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Forum Home > Living and Working Conditions. > The Workhouse. Facts and Tales.

Alaska.
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Workhouses and Conditions. Old Age Pension.


You become aware, when searching the records for family members in Genealogy, that the dreaded Workhouse, was never far away. My own Mother, born in 1915, carried this fear, although she knew, they were no longer there. In 1908, Parliament passed a bill, and in 1909, the first payments of the means tested Old Age Pension began, and the days of the Workhouse disappeared for ever. I read a story, many years ago, about a aged couple,  ( you had to be 70 )  who had to be persuaded to go to the local Post Office to collect it. Having then picked it up, they still would not believe it was theirs. For a married couple it was 7s. 6d, the equivalent today, of £29.00, and the single pension was 5s.0d. (£19.00 )  It was a matter of debate, whether or not, between them, they had earned that much, when they were working. The old dears must have thought a miracle had occured, and in some ways, it had. There are many stories posted in this section, why not have a read.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 18, 2011 at 11:49 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Back in the 1820s, the enterprising Workhouse Master in Rowley, had a scheme to make money, as, it must be stressed, did most of them. It being a Stone Quarrying area, he set the unfortunate inmates,  the task of breaking the stones into the smaller pieces, required for road making. No matter how old or infirm they were, if they didn't swing a heavy hammer to break stone, they got no food. This inhuman monster, who should have been strung up, instead, got commended by the Parish worthies, for keeping down the costs of running the place. I should imagine a huge cheer went up, when the Workhouse was finally closed, and pulled down.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 24, 2011 at 4:02 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

I put a scene from a Workhouse in the Gallery, it gives a rough idea of what our ancesters were frightened of. And if it's of interest to anyone reading this, the Poor Laws were amended in 1834. The law stated, " No ablebodied man shall receive assistance unless he enters a Workhouse " . The same, it has to be said, also applied to women and children old enough to do manual labour. This was to ensure that the rate payers, ( mainly Land and property owners ) didn't waste money on idleness. Some of the tasks set, breaking stones, the upkeep of the roads, and picking oakham.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 10, 2011 at 11:04 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Following up on the previous posts, some of the other reasons that everyone feared the Workhouses. As soon as you presented yourself at the door, the 1834 rules came into effect. You would have had to have your head shaved. Men had to wear a kind of leather waistcoat, no shirts were allowed. Children were supposed to receive education, it rarely happened. Your food was dictated by how hard you worked, from 4am in the morning, to 10pm at night, were the accepted hours. Tasks like breaking stone, picking oakam, or being hired out as slave labour to a Mine owner, were fairly normal.  Mealtimes were set at a max 10 minutes each, take any longer, and you got 39 lashes. If you complained, that would be classed as disobedient, another 29 lashes. For being classed as idle, no matter how old, or ill you were, that would be a month on the Tread-mill. In the years following this Law, there were a great many scandals involving the Workhouse Masters, very few were punished, and it's not hard to see why, even in the 1940s, people were still afraid.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 21, 2011 at 3:12 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

The Vicar of Saint Thomas's Church in Dudley, did his level best to try and help the destitute. He kept a Register, in which unemployed men could put their names, together with their trades, should work become available. He managed to keep quite a few from the Workhouse gate. He also set up a little scheme, whereby they. and their families, could get a meal, by chopping wood. He had sheds constructed, near the Guild Rooms, just for this purpose. There were rules though, as he said," No parishioner need starve, but every one able to work, must do so, otherwise, they may not eat of the bread of charity ". Fair enough, I would have thought, good old bloke the Vicar, but I can't help but wonder, what the reaction would be today, faced with such a strict rule.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

