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Workhouse in United Kingdom

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The Workhouse and the 1834 Report

In this issue about the workhouse, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: With regard to the workhouse, the whole emphasis of the Report is upon classification of the inmates according to their needs; and classification, not in separate parts of one building, but by the allocation to separate classes of entirely distinct buildings in order that there might be separate and differing treatment under distinct management.

The Commissioners state that “at least four classes are necessary:-

1. The aged and really impotent.

2. The children.

3. The able-bodied females.

4. The able-bodied males.”

“Of whom we trust the two latter will be the least numerous classes. It appears to us that both the requisite classification and the requisite superintendence may be better obtained in separate buildings than under a single roof.” The Commissioners were insistent that the treatment measured out to each class should differ according to its requirements, and “each class might thus receive an appropriate treatment; the old might enjoy their indulgences without torment from the boisterous; the children be educated; and the able-bodied subjected to such courses of labour and discipline as will repel the indolent and vicious.” The need for separate buildings, under entirely different kinds of officers, with different qualifications, at different rates of payments-in contradistinction to one large building under a single officer-is emphasised again and again at different parts of the Report. It was, indeed, largely in order to provide these specialised institutions that the Commissioners recommended the formation of unions, it being made a cardinal principle that the Central Authority should “assign” to the various existing workhouses thus coming under one board of guardians “separate classes of poor.”

It is interesting to notice that, apart from this cardinal principle of classification by separate and specialised buildings, practically the only recommendations relating to the organisation of the workhouse, which are to be found in the Report, relate either to the character of the employment to be provided in the buildings set aside for the able-bodied-which, as we have seen, was expressly to be of a normal productive character, free from repellent characteristics-or to the enactment of a maximum diet (and no minimum). “The Commissioners should be empowered to fix a maximum of the consumption per head within the workhouses, leaving to the local officers the liberty of reducing it below the maximum if they can safely do so.”

The Workhouse, the Act of 1834 and its Amendments

In this issue about the workhouse, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: The conditions and character of the relief to be afforded by admission to the workhouse were to be subject to rules etc., which the Central Authority was empowered and directed to make. The power of the Central Authority was subject to an important limitation. Any order for the building of a new workhouse was made conditional on obtaining the consent either of a majority of the guardians or of a majority of the ratepayers and owners. The Central Authority could, however, without such consent, order the local authority “to enlarge or alter” any existing workhouse or building capable of being converted into a workhouse up to a limit of ?50 or one-tenth of the average Poor Rate for the past three years. Moreover, the local authority was not to expend on the building, alteration or enlargement of any particular workhouse (whether by way of loan or out of rate) more than the annual average of the poor rate during the three preceding years. These limitations were removed, so far as regards the cost of sites in the Metropolitan Police District and the parish of Liverpool, in 1844. It was also expressly provided that no person was to introduce alcoholic liquor into a workhouse without the written order of the master, under penalty of a fine not exceeding ?10; nor was the master to do so save for domestic use of the officers, except in conformity with the rules. Confinement beyond twenty-four hours, and the corporal punishment of adults, were expressly forbidden.Notices of the law on these subjects were to be publicly displayed. A conscience clause protected workhouse inmates, and they had also the right to receive visits by religious ministers of their own persuasions.

The Workhouse and the Poor Law Commissioners

In this issue about the workhouse, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: As we have shown, the Act of 1834 and the subsequent legislation left to the Central Authority complete discretion as to the kind of indoor maintenance to be provided for the destitute by the local authority. In view of the fact that the action taken between 1834 and 1847-culminating in the General Consolidated Order of 1847, which is still in force-determined, in the main, the character of the modern workhouse, it is necessary to analyse in some detail exactly what the policy was which the Central Authority in these years imposed from one end of England to another. The common understanding at the time was, we believe, that the policy to be carried out was that of the 1834 Report. Two limitations only were imposed on the power of the Central Authority in this respect. The building of entirely new workhouses-which the Report had thought would not be requisite in many instances-was dependent on the assent either of a majority of the board of guardians or of a majority of the rated owners and occupiers. The Central Authority was, however, empowered, without any local consent, peremptorily to order a local authority to enlarge or alter any existing workhouse or building capable of being converted into a workhouse; subject to the limitation that the principal sum to be raised on any parish could not exceed ?50, or one-tenth of the average Poor Rate of the last three years. As every board of guardians in the United Kingdom found itself in possession of several parish workhouses-sometimes of a large number of such buildings-it was within the statutory power of the Central Authority, even without local consent, to have given directions for the moderate enlargement and adaptation of any or all of these, which Parliament seems to have contemplated. The second limitation seems at first sight more serious. The Central Authority could not order any greater expenditure, on building or enlarging any workhouse, or sanction the borrowing for this purpose of any larger sum, than the average amount of the last three years’ Poor Rate-a limitation which, as we have seen, was, in 1844, repealed so far as the purchase of sites in the Metropolitan Police District and the parish of Liverpool was concerned. But there was at no time any limitation to the aggregate amount of the expenditure out of Poor Rate that might be incurred by the local authority, or that might, with or without its consent, be ordered by the Central Authority to be spent, on the enlargement or adaptation of its various existing workhouses, provided that not more than the statutory maximum was spent on any one of them. In view of the strong objection expressed in the 1834 Report to the mixing of different kinds of paupers in a single institution, and the positive recommendation, in preference, of distinct institutions, in separate buildings, with specialised rules and under different managements, for the several kinds of paupers-for which it was expressly pointed out that the existing buildings were to be adapted-these sections of the Act of 1834 indicate an intention of Parliament (as it certainly was the intention of the authors of the Report of 1834) that each union should have several small institutions, and should assign to those workhouses “separate classes of poor.”

It is startling to find that the Central Authority, between 1834 and 1847, pursued an entirely different policy. The published documents for this period do not afford any explanation of this difference. They do not show, for instance, whether it meant the deliberate adoption of a new policy, or whether it resulted merely from a discovery that the recommendations of the Report were impracticable in the rural unions. The documents simply assume the necessity for the establishment in each union, not of a group of specialised workhouses for the different classes, but of one institution, to be called “The Union Workhouse,” for the paupers as a whole.

In no Special or General Order, in no Circular or published Minute, can we find any recommendation that a board of guardians should carry out the emphatic recommendations of the 1834 Report in favour of classification by institutions, and the adaptation of the existing buildings into specialised workhouses, “assigning one class of paupers to each of the houses comprehended within each incorporation.” Nor was the unity introduced and insisted on by the Central Authority one of structure only. That the policy was to have, under the one roof, for all the various kinds of paupers, only one institution and one régime, is revealed in every part of the workhouse code. In the elaborate series of Special Orders and General Orders which culminated in the General Consolidated Order of 1847 (still in force), we find a minutely particular body of rules, referring always to “the” workhouse of the Union, applied with practical identity to all unions, providing for the reception under a single roof and subject to a single officer of every kind of pauper, applying to all the inmates, and (with quite insignificant variations, presently to be noted, for the aged, the sick and the infants), treating all the kinds of paupers alike.

It was possibly connected with this policy of one general workhouse for each union that we find the Central Authority assuming that the grouping together of a score or more of parishes almost inevitably involved building a new workhouse. At first, indeed, the Assistant Commissioners were directed to examine to what extent existing poorhouses or workhouses could be “made useful for only one class of paupers.” In August 1835, the Central Authority could write of its year’s experience that “it has also been proved that the expense and loss of time in building new workhouses may, in many cases, be saved, by a union of parishes and the combination of their existing workhouses and poorhouses, by assigning one or two classes of the paupers to one of the separate workhouses within the district.” But already by that time the contrary policy was being carried out by the most energetic subordinate of the Central Authority, who (as his private reports show) had quickly satisfied himself, and was rapidly convincing his superiors, that the policy of utilising as specialised institutions the existing parish workhouses was, with the boards of guardians of that time, administratively impossible. Already by August 1835, Sir Francis B. Head was reporting that “with the exception of Romney Marsh, the whole of East Kent, comprehending an area of 590 square miles, is now grouped into compact unions of parishes; these unions are all very nearly of the same size-all contain very nearly the same population-all have voluntarily adopted for their workhouse the same low, cheap, homely building-all have agreed in placing it in the centre of their respective unions.”

It is interesting to see the arguments by which this flagrant departure from the policy of the 1834 Report was attacked and defended. In 1835 we have a magistrate of Kent, belonging to a union where they had so far adhered to the recommendations of the Report, writing very graphically on the subject to Sir Francis Head. “There is one point,” he said, “upon which our practice differs materially from most of our neighbours, and it is one upon which I entertain a strong opinion that ours is the correct system. It is the adaptation of existing workhouses to different classes, instead of building new ones…. In the first place upon our system there is a great saving of expense; our homes altogether have cost us under ?300…. I dislike the appearance of these new houses all over the country…. I dislike the outward and visible sign of the change that is being operated. I am alarmed at the irritation. I fear the consequences. When we have eight workhouses there is hardly an inducement to pull down one only, and to pull them all down is next to impossible, from the wide surface over which they are spread. Our system, I might almost say, eludes the grasp of insurrection. Besides this, how much more perfect is the classification! How secure are our separate schools from all contamination. How small are the masses of pauperism which we bring together, compared with the congestion of one vast House. With us, our Houses are not like prisons, for we require no high wall to separate the classes; eight or ten miles distance is far more effectual than the highest walls.”

