Growing destitute, Orwell decides to go in search of someone who might know something about the nearest casual ward, or prison-like homeless shelter. He runs into an old Irishman who invites him to have a cup of tea with him at a small Catholic charity house, where the men are given tea, buns, and a lecture on Jesus Christ from the woman in charge. The men are all then forced to pray and sing hymns, which they do resentfully and badly until it is time for the casual wards, or “spikes,” to open.
The Christianity on display in this chapter is of the hypocritical kind. The woman handing out tea and buns clearly expects the men to put on a show of gratitude and piousness. Her expectations, not at all Christ-like, cheapen the offering, and the men grow jaded, swallowing humiliation along with their tea.