April 15, 2011 at 4:44 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

There were always individuals who exhibited great compassion, for the poor and destitute of the Black Country. Not withstanding, that some of the poverty, had been caused by their very own ruthless pursuit of profit. They gave endowments, set up numerous charities, and provided money for soup kitchens. Guilty concience's I ask myself. John Tandy, who lived in the un-official capital of the region, Dudley, made his money via Land, Iron making, and Mining. In his will, of 1709, he left a bequest to the poor inhabitants, 5 acres of land called the Furnace Piece. The income from this land, rents, and profits, was instructed to be used by the Vicar of Saint Thomas's Church, Dudley, to provide decent clothing for the towns widows. The clothing was to be given out near to Christmas, provided they were not in receipt of parish funds, and were not found to be begging around the town. The plight of the population was not, we can see, confined to the 19th century. The condition appeared to be endemic. Just like today though, charity was never nearly enough, and the trudge to the workhouse door continued. Even the well run ones, like Tandy's, needed help, as when in 1818, the trustees, sold off the mines under the land, and put the money into the fund. There were of course, other donators of funds, and in 1886, faced with an enormous poverty problem, an amalgamation of the Hinkes and Taylors charities was proposed, by Tandy's, so as to be more effective in it's work. The sum, now to hand each year, amounted to £92, which doesn't sound much, and as the scheme now extended to the whole of the borough, possibly wasn't. The widow's of Dudley however, would have been grateful for any assistance, these were desperate times, and anything that put off, even for a short while, a visit to a local workhouse, was better than nothing. There are a few names mentioned as trustees, so if there is a name you recognise amongst them, be assured, they did their best. Edward Renaund, Walter Smith, William Wilkinson, Job Garratt, and John Bill..

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

April 17, 2011 at 11:32 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

A Brief return to January 1st, 1909, the day that old age pensions started. On that day, 24,000 Post Offices opened up, and handed out the sum of, £119,166.13s and 4d. They were very busy that day, dealing with over 550,000 people, some in tears, some barely able to walk, but most of them in total disbelief. Gone now were the days of going cap in hand to the Parish Council, and asking for a few pennies of the Parish Relief. One tale, from Gornal Wood, relates how one old couple, having collected their 7s.6d, were on the way home when a cry went up from workmen  who were widening the roadway. Coal they cried, and sure enough, just below the surface, there was indeed coal. Containers and carts were quickly filled, and the coal was delivered to all the old timers round about. " I cor believe it " the old man said, " money an' coal fer nuthin". One thing did become noticable on this day, the overwhelming number of people who couldn't write their own names. Still, it was better to put a cross to pick up your pension, than it would have been to sign into the dreaded Workhouse.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

April 18, 2011 at 4:19 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Unicorn
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Posts: 46

Aren't we of a certain age glad they brought out the old age pension.

April 21, 2011 at 1:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

There are quite a few people in the Black Country, who achieved almost Saintly status during really hard times. The Rev Charles H Cole Webb, the vicar of Saint Marks, Pensnett, 1878, was just one of them. The whole area around Brierley Hill, was in desperate straights during the downturn in the Iron and Coal trade. Prior to this, the inhabitants had been fairly well off, not counting the rampant drunkeness of course, which was feature of most industrial areas. The poor housing, overcrowding, and insanitary conditions now came to the fore. These had always been there, but until the depression struck, had been somewhat masked. In amongst the hovels and slums, the rate of mortality in the young now raised it's ugly head. On one day in January 1878, 6 children, all under the age of 2, mostly suffering from malnutrition or consumption, were buried. The Workhouse was overflowing, and the Vicar was determined to try and help. He was lucky, there were people in Pensnett and Brierley Hill with a social conscience. Some family names that may be of interest to the reader, Griffiths, Chappell, Bryce, Cope, Partridge, Corfield, Blewitt, Mantel, Page, and Irons, were among the Vicars supporters. They organised " Relief Sundays ", on which anything up to 140 widows and old people were fed, and a conciderable number of children got a good meal every week. They raised funds by selling tickets to events they arranged, and set up a Bargemans Mission at Hays Wharfe. There is no doubt that that the Rev Webb, and his dedicated band, saved many from starvation, and death. They were sorely needed, a reduction in the nailers pay by 20% in the next year bought even more hardship. You would have thought, that all this poverty would have curbed the drunkeness. Not a bit of it, it was as worse as ever, and was roundly condemned by many, including from the House of Commons. But who was to blame, a quote from a pamphlet, highlighted the problem, and made a very valid point. " is it the Pig that makes the stye, or the stye that makes the Pig "."  Maybe today, in some cases, we should all be asking the same question.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 6, 2011 at 4:54 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

So, some have asked, how well were the poor souls who were admitted to such insitutions fed ? Not all that well as it turns out,  not at least by our standards anyway.


                         Breakfast                        Dinner                  Supper


Sunday.     Broth ( Mutton )       Butchers Meat & Veg.     Broth.

Monday.    Milk Porridge.           Hasty Pudding.           Mashed Potato.

Tuesday.  Milk Porridge           Stewed Meat & Veg      Pease Soup

Wednesday.  Milk Porridge.     Bread & Cheese.            Broth.

Thursday.       Broth.                  Butchers Meat & Veg        Broth.

Friday.         Milk Porridge         Yeast Dumplings         Mashed Potato.

Saturday.    Milk Porridge        Stewed Meat & Veg           Broth.


Not very appetising at first glance, but it kept body and soul together, as they were all expected to work. The Workhouse Steward, under the direction of his Master, weighed all the portions out individually.Charles Dickens discription, aka, Oliver Twist, instantly springs to mind, as does the punishment for being so disobediant. Beakfast would be served about 7.30am, and they had just half an hour, to consume it, clean the cooking untensils, the tables and the benches. ( The place had to be kept clean, otherwise, in such a close knit unit, desease would quickly spread.) The inmated were then sent back to work, the Dormitory windows were flung open, and the doors locked. ( to keep out any shirkers and the workshy ) The working day was from 6am until 6pm, and from Monday to Saturday. ( only 3pm on Saturdays though, wouldn't want to give the terrible impression that it was a form of forced labour )  Surprisingly, the poor old paupers got Holidays as well. ( unpaid of course )  Christmas Day and the two days after, the Monday and Tuesday of Easter, and the same for Whitsuntide. Below would have been a special surprise to many.



You will be pleased to note also, that once a month, clean sheets were provided, and every week, clean personel Linen. Guess who had to do all the work in the Laundry. Under the poor Laws, the inmates were entitled to be paid,  which in most cases, was just one 6th of the value of work they had done each week. There was of course, just a slight snag if you were of an argumentative nature. Any sign of disobedience, faking ilness, showing signs of idleness, swearing, cursing, being drunk, damaging tools or material, or any other misbehavoiur, and the money stopped. Such was the Victorian zeal for looking after the less fortunate, that any Lewd, Immoral, or " disorderly " conduct, would attract punishments, not covered by the strict rules. Unmarried mothers, or " Fallen" women and Prostitutes, were housed in seperate accomodation where it was available. All means possible, were taken,  to keep these " debauched women " away from the decent and orderly paupers. See, they even invented a class system for the poverty striken.  It can be seen, from all this, that the opportunties for fraud were vast and plentiful. There were no shortage of applicants either, for the post of Workhouse Masters. Running such a place, on behalf of several Parishes, could be a very profitable business indeed, all that was really required, was to keep the costs down. A fact, which would have been only to apparent, to the poor inmates, who, in some institutions, were over 400 strong.



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 10, 2011 at 11:38 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

If you have read this far, thank you, and I hope that some idea of the terrible conditions that prevailed, have been of help, in understanding the social conditions of the time. This following piece, aptly illustrates, just what it meant, when the meagre Parish funds were stopped. The spelling is not mine, I have not corrected it, theres no need to, it's desperate plea is clear enough.


"Jeantlemen,

At this time I ham in grate distress, My youngest son is ded and I have another daughter vury bad and I am myselfe hill. Sirs, the coffin will be 12s, and the ground with the fees, will be 5s 6d and the shroud 3s 6d. Sirs, through stopping of my trifle of pay I have 14s in debt for same and if not paid by Christmas I must be troubled. Jeantlemen I hope you will not stop my trifle of pay this time. Your humble servant.

Thos Bannister.


Can you imagine anyone today, having to grovel in such a manner as that. You can see from the letter that Thomas is a proud man, with a little learning, trying to do his best, to feed and look after his family. The year by the way, was 1812, and his request was refused, thus ensuring that his family faced certain slow starvation. Such were the vagaries of Parish funds and the Workhouse, subject to the whims and meaness of overseer's and workhouse masters, whose main job seems to have been keeping down the costs.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 22, 2011 at 4:34 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

In times of need, the Workhouse came in for other uses as well. Most of them had what was called a " Lunatics Cell ". As well as for the more obvious use, these cells were utilised for the temporary locking up of desperate criminals. I was wondering what happened to the inmates of such cells, no, not the crooks, over the longer term. I know Worcestershire had 2 such places within easy reach, Barnsley Hall, near Bromsgrove, and the older hospital at Powick, outside Worcester. From an account in a Wolverhampton book, in 1708, a man named Burke, who seems to have had a nasty turn, was sent to Stafford to be looked after, which cost the Towns Constable, 7s.9d. The next month, as Mr Burke seems to have been a bit of a handful, he was to be found in Sedgley, in the charge of a certain Doctor Hodgetts. The bill this time was £4.0.0d. Now whether the premises were that secure is a matter of conjecture, as 3 months later, he is being sent elsewhere. " Paid for three horses to take ye madman Burke to Albrighton " . Cheap at 3s.0d I would have thought. The last entry, is for October the same year, and details the payment of £6.0.10d to William Allison, at the Swan Inn, for the care and transportaion of the madman Burke. Now I don't know where this Pub was, but that would make it at least four Lunatic Asylums, in a small part of Staffordshire. And, they were all apparently,privately owned. We seem to have come full circle in the field of Mental Heath care. I came across a reference, about sending a mad murderer off to Bilston, and included it in one of the posts. It would seem that one Joseph Proud, and his enterprising brother, Samuel Proud, made a few bob in this line of work. Shoemakers by trade, they are listed in 1770, and 1781, as being " keepers of Lunatics". Makes it sound like one of those little hobbies, like keeping chickens or a few goats. They were successful, thats for sure, as they could afford to have little advertising trinkets of enameled snuff boxes made. Some may be dated as early as 1765, so the brothers may have taken over the business from their father. Not surprisingly, the asylum was at the entrance to Proud Lane, and when Samuel Proud died, it was left to his son, another Samuel, who described himself as the " Proprietor of the Bilston Madhouse ". The asylum was demolished in the 1820s, but there is a little story left behind about one of the unfortunate inmate, who when released, found he had more problems than when he went in.


March, 1792, from a Newspaper report.

A Birmingham man is but just released from a private mad-house at Bilston, where he had been sent by his loving wife, and confined upwards of twelve months as a lunatic; during which time the tender fair one sold him up and absconded with his goods.


Nothing changes much does it ??

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

July 16, 2011 at 4:42 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

In the 1850s, Dudley Workhouse came in for some very harsh critisisum from the districts Poor Law Inspector. In his report, Andrew Doyle wrote of his concerns about the conduct of the management of the Workhouse, to the Chairman of the Union Guardians. Little did he know it, but this was a total waste of his time, and of paper. Isaac Badger, Justice of the peace, Mine owner, and Dudleys largest Slum Landlord, was a man of supreme selfworth, and an arrogant and vindictive bully, an exploiter of his entire workforce. If Doyle thought, that expressing his concerns would change anything, he was sadly mistaken. In the workhouse yard, an area not much bigger than a modern rear garden, were crowded together the inmates of the establishment, doing laundry work. In one corner was an enormous pile of filthy clothing, waiting to be thrown into the large coppers, which were situated in an open shed, down one side of the yard. Strung across the yard were many clothes lines, attended by the old, the young, the infirm, and the children. In the workhouse, was a room, 30 ft by 18 ft, with a sloping roof that rested on a wall, a bare 3 ft from the ground. This was the womans living quarters, and which held anything from 15 to 24 females. Barely enough room to swing the proverbial cat. Apart from the windows, there was no ventilation whatsoever, and at night, these windows as well as the door, were locked. The so called sick room, was in a disgraceful state, it being nothing more than a glorified passageway. One inmate, Samuel Willetts, lay dying in this area, surrounded by some of his relatives. Their distress was made worse, by there being, not far away, another inmate, William Perry, a violent and insane man, who had been forcably strapped to a bed the previous day. His screaming and cursing could be heard all over the workhouse. The food rations, which are detailed in a previous posting, were well below what was required, and poorly prepared. Isaac Badger, or as he was called by the locals, Ikey Brock, in recognition of his crafty nature by being compared to a real Badger, did absolutely nothing. In Dudley at least, he, and his brother Thomas, were the Law, and they were never short of situations to make the point. The Nail strikes in the 1830/40s for example, but then, thats another topic.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

