you would get work? They gave you tools, and you came back and next board day and said you could not get work. Of course we know perfectly well you could not do the work. You only labor about it in a cooper shop. Now, what are you really? You know perfectly well you could not make a tub; you could not work at it." He said "I am a laborer." "What sort of a one?" I asked. "Cannot you qualify it?" What about the shoeblack box?" "Well," he said, "I am a shoe black." You could see him a few minutes ago at the Burdett Road at work. Poor fellow, he could not work; but he might've told me the truth.

Unless you know something of those people, the census, although it may appear very accurate, it is not likely to be so. There was a brothel in the next street. The woman who kept it was convicted a little while ago as a procuress. I said when I called there, "I have instructions to have the names of everyone in the house." "The girls and all?" she said. "The girls and all," I said. When I collected the schedule it contained, as far as I can remember, her name and the names of two little boys who were in a home in Deptford. I said "You have not put down the girls in this said house. Are not the boys in the home at Deptford? I must strike those out." She took the pen and struck those out. She did it herself. I was not at liberty to do it. "Where are the girls?" I asked. "They are in bed" she said. "Well," I said, "I am going up the street, and I will call as I come back." It is a long street with about 1000 people in it. There are 500 schoolchildren that is what I know. When I came back I said: "Now, where are they?" So she called them down and we marshalled them along the passage and I cannot remember whether they put their names down or whether I did, but instead of having these girls down as servants or needlewoman, they were simply unfortunates.

Q. Had you many cases like that you had to manage in this way?
A. I believe there were several brothels in the street. I did them all about the same and there were persons who had been locked up for assaults, and some questionable characters.

No comments: