1905 12 15

1905 December 15th        What Makes Tramps?

Master of Workhouse Makes Enquiries

A short time ago we referred to the remarkable increase in the number of tramps reported at local Unions, and suggested as we very often do, that these men should be gathered up in a Labour Colony, and not left to roam the roads.

A very interesting light has been thrown on the subject of vagrancy by the Master of Gateshead Workhouse, who was instructed to put certain questions to the vagrants who passed through his hands in the course of a month. His report has been published in the Local Government Journal, the chiefly interesting points being as follows :-

In accordance with instructions, I have questioned 397 male vagrants during the past four weeks, and I beg to give you below an analysis of answers given to me.

State – 23 were married, 35 were widowers, 339 were single, 98 had been in the army, 27 had been in the militia, 4 had been in the navy, 268 had not been in the services.

Occupations– 10 joiners, 15 slaters, plasterers, bricklayers and masons, 4 plumbers, 13 painters, 9 fitters, 1 puddler, 2 strikers, 3 drillers, 6 moulders, 5 smiths, 1 riveter, 1 engine driver, 16 sailors and firemen, 1 ropemaker, 1 wheelwright, 17 tailors, 5 weavers, 5 shoemakers, 1 draper, 1 leather dresser, 1 baker, 3 potters, 1 net maker, 1 glass blower, 2 fishermen, 3 grooms, 1 platelayer, 3 pipe makers, 1 commission agent, 1 iron-monger, 1 musician, 1 craneman, 264 general labourers.

Fitness for Work– 339 quite fit, 58 unfit.

Cause of unfitness– 13 permanent injury received at work, 6 rupture, 19 bad sight, 1 bad hearing, 3 paralysis, 1 weak chest, 4 rheumatism, 2 weak heart, 1 varicose vein, 1 bad leg, 1 one leg, 1 sunstroke, 1 depressed, 1 dizziness, 9 senility. Total 58.

Time in which they have been using Tramp Wards– 25 under one week, 23 over one and under two weeks, 42 under one month, 24 over one and under two months, 38 over two and under six months, 35 over six months and under a year, 109 over one year and under five years, 52 over five years and under ten years, 34 over ten years and under twenty years, 15 over twenty years.

Reasons given for being on the road– 375 seeking work, 6 going to friends, 16 moving on.

Cause for first having to go on tramp– 263 drinking, 3 gambling, 4 not attending to work, 2 paralysis, 4 permanent injury, 2 rupture, 1 bad sight, 1 bad hearing, 2 weak chest, 2 rheumatism, 2 weak heart, 1 loss of leg, 1 sunstroke, 1 depressed, 3 senility, 3 introduction of motors, 1 parents drinking, 1 mother wanted him to beg, 1 new foreman sacked him after ten years service, 1 introduction of machines (shoemaker), 1 lost stock of 700 acre farm (South African War – Natal), 1 American competition (leather dresser), 1 nine years with the late Bishop of Carlisle (new man brought stranger), 1 lost army pension helping to load stolen property (Russian War and Mutiny), 1 bronchitis four months took savings, 1 employer took work to Germany. Total 304.

Fancy Causes– 1 had to support parents, who died 31 years ago, 1 thought he would like to be away from home, 1 wife died five months ago, 1 there are too many married men for single ones to get work, 1 left job to better himself, 1 leaving home, 1 has no parents (he is 69 years of age), 1 light in head, can’t keep money, 1 fond of company, 1 not fond of work, 1 going to Scotland and back, 1 is a bit simple, 1 had bad lodgings, 1 had 50s a week, went for a holiday every summer, can’t get it now, 1 fell out with sister, 69 slackness of work.

Employment etc. of their fathers– 233 tradesmen, professions, mechanics and semi-skilled labourers, 164 general labourers and small farmers (Ireland).

I have had no admissions that their parents had ever been on tramp. I have been surprised at the intelligence, civility, and healthy and athletic appearance of the large majority of the 307 men with whom I have dealt during the month. Their power for work is above the average for the ordinary Gateshead labourer, and the cause for being on the road is for the most part in themselves. Many of them are of a roving disposition. Some can, and do, work well and hard for a few days, then must be away without apparent cause. Few take any thought for tomorrow, but eat and drink what they get, on the day that they earn it. Many are totally disinclined to work. Provision of Tramp Wards fosters and stimulates these traits in their characters. On most big public works, and on lesser works nowadays, the breaking of a pick or barrow-shaft will cause a man to be discharged, and the non-arrival of a train of wagons, or any such slight circumstance, will cause a whole gang to be sent on the road.

Often, when it might be easy by the exercise of a little thought, to find another job on the work and keep them, no attempt is made to do so, as the employers know that the tramp will supply all labour needs as soon as it is required. Tramp wards do an immense amount of mischief and very little good. Most of the genuine in-search-of-works who inhabit them are going to the large temporary works – such as water, railways, etc. Just as many men would be employed if there no tramping. Masters would have to convey them, and they would begin to employ the better men, and give a little more thought to providing constant work. Probably on this class of work there is as much energy expended by men in tramping to and from it as would do half the job. We find men tramping from London, Liverpool, Manchester, etc., to seek work at the Newcastle Bridge, whilst men are going from Newcastle to London, Liverpool, Manchester, etc. to seek work there. Tramp Wards not only make this possible, but encourage it, and in the interests of the tramp I believe they would be better closed. And closing them appears to me to be the only way of doing any good in the Tramp question.

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