July 22, 2011 at 3:17 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

We would eventually, have come to one of the most dreadful and shameful Workhouse practices of the time, Apprentices. To understand how this truly awful and degrading system came about, It's neccessary to understand the mind-set of the people who ran them. All the Union Workhouses, were financed by a rate levied on those in each district, who were rich enough to pay the tax. This led, to some individuals, taking a very hard line when it came to the poor, and to be always on the look out for a way of reducing their payments. The Union rules, paid for by the rate payers of course, stipulated that provision be made for the young children to be Educated, at least up until the child was 9 years old. As can be imagined, this was a step too far for the Governors of these instituions, so they devised a little scheme. When youngsters were admitted, and a large number of them were orphans, they were sent out " on a trial basis ",  to local employers to be assesed as to the suitablity of becoming apprentices. This " trial ", could be as long as two years or more, during which the Employer accepted the conditions of feeding and clothing each child. Such trades as Nail and Chain making, Coal Mining, Brick Making, and Quarrying. In short, any job that did not require a great deal of skill, but plenty of cheap labour. Under the Law, when the child reached 9, they could be indentured, ( apprenticed ) to the Employers. They were in truth actually Sold, as virtual Slaves, for a period of 12 years. As can be visualised, this scheme was very attractive to the rate-payers and the Workhouse masters, who all made money from the venture. It was even more attractive to the Employers, who, apart from shelter, food, and some simple clothes, had no other expenses to find, except 6 pence a week pocket money. The " skills " these children learned, varied from pushing loaded tubs of coal, to working 12 hours a day pumping bellows to heat up the nail and chain forges. All the Employers tried to justify the 12 year scheme, spent  for instance, swinging a pick in a space no more than 12 inches high, as entirely neccessary to make a good miner. In 1836, there were no young boys, in any of the South Staffordshire Workhouses. The Employers were forced to seek children from further afield, and to the credit of other areas, they were refused. Rumours of the conditions these children were working under, had spread. The terms of the indentures were frequently compared to the plight of the Plantation Slaves, and to be honest, in some cases they were worse. The death toll among the young in the region was appalling, treatment was a national scandal, but under the Law, it was perfectly legal. It was around this time, that a man who had taken on such an apprentice, Charles Squires, a nail maker from Bilston, was found guilty of wilful mistreatment which caused the youngsters death. He was found guilty at Stafford Assizes, of the Wilful Murder of Joseph Green, aged about 12, in 1799, and hanged. His wife, Hannah, was a very lucky woman, having taken a willing part in the cruel treatment which the young lad had to suffer, she was aquitted. Personally, I would have hanged her as well. Many of the poor Workhouse children, as they got older, and wiser, fled the harsh treatment and found themselves work. 14 shillings a week working down a mine, was a lot better that 6 pence a week pocket money. Other trades were just as bad, young girls could be found stitching garments from dawn till dusk by candle light. Young children making shoes and boots, virtually locked in a dark room least they should " escape ". Domestic girl servants, as young as 8, worked as many as 16 hours a day for their 6 pence pocket money. The situation at times, was made worse, by the childrens parents themselves, hawking them around different employers for the highest price. No matter what name you call such goings on,Slavery, is still Slavery. Following several inquiries and a Royal Commission, things began to improve in the 1850s, the Ministers of many Religions became involved in the setting up of Schools. Agitation towards reform beagan to have it's effect, and an age that children should attend education class'es was accepted as 12. In theory then, it should not have been possible to find young children doing hard manually labour after the 1860s, but changes in the Black Country came very slowly. The Workhouse masters found other ways to offset the cost, thats what some of them had been engaged to do anyway, and tales of cruelty and mistreatment continued. They do say, that the worst conditions, always attract exploiters and rogues, and as far as the old Workhouse's were concerned, in the Black Country, as elsewhere, it's certainly appears to be true.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