To this Sir Francis Head seems to have replied to the following effect. He did not at all agree with his correspondent that eight classified workhouses were better than one general establishment. “The very sight,” he said, “of a well-built efficient establishment would give confidence to the board of guardians; the sight and weekly assemblage of all servants of their union would make them proud of their office; the appointment of a chaplain would give dignity to the whole arrangement, while the pauper would feel it was utterly impossible to contend against it. In visiting such a series of unions, the Assistant Commissioner could with great facility perform his duty, whereas if he had eight establishments to search for in each union, it would be almost impracticable to attend to them. I would, moreover, beg to observe that in one establishment there would always be a proper governor, ready to receive and govern any able-bodied applicants, whereas in separate establishments this most important arrangement (the Able-bodied House) during harvest, etc., would constantly be empty, and consequently would become inefficient in moments of emergency.”

Sir Francis Head, as we have seen, had his way. In writing a farewell letter to the Kentish boards of guardians at the end of 1835, he urges them to stick to the dietary, and to appoint a chaplain “to your central house, which will shortly be the sole establishment in your union…. As soon as this important object has been gained-as soon as you find that the whole of your indoor poor are concentrated in one respectable establishment-under your own weekly superintendence-when you see yourselves surrounded by a band of resolute, sensible, well-educated men faithfully devoted to your service-you will then, I believe, fully appreciate the advantage which you, as well as your successors, will ever derive from possessing one strong, efficient building, instead of having, from false economy, frittered away your resources among your old existing houses.”

After this we hear no more of the policy of specialised institutions for particular kinds of paupers, as recommended in the Report of 1834. The policy of the Central Authority settles down definitely to that which provided each union with one general workhouse, almost invariably built for the purpose, near the centre of the union.

It is not easy to discover what policy was laid down as to the site and character of the new general workhouse thus prescribed. There was no Special or General Order, and apparently no paper of rules or suggestions, giving any direction as to the position to be chosen, the surroundings to be preferred, or even the area to be obtained. Nothing was prescribed as to the character of the building, the cubic space to be provided for each inmate, the sanitary arrangements, or the structural provision for classification by sex, age, character or condition. To some extent this lack of any statement of policy may have been supplied by oral explanations in the process of sanctioning the building plans. This hardly applies, however, to the choice of a site; and we cannot discover from any published document whether the Central Authority thought it preferable that the union workhouse should be located in the crowded streets of a populous city or in a pleasant rural district. The only help that seems to have been afforded was the publication in 1835 of some pictures and diagrams of suggested workhouses. From these we may infer that the Central Authority had adopted as its policy the erection of the same “low, cheap, homely (?) building”-bearing no little resemblance to the prison plans of the period-with which Sir Francis Head was covering East Kent.

It was not until 1842, after illness due to serious overcrowding had occurred at the Sevenoaks Workhouse, that the Central Authority began to incorporate in its policy some elementary sanitary regulations. We have first the requirement that a maximum number to be accommodated in each workhouse should be fixed. Even then it was left to each board of guardians to suggest whatever number it chose, after consultation with its medical officer, subject to approval and to the final fixing of the number by the Central Authority. In 1847 the phrase with regard to approval drops out, and the Central Authority merely fixes the number.

In 1842 the medical officer of the union is required to report to his board any defects in drainage, ventilation, and warmth. Beyond these somewhat exiguous forms no policy was even suggested to the local authorities with regard to the structural arrangements of the workhouse.

We have now to consider how the Central Authority exercised its power to determine the character of the one general workhouse which it had imposed on each union. Let us take the policy laid down with regard to each phase of the indoor pauper’s life.

(i.) Admission

The door was to be always open. In cases of “sudden or urgent necessity” any person in a state of destitution, applying at any hour, with or without an order or any other formality, was to be immediately relieved by admission, and by the supply of food, clothing, medicine, and other necessaries. Where the necessity was not urgent, the applicant had first to get an order for admission, which (unless some other mode of relief was adopted) could not be refused to any destitute person. The pauper admitted was to be cleansed, clothed, medically examined, and searched for prohibited articles, in a “probationary” or “receiving” ward. The pauper was then, if free from disease, to be assigned to his particular section of the workhouse, according to a sevenfold classification by sex, age, and physical condition.

(ii.) Segregation

The character of the workhouse of 1835-1847 was principally determined by the practice as to the segregation of its inmates. To discover exactly what the Central Authority intended this segregation to be is surprisingly difficult. We have first a rigid and logical classificatory scheme, imposed with the force of law. To this there came both a series of exceptions to the classification and a series of directions as to the practical segregation in daily life, additional to or inconsistent with the classification; some of them permissive and others mandatory.

The seven classes insisted on by the classificatory scheme of the Central Authority were (i.) aged or infirm men; (ii). able-bodied males over thirteen; (iii.) boys between seven and thirteen; (iv.) aged or infirm women; (v.) able-bodied women and girls over sixteen; (vi.) girls between seven and sixteen; and (vii.) children under seven. This classification, imposed in 1836, was confirmed, with only the slightest of modifications, by the General Orders of 1842 and 1847 (the latter still in force). As therein finally settled, it provided for “(i.) men infirm through age or any other cause; (ii.) able-bodied men and youths above the age of fifteen years; (iii.) boys above the age of seven years and under that of fifteen; (iv.) women infirm through age or any other cause; (v.) able-bodied women and girls above the age of fifteen years; (vi.) girls above the age of seven years and under that of fifteen; and (vii.) children under seven years of age.” Explicit rules are made that each class is to remain in the separate apartments or buildings assigned to it, without communication with any other class.

The modern student is struck at once by the omissions in this compulsory classificatory scheme. There is no class for the sick, either those suffering from infectious or contagious diseases, or from others. There is no class for the lying-in cases. There is no class for the lunatics, idiots, or imbeciles. There is no provision for infants at the breast, who, by the classificatory scheme, were ordered to be separated from their mothers. There was no class for the vagrant intending to stay only one night. Finally, there was no provision made for any segregation by character-not merely none by past character, but not even for any by present character or conduct, which would have effected a separation between quiet and orderly inmates and the turbulent prostitute or semi-criminal.

Some of these omissions were partly remedied by new Orders or recommendations between 1836 and 1847, which were embodied in the General Consolidated Order of 1847, but never found their way into the classificatory scheme itself.

With regard to the sick, the Central Authority imposed no requirements at all. It was incidentally mentioned in the Order of 1836, and repeated in those of 1842 and 1847, that the sick were, on admission, to be placed in “the sick ward,” or in such other ward as the medical officer might direct. We have incidental references during the ensuing decade to the existence of sick wards in workhouses. But there was no provision in any Order requiring a “sick ward” to be provided, still less any provision requiring properly classified accommodation for the sick of different ages, sexes, conditions, or diseases. When these workhouse rules were issued in 1842 as a General Order to practically all the unions then in existence, they were still left without any mention even of infectious diseases. The utmost that the Central Authority could bring itself to do was to declare, in the covering letter, but not in the rules themselves, that it was the duty of the master, under the direction of the medical officer, to isolate an infectious case in a separate apartment.

When the rules were finally consolidated in 1847, they still ignored the sick in their scheme of classification, and actually omitted all mention either of infectious diseases, or of lying-in cases, merely laying it down in general terms that it was the duty of the guardians, “after consulting the medical officer,” to “make such arrangements as they may deem necessary, with regard to persons labouring under any disease of body or mind.”

No provision whatever was made for the segregation of paupers of unsound mind, whether lunatics, idiots, or imbeciles. In an Order of 1836 we do indeed find “the ward for lunatics and idiots” incidentally mentioned, as existing in some workhouses; but such a ward was never required by the Central Authority, nor even suggested by it.

In 1842, it was ordered that, if such paupers were dangerous, they were not to be retained in the workhouse, but sent to an asylum within fourteen days. It was even suggested in an Instructional Letter in 1842 that curable cases, even if not dangerous, should be sent to asylums; and that even incurable, harmless idiots were inconvenient inmates of a workhouse. But no hint is given of the desirability of their segregation whilst they are there.

With regard to infants at the breast, no special provision was ever made by rule. But it was allowed that children under seven might be placed (though only if the guardians thought fit) in any part of the female wards; and the mothers were at any rate “to have access to them at all reasonable times.” The Central Authority remarked, in a covering letter of 1842-which was not repeated when the rules were re-issued in 1847-“that so long as any mother is suckling her child, she ought to have access to it at all times except when she is at work, and that the child ought not, even then, to be completely beyond the mother’s reach.”

In 1847, still without amendment of the classificatory scheme, the guardians were allowed to permit a mother and her infant children to occupy the same bed.

With regard to vagrants, the first departure from the policy of merely including them as able-bodied paupers came in 1842, in a rule requiring “casual poor wayfarers and vagrants” to be kept “in the Vagrant Ward,” or other separate ward-presumably separate for each sex, though this was not explicitly required.

With regard to segregation by character, the first relaxation from the classificatory scheme is to be found in a letter of 1839, in which the Central Authority permits married women of good character to be placed with the aged women, in order that they may avoid the contamination of bad characters, but only provided that their daily employment is not interfered with. We can find no contemporary document even allowing the guardians to protect from a like contamination unmarried women or young girls of good character.

In 1840, however, the Official Circular referred to “the separation of certain abandoned persons from the other inmates,” explaining that it rested “not on the consideration of their past conduct, but on that of their present habits and character.”

In 1842 the central authority incidentally observed in an instructional letter that the guardians were permitted to subdivide any of the seven classes of the scheme imposed on them, and that it was “very desirable that females of dissolute and disorderly habits should be separated from those of a better character.”

