The congregation which I saw on this particular occasion seemed to me to consist for the most part of elderly men; in fact, some of them were very old, and the average age of those who attended the Penitent-Form I estimated at about thirty-five years. This, however, varies. I am informed that at times they are mostly young persons. It must be remembered—and the statement throws a lurid light upon the conditions prevailing in London, as in other of our great cities—that the population which week by week attends these Sunday morning services is of an ever-shifting character. Doubtless, there are some habitues and others who reappear from time to time. But the most of the audience is new. Every Saturday night the highways and the hedges, or rather the streets and the railway arches yield a new crop of homeless and quite destitute wanderers. These are gathered into the Blackfriars Shelter, and go their bitter road again after the rest, the breakfast, and the service. But as we have seen here a substantial proportion, about 10 per cent, remain behind. These are all interviewed separately and fed, and on the following morning as many of them as vacancies can be found for in the Paper Works Elevator or elsewhere are sent thither.
I saw plenty of these men, and with them others who had been rescued previously; so many, indeed, that it is impossible to set out their separate cases. Looking through my notes made at the time, I find among them a schoolmaster, an Australian who fought in South Africa, a publican who had lost L2,000 in speculation and been twelve months on the streets, a sailor and two soldiers who between them had seen much service abroad, and a University man who had tried to commit suicide from London Bridge.
Also there was a person who was recently described in the newspapers as the ‘dirtiest man in London.’ He was found sitting on the steps of a large building in Queen Victoria Street, partly paralysed from exposure. So filthy and verminous was he, that it was necessary to scrape his body, which mere washing would not touch. When he was picked up, a crowd of several hundred people followed him down the street, attracted by his dreadful appearance. His pockets were full of filth, amongst which were found 5s. in coppers. He had then been a month in the Shelter, where he peels or peeled potatoes, etc., and looked quite bright and clean.
Most of these people had been brought down by the accursed drink, which is the bane of our nation, and some few by sheer misfortune.
Neither at the service, nor afterwards, did I see a single Jew, for the fallen of that race seem to be looked after by their fellow religionists. Moreover, the Jews do not drink to excess. Foreigners, also, are comparatively scarce at Blackfriars and in the other Shelters.
On the afternoon of the Sunday on which I visited the Blackfriars Shelter, I attended another service, conducted by Commissioner Sturgess, at Quaker Street.