Run out your measured arcs

Thomas Alva Edison is reported to have said, “Electricity will displace
steam,” and, taking his prediction as a text, I will begin by quoting a
few figures; for Britishers, though they may affect otherwise, dearly
love statistics.

Well, in the year that Queen Victoria ascended the throne the capital
invested in railways might have been expressed in a few figures. When
she died, the “iron horse” represented the vast sum of twelve hundred
millions sterling.

Twenty years ago investments in electric traction enterprises amounted
to not more than £100,000. To-day they involve immense sums, the County
Council’s scheme for London alone running up to £50,000,000! But this is
nothing to the probabilities of the near future, as Mr. Percy Sellon
pointed out to the London Chamber of Commerce. “Within the next ten
years,” he said, “electric supply and traction may be expected, with a
fair field, to engage at least 250 millions of capital”; and this
estimate seems to be by no means exaggerated; in fact, it is
underrated. As one of the leading “dailies” observes, “Apart from such a
large project as the electrification of the District and Metropolitan
Railways, there is scarcely a municipal authority in Great Britain which
has not in hand some scheme of electric railway, tramway, or lighting.
It is as well to think that electricity is not the agent of the future,
but of the present, and an era which has already dawned. In displacement
of steam, electricity is evidently destined to be one of the products of
the first quarter of the twentieth century.”

It may be surmised that by the time Mr. Sellons ten years have expired
all the great railway companies in the kingdom will have adopted
electricity as motive power, certainly on their suburban lines, and for
the passenger traffic on the main lines.

With what effect, and at what cost?

The latter question can hardly be answered, but the former may be
guessed at. For a long time the railway companies will naturally be
reluctant to bring about such a revolution as the substitution of
electricity for steam. Engines of enormous power, such as the new Great
Eastern “Decapod” or ten-wheeler, will be requisitioned to accelerate
the working of trains; and, to save fuel, petroleum will be extensively
adopted on others.

But electricity the public will have, if it is shown to be more
economical in the long run.

Still, to entirely dispense with a great stock of costly locomotives,
substituting up-to-date motor engines–with the possibility looming in
the future that these, too, in their turn, by the perfecting of storage
batteries, may be displaced–to, perhaps, build new cars, or completely
remodel existing rolling-stock; to erect new buildings (in many cases)
for power stations; to lay down third rails; all this would involve an
expenditure that even long-suffering shareholders would rebel against.
While, if the steam locomotives were retained to work an accelerated
goods service on separate tracks, the widening of bridges, cuttings, and
viaducts, the duplication of tunnels on many lines, and the enlargement
of stations and sidings, would entail disastrous expenditure. However,
the change will doubtless be made gradually, perhaps commencing with the
suburban lines, probably as a direct result of the electrification of
the Inner Circle Railway, over whose system several main lines have
important running powers, and which will then be compelled to abandon
steam. Or should some enterprising Socialistic Government come into
power with no such trifling matters as Education, Water, Gas, or Tube
Bills on its hands, it might by the year 1913, in its anxiety to carry
theory into practice, decide to nationalise and electrify our railways
wholesale, and at any cost–to the ratepayers!

The effect, anyhow, would not be so very startling, for by that time
electric travelling would be a matter of course, and disused locomotives
of the type so familiar on the “Underground” would be inquired for by
relic hunters and presented as curios to every big town.

Already the change on the great lines has begun, and it is a significant
fact that the North Eastern have decided to adopt electricity on some
thirty-seven miles of their system in the neighbourhood of
Newcastle-on-Tyne, and a modified form of it in the shape of auto-cars
with petrol engines and dynamos generating the current, on the short
line between Hartlepool and West Hartlepool.

Of electric lines in progress or projected, we have the Manchester and
Liverpool, the London and Brighton, the Edinburgh and Glasgow, and

In London all the big termini will be linked together, and connected
with the metropolitan Tube systems, whatever form the latter may
ultimately assume. This may have the effect of increasing the crowding
and bustling of our big stations, but, on the other hand, a vast number
of wealthy people will use motor-cars from “house-to-house,” dispensing
altogether with the railway.

