There was a great need for such provision across Swansea at the end of the nineteenth century to try and alleviate serious poverty especially in winter. Places like St Marks and Trinity Church were always appealing for funds.
W. Watkins Edwards of St Marks Vicarage established a soup kitchen in Waun Wen in 1894.
‘For some weeks past we have been able to distribute some 30 quarts per week to a few of the very destitute cases, but the number, who are really deserving, that we are perforce bound to refuse, impels me to issue this appeal.’
But there was always a feeling amongst some that such charitable generosity was being exploited by the undeserving poor. The concept of the ‘deserving poor’, which of course, implies that there was an ‘undeserving poor,’ was based generally upon a failure to understand the causes of poverty, as if it was a deliberate state some had chosen. Sadly, such a view still persists.
This quotation from January 1896 illustrates this perfectly.
‘There can be no doubt that a great deal of real distress exists in the town and district, and that from no fault of their own, men are out of work and their wives and families in great straits, many in absolute want of the bare necessities of life. It is therefore satisfactory to find that a committee of ladies and gentlemen have again undertaken the benevolent work of establishing a soup kitchen; and that Mrs. Joseph Solomon, of Northampton Terrace, has undertaken the work of preparation and distribution. The public well know that there are, unfortunately, too many vagrants about, whose pitiable condition is to a very great extent the result of their own neglect or inebriety. This soup kitchen is not intended for such as these. ..the soup kitchen is mainly designed to relieve the necessities and supply the wants of the deserving and industrious poor, but who are now out of employ. There are several families in the parish who, through no fault of their own, are suffering from partial starvation. In some instances this is the result of sickness, in others of insufficient work, and in others of both causes combined. It is not proposed to give the soup away, but to sell it at a nominal price to the deserving. This method of giving relief is prompt, effectual, and economical. I need scarcely say that last year’s fund was entirely exhausted. Parcels of left-off clothing would also be most gratefully received.’
In the winter of 1895 the Back Street kitchen soup kitchen was open. They charged one penny a quart for soup but the charge was suspended in the exceptional distress of February and March, when all who came were provided with soup and bread free of charge.
Things were often quite desperate. W. Watkins Edwards of St Marks wrote to the press in 1899.
‘Would you kindly allow me to make known, through your paper, that we have many cases of distress in our neighbourhood deserving of every consideration at the hands of a Christian public. In some cases, well-known to me, families have a struggle for bare existence, and even this has been accentuated by the diphtheria epidemic and other sickness… a small charge will be made for the soup, except in extreme cases. I beg to apply to your readers to help me in the work by gifts of money, coal, meat, bread, peas, or other suitable vegetables.’
It is interesting to note that in the winter of 1909 a soup kitchen to help feed the poor was established in the Palace Theatre. We still have the Palace Theatre and we still have awful poverty. Things haven’t changed much, have they? Here we are, in the twenty first century and MPs, with absolutely no sense of irony, queue to be photographed supporting their local food banks…