Settlements were first founded in the period 1850-60, said Father Martindale, largely by public schools. Then certain rich and powerful ladies, " a race which is dying out," had taken the movement up.
Among them were Lady Mary Howard and the late Duchess of Newcastle, who had founded a settlement on Tower Hill, afterwards removed to Poplar. The Duchess had often asked him to visit the settlement, but he had refused, arguing that if work was to be done it had better be done by someone who was interested in it, and thus done well.
After her death he visited the settlement however, and soon found himself returning there again. It was not in perfect condition. He tried to brighten up the drab little rooms. But the pictures he hung upon the walls were ruined by the rain which leaked through the roof.
Settlement Expenses 'Informed that its repair would cost £60 he looked into the state of the whole building. The floor, which had been stamped through by children allowed to play there, was found to have been laid over an open drain, while the beams were cracking and the walls bulged outwards.
He was told it would cost £2,000 to rebuild. It was rebuilt at a cost of £3,000. Where was the money to come from? The committee insisted that a Catholic building without a debt was a building without a blessing.
Father Martindale replied that he was not sufficiently mystic to see that far. He insisted on the debt being paid op, and it was paid.
Now he was determined to have a standing fund, on which the settlement could draw for emergency expenses and which would save them from the worry of sending out endless and maddening appeals.
When he had got the £5,000 he would next set about enlarging the settlement, so that there might be room for games and for instruction, both artistic and religious.
The Work of a Settlement
There were four officials employed permanently at the settlement, continued Father Martindale. Their work was hard, all-day work, with little praise or reward. They covered the whole of the practical and essential side of social work.
Babies were weighed and property fed, mothers taught how to cook and look after their families (a crying baby was always silenced with a bit of pork-fat), and young girls were taken to the country periodically for a rest and change of air.
The mothers appreciated help received in a religious atmosphere, instead of the officious treatment meted out at official centres.
The girls, however, did not for the most part enjoy their excursions into the countryside. For them it was a place full of vast green fields, of a depressing colour, suggestive only of loneliness. They were not happy unless living literally on top of one another. This was particularly true in the case of the Jews.
Slum Ideals Turning to the religious side of the social work, Father Martindale said it was extremely difficult to make anything penetrate beneath " the skin of their minds," although their thoughts were active all day long with an extraordinary mixture of ignorance and interest.
They were flooded with communist propaganda, and spoke casually of freelove, euthanasia, complexes and birthcontrol, things which they only half understood.
They had their ideals, but these were not very high-minded or philosophical. A girl's ambition was to have a ball dress (the young are greatly influenced by the films in these parts). This she would wear under her working overalls for the sheer joy of possession; while the young men's ambition was to have a pair of pointed shoes, which they paid for in eight or ten instalments, but had worn to ribbons before the sixth was paid.
Covered with debt these boys would disappear, but the shopkeepers did not care. They made sufficiently high profits off five instalments.
Though many were Catholics, educated in the Catholic schools, few ever went to the sacraments. This was a general condition of slum life, and Father Martindale recalled a similar area in Birmingham where the parish priest was highly satisfied if 40 per cent. of his congregation came to the sacraments occasionally.
The idea neither of Heaven nor Hell appealed to them, and they were taught to regard the Church as a capitalist institution.
The occasional confessions usually began with an embassy sent to the priest in the following way, " There's a chap over the road waiting to see yet," or with a casual remark from the penitent himself, "Come over 'ere, I've got something to tell yer." Conditions of squalor were so appalling that it required heroic courage for some to mend their ways.
As an example Father Martindale quoted the case of a young girl who had come to him in trouble. She was going to have a baby.
Could not its father do something for her, he asked. " Oh, well," was the reply, " I don't exactly know as who 'e is. it might be my best young man, or it might be the other one." Then, after further reflection, Or it might be one or other of me two brothers."
Living eleven in a room, and with drunkenness common in the family, said Father Martindale, what less could be expected?