Trains, more speedily and more economically run, will start more
frequently. Goods traffic will be on entirely separate lines, and
passenger trains will be able to follow one another in rapid and safe

Exteriorily all the termini will look as they do now, minus the presence
of horsed four-wheelers and hansoms. But Victoria will be greatly
enlarged along Buckingham Palace Road; while Euston, nearly doubled in
size, will have its frontage brought forward to Euston Square. Within,
there will be less confusion, as either the American check system of
booking luggage will be adopted, or that of collecting it beforehand by
the railway company’s swift motor-vans, and there will be less
steam. On the whole, however, the old stations will probably be
unchanged–Paddington, with its familiar transept roof, impressive as in
1854, when the late Queen, travelling from Windsor, paid it her first
visit; the Midland, remarkable for its noble span roof, soaring one
hundred feet above the level of its eleven lines of rail and its four
platforms; the Great Eastern, the largest terminus in the kingdom, under
five great spans–four parallel and one transverse–of glazed roofing,
with its eighteen arrival and departure platforms; and Waterloo, once a
mere shed propped up by arches, but now second in size only to
Liverpool Street, a maze to the uninitiated.

The large provincial stations will most likely remain much as they are
at present–Bristol, Exeter, York, Glasgow, Liverpool, all splendid
specimens of important termini and junctions; Swindon, Crewe,
Manchester, and Warrington, greatly improved, if not entirely rebuilt.

Power machinery will be housed in existing railway buildings when
practicable, and intermediate sub-stations will be marked features along
the railway routes. Pumping-houses, water-tanks, coalyards, stages, and
sidings will have disappeared.

Sleepy wayside stations, with their pleasant gardens and rural
surroundings, will probably remain untouched by the new order of things,
save that the rapid delivery of farm produce by horseless vehicles or by
light railways, acting as feeders, will wake them up.


The general use of horseless vehicles will do more–at any rate in
London–towards the sanitation of great cities than all the enactments
of county or borough councils. Medical experts are agreed that the
condition of the roads, however well kept, in dry weather particularly,
is highly conducive to the spread of all kinds of throat diseases, not
to mention influenza; while if the roads are neglected, the peril is
increased and every sense is offended. Horses, as beasts of burden,
should have no place in crowded thoroughfares, and their presence in
numbers produces on wood-paving a pernicious and offensive ammoniacal
result which anyone can test in, say, Broad Street, after the omnibuses
have ceased running for the day, or, rather, for the night. All over
London, and even in the suburbs, the streets are Augean stables, which
no effort of the Hercules of Spring Gardens or the Guildhall can
effectually cleanse. It is estimated that at the present time there are
over 16,000 licensed horse carriages in London, besides tradesmens vans
and other vehicles, and that 200,000 horses are stabled every night,
necessitating the removal of thousands of tons of manure and refuse

Noise, too–that distracting rattle and rumble of vans, light carts,
omnibuses, and cabs–will be done away with, and how much this will help
to restore the nervous system of Londoners who can tell? Horses having
almost vanished, the space each one would occupy–some seven feet in
length–will be saved on each vehicle, and thus the increase of traffic
will be partly provided for. Collisions and the running-down of cars
will be unheard of, the steering and stopping powers of the electric
motors being perfect.


The effect of universal electric traction on our social life may be
far-reaching and prodigious. It may result in a partial decrease in the
resident population of London, the working-classes living largely in the
country and travelling up and down at uniform penny fares, clerks and
others doing the same; while the wealthy and the well-to-do may use
their motor-cars to such an extent as to habitually sleep outside the
town boundaries, as may also members of both Houses. Only those persons
whose duties compel them, will live within hearing of Big Ben.

Society will be still more restless, but its members will be healthier,
as fresh air will readily be obtainable. There will be even less time
for reading than now. Formal calls will largely cease; friends in
luxurious electro-cars will “pop in” _en route_ on short surprise
visits, and hospitality will, on the whole, diminish.

In these vehicles, touring parties (_without_ Cook and Son, or Gaze and
Co.) will be constantly arranged to traverse the world. House rents
generally will be lower, save at the seaside and other health resorts,
where they may actually become higher. So that for those who elect to
remain in town, it will be possible to live on a moderate income, rates
and taxes, it is to be hoped, also being lessened.

The cost of living will be reduced, produce of all kinds being more
extensively home-grown and more economically brought to market.

Horses, being discarded for draught purposes, will be plentiful and
cheap; cavalry remounts will be readily obtained, and all over Europe
mounted forces may be the order of the day. The smallest farmer will be
able to employ several horses on his farm, and everyone in the country,
grown tired of cycling and motoring, will have their stables full at low
cost, while in the season Rotten Row will be more crowded than ever with

Wages will be higher, and there will be a wider field and less

Lastly, hygienic conditions being vastly improved, and smoke abolished,
the death-rate of London and all large cities will be reduced. But the
greatest boon electrical traction can bestow, will be reserved for the
working and poorer classes. Take London, for example.


