Distress and Deprivation - Sheffield Xmas 1878

When I first read the following report in The Times newspaper, I was surprised to say the least about the extent of the decline in economic activity that had afflicted Sheffield. The modern parallels are also apparent!   

"The distress and destitution among the working people in Sheffield are now far more serious and more extensive than was the case last year. 

To give an idea of the scarcity of work, it may be stated that at one place where formerly 1,200 men were engaged only 40 are now employed. 

It is also feared that the Government contracts for plates have left the town, inasmuch as the large firms cannot compete with Barrow, Middlesbrough, Swansea, and Newport houses, who have the advantage of carriage by sea. 

The last contract for 20,000 tons of plates went into South Wales, and thus 300,000 is lost to Sheffield. 

The destitution among the working people is appalling. Hundreds are living in houses stripped of furniture, without fire, and are dependent upon the generosity of the neighbours. Prompt measures of relief are being taken. Soup kitchens will be opened and children's dinners supplied in a few days.



Merry Christmas, Dec 24 1878
THE PREVAILING DISTRESS
With the severe weather which has set in, the distress at Sheffield continues to increase.
The Mayor announced yesterday that it was now so widespread that 10,000 at the very least would be required to meet it.
Up to the present time 2,400 has been spent out of the relief fund at his disposal and he asks for further contributions.
In consequence of the publicity which has been given to the existence of the distress, the Mayor has received many letters from all parts of the country enclosing contributions to the relief fund.
One of which comes from the Dowager Lady Stanley of Alderley, expressing great sorrow at the privations to which so many of the working classes in Sheffield are now subjected and enclosing a cheque.
Another comes from a gentleman signing himself "C.D.J." The writer states that although he has no sympathy with the men, believing that the distress was in great measure owing to their own suicidal policy in unreasonably raising the cost of production in every branch of trade by high wages and shorter hours, he could not help feeling for the suffering which the helpless children and wives had to bear for their fathers and husbands improvidence.
He therefore, enclosed a cheque for the fund.
In Brightside, where the distress is perhaps the most keen, it is stated that the relief given up to the present time does not exceed 1s. 6d. per family per week, or seven pence halfpenny per head.
This cannot be considered extravagant, as it is considerably less than parish relief. 
In consequence of the continuance of cold weather the Executive committee are to consider the question of giving coals as well as food and clothing.
Immediately after Christmas the committee will probably put the unemployed to work breaking stones upon the highways and levelling some recreation grounds."

And then if matters could not get any worse the following happened on Xmas Day (Note: This was also the day when my great grandparents Alonzo and Mary Anne Hemsworth nee Myers were married at St John's Church, Wybourn, Sheffield)

But this was not a sudden event. At the beginning of the year under the title DISTRESS IN SHEFFIELD, The Illustrated Police News dated Saturday, January 19, 1878 gave the following quite horrendous account

Sources

The Times dated 20th November 1878

The Illustrated Police News etc (London, England), Saturday, January 19, 1878

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This page was last updated on 08/12/08 09:13