July 26, 2011 at 11:30 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

I did mention early on in this topic, that all was not well at the Rowley Workhouse, in the 1820s. Prompted by a scandal from the Hampshire Workhouse at Andover, in the 1840s, and a much bigger one in Huddersfield, in 1848, a review was set up. To light, came some appalling practices which shocked even the more hardcore supporters of the system. Bedding was not changed, or washed, for months on end, being used by both the ablebodied and the sick and dying. Clothes handed out to new inmates was in a similar condition. The wards were alive with lice, and remained unswept or disinfected. Many Workhouse Masters cheated on the rations served, and no schooling was provided for most of the year. I would recommend, for all those interested in the subject, to start by reading a few articles, written during the Victorian period. Charles Dickens started a magazine in the 1850s, called " Household Words ", it cost 2d, which made it available to a wide readership. From the edition of 15th May, 1850, there is an article about Workhouse conditions, which, given a bit of poetic licence, aptly describes the scene's. George Eliot, some years later, in 1857, also put down in writing, the scene's from a more rural Workhouse, They can both be found with a search online.


" A Walk in the Workhouse ", from Household Words, Charles Dickens, 1850.

" Scene's of Clerical Life ",  chapter 2, George Eliot, 1857.



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 17, 2011 at 11:51 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Back then, as indeed today, there were many who tried to cheat the system. By claiming you had a few extra children, or you had no work, or couldn't afford the rent, a few more shillings a week, made life just that bit more bearable. Unfortunately, this cheating then prevented the real poor from getting any help. The rate payers, those who could afford to pay towards the Parish funds, where not a bottomless pit of money. When the quarters fund was gone, there was just no more to be had, and the poor went without. The Workhouse's were subject to cheats as well. Half decent food was sustituted for poor quality, and the inmates were fed slops. Blankets and sheets were often stolen and sold on, meaning that bedding remained unchanged for many months. Likewise with clothes and shoes, many inmates walked about in rags, with scraps of old blankets wrapped around their feet as shoes. Now you wouldn't think, that anyone admitted to a poorhouse, had anything of any value. They certainly didn't when they came out, the thieving staff members saw to that, taking absolutely anything that could be sold. One outraged Magistrate, when faced by three women found guilty of such thefts, gave them all a little holiday. 7 years penal servitude in New South Wales. The whole system was riddled with corruption, which endured, mainly because a great many ratepayers wanted the costs keep down, and so permitted many of the excess's we all read about. There was even a little ditty, to remind folks of the problem.


Hark! Hark!, the dogs do bark,

The beggers are coming to town;

Some in rags, some in tags,

And one in a nice velvet gown.


Nothing changes much, does it? 200 years on, and we can still compare it all with today's Benefit cheats, and preying on the elderly and vunerable for whatever they have of value. The only thing missing, is a little ryhme to go with it.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 3, 2011 at 11:26 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