Not until 1847 do we find a rule providing that, “as far as circumstances will permit,” the guardians were to “further subdivide any of the classes enumerated” in the classificatory scheme, “with reference to the moral character or behaviour or the previous habits of the inmates, or to such other grounds as may seem expedient.”

Meanwhile, however, the Central Authority was breaking down by inconsistent provisions the classificatory scheme which it left still figuring in the forefront of its Consolidated Orders. We may cite first the provision as to aged married couples. The Central Authority had for seven years eloquently justified its insistence on the strict separation of all married couples, however aged. In 1842, however, it made a rule “that, if for any special reason it shall at any time appear to the board of guardians to be desirable to depart from the regulations contained in Art. 9, in respect of any married couple,” who were infirm through age or any other cause, “the guardians shall be at liberty to resolve that such couple shall have a sleeping apartment separate from those of the other paupers,” subject to obtaining in each case the consent and approval of the Central Authority.

In 1846, on the vehement objection and practical rebellion of the Norwich Court of Guardians, it went much further and agreed to sanction “an arrangement by which a separate room shall be assigned to each married couple of whatever class,” that the guardians thought fit. In 1847, however, Parliament swept the original policy away so far as legislation could do so, by enacting, unconditionally, that no married couple over sixty should be compelled in the workhouse to live separately and apart from each other.

A second inroad into the classificatory scheme was made by the provision that children under seven might be placed in any female ward, whether that of the sick women, that of the aged and infirm women, or even that of the able-bodied women.

Yet another, and possibly a more important inroad into the scheme was made by a rule of 1842, which permitted the guardians in particular cases to classify boys and girls over ten in any way they thought fit.

(iii.) Service

But it was in its rules as to the services to be rendered by the workhouse inmates that the Central Authority most effectually undermined its own classificatory scheme, and practically destroyed any real segregation. That scheme, as we have shown, expressly forbade the paupers in any class to leave the particular “ward or separate building and yard” assigned to such class, or to hold any communication with any other class. Nevertheless the Central Authority had, from the first, a policy of workhouse organisation inconsistent with any such segregation. Practically all the workhouse service was to be performed by the paupers themselves, and every pauper who was capable of work was to be incessantly occupied in that service. The able-bodied women who formed Class V. might be supervised by the aged and infirm women of Class IV. The children under seven who formed Class VII. might be supervised either by the able-bodied women of Class V., or by the aged and infirm women of Class IV., or by the girls of Class VI. The boys over seven who formed Class III. might be supervised by the aged and infirm men of Class I. The girls over seven who formed Class VI. might be supervised by the aged and infirm women of Class IV. These girls, so far from being confined to the premises assigned to their class, were to be employed in the able-bodied women’s wards, in the aged and infirm women’s wards, in the wards for the children under seven, and in household work generally, provided only that they were somehow kept from communicating with able-bodied men or boys. The sick, whether male or female, whether of good character or of bad, had necessarily to be waited on, and no paid nurses were required to be appointed. Consequently the provision allowing all the sick wards to be attended by the able-bodied women, by the girls between seven and sixteen, by the aged women, or by any combination of these that the master might direct, in itself necessarily destroyed all real segregation. By 1847 this permission had been so far restricted as to confine the attendance on the sick males to the aged and infirm men and the aged and infirm women; though such girls over seven, such able-bodied women, and such aged or infirm women as the master might deem fit might still be employed indiscriminately in the service of any of the wards except those for men and boys, and generally for household work throughout the workhouse.

(iv.) Diet

It is significant of the unity of régime insisted upon in the one general workhouse that the Central Authority laid constant stress on the uniformity to be observed in the dietaries of all the classes of paupers in the workhouse, except only by order or on the advice of the medical officer, which might be either for the sick, for those requiring a change of diet, for the nursing mothers, or for the infants.

Even to those paupers who were employed as servants only the common fare was “in general” to be given. The first dietaries issued to the boards of guardians for them to choose from were drawn up avowedly for the able-bodied, with no other variation for other classes than were contained in a few footnotes referring (apart from the sick and children under nine) to extras which the guardians might, if they thought fit, allow to persons over sixty. Thus, practically the only difference in the food to be allowed to the able-bodied males, the able-bodied females, and the children over nine, was one of quantity. Even the aged and infirm had the same diet, with nothing else prescribed for them, and with no greater indulgence allowed, even if the guardians wished it, than an ounce of tea per week, with milk and sugar, and the possible addition, in one out of the six dietaries among which the boards of guardians might choose, of meat pudding once a week instead of bread and cheese; and, in four of these dietaries, also of butter for breakfast. There was, of course, to be no alcoholic drink for any class of pauper except by written medical order. No presents of food to individual paupers or classes of paupers were to be allowed, as they would produce inequality and discontent. Even the sick, who were originally to be dieted case by case at the discretion of the medical officer, were, in 1842, to be fed with absolute uniformity as among the different classes of paupers and among the different individuals in a class, it being urged on the guardians that the medical officer should be restricted for his patients to a choice among four fixed dietaries which he was to draw up once for all, and hang up in the sick wards for permanent reference. These were described as “high, middle, low, and fever”; and he was expressly to be instructed “that the quantity of articles to be allowed for each should be minutely specified.”

Finally, as it had been found that the old men and women who were allowed weekly ounces of tea and weekly allowances of butter would not take their teas simultaneously or consume their little pats of butter evenly, this distressing deviation from the dietetic uniformity led the Central Authority to suggest the withdrawal of the privilege, in favour of a simultaneous service of “a certain quantity of liquid tea” and of portions of bread and butter.

With regard to the quantities of food to be supplied, the policy of the Central Authority passed through three phases. In 1836 the boards of guardians were expressly directed that the diet in the workhouse (which, as we have shown, was to be practically uniform for all classes of paupers) was not to be “equal”-that is to say, was actually to be inferior-“to the ordinary mode of subsistence of the labouring classes of the neighbourhood.” This was perhaps more tactfully expressed in the Consolidated Order for the Administration of Relief in Town Unions, in saying that the diet was “in no case to exceed in quantity and quality of food the ordinary diet of any class of able-bodied labourers living within the same district.” All the contemporary warnings of the Central Authority were against giving too much; and there was no provision for ensuring that each pauper got even the quantity prescribed in the dietary chosen by the local authority. No extra dinner was allowed on Christmas or other feast days, unless, indeed, this was supplied by private individuals. In 1842 a change was made. The Central Authority fixed a separate dietary for each workhouse, and there was no longer any reference to these dietaries being inferior to the subsistence of the independent labourer; on the contrary the intention of the Central Authority was avowedly “to assimilate them as much as possible to the ordinary food of the working classes in the neighbourhood”-in Kent and Sussex mainly bread and cheese, in the northern counties meat, potatoes, and porridge, and in Cornwall including fish. Moreover, it was provided that any pauper might, on demand, have his prescribed portion weighed out to him. Finally, by 1847, we gather that the principle had been silently adopted of fixing such a dietary as was calculated to keep the paupers in physical health, irrespective of the amount or kind of food that might ordinarily be obtained by the lowest class of non-pauper labourer in particular districts or at particular periods. Even extra food on Christmas Day was allowed at the expense of the Poor Rate, at the unfettered discretion of the boards of guardians.

It should, however, be added that, although the policy of the Central Authority passed, as stated, through these three phases, the actual dietaries prescribed by it, even in the first phase, seem (in the light of modern physiology) to have been ample for health, if the paupers always got what was prescribed and knew how to eat it.

(v.) Cleanliness and Sanitation

It was part of the policy that the utmost cleanliness and good order should be maintained throughout the workhouse; and (to the limited extent of the hygienic knowledge of the time) that sanitary conditions should be insisted on. It was expressly made the duty of the master and matron to enforce “industry, order, punctuality, and cleanliness” on all the inmates; every day to “see that each individual is clean and in a proper state”; daily to inspect and see that all the sleeping wards are “duly cleaned and properly ventilated,” and “to take care that the wards, kitchen, larder, and other rooms and offices be kept clean and in good order.” All paupers were compulsorily to be cleansed on admission. All the workhouse inmates were to be supplied with clean linen and stockings every week, whilst their beds were to have clean sheets monthly. This latter requirement was superseded in 1842 by the more general provision that the beds and bedding were to be kept in a clean and wholesome state. Food was to be given out as required for each meal, not once for the day. It was to be eaten only in the dining-room, and not (except as ordered for the sick) elsewhere in the house. All remnants were to be removed from the dining-room by the officers after each meal. It was compulsory on each board of guardians to appoint

The Workhouse and the Poor Law Board

In this issue about the workhouse, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: We have seen that between 1834 and 1847 the Central Authority turned directly away from the express recommendations of the 1834 Report with regard to the institutional accommodation of the paupers. Instead of a series of separate institutions appropriately organised and equipped for the several classes of the pauper population-the aged and infirm, the children, and the adult able-bodied-the Central Authority had got established, in nearly every union, one general workhouse; nearly everywhere “the same cheap, homely building,” with one common regimen, under one management, for all classes of paupers.

