THE PICCADILLY MIDNIGHT WORK
GREAT TICHFIELD STREET
I visited this place a little before twelve o’clock on a summer night. It is a small flat near Oxford Street, in which live two women-Officers of the Army, who are engaged in the work of reclaiming prostitutes. I may mention that for the last fourteen years the Major in charge, night by night, has tramped the streets with this object. The Titchfield Street flat is not in any sense a Home, but I saw a small room in it, with two beds, where cases who may be rescued from the streets, or come here in a time of trouble, can sleep until arrangements are made for them to proceed to one of the Rescue Institutions of the Army.
This work is one of the most difficult and comparatively unproductive of any that the Army undertakes. The careers of these unfortunate street women, who are nearly all of them very fine specimens of female humanity, for the most part follow a rocket-like curve. The majority of them begin by getting into trouble, at the end of which, perhaps, they find themselves with a child upon their hands. Or they may have been turned out of their homes, or some sudden misfortune may have reduced them to destitution. At any rate, the result is that they take to a loose life, and mayhap, after living under the protection of one or two men, find themselves upon the streets. Sometimes, it may be said to their credit, if that word can be used in this connexion, they adopt this mode of life in order to support their child or children.
The Major informed me that if they are handsome they generally begin with a period of great prosperity. One whom she knew earned about L30 a week, and a good many of them make as much as L1,000 a year, and pay perhaps L6 weekly in rent.
A certain proportion of them are careful, open a bank account, save money, retire, and get married. Generally, these keep their bank-books in their stockings, which, in their peculiar mode of life, they find to be the safest place, as they are very suspicious of each other, and much afraid of being robbed. The majority of them, however, are not so provident. They live in and for the moment, and spend their ill-gotten gains as fast as they receive them.
Gradually they drift downwards. They begin in Piccadilly, and progress, or rather retrogress, through Leicester Square on to Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, and thence to the Euston Road, ending their sad careers in Bishopsgate and Whitechapel. The Major informed me that there are but very few in the Piccadilly neighbourhood whom she knew when she took up this work, and that, as a rule, they cannot stand the life for long. The irregular hours, the exposure, the excitement, and above all the drink in which most of them indulge, kill them out or send them to a poorhouse or the hospital.