‘Distress’ in London – Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 27 May 1865:

(From the Owl.) For the last fortnight accounts have reached us from all sides showing the existence at the present time of a widespread distress throughout the populous districts of Mayfair and Belgravia. No doubt some of them are highly coloured, but in the main we fear they are true. We have ourselves noticed symptoms which show that there is a great difference in the comfort of the people inhabiting these parts of the kingdom from that usually enjoyed at this season of the year.

The numerous correspondents who have addressed us on the subject are of too high standing and undoubted authority for us to doubt that a very trying sense of privation is weighing heavily on what should be a happy and contented population.

We will not give the names of those unfortunate persons who have made us the depositaries of their troubles, but we will extract a few sentences to show that we are not exaggerating when we state that unless some remedy, Parliamentary or social, is at once applied, the year 1865 will be long remembered as one of exceptional hardship and suffering.

A young lady, dating from Grosvenor-square, writes:-

“Mamma and I, and my sister, are really in great want. We try to bear it patiently, but it is very hard. We have only had two balls in the last ten days, and when our present cards, very few in number, are exhausted, we do not know where to turn for more.”

Another, who states that she is 24 years old. and therefore can lay claim to some experience, says:-

“As for myself, I do not so much car. I have been so fortunate in former years that, severe as the distress is, yet I can meet it with a fair amount of resignation; but it makes me miserable to see my youngest sister, a dear little thing, but just entering life, only presented this year, suffering so acutely, and I cannot do anything for her. During the many seasons I have been in London I have never known such a time.”

A well-known diner-out and popular-talker informs us he has frequently this season had to dine at his own expense, and says that although he works as hard as ever in his trade, and, notwithstanding the dull times, has a fair amount of manufactures on hand in the shape of stories, scandals, and other wares of that sort, yet he finds that he cannot procure the most ordinary necessities of existence by his hardest labour.

From Belgrave-square a most respectable married woman, with a large family writes as follows:-

“What is an active, worldly woman to do in a time like the present one! I am ready to slave for my children to any extent. I will sit up with them all night, or bear any amount of squeezing and crushing, if by that I can further their prospects in life. But the opportunity for showing my devotion to my family is denied me. Two or three balls, one of them quite scrubby, and half-a-dozen seedy drums, are all that we, who, as you know, have been nursed in the lap of luxury, have had to touch since we have been in London. I hide all this, as fair as I can, from my husband, who, poor man, is put out enough at the fight he has coming off in the autumn. But I see he feels anxious.”

We might multiply these instances to almost any extent, but what we have said will no doubt suffice. It is appalling to think that round about us, aye, at our very doors, this sort of thing should exist; but so it is, and it is the bounden duty of these who have it in their power to throw open their houses and afford some alleviation to the distressed masses.

Whatever is done must be done at one, or all will be too late. Parliament, we fear, will not interpose, but it is all the more incumbent on individuals to supplement it shortcoming. As far as we are able we will gladly help, and any cards of invitation intrusted to us should be carefully distributed to the most urgent cases.