The justification for the policy which, as we have seen, Sir Francis Head induced the Central Authority to substitute for the recommendations of the 1834 Report, may have been his confident expectation, in 1835, that the use of the workhouse was only to serve as a “test,” which the applicants would not pass, and that there was accordingly no need to regard the workhouse building as a continuing home. This was the view taken by Harriet Martineau, who, in her Poor Law Tales, describes the overseer of the depauperised parish as locking the door of the empty workhouse when it had completely fulfilled its purpose of a test by having made all the applicants prefer and contrive to be independent of poor relief. By 1847, however, it must have been clear that, even in the most strictly administered parishes, under the most rigid application of the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, there would be permanently residing in the workhouse a motley crowd of the aged and infirm unable to live independently; the destitute chronic sick in like case; the orphans and foundlings; such afflicted persons as the village idiot, the senile imbecile, the deaf and dumb, and what we now call the mentally defective; together with a perpetually floating population of acutely sick persons of all ages; vagrants; girls with illegitimate babies; wives whose husbands had deserted them, or were in prison, in hospital, or in the Army or Navy; widows beyond the first months of their widowhood and other women unable to earn a livelihood; all sorts of “ins and outs”; and the children dragging at the skirts of all these classes. The workhouse population in 590 unions of England and Wales on 1st January 1849, was, in fact, 121,331. The condition of these workhouse inmates, and the character of the regimen to which they were subjected, had been brought to public notice in 1847 in the notorious Andover case. The insanitary condition of the workhouses of the period as places of residence, and, in particular, their excessive death-rate, was repeatedly brought to notice not only by irresponsible agitators, but also by such competent statistical and medical critics as McCulloch and Wakley. But the very idea of the general workhouse was now subjected to severe criticism. “During the last ten years,” said the author of an able book in 1852, “I have visited many prisons and lunatic asylums, not only in England, but in France and Germany. A single English workhouse contains more that justly calls for condemnation in the principle on which it is established than is found in the very worst prisons or public lunatic asylums that I have seen. The workhouse as now organised is a reproach and disgrace peculiar to England; nothing corresponding to it is found throughout the whole continent of Europe. In France the medical patients of our workhouses would be found in ‘hopitaux’; the infirm aged poor would be in hospices; and the blind, the idiot, the lunatic, the bastard child and the vagrant would similarly be placed each in an appropriate but separate establishment. With us a common Malebolge is provided for them all; and in some parts of the country the confusion is worse confounded by the effect of Prohibitory Orders, which, enforcing the application of the notable workhouse-test, drive into the same common sink of so many kinds of vice and misfortune the poor man whose only crime is his poverty, and whose want of work alone makes him chargeable. Each of the buildings which we so absurdly call a workhouse is, in truth [1] a general hospital; (2) an almshouse; (3) a foundling house; (4) a lying-in hospital; (5) a school house; (6) a lunatic asylum; (7) an idiot house; (8) a blind asylum; (9) a deaf and dumb asylum; (10) a workhouse; but this part of the establishment is generally a lucus a non lucendo, omitting to find work even for able-bodied paupers. Such and so varied are the destinations of these common receptacles of sin and misfortune, of sorrow and suffering of the most different kinds, each tending to aggravate the others with which it is unnecessarily and injuriously brought into contact. It is at once equally shocking to every principle of reason and every feeling of humanity, that all these varied forms of wretchedness should be thus crowded together into one common abode, that no attempt should be made by law to classify them, and to provide appropriate places for the relief of each.”

During the period now under review, 1847-71, we see the Central Authority becoming gradually alive to the draw-backs of this mixture of classes. At first its remedy seems to have been to take particular classes out of the workhouse. We have already described the constant attempts, made from the very establishment of the Poor Law Board, to have the children removed to separate institutions and to get the vagrants segregated into distinct casual wards. It was the resistance and apathy of the boards of guardians that prevented these attempts being particularly successful, and the Central Authority appears not to have felt able to issue peremptory orders on the subject. The policy of the Lunacy Commissioners drew many lunatics out of the workhouses, but this was more than made up by the increasing tendency to seclude the village idiot, so that the workhouse population of unsound mind actually increased.

We do not find that there was during the whole period any alteration of the General Consolidated Order of 1847, upon which the regimen of the workhouse depended. In spite of the increasing number of the sick and the persons of unsound mind, the seven classes of workhouse inmates determined by that Order were adhered to, and received no addition, though the Poor Law Board favoured the sub-division of these classes so far as it was reasonably possible in the existing buildings, especially in the case of women. In a letter of 1854 it lamented the evil which arose “from the association of girls, when removed from workhouse union schools, with women of bad character in the able-bodied women’s ward,” and wished that it could be prevented. At the same time it stated that in the smaller workhouses it was “often impracticable to provide the accommodation” which would be necessary in order to maintain a complete separation; and while pointing out that it was legally competent for the guardians (with its approval) to erect extra accommodation, by means of which this contamination could be avoided, the Central Authority did not even remotely suggest that it was the guardians’ duty so to do. By 1860 it “had given instructions that every new workhouse should be so constructed as to allow of the requisite classification.”

From about 1865 onwards we note a new spirit in all the circulars and letters relating to the workhouse. The public scandal caused by the Lancet inquiry into the conditions of the sick poor in the workhouses, and the official reports and Parliamentary discussions that ensued, seem to have enabled the Central Authority to take up a new attitude with regard both to workhouse construction and workhouse regimen. From this time forth the workhouse is recognised as being, not merely a “test of destitution” for the able-bodied, which they were not expected long to endure, but also the continuing home of large classes of helpless and not otherwise than innocent persons. “Able-bodied people,” reported the Medical Officer in 1867, “are now scarcely at all found in them during the greater part of the year…. Those who enjoy the advantages of these institutions are almost solely such as may fittingly receive them, viz. the aged and infirm, the destitute sick and children. Workhouses are now asylums and infirmaries.”

From now onwards we see the Central Authority always striving to improve the workhouse. In the Circulars of 1868 much attention was paid to the sufficiency of space and ventilation. It was required that parallel blocks of building should be so far apart as to allow free access to light and air; blocks connected at a right or acute angle were to be avoided.

Ordinary wards were to be at least ten feet high and eighteen feet wide, the length depending on the number of inmates; 300 cubic feet of space were required for each healthy person in a dormitory, 500 for infirm persons able to leave the dormitory during the day, and 700 in a day and night room. The Visiting Committee was to “ascertain not merely whether the total number for which the workhouse is certified has been exceeded, but whether the number of any one class exceeds the accommodation available for it.” No wards were to be placed side by side without a corridor between them; the corridors were to be six feet wide, and ordinary dormitories were to have windows into them. Windows and fanlights into internal spaces were to be made to open to be used as ventilators, and ventilation was also to be “effected by special means, apart from the usual means of doors, windows, and fire-places,” air-bricks being recommended as a simple method. No rooms occupied by the inmates as sleeping-rooms were to be on the boundary of the workhouse site. Hot and cold water was to be distributed to the bath-rooms and sick wards. Airing yards for the inmates were to be “of sufficient size”-with a rider that “if partially or wholly paved with stone or brick or asphalted or gas-tarred they are often better than if covered with gravel.” Yards for the children, sick, and aged were to be enclosed with dwarf walls and palisades where practicable, presumably with the object of giving a look-out, and making the yard slightly less prison-like. “Small yards, and a work-room, and a covered shed for working in bad weather,” were to be provided for vagrants. For workhouses having a large number of children the Poor Law Board recommended, “in addition to the school-rooms, day-rooms, covered play-sheds in their yards, and industrial work-rooms.” The staircases were to be of stone; the timber, Baltic fir and English oak; fire escapes were to be provided; these and many other details were laid down, all tending to make the building solid and capacious. There was no mention of ornament, no regard to appearance, no hint that anything might be done to relieve the dead ugliness of the place; but it must be recognised that the Central Authority had, by 1868, travelled far from the “low, cheap, homely building” which it was recommending thirty years before.

Separate dormitories, day-rooms, and yards (apparently not dining-rooms) were required for the aged, able-bodied, children, and sick of each sex, and these were the only divisions laid down as fundamental, but the Circular went on to recommend provision [1] “so far as practicable for the sub-division of the able-bodied women into two or three classes with reference to moral character, or behaviour, the previous habits of the inmates, or such other grounds as might seem expedient,” and (2) “in the larger workhouses” for the separate accommodation of the following classes of sick-

Ordinary sick of both sexes.

Lying-in women, with separate labour room.

Itch cases of both sexes.

Dirty and offensive cases of both sexes.

Venereal cases of both sexes.

Fever and smallpox cases of both sexes (to be in a separate building with detached rooms).

Children (in whose case sex was not mentioned).

In the furnishing of the wards the simplicity of 1868 was equally far removed from that of 1835. Ordinary dormitories contained beds 2 feet 6 inches wide, chairs, bells, and gas where practicable. Day-rooms were to have an open fireplace, benches, cupboards (or open shelves, which were preferred), tables, gas, combs, and hairbrushes. “A proportion of chairs” were to be provided “for the aged and infirm”; and of the benches, likewise, “those for the aged and infirm should have backs, and be of sufficient width for reasonable comfort.” In the dining-rooms were to be benches, tables, a minimum of necessary table utensils, and if possible gas and an open fireplace. The sick wards were to be furnished with more care, and with an eye to medical efficiency. It is unnecessary to go into the long and detailed list of the medical appliances which were required. There is even some notice of appearances in a suggestion that “cheerful-looking rugs” should be placed on the beds, and of comfort in the arm and other chairs “for two-thirds of the number of the sick.” There were also to be short benches with backs, and (but these only for special cases) even cushions; rocking-chairs for the lying-in wards, and little arm-chairs and rocking-chairs for the children’s sick wards. Dr. Smith had further recommended a Bible for each inmate, entertaining illustrated and religious periodicals, tracts and books, games, and a foot valance to the bed to “add to the appearance of comfort,” These suggestions were not specifically taken up by the Central Authority, but Dr. Smith’s report was circulated to the guardians, without comment. We have the beginning, too, between 1863 and 1867, of the improvement of the food, which was regulated in each workhouse by a separate Special Order, prescribing a dietary, differing widely from union to union. In 1866 the report of the medical officer in favour of skilled cooking, by a professional cook, instead of by a pauper inmate, really hot meals (even to the use of “hot water dishes”), and efficient service, so as to increase the comfort of the inmates, was circulated to the boards of guardians. After many reports and elaborate inquiries, the Central Authority in 1868 issued a Circular of very authoritative suggestions for a general improvement in the workhouse dietaries. After a protest that no cause had been shown for any fundamental change in the principles which had been hitherto recommended, it was urged that there were various points which the guardians should remember in framing dietaries. The first of these points was the addition of several classes who were to have separate dietaries, viz.:-

(a) The aged and infirm not on the medical officer’s book.

