An Imaginative Solution to Unemployment in 1888

Locally, even the most skilled artisans faced dire poverty, while unskilled labourers had to choose between starvation or the Workhouse. Relief funds were subscribed; soup kitchens and clothing depots opened. The Vestry was besought to find work, even if only stone-breaking, for as many of the poor residents as possible. A committee of local people, called together originally by the local MP, Lord Randolph Churchill, raised a local Relief Fund of almost £1,800 (perhaps £300,000 today) but could not decide how best to employ it how to relieve want in a society still with the parish relief systems of a medieval village. People were only too willing to work. Were they to be turned into Paupers, and forced into the Workhouse, with all the shame that word implied?

Beachcroft again seized his chance. He offered to rent, even on a risky annual tenancy, an additional eleven acres adjoining the cricket ground, which had already been laid out at his own expense, providing that at least part of the Relief Fund was used in paying for labour to drain, fence, and lay out the land and to form a cinder track for athletics and cycling. He estimated that from forty to fifty men could be continuously employed in the work for eight or ten weeks. He entered into an agreement with the Committee of the Fund by which he would:-

Provide the cost of the materials for converting the fields into a Recreation Ground.

Pay rent for the fields, provide for maintenance, and employ men sent to him by the Committee and no others, provided sufficient competent men were forthcoming.

As soon as he had recouped his costs by letting portions of the ground to clubs, etc. the Committee could take over the grounds if they so wished. If not, he would be free to act as he chose, save that out of any profits, he would refund to the Committee the cost of the labour provided by the Fund.

That the Ground should not be used for any political or public meetings.

The Ground, if open on Sundays, to be free to the Public, but for promenading only.

No intoxicating Liquors to be permitted.

In consideration for the above, the Committee agreed to send him such number of men as they thought fit from the Unemployed in Paddington and to pay their wages from the Fund.

This imaginative offer made it clear that Beachcroft, or his heirs, would not profit personally from the Recreation Ground. All money, after providing for the yearly cost of maintenance, ground-men, etc. would be set apart towards acquiring the present, or failing that, some other permanent cricket ground.

Five hundred men of almost all trades were employed for ten weeks in building the Ground. 35,000 yards of clay, 2,800 yards of ballast, 40,00 loads of rubbish were removed, and 1,300 yards of ashes laid to form the Grounds. A well turfed cricket field, tennis courts, a splendid cinder cycling track and a handsome pavilion with a terraced roof, were constructed.

Owing to Mr. Beachcroft's generosity, the whole of the Fund for Relieving the Unemployed was paid in wages. He was responsible for all materials

(about £2,500 - perhaps E500,0000 today) and maintenance costs. The first season was a financial success, with receipts of £1,100.

 

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Updated January 23, 2011