There were of course, times when life outside of the Workhouse, was a lot harsher than life in it. In 1816, following the end of the Nepoleonic Wars, the countries industries virtually collapsed. No need for all the Cannons, Muskets. Ammunition, Swords, Bayonets, Uniforms, Saddlery and Harness, Wheels, and a whole host of other supplies, including miles of Rope. Regiments were disbanded, the Warships were paid off, and there were thousands of men suddenly looking for jobs. The Black Country suffered greatly, although the men who had made much money during the period, were set to weather the storm. Whole families starved on the streets, as the poor houses, as they were then called, were filled to overflowing. The lucky one's at the time, were those inside, as at least they had a roof over their heads, and a hot bowl of gruel to sustain their miserable lives. The situation did improve somewhat, in the years that followed, but not by much, as the amount of crime recorded clearly shows. In an earlier post, dealing with the setting up of the Workhouse's Proper, in 1832, the idea's of the reformers were clear, a fairer system for those in desperate need. Some years later, the Country faced, in 1853, the worst winter some had ever seen, described as " The heaviest snowfall this century ".  It started just before Christmas Eve, and only stopped for brief periods, until the 11th January 1854. It was recorded, that in places, the snow lay to a depth of 16 feet. All transport stopped, factories shut down through lack of raw materials, Coal could not be delivered, and thousands, without any means of support, faced starvation and death. Once again, just like the poor houses, the Workhouse's couldn't cope, and many streets were filled with beggers. The one and only trade, that made any money throughout this spell, were the Undertakers and Coffin Makers. The biting cold killed many hundreds, mostly the very young and the aged, and the only roads kept clear were those to the graveyards. At the time, the War in the Crimea, had reached it's peak, and the Army was struggling to find men fit enough to serve. So bad did it become at the front, that sailors were sent ashore to man the artillery batteries. After the Battle of Inkerman, and the siege of Sebastopol, came news of the awful tragedy at Balaclava. Despite the apalling conditions back home, the people of the Black Country answered the call for funds. Wolverhampton raised £2,400, Coseley, £268, Bilston, £600, Dudley, £1.300. and Sedgley, £400. For the majority of the population though, it was a tough and and hard winter, and many more would have died were it not for the Workhouse. Another hard time arrived in 1878, wages were slashed, producing strikes in the mines. the nail and chaintrades, and the many ironworks. Hunger was to be seen etched into the faces of men women and children. The Militia were called out countless times, to quell riots and disorder, and many would be killed, injured, or imprisoned for protesting. Some starving men, as would be expected, resorted to hunting their own food, unable to pay the shop prices. Poaching became rife. Some Landowners, understanding the problem, turned a blind eye to this activity, others however didn't, no matter what the personel circumstances were. Lord Dudley, was in the latter class of the Landowners, and had instructed his gamekeepers accordingly. A Gornal man, Enoch Hickman, an unemployed bricklayer, was prosecuted for the offence, when caught on Turners Hill. The sentence, of 6 months hard labour, for stealing a skinny rabbit, was a bit harsh to say the least. The more fortunate amongst the inhabitants, who found themselves in the Workhouse come Christmas, were rather luckier, they got roast beef and plum pudding. For the more upper class citizens, the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton staged a pantomine, " Sinbad the Sailor ", a lavish production to " cheer up ", the Town. ( If you could afford it of course, and had the strength to walk that far.)

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 16, 2011 at 3:45 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

It wasn't always that easy for some of the poor law Unions either. Some folk who could well afford to pay the poor rate, did their level best to avoid it by lying about the land and business's they ran. ( I've said it before, the passing of the years changes very little as far as human nature goes.) One of the best run Workhouses, was the one in Dudley Road, Birmingham. ( The site today of the City Hospital ) This fact did not go unnoticed by the population, especially the Irish. Strenuous efforts had to be made to prevent the system being abused, and many Irish travellers and their families were forcibly returned back to Ireland. People travelled to Birmingham, from all around the Black Country as well, most of then described as Idle Wastrels. A great deal of the blame for all this, was down to the thieving, incompetant, and totally corrupt officials who were put in charge of the Union Workhouse's. The food served in Birmingham, was in stark contrast to the fare offered elsewhere. On 2 days a week, inmates could expect, Beef, with Vegetables and Bread for Dinner. One day the dish was either Pea Soup or Irish Stew, again with Bread. The other 4 days was plain Bread, Cheese, and low and behold, Beer. Breakfast was either Rice Milk or Milk Porridge and Bread,  Supper consisted of Hot Broth with the Bread already in it, or the Milk Porridge. Over 2,000 loaves were consumed daily. Out in the sticks however, Breakfast was mainly the Milk Porridge, Dinner was Broth, and Supper was Gruel or the Porridge. Everybody of course, had to work to earn all this, which was not enough to sustain the man for the hard work required. It was no wonder, that so many committed minor crimes, just to get better food in the County Prison's. Suitable work was always in short supply as well, and one of the harder tasks, for which men could earn 1 shilling and 6 pence a day, was Wheeling Sand. Now I don't mean in a wheel barrow, I mean a contraption that consisted of a very large stone wheel, which was rolled around a big circle, crushing Sandstone as it rolled. It was pushed,or pulled by the men, by means of a large wooden pole.Heavy work, and in all weathers, for no work, meant no pay. You can see a Horse powered version of the device, in the Photo Gallery, from the Gornal area. One of the largest sandpits, was in Aldridge Road, Great Barr, and now infilled with domestic waste.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 6, 2012 at 4:21 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

