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1881: Controversial complaint about 'vagrants'

Mid Sussex Times - Wednesday 02 February 1881


To the Editor of The Mid-Sussex Times.

Sir, I think you must possess more than average courage to have started your paper in such a locality as this, where the population is comparatively sparse, and the working people generally are not given so much to reading as the artisans and mechanics in large towns. But from your own statement of the number of your first issue, your hope of success seems to be warranted.

It appears to me your journal will supply a want which has long been felt in this neighbourhood, vis., a medium of communication of events which are constantly transpiring in the district, and some of which are of considerable interest to many the inhabitants, but of which they must remain in entire ignorance without some such method of information as your paper will supply.

Cuckfield workhouse c1900

For example, you give statistics this week of the number of vagrants relieved at the Cuckfield Union for the week ending January 6th, a question of great importance both to the ratepayers and the general community.

I confess I am astonished at the number —no less than 165, of whom 144 are men. Now, probably a small minority of these are very deserving persons, and worthy of humane and kind treatment, but the large majority of them belong to the lowest scum of rascaldom; they are idle, worthless, and criminal - a pest to the neighbourhoods through which they pass, and a terror to children and timid persons. I have no idea how much they cost the ratepayers of this district, but I see from your police news that it is not merely food and lodging which they obtain, but clothing as well when they deem fit.

May I ask whether our Boards of Guardians and Masters Workhouses can do more than they are doing to put down this abomination? Is the entertainment which these fellows get as distasteful as it might be, and the labour which is exacted from them judiciously severe? If we may take for granted that the gentlemen and officers, who have this matter under their management, are doing all in their power to abate the nuisance, are the public generally co-operating with them?

I fear many of the public, and especially the working classes, are greatly to blame for giving alms to those unscrupulous and systematic beggars. They avoid, as a rule, the better class of houses for fear; but prey upon the cottagers, and with their false and plausible stories work upon their feelings, excite their sympathy, and so obtain sufficient help to carry them from Workhouse to Workhouse. Working men and their wives, whose families need every farthing of their earnings, ought to be better informed, and not be duped by those wretched beings so selfish and degraded, who are determined by the labour of others. If begging could be put down, vagrancy would well nigh cease.

I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

January 20th. X. Y. Z,

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