(b) Inmates on the medical officer’s book for diet only and not on the sick list.

(c) Inmates allowed extra diets on account of employment, and those allowed alcohol for the same reason.

(d) Children aged nine to sixteen, if the guardians thought they should be separately dieted.

(e) Sick diets to be framed by the medical officer as before.

(f) Imbeciles and suckling women to be dieted as the aged, “with or without the substitution of milk porridge and bread at breakfast or supper or at both meals.”

Then followed various detailed suggestions, some of which dealt with ingredients and methods of cooking. Soup or broth dinners were not to be given more than twice a week; nor were bread and cheese or suet pudding dinners, except to the able-bodied. Fresh vegetables were to be provided, if possible, five times a week, and boiled rice alone was not to be made a substitute for them. Rice pudding was not to be given as a dinner except to children under nine, and to them not more than twice a week. Children were not to have tea or coffee, except for supper on Sunday, but milk at breakfast and supper, and they were to be given two or three ounces of bread at 10 A.M. It was “suggested that tea, coffee, or cocoa, with milk and sugar, and accompanied by bread and butter or bread and cheese, should be allowed to all the aged and infirm women at breakfast and supper, and the same to aged and infirm men, or milk porridge with bread” might be given at one of those meals. The ordinary rations were-of meat (cooked, without bone), for men four ounces, for women three ounces; of soup, one to one and a half pints (containing three ounces of meat) for an adult; and of bread at breakfast or supper, six ounces for able-bodied men, for the aged, women, and children over nine five ounces, and proportionately less for younger children.

The movement for the improvement of the workhouse thus initiated by the Central Authority in 1865-70 represents a vast departure, not only from the policy of the Poor Law Commissioners of 1835-47, but also from that of the Poor Law Board itself from 1847 to 1865. Unfortunately, in the absence of any embodiment of the new policy in a General Order, it was left to the slow and haphazard discretion of the six hundred boards of guardians how far it was carried into practice. There is, however, evidence that by 1872, at any rate, the Metropolitan workhouses were reported to have become “attractive to paupers,” and to contain “many persons … who could maintain themselves out of doors; and, in short, that the workhouse furnishes no test of destitution.” Moreover, though the Central Authority sought to improve the physical conditions of workhouse life, and even to promote the comfort of the classes who now formed the great bulk of the workhouse population, it does not seem to have had any idea of remedying the mental deadness of the workhouse, the starvation of the intellect, the paralysis of the will, and the extinction of all initiative to which such an existence inevitably tended. The only hint that we can find during the whole period of any consciousness that the hundred and fifty thousand workhouse inmates had minds is a statement by Mr. C. P. Villiers in 1860 that “the board had readily consented to establish libraries” for the inmates. We cannot find any order authorising the provision of workhouse libraries, or any circular suggesting them; nor do we discover their existence from such local records as we have been able to consult.

The Workhouse and the Local Government Board

In this issue about the workhouse, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: We left the Central Authority in 1871, fully accepting the view that the workhouse was not merely a “test” which few only might be expected to pass or to endure for long, but a place of permanent or long-continued residence for whole classes of paupers. The workhouse population on 1st January 1871 numbered, in fact, 168,073. The Central Authority, reverting to the proposals of the 1834 Report, had accordingly started out to differentiate the workhouse into separate institutions for particular classes (the children, the sick, and, in the Metropolis, also the imbeciles and idiots); to impose an altogether new standard of expensive structural efficiency on the boards of guardians; to press incessantly for new buildings of approved pattern; to increase the healthiness and comfort of the wards for the sick, the aged, and the children; and to make the dietaries for these classes better adapted to their likings and their needs. “Those who enjoy the advantages of these institutions,” had said the Central Authority’s own medical officer in 1867, “are almost solely such as may fittingly receive them, viz. the aged and infirm, the destitute sick, and children. Workhouses are now asylums and infirmaries.” There was, after 1871, no change and no arrest in this policy. So far as the children, the sick, and the aged and infirm were concerned, we have already described its continuance and its progressive development. The improvement of the institutional provision for the pauper, by removing some of the objections to the indiscriminate general workhouse of 1835-65, fitted in, we may say, with the new crusade of the inspectorate against outdoor relief as such. That crusade was, however, for the first twenty years, pushed without regard to whether or not the particular boards of guardians had accepted the new idea of the specialised institutional treatment for particular classes, or were still wedded to the indiscriminate common workhouse, which aimed at being “deterrent.” Mr. Longley realised that the higher standard of comfort that was coming to be allowed to the aged, the sick, and the children in a general workhouse inevitably tended to prevent the necessary strictness and severity being applied to the able-bodied. The inspectorate accordingly strove in London to get specialised institutions for the able-bodied also, the result being the “Poplar test workhouse” that we have already described.In 1874 the Central Authority expressed its regret at the slow progress “towards the permanent classification in separate establishments of the various classes of indoor paupers, other than the sick…. We attach the utmost importance to this improvement of the classification of indoor paupers, which we believe to be a necessary condition of the maintenance of that discipline which lies at the root of an effective administration of indoor relief. This improvement, however, cannot be effected, except at an enormous and almost prohibitory cost, otherwise than by the combination of several boards of guardians for this purpose. Their existing workhouses would, in that event, become available for the separate accommodation of various classes of indoor paupers chargeable to the several combined areas. We are advised that in the existing state of the law it is doubtful whether such a combination can be effected otherwise than by the voluntary action of boards of guardians, which we trust may still take place, and the desirableness of which we shall continue to press upon the guardians.” No such combinations took place, and the Central Authority, baffled by the expense and apparently not prepared to adopt the heroic expedient of issuing orders merging several unions in one, abandoned the attempt to get classification by institutions, except with regard to the children and the sick. The able-bodied had to be dealt with in a general workhouse; and we must note, for twenty years after 1871, battling with the ameliorative efforts of the departmental architect, the departmental medical officer, and the departmental educational experts, on behalf of particular classes of inmates, an attempt to make the workhouse more “deterrent” to other classes of paupers.

The most marked increase of severity was directed against the class of “ins and outs,” called in America “revolvers,” and it took the form of enlarged powers of detention. By an Act of 1871 the guardians were enabled to detain a pauper (other than a vagrant) who gave notice to quit, in any case for twenty-four hours; if he had already discharged himself once or oftener within a month before giving the notice, for forty-eight hours; and if he had so discharged himself more than twice within two months, for seventy-two hours. Under the Act of 1899 a pauper may even be compulsorily detained for 168 hours (one week) “if he has, in the opinion of the guardians, discharged himself frequently without sufficient reason.”

With regard to the able-bodied pauper, at any rate for the first fifteen years after 1871, there was to be no leniency. The spirit of the administration, whether of the workhouse or of the casual ward, was that subsequently expressed by Mr. Walter Long. “I would treat the wastrel and the vagabond, and the man who makes his wife and children paupers because of his own degraded habits, in a severe way, and I would make life a burden to him while he remains in the workhouse. I try to insist upon it that in the administration of our workhouses we should make such men realise that if we are compelled to keep them out of the rates we will do it at some discomfort to them.” But it was not, in fact, found practicable to avoid improving the accommodation, even for the able-bodied. For them, as for all other inmates, the Central Authority insisted on a sufficient supply of blankets, sheets, bedroom furniture and conveniences. For them, too, the Central Authority insisted on such comforts as knives and forks to eat their meals with-in one case having a long tussle with a recalcitrant board of guardians on this point. The able-bodied shared, too, in the improvement of the cooking which took place, particularly after the general investigation which led to the new Dietaries Order of 1900. “This Order,” said an inspector, “has certainly had two good incidental results. It has induced many boards of guardians to engage paid cooks, instead of employing chance inmates knowing nothing about the work … and the cooking appliances have in many cases been overhauled and improved. In some places they have been of the most rudimentary character.”The able-bodied may even get special privileges. Inmates employed on specially heavy work are permitted to receive an extra meal, as lunch. The discretion in this matter at first belonged to the medical officer, but now the guardians have power to order lunch as they think fit. In no case can any inmate claim it as a right, and it is not to be given merely on account of household work. Lunch, when allowed, is very plain, and may not include alcohol. The medical officer is to advise as to the degree of employment necessitating lunch, but the Central Authority suggests that “heavy work,” earning lunch for able-bodied men and women, should be taken to mean “an average day’s work with sustained exertion, e.g. corn-grinding, pumping, stone-breaking or crushing, shifting heavy goods, digging, scrubbing, washing, ironing, etc.,” while heavy work for the aged and infirm (or light work for the able-bodied) is “employment without sustained exertion, e.g. wood-chopping and wood-bundling, hoeing or weeding, sorting light articles, sewing, etc.” Beer was particularly objected to. In 1877 the Hackney Board of Guardians, who wanted to give beer to two paupers who assisted the coachman, were told that they were “legally empowered to require from inmates such labour as might be required without having recourse to exceptional indulgences”-in this case the giving of beer-“which would only, in effect, vitiate the principle of the workhouse being a pauper test.” On the other hand, it appears that beer is habitually allowed to the able-bodied inmates of certain workhouses at certain times, in return for work. A number of boards of guardians, having land to cultivate, have been permitted by Special Orders to “make to paupers employed in harvest work on land belonging to the guardians such allowance of food and fermented liquor as may be necessary,” without any direction of the medical officer. And when in 1903 an auditor surcharged a workhouse master for beer allowed to certain inmates for work done, it was explained “that if such allowance was withheld, some of the paupers would leave the workhouse”-surely a strange threat to make to a Poor Law authority-and with others “difficulties would arise to get them to work.” On this explanation the Central Authority (whilst upholding the auditor’s decision in point of law) remitted the surcharge. Finally, it may be observed that the shelter of the workhouse was not to be denied to the able-bodied, even for bad conduct. The master must admit all persons who present the proper order, at whatever hour of the day or night. He may not refuse admission even to a man in a state of drunkenness. Nor could a man be punished for being admitted whilst suffering from delirium tremens.