“Overcrowding! Why, everybody knows what that means!” said the Hon. John
Middlemass. “Only the other day I had to travel to town from
Southampton, and the first-class compartment actually filled up–a
beastly nuisance, for we could not play whist as we had hoped. And in
the afternoon, when on my way to pay a visit at Lancaster Gate, I
couldn’t get a seat in the Twopenny Tube, but had to stand all the way,
holding on by one of the straps in the roof! Overcrowding! Why, the last
time I dined at the Gresham Club in the City, there was not a table to
be got to one’s self. They were all packed, and the waiters could hardly
move about. And that evening at Lady Danby’s reception in Piccadilly we
couldn’t even stir, I can assure you, once we were in her big
drawing-room. While as for supper, it was a fight to get near the
buffet, and when I did manage to get some consommé for Sybil Clare, who
was positively starving, just as I was piloting it out of the crush,
some fool jobbed my elbow, and sent the lot of it right into old Colonel
Curry’s face, and made him swear like a trooper! To make matters worse,
I stepped upon the Dowager Lady Harvey’s train, which had no business on
the floor at all, and, I am told, tore three breadths out of it,
whatever that may mean. Anyhow, I was not asked to any of her dinners
again that season.

“Overcrowding! Yes! You should have been stopping with me at Rookfort
Castle the Christmas after young Lord Staunton had come of age! Two in
each bedroom, I assure you, and they actually had the cheek to ask some
of us to put up with the box-room at the top of the house, as every
square foot of the place was occupied. Oh, yes, I know what trying to
put too many eggs in one basket means! I went through it all on board
the P. and O. _Arabia_, from Bombay. Six in a cabin; no room to dress,
had to take it by turns; all the grub served in double relays; baths out
of the question, unless a fellow sat up all night to grab one; and the
promenade-deck like the enclosure at Ascot on Cup Day; which reminds me
that I never was at any of the big races when the grand stand wasn’t
crowded out.

“Then, as to overcrowding in small houses, used I not to call upon poor
Bristowe, my chum at Eton, who became a lawyer’s clerk at £300 a year,
got married, had eleven children, and lives in a poky little house down
Fulham way–only eight rooms–and I believe some of them sleep in the
bathroom and the kitchen, and the slavey in the scullery!”

Evidently the Hon. John did not know much about the social problem of
overcrowding amongst the poor, and how it has arisen.

“It is not good that man should be alone,” and ever since that divine
maxim was enunciated, man has taken good care to act upon it, in more
senses than one. His nature is gregarious, and as the world he was sent
into ceased to give him its fruits spontaneously, he was obliged to take
to a country life to obtain the means of existence by the sweat of his
brow. He did not readily adapt himself to the new conditions, and, as
the history of Babel shows, there was always a tendency to congregate,
build great cities, and get as much agricultural work done as possible
by slaves.

Nowadays the dislike of solitude is more marked than ever. Who does not
know of beautiful country vicarages whose inmates would give their souls
to go and live in towns; of farms where wife and daughters pass their
time in grumbling because it is so dull at the old house; of squatters
far away in Gipp’s Land or Maneroo Plains, who, as soon as they make
their pile, leave the roomy verandahed station, and, importuned by an
impatient family, settle down at St. Kilda, Toorak, Darling Point, in
Melbourne, or Sydney? Even peasants, country born and bred, seeking to
“better themselves” in Canada, often cannot, or will not, bear the
absence of such small excitement as falls to their lot in their native

This is illustrated by a case known to myself, where a labouring lad,
assisted out to the far West, and there obtaining good wages, and–what
to him was luxury indeed–unlimited eggs to eat, threw up his situation
and came back to his home in Kent and to his wretched wages, simply
because, as he said, “It was too lonely in Manitoba; there was no
amusement and no village inns.”

As Mr. Rider Haggard has remarked, “Some parts of England are becoming
almost as lonesome as the veldt of Africa.”

Therefore there is the danger ahead that Goldsmith’s foreboding may be

“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay.
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade,
A breath can make them as a breath has made,
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed can never be supplied.”

Hodge, as a class, cannot emigrate. He has muscle, he has a wife and
usually several children, but he has no capital, and the colonies, with
the exception of Canada, do not encourage him or want him without. His
advent also means a disturbance in the labour market and lowers the wage
rate. So millions of acres of fertile land in our dependencies where
there is room, and more than room, for all, remain untilled,
dependencies created by British capital, defended from invasion by
British fleets, helped by British taxpayers, but allowed by a succession
of Governments, with the precedent of the American colonies in their
minds, to surround themselves with _chevaux-de-frise_ of exclusiveness.

