Monday, October 05, 2009

A Blind Beggar in Deptford (1881)

In his book Life in the London Streets (1881), Richard Rowe describes the blind beggars of the capital, including an encounter with one on a bus in Deptford:

'One day in a "Nelson" omnibus I fell in with a tall man, dressed in clerical-looking clothes, not nearly so greenish-brown and threadbare as those a good many overworked London curates are obliged to wear. Misunderstanding, or pretending to misunderstand, some remark I had made to a companion, the tall man began to lecture me loftily on the ignorance and inhumanity I had displayed in sneering at those whom it had pleased the Almighty to deprive of sight, quoting Scripture largely against me. I had said nothing about blind people, and did not know, until I looked at him closely, that the man was blind. However, as I thought that I had wounded his feelings, I apologised for the unintentional offence I had given him, and we got into conversation, throughout which he maintained a de haut en bas tone towards me, laying down the law most oracularly, but throwing out hints now and then about money, which when I heard them I could not understand.

At last the bus pulled up in Deptford Broadway, and the blind man got out, graciously allowing me to shake hands with him, in token that he bore no malice, before he departed. When he was gone, a man at the top of the bus burst into a roar of laughter. "Do you know who it is," he said to me, "you've been talking so respectfully to all this time? The old rogue's a blind beggar. He lodges somewhere about here, - not in Mill Lane, he's a cut above that. He's got a pitch just now in the New Kent Road, and rides to business and back again just like any City man." A few weeks afterwards I came upon my blind friend holding forth in his professional capacity to a congregation of half-a-dozen at a street corner in Camberwell, and found that he had given me a good bit of his street sermon in the omnibus'.

1 comment:

Deptford Dame said...

I love that phrase 'fell in with' - it's so apt for this kind of random meeting. I think I will try and revive its use.