The streets of London are damp, and dark, and wet and the populace of the city in the main, wend their weary, tired ways through its straw covered streets on foot. Some of these feet are eccentrically shod, wrapped as they are in bits of paper and strips of rag, and some of these feet are not shod at all.
Many of the populace carry burdens with them, piece work, bundles of second-hand clothing, dried & preserved turkey twizzler strips, trays of unsold trout bloaters and baked potatoes, slathered in cold turkey twizzler grease. There are those who have the luxury of travel on wheels; the enslaved apprentices of Spitalfield’s Workhouse are crammed into a wooden cart till it weaves and waddles on its way, looking as though at any moment it might overturn. Horse drawn carriages are for the Aristocracy, whose feet are far too delicate to join the dance of the striving, struggling masses of London. One such carriage glides noiselessly through London’s darkened streets, it’s way lit by the gas lamps fixed on either side of the doors. The carriage bears no coat of arms though it carries a very important load, a very powerful individual of singular political influence.
Down into Lime Cutter Lane the carriage travels, past the rag and bone merchants and the stray child scrabbling for pennies in the dirt. Past the Old Bailey, where only just this evening another six men were sentenced to death, for having rioted. It is Newgate Street where the glossy coated horse slows, before entering the central courtyard of Newgate Prison.
The sole occupant of the carriage, swaddled in a heavy travelling cloak, opens the door and swiftly descends into the cobbled courtyard where the governor of the prison awaits. “M’Lord” the prison superintendent coughs nervously, for it is not every day (thank heavens!) that one of her majesty’s prisons is blessed with a visit from near-royalty. “Is he within?” the visitor inquires brusquely, “He is m’lord and has been waiting, much patient, for your visitation” saying no more the prison governor meekly ushers his guest in through the prison door.
A pervasive reek greets the nostrils of this priviledged visitor and for the merest of moments he rears back in disgust, then swallowing hard he journeys on, deep into the bowels of that sombre institution. Past the women’s quarters where much sobbing can be heard, past the chapel where redemption after the punishment of dire iniquities is preached. Till he arrives at last before the half open door of a decidedly cheery looking room wherein the man he has come to see sits, wrapped in a thick woollen shawl, smoking his pipe. “Good evening your lordship” the bon vivant chuckles,”I’d thought you’d never visit! Care for a glass of beer?” A look of distinct, frosty displeasure passes over the face of this great man as he unwraps himself ( he is dressed for the opera) and slowly sits down in a chair humbly proffered by the embarassed prison governor. For reasons that will become apparent later in this story, he is having much difficulty assuming a comfortable position in his armchair. Observing his physical discomfort the union rep raises one eyebrow and smirks.
“Well” the gentleman says dourly slowly removing the pristine white gloves from each hand and placing them in his lap, “Your time has run out. I trust that I may inform Her Majesty that you have agreed to the offer made?” the union rep makes no reply, he is too busy enjoying his brandy and the spectacle of a discomforted and extremely distracted politician, one whose mind is clearly elsewhere. “So far” the politician continues, placing one delicate white hand softly upon the other,”So far fifty-one rebellious souls have departed this earth and another hundred will very shortly be deported unless you come to an agreeable answer, this is all such needless and pointless suffering. We had rather all defiant indolence ceased, and the parties in question returned to work” the union rep takes a cigar out of the breast pocket of his prison jacket ushering for it to be lit, which the prison superintendent duly does, darting a nervous glance at the eminent politician.
Having taking a fragrant puff or two, he makes his reply, “You say OUR time has run out, I say this, when woz the last time you walked through the streets of your own city? You darst not. Name a single working man in this city, a single foot soldier you’d trust with your children’s lives, you can’t. Give me the name of the foremen whose ard work and dwilligence keeps your economy at full thwottle, name me a single child ground to death in them mill machines or burnt alive in one of your chimneys, or buried alive in your coal mines whose name you know, the names of your ‘oundz are dearer to thee than they! And you talk to me of ultimatums!” puffing once more on his fragrant cigar the union rep fixes a contemptuous stare on the politician who has dipped his lips into the subtlest sneer, “I take it the answer is no then?” the union rep nods brusquely, “Just so. No.”
The eminent politician smiles quietly to himself, unfolds his delicate hands, pulls on his gloves, replaces his hat upon his head, wraps himself once more in his cloak and as he turns to go these are the final words that are flung after him,”Try China Town, mayhap there’s a nunnery there NOT affiliated to the unions or related to such as are!” the eminent politician is ushered to the door and through it by the nervous prison superintendent who watches as he re-enters his carriage and departs. A gentle rain is falling so that the filthy cobbles of the prison courtyard glitter and glisten, dirt and all. He sighs, this has been the third such visit in as many weeks and each time he must needs fortify his nerves with a quart of gin “Ths can’t go on for much longer” he mutters to himself as he stands in the courtyard doorway smoking a cigar and watching the rainfall, “You’re right” agrees the union rep, smoking alongside him, “It can’t and it won’t” fixing him with an inquiring glance the prison superintendent says, “the brothel keepers are on strike you say?” the union rep smiles dourly,”Aye, whose kids do you think Lord Aberdeen has been executing?”