London · Tales From The Past · Uncategorized

TALES FROM THE PAST: ‘Christmas Dinner to Poor Children’



Costers’ Hall, Hoxton

On 26th December 1883, The Times newspaper published an article regarding the feeding of poor children at Christmas and it struck a chord in how attitudes and society has regressed.



About 300 poor children were treated to a substantial dinner at the Costers’-hall, 242 Hoxton-street, yesterday at noon.  When the little visitors, who ranged from four or five to 12 years of age, were comfortably seated at table, the honorary superintendent, Mr W J Orsman, told them in a few words to whom their gratitude was due for the good things they were about to enjoy.  After dinner grace was sung, and then an orange and a penny were given to each of the guests as they went away.  Gratifying evidence of an improvement in the habits of the poor of the neighbourhood was afforded by the greater cleanliness of the children this year.  Nearly all came with clean faces and hands.

Food was also distributed through the mission workers to many families at their homes, so that altogether about 1,000 persons, young and old, were provided with a good meal.  Parcels of clothing sent for distribution were given to the most necessitous.

There are now 800 scholars in the mission schools, which were removed to Hoxton from Golden-lane when the “improvements” there dispersed the residents of that crowded district.  

It is proposed, if the necessary funds and presents can be obtained, to give those 800 children a tea on the 16th of January, and during the evening to distribute toys from a huge Christmas tree.

The varied work of the mission, which is directed to the social and religious advancement of a poor but generally industrious population, is chiefly dependent on the pecuniary aid of the well-to-do in other parts of the metropolis.


A sneering and self-congratulating article about how hundreds of the most deprived in society were afforded a small gesture of kindness and help at Christmas, with the children reminded that they should be thankful to those with more money than them before a morsel of food even touched their mouths.

The poorest parents in one of the grimiest parts of London at that time, who undertook the dirtiest, hardest jobs for the lowest of pay just to keep themselves out of workhouses, patronised for washing their children’s faces and reminded that they should be grateful to London’s affluent residents for what they were given.

I found it the most abhorrent and sad article, yet so poignant because…


… very little has changed.  Hackney is still in the top 10 of London’s worst boroughs for homelessness.  Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea – two of the most affluent areas in the city – are both in the top five.

But in shameful behaviour lacking in complete self awareness and with arrogance as that displayed in the article from 1883, this week George Osborne caused Twitter and media outrage.  The former Chancellor – whose cuts to welfare have caused extreme poverty – is now asking for monetary donations to help the poorest children in London under his new guise as editor of the Evening Standard, without a hint of contrition as to his contribution to its existence.


October 2015: Malnutrition and ‘Victorian’ diseases including scurvy, scarlet fever, cholera and whooping cough have increased.  NHS statistics show that 7,366 people were admitted to hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition in less than a year.

May 2017: Jacob Rees-Mogg says people using food banks have a ‘cash flow’ problem.

June 2017: Tory candidate says she is ‘really pleased’ there are food banks.

September 2017: Jacob Rees-Mogg says rise in food bank use is ‘rather uplifting’.

November 2017: Steve Brine MP – now Minster for Health – opened a food bank in his constituency.  This is the same MP who, alongside 295 others, voted against investigating the use of food banks and UK hunger.

November 2017: UK’s first vending machine for homeless people launched in Nottingham.


Between 2010 and 2017, the use of food banks has increased by 2,792%.  The Trussell Trust found that “food banks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout for six months or more have seen a 30% average increase six months after rollout compared to a year before”. It also said that “issues with a benefit payment remain the biggest [43%] cause of referral to a food bank across the UK”. And Trussell Trust analysis shows what Universal Credit accounted for:

  • 45% of referrals were made because of a wait for a first payment.
  • 36% of referrals were made because a new claim had not yet been awarded.
  • 38% of referrals were made due to a change to a different benefit.

Furthermore, the Trussell Trust said 27% of referrals to them came from people on low incomes.


A Mission Among City Savages‘ – Costers Mission, social journalism, 1874

William James Orsman – Fandom

In 1881 William Orsman lived at 130 Shacklewell Road Hackney with his wife, Maria, their four children and two servants – 28 year old Elizabeth Town, the domestic cook, and her 15 year old daughter, Adelaide, the housemaid.



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