No longer do great clipper ships leave these shores crowded with hopeful
emigrants, the refrain of “Cheer, boys, cheer,” on their lips, and speed
across wide oceans to the Antipodes. A new order of things prevails.
Workmen’s wages in Australasia must be maintained at a fixed standard,
come what may. Heavy duties must be levied to effect this, and
everything must be “protected,” except the interests of Great Britain.

But Hodge wants to move somewhere and earn more money, so he and his
belongings migrate to London, side by side with other kinds of
impoverished labourers; but, alas! for them, side by side also with the
poor alien, who is unquestionably one great cause of the congestion in
certain districts. Russians, Poles, and Germans swarm into the world’s
metropolis, whose streets, they have been told, are paved with gold that
only requires picking up! They are willing to pay almost any price for
wretched accommodation near their work, where they herd together under
conditions as low as they can well be.

The following illustrates this. At the London Hospital in December of
last year Mr. Wynne E. Baxter held an inquest on the body of Mary
Moretsky Libermann, aged nine, who was accidentally burnt to death. The
coroner said the only articles in the room where the fatality took place
were a small bed and a broken chair, and that the mother and two
children slept in the bed, and four other children on the floor. The
woman, it appeared, came from Russia, and had only been in England seven
weeks. For the small room she paid 3_s._ 6_d._ a week. A juryman urged
that there ought to be some sort of supervision over the kind of house
in which this woman and her family existed.

[Illustration: FIG. 36. WHERE THE POOR LIVE

Original drawing by Hanslip Fletcher

_By permission of Mr. Hanslip Fletcher_]

The presence of aliens and their competition also lowers the already
sufficiently low rate of wages. Houses, therefore, in these
localities–once tenanted by a single family–are let off at exorbitant
rates to as many as can be crammed into them. Lucky, indeed, is the
married labourer who can anywhere secure a single room for 4_s._ to
6_s._ a week. And such a room! No means of preparing a real meal, the
family fare generally consisting of tea, “two-eyed steaks” (herrings),
and a “couple of doorsteps” (two slices of bread) per head.

But, as “General” Booth says, “A home is a home be it ever so low, and
the desperate tenacity with which the poor cling to the last wretched
semblance of one is very touching. There are vile dens, fever-haunted
and stenchful crowded courts, where the return of summer is dreaded
because it means the unloosing of myriads of vermin which render night
unbearable, which (the dens) nevertheless are regarded as havens of rest
by their hard-working occupants. They can scarcely be said to be
furnished. A chair, a mattress, and a few miserable sticks constitute
all the furniture of the single room in which they have to sleep and
breed and die; but they cling to it as a drowning man to a
half-submerged raft…. So long as the family has a lair into which it
can creep at night, the married man keeps his footing, but when he loses
that solitary foothold, there arrives the time, if there be such a thing
as Christian compassion, for the helping hand to be held out to save him
from the vortex that sucks him downward, aye, downward to the hopeless
under-strata of crime and despair.”

Truly in such cases one realises the truth of these lines:–

“God made the country, and man made the town,
What wonder then that health and virtue, gifts
That can alone make sweet the bitter draft
That life holds out to all, should most abound
And least be threatened in the fields and groves.”

Booth writes chiefly of the East of London; but of all overcrowded vile
dens, perhaps none are so bad as those in the West End, frequently not a
stone’s-throw from fashionable thoroughfares and luxurious residences.

At Notting Dale, Kensington, is a district comprising five streets,
consisting entirely of common lodging-houses and “furnished rooms,”
whose occupants are thieves, rogues, professional beggars, hawkers, and
“unfortunates.” It has been rightly named the “West End Avernus,” and so
offensive are the habits of its unwashed crowds, that the policeman on
his beat is often compelled to hold his handkerchief to his nose as he
passes by.

Still lower in the grade of accommodation for a married labourer is the
“part of one room” system; and, lowest of all, the common lodging-house,
where over-crowding is inevitable.

In one alley in Spitalfields there were last year ten houses in whose
fifty-one rooms (none of them more than 8 ft. by 9 ft.–about the size
of a biggish bathroom) no fewer than 254 human beings were distributed;
from two to nine in each apartment, but nine in the room was not the

There is an old story to the effect that a district visitor,
sympathising with an occupant of some such lodging as the above in St.
Giles’-in-the-Fields, where four families respectively _tenanted_ the
four corners, was met with the philosophic reply, “Oh, yes, we should
have been comfortable enough if the landlord hadn’t gone and let the
middle of the room to a fifth family.”

