Day 181: William Clears the Slums

The facts

The Vicar’s wife was a determined woman – her determination, in fact, bordered on ruthlessness – and by dint of ceaseless visits and an unfailing flow of eloquence she had persuaded most of the local mothers to enrol their children’s names in the Children’s Guild. As Mrs Brown said to her husband: “Yes, dear, I know it’s ridiculous – I quite agree with you – but I feel I’d rather make William join anything on earth than have her coming here again talking about it.”

  • Number: 16.8
  • Published: 1934 (1933 in magazine form) – originally titled William the Philanthropist, which happens to have also been the title of 6.9
  • Book: William the Gangster
  • Synopsis: William is invited to help the cause of housing deprivation.


The Vicar’s wife really is indomitable, having spent most of this book organising various worthy causes (only to see William dismantle them in front of her eyes). In this story, her cause du jour is slum clearance.

She brings a lecturer to the Children’s Guild, who asks each child to bring a sixpence donation by the following day. William is keen to help out, less because he cares about the fate of slum-dwellers and more because he fancies the lecturer.

The lecturer began to talk about too many people living together in one house so that they hadn’t enough air to breathe. It wasn’t very interesting, so William began to imagine her imprisoned by Red Indians and himself fighting his way, single-handed, through several hundred of them to rescue her.

Penniless as usual, his first gambit is to ask Ethel if there is anything he can do to help her worth sixpence.

“Thanks,” said Ethel sarcastically. “I’ve been helped by you before. I’d pay you sixpence not to help me.”
William hopefully accepted this offer, only to find to his disgust that it was immediately withdrawn.

But he soon comes up with a much-more-practical alternative: clearing the slums himself. Starting with some small boys he meets who happen to mention that they live in a small house. And the Botts’ mansion just happens to be empty.

Then things become rather confused…