At the turn of the 18th century, James Fellows, and his wife Elizabeth found themselves in Wolverhampton Workhouse. They had the company of a fellow Bilston inhabitant, Mary Parish. Upon recieving an enquiry, from a company called Allgood and Edwards, who had previously been engaged in the Town in the Japaning Trade, but had recently moved to Ponty-Pool, Monmouthshire, the Workhouse overseer added young Susannah Compson, who came from Willenhall, to the group, and sent them off to Ponty-Pool as Indentured Servants. They either went, or got kicked out of the Workhouse to starve. Conditions it seems, were not good in Ponty-Pool, and all four of them, the next year, absconded from the "care" of Mr Allgood. He was not a happy bunny at finding out his four "slaves" had done a runner, and placed a notice in the local papers. The notice warned, that anyone who harbours, or knows there wherabouts, and fails to report the matter, will face the same force of Law, that the absconders will. The only one described in the notice, was young Susannah Compson. She was, the notice said, 28 years old, had black hair and a fair complexion, was short but neatly made. ( Aye, aye, whats all this then, did the old Allgood have a roaming eye ) Fellows and his wife made it back to Bilston, but caught the eye of the Parish Constable and they were imprisoned for a short time then returned to Ponty-Pool. The two girls though, had a bit more common sense, and headed off to London instead, where they disappeared amongst the heaving mass of humanity, and filthy slum housing. Anything was better it seems, than the boney clutches of Mr Allgood.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 14, 2012 at 3:30 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

From time to time, people doing family research, find a relative in a Workhouse, but can't seem to find them afterwards. This may of course be a failure in the recording system, or more darkly, the result of a quick call from the Resurrection men. Every large town or City it seems, had some form of Medical School. Doctors after all, do need to know one end of a body from the other. There were no shortages of these vital elements of training, not that is while the Courts were hanging felons for a very wide variety of criminal offences. The supply, supplimented by an order for dissection, slowed down when some offences were dropped from the list of capital punishment. Enter the dreaded " Body Snatchers ".  Now it was not a capital offence to steal a body, if caught, a man could expect a fine, or a short term of imprisonment. Set against the price paid for a good fresh body, it was a fair trade off. Around the countries graveyards, began to appear " Watch Towers ", from which a nightwatchman or relative could keep an eye on their dear departed. It didn't always work. Some crafty individuals simply dug a tunnel, some distance from the newly filled in grave, pulled the corpse from the coffin, and left, leaving no apparent damage. This is why some graves, being redug many years later, were found to be empty. Some Workhouse masters, sensing a profit, were easily pursuaded to sell a poor soul who died suddenly. If they had only just entered the Workhouse, it was easy, as they wouldn't have had time to make any friends. Some longer term inmates were put in a cheap coffin, taken out before the funeral, subsituted with soil or bricks, and whisked off to the dissecting table. As is well known, some poor souls were murdered, their lives ended for a sum that rarely went above £10. Still, in the early 1800s, it was a nice little earner. All this came to end in 1832, when a Law was passed allowing the Medical Schools to legally obtain, or accept donations of bodies. Now I'm not saying, that every time you fail to find a pauper relative, this happened. It's as well to bear it in mind though, as a possible explanation. Beyond 1832, the trade of the snatchers faded away into memory, or as some would say, died on it's feet.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

August 30, 2012 at 4:07 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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