Memories of the Chambers and Baker families
Poverty in Tilbury
My great uncle, Charles Chambers, lived in Tilbury but fell out of work. There was no public assistance available other than the town workhouses. A jug of soup and some bread were all the family had to eat from local charity; it was barely enough to keep them alive. Charles wanted to go to the “union” or “workhouse” which was the only refuge for the poor at that time, but his wife, Sophia, considered it a great disgrace and said she would go without food herself so that the children should not starve.
With the opening of the docks, things got better. Charles got a regular job in the maintenance department of the dock company. Daughter, Jenny, left for domestic service (about the only opening available to girls of working class families). Charles moved his family to one of the new houses on a big estate built for housing the dock workers, but it was an unhappy contrast to his previous home in Kent . Although the houses were new, they were without roads and during the winter months they were unable to get out of doors. When the docks opened, an influx of “Irish and East End Londoners” moved into the neighborhood. Charles’ wife complained that they used bad language.
Streets and shops were lit by gas. Sophia was very fond of the royal family but Charles was not as every royal birthday or occasion meant he would lose a day’s pay. Charles and Sophia’s daughter, Charlotte, married Charles Baker in 1890 at Chadwell St. Mary, Tilbury. Charles had lodged with the Chambers family from about 1886. He was a labourer/caregiver working at the Tilbury docks in connection with the maintenance of the railroad tracks. He was very fond of sport and spent most of his spare time shooting wild fowl, of which there was plenty in those days on the marshland of the River Thames. He was later caretaker at 100 The Dwellings.
Charles and Charlotte had seven children born in Tilbury: Percy, Daisy, Charles, Walter, Charlotte , John, and Sarah Rose. Percy worked as a steward on the passenger ships that came into Tilbury Docks. He used to bring home small cakes and buns which were leftovers from the tables. He used to carry his young brother up 4 flights of stairs to give him a bath in a big tub there. Percy was killed in France in WWI. Charles and Charlotte died young leaving their children orphaned. Three of the boys were sent to the Dr. Barnardo Homes and sent to Canada . Family members cared for the remaining children. Charles and Sophia Chamber’s son, Walter Chambers, was born in 1880. He attended school until the age of 12, which was required at that time. Children did not have toys but received an orange and nuts at Christmas. Walter began his first job at 10 1/2 milking cows, measuring the milk and cleaning out sheds. He was paid 6 shillings a week. After leaving school at 12, he got a job as a telegraph messenger. The work was enjoyable although he worked 12 hours a day six days a week and part of Sundays. Many messages had to be delivered on board the boats in the harbor.
My father, Walter Baker, son of Charles and Charlotte Chambers Baker, was born in Tilbury in 1899. In later years he was asked what he remembered about Tilbury: “I remember little of my parents; they died in 1907 and 1908 leaving 7 orphaned children. I recall that my father had guns and did a lot of shooting on the flood tides of the River Thames near where we lived. He would come home with a bucket full of “sprats” (small fish about 4″ long) that drifted up the rivulets with the tide. We lived in housing called the Dwellings. They were stone buildings four stories high and very long. The docks were located directly across from the Dwellings which were enclosed by a board fence that in my young mind seemed about 20′ high. My brother and I, and other young boys dug a hole under the fence where we could ‘acquire’ food – big brown chunks of raw sugar, coconuts, and cinnamon sticks which always seemed in good supply from foreign ships. My brother, Percy, has a job on the passenger ships that came in and used to bring home leftover food from the tables. We caught dozens of sparrows that were always available, in little wire traps and made sparrow pie. I remember Aunt Jennie whose husband was employed on a salvage ship raising sunken boats in the English Channel . After my parents died, my uncle took me and my two brothers “to see London “. However he took us directly to the Dr. Barnardo Orphanage in Stepney and left us there. We had very good care there and were later sent to Canada .”