Think of all this, fathers and mothers, who jealously guard your
children from every possible source of moral contamination, whose
daughters’ modesty would be startled if accidentally a bedroom window
momentarily revealed their toilettes, whose children at boarding-schools
feel sensitive about dressing and undressing before others.

Yet this is nothing! A well-known rector in the East End says: “From
one of my parochial buildings I have seen through the thinly-veiled
windows of a house, four men and six women retiring for the night in one
room, all of them respectable, hard-working people, and the majority of
them sleeping in beds on the floor,” the rent per week being eight

As to the alleged dislike of the very poor to the use of soap and water,
it is chiefly because the privacy essential for tubbing is simply

Probably the lowest depth is attained, as I have said, in the common
lodging-house, where all kinds of characters assemble under conditions
which make innocence and decency impossible, children looking without
any emotion upon sights they ought never to see, and listening to
language they ought never to hear.

The victims of this result of overcrowding are human beings like
ourselves, “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the
same winter and summer.”

It is not from choice that men, women, and children are thus herded
worse than cattle. Necessity compels them to dwell within a certain
area, especially the “docker,” who cannot afford to take a journey in
search of work, while the smallness and uncertainty of their earnings,
together with the high rent they pay, deprive them of the power to exist

Figures prove little, but it is a fact that for all London the average
population per acre is fifty-seven; and an idea of the extent of
overcrowding in certain localities may be gathered by comparing this
with that of St. George the Martyr, Southwark, which is 210; with
Whitechapel, 225; and with Spitalfields, 330; the latter equivalent to
crowding into the area of Grosvenor Square (six acres), tenements
containing 1,980 souls, instead of 342! On the other hand, in the
wealthy parts of London there is far too much room, great mansions that
could comfortably accommodate scores of people being habitually left
almost empty.

The moral effect of it all is terrible. Thousands of infants, ill-born,
tainted, ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, are growing up under
conditions where purity of thought is impossible, growing up to taint
future generations and undo the good work effected elsewhere in social
regeneration. Why keep the main stream pure if foul rivulets be allowed
to arise and pollute it again? Why make clean the outside only of the
cup and platter?

But, as Cervantes says, “there is a remedy for everything but death.”
And for the “submerged tenth,” who cannot move away to the suburbs, no
doubt in time vast barracks built of steel with garden roofs, unsightly
but utilitarian, will be created in every poor quarter, resembling the
Park Row Buildings in New York, 380 feet in height, and consisting of
thirty stories; or the Fisher, the Marquette, and the Champlain blocks
in Chicago, of seventeen stories each.

These buildings would accommodate thousands of lodgers–British subjects
only–at low rentals, under decent and sanitary conditions. While for
workmen and others in receipt of fair wages cheap electric traction,
enabling them to go to and from their daily task, will solve the problem
of overcrowding so far as they are concerned.

Overcrowding, however, is only one out of a host of problems and
questions that characterised the closing decades of the last century,
and beset the opening of the present one.

We are haunted with problems, and if none existed we should probably
regret it, and try to invent them. There are endless political and
economic problems, the naval and military, the religious and
educational, the national food supply, and with it the land and
agricultural question, the labour question, and the relief of the poor,
who are always with us.

Social problems bristle on all sides, and every active lady appears to
belong, not to one, but to many of the societies for the reform or
abolition of this, and for the bringing about of that, which abound. Mr.
Jellyby’s little project for civilising the natives of Borrioboola-Gha
on the left bank of the Niger, and providing them with blankets, would
be but a drop in the philanthropic ocean of to-day!

Temperance, morality, smoking, marriage laws, vaccination, funeral
customs and cremation, early closing, domestic service, cooking, dress,
hygiene, our boys and girls and what to do with them, in fact,
everything in life, seems to have been converted into a “Question,” and
provides a text upon which more or less eloquent sermons are preached.

Everyone seems to work hard, and has no time for anything. Everyone,
too, is restless and expectant, eager for excitement and change, while
miracles of discovery and invention are wrought so frequently as to be
almost unnoticed.

All nations are being chained together by iron roads or lines of swift
steamers, and everybody travels. Locomotion is the order of the day, a
sign of the times, and electricity is the great factor that has brought
it about.

Just as in the building of some vast cathedral unsightly scaffolding
conceals the graceful proportions of the uprising building, so in what
is going on around us may appear much confusion and absence of purpose.
But out of it is being evolved a state of readiness for the coming era,
when wars shall cease and vexed problems be finally solved.

Meantime the world’s feverish workers might well despair, were it not
that they

“…see in part
That all, as in some piece of art,
Is toil co-operant to an end.”