There is, thus, a marked change of tone after 1885 in workhouse administration, as in other branches of policy. This change of tone becomes specially marked in the Circular of January and the Memorandum of June 1895, in which the newly elected boards of guardians, chosen for the first time on a democratic franchise and without any high rating qualification, were specially instructed as to their administrative duties. These authoritative documents breathe a spirit of humane consideration for the pauper inmates, without excepting the able-bodied, which Mr. Longley would, we think, not have regarded as “deterrent.” The medical officer, rather than the master, was to advise the guardians on practically all the points on which the general regimen of the institution depended. The visiting committees were to take care that all the arrangements were in order; they “should satisfy themselves whether there is any structural defect in any part of the house; whether painting or lime-washing is required; whether the wards are clean and provided with such conveniences as lockers or shelves, so that they may be kept in proper order; whether there is any defect in the construction of the sanitary arrangements or in the general sewerage of the house; whether the yards are defective as airing courts or places of recreation. The attention of the visiting committee should be carefully directed to the subject of ventilation, which should be effected by special means, apart from the usual means of doors, windows, and fire-places, and should be so arranged that each ward may be brought into uninterrupted communication with the open air.” The classes of inmates are to be subdivided “with reference to their moral character or behaviour, or to their previous habits.” The employment to be provided is to be “unobjectionable in its character.” The clothing of inmates when absent on leave from the workhouse “should not be in any way distinctive or conspicuous in character.” The visiting committees are to see that there is always enough underclothing in stock to allow all the inmates the requisite changes; that “sufficient means for ensuring personal cleanliness are provided; that a convenient lavatory, as well as baths, with water laid on, and supplied with towels, soap, and combs, are accessible to each class.” “A piece of cocoa fibre matting or other material, or a mattress, should be placed between the bedstead and the bed. A sufficient supply of blankets, sheets, bedroom furniture and conveniences should be provided.”It remains only to mention the great improvement in the workhouse dietary carried out, after prolonged inquiries, in the General Order of 1900. During the preceding twenty years there had been but little attention paid to the subject. The Central Authority had, in 1871, sanctioned the use of Australian tinned meat. It had also authorised in over a hundred unions fish dinners once a week. In 1892 it had drawn attention to the great variation among unions in the amount of alcoholic drink consumed. In 1896 it had engaged in a prolonged struggle with the Chorlton Board of Guardians, and others elsewhere, who objected to the waste involved in supplying each inmate with a fixed and weighed-out allowance of bread, and who found by experiment that much less was used (and very much less thrown into the pig-trough) if the paupers were allowed to help themselves at meals without stint. The Central Authority long resisted this subversive proposal, and insisted on the General Consolidated Order of 1847 being obeyed. When the rebellious boards persisted, the Central Authority gave way-not, however, amending its Orders, but permitting, by letter, the breach of them. An official Departmental Committee appointed to consider the matter advised the president that the injunction of the Order to weigh out a fixed ration to each pauper might with advantage be abandoned in the case of bread. But when, in 1901, the Association of Poor Law Unions asked that the same principle should be applied to vegetables, the Central Authority consented only to bear the suggestion in mind.

In 1900 the new Dietaries Order, as we have already mentioned, greatly increased the nutritive value, variety, and attractiveness of the diets allowed; whilst the accompanying Memorandum formulated a whole code of suggestions for the improvement of the meals.

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

See Also

The Workhouse and the Local Government Board

In this issue about the workhouse, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: We left the Central Authority in 1871, fully accepting the view that the workhouse was not merely a “test” which few only might be expected to pass or to endure for long, but a place of permanent or long-continued residence for whole classes of paupers. The workhouse population on 1st January 1871 numbered, in fact, 168,073. The Central Authority, reverting to the proposals of the 1834 Report, had accordingly started out to differentiate the workhouse into separate institutions for particular classes (the children, the sick, and, in the Metropolis, also the imbeciles and idiots); to impose an altogether new standard of expensive structural efficiency on the boards of guardians; to press incessantly for new buildings of approved pattern; to increase the healthiness and comfort of the wards for the sick, the aged, and the children; and to make the dietaries for these classes better adapted to their likings and their needs. “Those who enjoy the advantages of these institutions,” had said the Central Authority’s own medical officer in 1867, “are almost solely such as may fittingly receive them, viz. the aged and infirm, the destitute sick, and children. Workhouses are now asylums and infirmaries.” There was, after 1871, no change and no arrest in this policy. So far as the children, the sick, and the aged and infirm were concerned, we have already described its continuance and its progressive development. The improvement of the institutional provision for the pauper, by removing some of the objections to the indiscriminate general workhouse of 1835-65, fitted in, we may say, with the new crusade of the inspectorate against outdoor relief as such. That crusade was, however, for the first twenty years, pushed without regard to whether or not the particular boards of guardians had accepted the new idea of the specialised institutional treatment for particular classes, or were still wedded to the indiscriminate common workhouse, which aimed at being “deterrent.” Mr. Longley realised that the higher standard of comfort that was coming to be allowed to the aged, the sick, and the children in a general workhouse inevitably tended to prevent the necessary strictness and severity being applied to the able-bodied. The inspectorate accordingly strove in London to get specialised institutions for the able-bodied also, the result being the “Poplar test workhouse” that we have already described.In 1874 the Central Authority expressed its regret at the slow progress “towards the permanent classification in separate establishments of the various classes of indoor paupers, other than the sick…. We attach the utmost importance to this improvement of the classification of indoor paupers, which we believe to be a necessary condition of the maintenance of that discipline which lies at the root of an effective administration of indoor relief. This improvement, however, cannot be effected, except at an enormous and almost prohibitory cost, otherwise than by the combination of several boards of guardians for this purpose. Their existing workhouses would, in that event, become available for the separate accommodation of various classes of indoor paupers chargeable to the several combined areas. We are advised that in the existing state of the law it is doubtful whether such a combination can be effected otherwise than by the voluntary action of boards of guardians, which we trust may still take place, and the desirableness of which we shall continue to press upon the guardians.” No such combinations took place, and the Central Authority, baffled by the expense and apparently not prepared to adopt the heroic expedient of issuing orders merging several unions in one, abandoned the attempt to get classification by institutions, except with regard to the children and the sick. The able-bodied had to be dealt with in a general workhouse; and we must note, for twenty years after 1871, battling with the ameliorative efforts of the departmental architect, the departmental medical officer, and the departmental educational experts, on behalf of particular classes of inmates, an attempt to make the workhouse more “deterrent” to other classes of paupers.

The most marked increase of severity was directed against the class of “ins and outs,” called in America “revolvers,” and it took the form of enlarged powers of detention. By an Act of 1871 the guardians were enabled to detain a pauper (other than a vagrant) who gave notice to quit, in any case for twenty-four hours; if he had already discharged himself once or oftener within a month before giving the notice, for forty-eight hours; and if he had so discharged himself more than twice within two months, for seventy-two hours. Under the Act of 1899 a pauper may even be compulsorily detained for 168 hours (one week) “if he has, in the opinion of the guardians, discharged himself frequently without sufficient reason.”

