Nothing beats a first-hand account to provide a sense of realism. For instance, compare these contemporary quotes about British Victorian poverty from our missionaries and a local minister. On their first day in Britain (1837) Heber C. Kimball walked the streets of Liverpool and recorded,
“…wealth and luxury abound, side by side with penury and want. I there met the rich attired in the most costly dresses, and the next minute was saluted with the cries of the poor with scarce covering sufficient to screen them from the weather. Such a wide distinction I never saw before.”
Upon arriving in Preston he witnessed some even more dramatic scenes:
“Such sufferings I never witnessed before. The scenes which I daily beheld were enough to chill the blood in my veins. The streets were crowded with men, women and children who begged from the passengers as they walked along. Numbers of the poor, wretched beings were without shoes or stockings, and scarcely any covering to screen them from the inclemency of the weather…”
In a letter to his wife, Orson Hyde observed:
“They are extremely poor, most of them not having a change of clothes decent to be baptized in, but they have open hearts and strong faith. We have taught them nothing about the gathering for they have no means to bring them to America, let alone procuring a place…. The brethren will frequently divide the last loaf with us, and will do all in their power for us…”
In January 1840 Wilford Woodruff arrived in Preston and declared:
“The poor are in as great bondage as the children of Israel in Egypt.”
The above quotes are the voices of our LDS missionaries. What about other voices? What were local observations of these same scenes? The following comes from the pen of Reverend J. Johns of Liverpool:
“Within these few months, I have seen, what, had I not seen it, I could not have imagined.
…Few could have seen the scenes which have passed under my eyes (especially during the month of the late trying winter) without feeling that the times has indeed arrived, when man should go forth to the relief of his brother.
Mothers, newly become such without a garment on their persons, and with infants nearly as naked, lying upon straws or shavings, under a miserable covering, without fire or food, or the means of precuring them; children taken from their schools, in order to earn by begging…
…mothers of families only able to provide necessities for their children by pawning their little all, or by incurring debts whereever they could be trusted.
…infirm and aged people, who were shivering out the last hours of life in absolute want of everything that could sustain or endear it.” The Moral Reformer, by Joseph Livesey. Preston Jan 27, 1838
‘In Their Words’ will regularly bring you more thoughts and memories from those who were there.