They were the worst of times

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Charles Dickens observation for his novel A Tale Of Two Cities, I quote, “they were the best of times, they were the worst of times” this quote fits the times of this article, from the Sheffield Independent from 1880.

A report of the suffering of one impoverished family in Sheffield was revealed at the inquest on the body of Mary Good, who lodged on Alma Street.

She had been left by her husband many years before and had since supported only by her children.

On January 5, she obtained a ticket requesting the workhouse medical officer attend her as she was suffering Dropsy.

He ordered her to go into the Workhouse as she could not receive proper food or attention where she was, but she refused to go.

Finally giving in on January 10 she went to the Workhouse by cab, which the Workhouse authorities had agreed to pay for.

Within five minutes of entering the door, having been removed from the cab by chair as she was unable to walk, she was dead.

Her oldest son, William aged 13 years, told the Coroner that he and his two little sisters sold matches and newspapers for a living and they generally earned 5d a day round about two pence in today’s money).

At the weekends they might earn 7d (three pence) but their lodgings cost 6d (two and a half pence) a night, so they had little money for food.

A verdict was given as death brought on by want, in other words starvation, this cause of death was not unknown in the Town.

I wonder how today’s children would have coped with the problems of the Good family.

No benefits then, today quite a few people cry poverty when they are smoking, drinking and have a pocket full of money.

The unfortunate death of Mary Good and the desperate situation her children found themselves in puts today’s problems in perspective.

Vin Malone

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