With regard to the able-bodied pauper, at any rate for the first fifteen years after 1871, there was to be no leniency. The spirit of the administration, whether of the workhouse or of the casual ward, was that subsequently expressed by Mr. Walter Long. “I would treat the wastrel and the vagabond, and the man who makes his wife and children paupers because of his own degraded habits, in a severe way, and I would make life a burden to him while he remains in the workhouse. I try to insist upon it that in the administration of our workhouses we should make such men realise that if we are compelled to keep them out of the rates we will do it at some discomfort to them.” But it was not, in fact, found practicable to avoid improving the accommodation, even for the able-bodied. For them, as for all other inmates, the Central Authority insisted on a sufficient supply of blankets, sheets, bedroom furniture and conveniences. For them, too, the Central Authority insisted on such comforts as knives and forks to eat their meals with-in one case having a long tussle with a recalcitrant board of guardians on this point. The able-bodied shared, too, in the improvement of the cooking which took place, particularly after the general investigation which led to the new Dietaries Order of 1900. “This Order,” said an inspector, “has certainly had two good incidental results. It has induced many boards of guardians to engage paid cooks, instead of employing chance inmates knowing nothing about the work … and the cooking appliances have in many cases been overhauled and improved. In some places they have been of the most rudimentary character.”The able-bodied may even get special privileges. Inmates employed on specially heavy work are permitted to receive an extra meal, as lunch. The discretion in this matter at first belonged to the medical officer, but now the guardians have power to order lunch as they think fit. In no case can any inmate claim it as a right, and it is not to be given merely on account of household work. Lunch, when allowed, is very plain, and may not include alcohol. The medical officer is to advise as to the degree of employment necessitating lunch, but the Central Authority suggests that “heavy work,” earning lunch for able-bodied men and women, should be taken to mean “an average day’s work with sustained exertion, e.g. corn-grinding, pumping, stone-breaking or crushing, shifting heavy goods, digging, scrubbing, washing, ironing, etc.,” while heavy work for the aged and infirm (or light work for the able-bodied) is “employment without sustained exertion, e.g. wood-chopping and wood-bundling, hoeing or weeding, sorting light articles, sewing, etc.” Beer was particularly objected to. In 1877 the Hackney Board of Guardians, who wanted to give beer to two paupers who assisted the coachman, were told that they were “legally empowered to require from inmates such labour as might be required without having recourse to exceptional indulgences”-in this case the giving of beer-“which would only, in effect, vitiate the principle of the workhouse being a pauper test.” On the other hand, it appears that beer is habitually allowed to the able-bodied inmates of certain workhouses at certain times, in return for work. A number of boards of guardians, having land to cultivate, have been permitted by Special Orders to “make to paupers employed in harvest work on land belonging to the guardians such allowance of food and fermented liquor as may be necessary,” without any direction of the medical officer. And when in 1903 an auditor surcharged a workhouse master for beer allowed to certain inmates for work done, it was explained “that if such allowance was withheld, some of the paupers would leave the workhouse”-surely a strange threat to make to a Poor Law authority-and with others “difficulties would arise to get them to work.” On this explanation the Central Authority (whilst upholding the auditor’s decision in point of law) remitted the surcharge. Finally, it may be observed that the shelter of the workhouse was not to be denied to the able-bodied, even for bad conduct. The master must admit all persons who present the proper order, at whatever hour of the day or night. He may not refuse admission even to a man in a state of drunkenness. Nor could a man be punished for being admitted whilst suffering from delirium tremens.

There is, thus, a marked change of tone after 1885 in workhouse administration, as in other branches of policy. This change of tone becomes specially marked in the Circular of January and the Memorandum of June 1895, in which the newly elected boards of guardians, chosen for the first time on a democratic franchise and without any high rating qualification, were specially instructed as to their administrative duties. These authoritative documents breathe a spirit of humane consideration for the pauper inmates, without excepting the able-bodied, which Mr. Longley would, we think, not have regarded as “deterrent.” The medical officer, rather than the master, was to advise the guardians on practically all the points on which the general regimen of the institution depended. The visiting committees were to take care that all the arrangements were in order; they “should satisfy themselves whether there is any structural defect in any part of the house; whether painting or lime-washing is required; whether the wards are clean and provided with such conveniences as lockers or shelves, so that they may be kept in proper order; whether there is any defect in the construction of the sanitary arrangements or in the general sewerage of the house; whether the yards are defective as airing courts or places of recreation. The attention of the visiting committee should be carefully directed to the subject of ventilation, which should be effected by special means, apart from the usual means of doors, windows, and fire-places, and should be so arranged that each ward may be brought into uninterrupted communication with the open air.” The classes of inmates are to be subdivided “with reference to their moral character or behaviour, or to their previous habits.” The employment to be provided is to be “unobjectionable in its character.” The clothing of inmates when absent on leave from the workhouse “should not be in any way distinctive or conspicuous in character.” The visiting committees are to see that there is always enough underclothing in stock to allow all the inmates the requisite changes; that “sufficient means for ensuring personal cleanliness are provided; that a convenient lavatory, as well as baths, with water laid on, and supplied with towels, soap, and combs, are accessible to each class.” “A piece of cocoa fibre matting or other material, or a mattress, should be placed between the bedstead and the bed. A sufficient supply of blankets, sheets, bedroom furniture and conveniences should be provided.”It remains only to mention the great improvement in the workhouse dietary carried out, after prolonged inquiries, in the General Order of 1900. During the preceding twenty years there had been but little attention paid to the subject. The Central Authority had, in 1871, sanctioned the use of Australian tinned meat. It had also authorised in over a hundred unions fish dinners once a week. In 1892 it had drawn attention to the great variation among unions in the amount of alcoholic drink consumed. In 1896 it had engaged in a prolonged struggle with the Chorlton Board of Guardians, and others elsewhere, who objected to the waste involved in supplying each inmate with a fixed and weighed-out allowance of bread, and who found by experiment that much less was used (and very much less thrown into the pig-trough) if the paupers were allowed to help themselves at meals without stint. The Central Authority long resisted this subversive proposal, and insisted on the General Consolidated Order of 1847 being obeyed. When the rebellious boards persisted, the Central Authority gave way-not, however, amending its Orders, but permitting, by letter, the breach of them. An official Departmental Committee appointed to consider the matter advised the president that the injunction of the Order to weigh out a fixed ration to each pauper might with advantage be abandoned in the case of bread. But when, in 1901, the Association of Poor Law Unions asked that the same principle should be applied to vegetables, the Central Authority consented only to bear the suggestion in mind.

In 1900 the new Dietaries Order, as we have already mentioned, greatly increased the nutritive value, variety, and attractiveness of the diets allowed; whilst the accompanying Memorandum formulated a whole code of suggestions for the improvement of the meals.

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

See Also

The Workhouse and the Poor Law Commissioners

In this issue about the workhouse, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: As we have shown, the Act of 1834 and the subsequent legislation left to the Central Authority complete discretion as to the kind of indoor maintenance to be provided for the destitute by the local authority. In view of the fact that the action taken between 1834 and 1847-culminating in the General Consolidated Order of 1847, which is still in force-determined, in the main, the character of the modern workhouse, it is necessary to analyse in some detail exactly what the policy was which the Central Authority in these years imposed from one end of England to another. The common understanding at the time was, we believe, that the policy to be carried out was that of the 1834 Report. Two limitations only were imposed on the power of the Central Authority in this respect. The building of entirely new workhouses-which the Report had thought would not be requisite in many instances-was dependent on the assent either of a majority of the board of guardians or of a majority of the rated owners and occupiers. The Central Authority was, however, empowered, without any local consent, peremptorily to order a local authority to enlarge or alter any existing workhouse or building capable of being converted into a workhouse; subject to the limitation that the principal sum to be raised on any parish could not exceed ?50, or one-tenth of the average Poor Rate of the last three years. As every board of guardians in the United Kingdom found itself in possession of several parish workhouses-sometimes of a large number of such buildings-it was within the statutory power of the Central Authority, even without local consent, to have given directions for the moderate enlargement and adaptation of any or all of these, which Parliament seems to have contemplated. The second limitation seems at first sight more serious. The Central Authority could not order any greater expenditure, on building or enlarging any workhouse, or sanction the borrowing for this purpose of any larger sum, than the average amount of the last three years’ Poor Rate-a limitation which, as we have seen, was, in 1844, repealed so far as the purchase of sites in the Metropolitan Police District and the parish of Liverpool was concerned. But there was at no time any limitation to the aggregate amount of the expenditure out of Poor Rate that might be incurred by the local authority, or that might, with or without its consent, be ordered by the Central Authority to be spent, on the enlargement or adaptation of its various existing workhouses, provided that not more than the statutory maximum was spent on any one of them. In view of the strong objection expressed in the 1834 Report to the mixing of different kinds of paupers in a single institution, and the positive recommendation, in preference, of distinct institutions, in separate buildings, with specialised rules and under different managements, for the several kinds of paupers-for which it was expressly pointed out that the existing buildings were to be adapted-these sections of the Act of 1834 indicate an intention of Parliament (as it certainly was the intention of the authors of the Report of 1834) that each union should have several small institutions, and should assign to those workhouses “separate classes of poor.”

It is startling to find that the Central Authority, between 1834 and 1847, pursued an entirely different policy. The published documents for this period do not afford any explanation of this difference. They do not show, for instance, whether it meant the deliberate adoption of a new policy, or whether it resulted merely from a discovery that the recommendations of the Report were impracticable in the rural unions. The documents simply assume the necessity for the establishment in each union, not of a group of specialised workhouses for the different classes, but of one institution, to be called “The Union Workhouse,” for the paupers as a whole.

In no Special or General Order, in no Circular or published Minute, can we find any recommendation that a board of guardians should carry out the emphatic recommendations of the 1834 Report in favour of classification by institutions, and the adaptation of the existing buildings into specialised workhouses, “assigning one class of paupers to each of the houses comprehended within each incorporation.” Nor was the unity introduced and insisted on by the Central Authority one of structure only. That the policy was to have, under the one roof, for all the various kinds of paupers, only one institution and one régime, is revealed in every part of the workhouse code. In the elaborate series of Special Orders and General Orders which culminated in the General Consolidated Order of 1847 (still in force), we find a minutely particular body of rules, referring always to “the” workhouse of the Union, applied with practical identity to all unions, providing for the reception under a single roof and subject to a single officer of every kind of pauper, applying to all the inmates, and (with quite insignificant variations, presently to be noted, for the aged, the sick and the infants), treating all the kinds of paupers alike.

