THE GREAT PETER STREET SHELTER
This fine building is the most up-to-date Men’s Shelter that the Salvation Army possesses in London. It was once the billiard works of Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, and is situated in Westminster, quite near to the Houses of Parliament. I visited it about eight o’clock in the evening, and at its entrance was confronted with the word ‘Full,’ inscribed in chalk upon its portals, at which poor tramps, deprived of their hope of a night’s lodging, were staring disconsolately. It reminded me of a playhouse upon a first-night of importance, but, alas! the actors here play in a tragedy more dreadful in its cumulative effect than any that was ever put upon the stage.
This Shelter is wonderfully equipped and organized. It contains sitting or resting-rooms, smoking-rooms, huge dormitories capable of accommodating about 600 sleepers; bathrooms, lavatories, extensive hot-water and warming apparatus, great kitchens, and butteries, and so forth. In the sitting and smoking-rooms, numbers of derelict men were seated. Some did nothing except stare before them vacantly. Some evidently were suffering from the effects of drink or fatigue; some were reading newspapers which they had picked up in the course of their day’s tramp. One, I remember, was engaged in sorting out and crumpling up a number of cigar and cigarette ends which he had collected from the pavements, carefully grading the results in different heaps, according to the class of the tobacco (how strong it must be!) either for his own consumption or for sale to other unfortunates. In another place, men were eating the 1d. or 1/2d. suppers that they had purchased.
Early as it was, however, the great dormitories were crowded with hundreds of the lodgers, either in bed or in process of getting there. I noticed that they all undressed themselves, wrapping up their rags in bundles, and, for the most part slept quite naked. Many of them struck me as very fine fellows physically, and the reflection crossed my mind, seeing them thus in puris naturalibus, that there was little indeed to distinguish them from a crowd of males of the upper class engaged, let us say, in bathing. It is the clothes that make the difference to the eye.
In this Shelter I was told, by the way, that there exists a code of rough honour among these people, who very rarely attempt to steal anything from each other. Having so little property, they sternly respect its rights. I should add that the charge made for accommodation and food is 3d. per night for sleeping, and 1d. or 1/2d. per portion of food.
The sight of this Institution crowded with human derelicts struck me as most sad, more so indeed than many others that I have seen, though, perhaps, this may have been because I was myself tired out with a long day of inspection.