Chapter 3: Return to London
We were, I think, nearly a fortnight going down the Elbe. This was very pleasant for us Children. We anchored on the Bank every Night, when we would scamper up and down the Wood or Field as we liked. When we reached Hamburg we transhipped on to an English Brig, and reached London in the beginning of September 1828. My brother hired a Boat, into which we put our things and shipped on to Chelsea.
There we landed at the "Old Swan", as poor and desolate a Company as you could see, for all our money, but a few shillings, was spent. But, we must live somewhere, and a room was got for us in Bull's Walk, where we had lived before going to Germany. As soon as we settled a bit, my Brother went to London, and got work at a sweating Tailor, where we heard of a Place for my sister Fanny. So now there were two of us left with Mother, and the pinching time for us three. We had bought some white Beans with us from Germany: while they lasted, we had something to satisfy our Hunger; but, when they were done, then came the pinch. We had some three days to live on sixpence a day for us three. Then Mother went to the Parish, who gave her four Shillings a Week.
Now Word came that there was work for me also. The place where my sister was employed wanted a Boy to turn some Silk winding Machine in Spitalfield. This necessitated us to move. We got a Cheap Room up a dirty Alley off Whitechapel. An old Man-of-War Man and his Wife lived in the same Flat, which I cannot help mentioning on account of the Kindness he showed to us Children. Although he was very poor, and worked at the Docks when he could get work, when Pension time came his manner was to bring Home part of a side of Bacon and a large Fish, and then invite us hungry Children to the Feast, which I have still in grateful Rememberance.
But now to my Place at Pelham Street in Spitalfields. I was introduced to three Frames of Silk winding Machines, and shown a Handle which I must turn at a regular Speed, not more nor less, the Mistress sitting at my side separating Skeins of Silk to be put upon the Bobbins set in the Frames which I was turning. She was at my Elbow from morning to Night, which was from 6 o'clock in the Morning until 8 o'clock in the Evening. (If I remember right, I had a half Hour for Breakfast and one Hour for Dinner) My Wages were three shillings a Week, and three Pence on Saturday Night for cleaning Shoes and Knives. I found the Place to be very hard, for I was tied to the Place like a Mill Horse. Yet my Fancy would roam unto the Ends of the Earth while bound to the Wheel, building Castles in the Air.
I would be a Soldier, like my Father had been, and, by being clever and behaving myself well, I would become a Sergeant like he, or more, perhaps be a General. I would fight many a Battle, and, of Course, win. While I would be thus in my Reveries, perhaps winning a Battle, I would get a Poke from the Mistress and a Lecture: "Go on, go on! Will you have the Work stop?" Then I would fall flat from my High Horse which I had been riding, and feel faint with hunger, for I was always hungry at this time. For my rations were of the most meagre description. It consisted of one Penny Loaf for Breakfast, with a half pint of Hot Water, with a little milk and sugar, which the Mistress supplied me with, and one Penny Loaf for Dinner.
Such a Diet, and such continuous Work, from six o'clock in the Morning until 8 o'Clock at Night, made me restless and dissatisfied and resolved to break loose at the first Opportunity. So, one morning, coming down from Breakfast, I bolted through a Neighbour's House, and ceased not running until I got to Tower Hill. I wandered about until Evening, and then, because I knew not where else to go, I went home, where a Messenger had preceded me, and of course distressed my mother. However I was persuaded to go back again and Grind away as usual until my release came.
My mother used to go once a week for the Parish Money of Four Shillings a week. When last she went they stopped the Money, saying they could give her no more money because she lived out of the Parish. She and her children must come into the Workhouse. That was the News my Mother brought back, that I must leave the Place immediately, which I was in no wise loath to do. So Mother and my youngest Sister and myself were received into the Workhouse in 1829.