The Crawlers of St. Giles’s

from Street Life of London, 1877This photograph by John Thomson appeared in a monthly magazine Street Life in London in 1877. Journalist Adolphe Smith added this caption: “Huddled together on the workhouse steps in Short’s Gardens, those wrecks of humanity, the Crawlers of St. Giles’s, may be seen both day and night seeking mutual warmth and mutual consolation in their extreme misery.”

Crawler was the rather pragmatic description of street people whose subsistence provided them not enough energy to walk. They crawled about city sidewalks “lacking even the energy to beg.” They were not unique to England during the industrial revolution. Historians record the same term applied to prone indigents in Boston and New York.

I had quite a time finding references to Crawlers online. The once pervasive term is now to be found only in specialized history texts about poverty. Do you think this disregard for fellow human beings cannot happen again?

In many undeveloped countries there is such untreated poverty. But the Crawler phenomenon describes less the abject poverty than the indifference shown by those who had health and food and stepped over them. Today we count on social welfare programs to prevent such misery, but are we not steadily dismantling the safety net? Every time I see a report of someone being rejected from a hospital for not having health insurance coverage, when I see people being left to get by on the street, when I see the indifference of philanthropists to the hardship of the have-nots, I think about the Crawlers.

Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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1 Response to The Crawlers of St. Giles’s

  1. Avatar teresa says:

    thanks for the information on this photo and the story behind it. I lived in London for over 20 years but had no idea such poverty was a part of the city.

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