It was possibly connected with this policy of one general workhouse for each union that we find the Central Authority assuming that the grouping together of a score or more of parishes almost inevitably involved building a new workhouse. At first, indeed, the Assistant Commissioners were directed to examine to what extent existing poorhouses or workhouses could be “made useful for only one class of paupers.” In August 1835, the Central Authority could write of its year’s experience that “it has also been proved that the expense and loss of time in building new workhouses may, in many cases, be saved, by a union of parishes and the combination of their existing workhouses and poorhouses, by assigning one or two classes of the paupers to one of the separate workhouses within the district.” But already by that time the contrary policy was being carried out by the most energetic subordinate of the Central Authority, who (as his private reports show) had quickly satisfied himself, and was rapidly convincing his superiors, that the policy of utilising as specialised institutions the existing parish workhouses was, with the boards of guardians of that time, administratively impossible. Already by August 1835, Sir Francis B. Head was reporting that “with the exception of Romney Marsh, the whole of East Kent, comprehending an area of 590 square miles, is now grouped into compact unions of parishes; these unions are all very nearly of the same size-all contain very nearly the same population-all have voluntarily adopted for their workhouse the same low, cheap, homely building-all have agreed in placing it in the centre of their respective unions.”

It is interesting to see the arguments by which this flagrant departure from the policy of the 1834 Report was attacked and defended. In 1835 we have a magistrate of Kent, belonging to a union where they had so far adhered to the recommendations of the Report, writing very graphically on the subject to Sir Francis Head. “There is one point,” he said, “upon which our practice differs materially from most of our neighbours, and it is one upon which I entertain a strong opinion that ours is the correct system. It is the adaptation of existing workhouses to different classes, instead of building new ones…. In the first place upon our system there is a great saving of expense; our homes altogether have cost us under ?300…. I dislike the appearance of these new houses all over the country…. I dislike the outward and visible sign of the change that is being operated. I am alarmed at the irritation. I fear the consequences. When we have eight workhouses there is hardly an inducement to pull down one only, and to pull them all down is next to impossible, from the wide surface over which they are spread. Our system, I might almost say, eludes the grasp of insurrection. Besides this, how much more perfect is the classification! How secure are our separate schools from all contamination. How small are the masses of pauperism which we bring together, compared with the congestion of one vast House. With us, our Houses are not like prisons, for we require no high wall to separate the classes; eight or ten miles distance is far more effectual than the highest walls.”

To this Sir Francis Head seems to have replied to the following effect. He did not at all agree with his correspondent that eight classified workhouses were better than one general establishment. “The very sight,” he said, “of a well-built efficient establishment would give confidence to the board of guardians; the sight and weekly assemblage of all servants of their union would make them proud of their office; the appointment of a chaplain would give dignity to the whole arrangement, while the pauper would feel it was utterly impossible to contend against it. In visiting such a series of unions, the Assistant Commissioner could with great facility perform his duty, whereas if he had eight establishments to search for in each union, it would be almost impracticable to attend to them. I would, moreover, beg to observe that in one establishment there would always be a proper governor, ready to receive and govern any able-bodied applicants, whereas in separate establishments this most important arrangement (the Able-bodied House) during harvest, etc., would constantly be empty, and consequently would become inefficient in moments of emergency.”

Sir Francis Head, as we have seen, had his way. In writing a farewell letter to the Kentish boards of guardians at the end of 1835, he urges them to stick to the dietary, and to appoint a chaplain “to your central house, which will shortly be the sole establishment in your union…. As soon as this important object has been gained-as soon as you find that the whole of your indoor poor are concentrated in one respectable establishment-under your own weekly superintendence-when you see yourselves surrounded by a band of resolute, sensible, well-educated men faithfully devoted to your service-you will then, I believe, fully appreciate the advantage which you, as well as your successors, will ever derive from possessing one strong, efficient building, instead of having, from false economy, frittered away your resources among your old existing houses.”

After this we hear no more of the policy of specialised institutions for particular kinds of paupers, as recommended in the Report of 1834. The policy of the Central Authority settles down definitely to that which provided each union with one general workhouse, almost invariably built for the purpose, near the centre of the union.

It is not easy to discover what policy was laid down as to the site and character of the new general workhouse thus prescribed. There was no Special or General Order, and apparently no paper of rules or suggestions, giving any direction as to the position to be chosen, the surroundings to be preferred, or even the area to be obtained. Nothing was prescribed as to the character of the building, the cubic space to be provided for each inmate, the sanitary arrangements, or the structural provision for classification by sex, age, character or condition. To some extent this lack of any statement of policy may have been supplied by oral explanations in the process of sanctioning the building plans. This hardly applies, however, to the choice of a site; and we cannot discover from any published document whether the Central Authority thought it preferable that the union workhouse should be located in the crowded streets of a populous city or in a pleasant rural district. The only help that seems to have been afforded was the publication in 1835 of some pictures and diagrams of suggested workhouses. From these we may infer that the Central Authority had adopted as its policy the erection of the same “low, cheap, homely (?) building”-bearing no little resemblance to the prison plans of the period-with which Sir Francis Head was covering East Kent.

It was not until 1842, after illness due to serious overcrowding had occurred at the Sevenoaks Workhouse, that the Central Authority began to incorporate in its policy some elementary sanitary regulations. We have first the requirement that a maximum number to be accommodated in each workhouse should be fixed. Even then it was left to each board of guardians to suggest whatever number it chose, after consultation with its medical officer, subject to approval and to the final fixing of the number by the Central Authority. In 1847 the phrase with regard to approval drops out, and the Central Authority merely fixes the number.

In 1842 the medical officer of the union is required to report to his board any defects in drainage, ventilation, and warmth. Beyond these somewhat exiguous forms no policy was even suggested to the local authorities with regard to the structural arrangements of the workhouse.

We have now to consider how the Central Authority exercised its power to determine the character of the one general workhouse which it had imposed on each union. Let us take the policy laid down with regard to each phase of the indoor pauper’s life.

(i.) Admission

The door was to be always open. In cases of “sudden or urgent necessity” any person in a state of destitution, applying at any hour, with or without an order or any other formality, was to be immediately relieved by admission, and by the supply of food, clothing, medicine, and other necessaries. Where the necessity was not urgent, the applicant had first to get an order for admission, which (unless some other mode of relief was adopted) could not be refused to any destitute person. The pauper admitted was to be cleansed, clothed, medically examined, and searched for prohibited articles, in a “probationary” or “receiving” ward. The pauper was then, if free from disease, to be assigned to his particular section of the workhouse, according to a sevenfold classification by sex, age, and physical condition.

(ii.) Segregation

The character of the workhouse of 1835-1847 was principally determined by the practice as to the segregation of its inmates. To discover exactly what the Central Authority intended this segregation to be is surprisingly difficult. We have first a rigid and logical classificatory scheme, imposed with the force of law. To this there came both a series of exceptions to the classification and a series of directions as to the practical segregation in daily life, additional to or inconsistent with the classification; some of them permissive and others mandatory.

The seven classes insisted on by the classificatory scheme of the Central Authority were (i.) aged or infirm men; (ii). able-bodied males over thirteen; (iii.) boys between seven and thirteen; (iv.) aged or infirm women; (v.) able-bodied women and girls over sixteen; (vi.) girls between seven and sixteen; and (vii.) children under seven. This classification, imposed in 1836, was confirmed, with only the slightest of modifications, by the General Orders of 1842 and 1847 (the latter still in force). As therein finally settled, it provided for “(i.) men infirm through age or any other cause; (ii.) able-bodied men and youths above the age of fifteen years; (iii.) boys above the age of seven years and under that of fifteen; (iv.) women infirm through age or any other cause; (v.) able-bodied women and girls above the age of fifteen years; (vi.) girls above the age of seven years and under that of fifteen; and (vii.) children under seven years of age.” Explicit rules are made that each class is to remain in the separate apartments or buildings assigned to it, without communication with any other class.

The modern student is struck at once by the omissions in this compulsory classificatory scheme. There is no class for the sick, either those suffering from infectious or contagious diseases, or from others. There is no class for the lying-in cases. There is no class for the lunatics, idiots, or imbeciles. There is no provision for infants at the breast, who, by the classificatory scheme, were ordered to be separated from their mothers. There was no class for the vagrant intending to stay only one night. Finally, there was no provision made for any segregation by character-not merely none by past character, but not even for any by present character or conduct, which would have effected a separation between quiet and orderly inmates and the turbulent prostitute or semi-criminal.

Some of these omissions were partly remedied by new Orders or recommendations between 1836 and 1847, which were embodied in the General Consolidated Order of 1847, but never found their way into the classificatory scheme itself.

With regard to the sick, the Central Authority imposed no requirements at all. It was incidentally mentioned in the Order of 1836, and repeated in those of 1842 and 1847, that the sick were, on admission, to be placed in “the sick ward,” or in such other ward as the medical officer might direct. We have incidental references during the ensuing decade to the existence of sick wards in workhouses. But there was no provision in any Order requiring a “sick ward” to be provided, still less any provision requiring properly classified accommodation for the sick of different ages, sexes, conditions, or diseases. When these workhouse rules were issued in 1842 as a General Order to practically all the unions then in existence, they were still left without any mention even of infectious diseases. The utmost that the Central Authority could bring itself to do was to declare, in the covering letter, but not in the rules themselves, that it was the duty of the master, under the direction of the medical officer, to isolate an infectious case in a separate apartment.

When the rules were finally consolidated in 1847, they still ignored the sick in their scheme of classification, and actually omitted all mention either of infectious diseases, or of lying-in cases, merely laying it down in general terms that it was the duty of the guardians, “after consulting the medical officer,” to “make such arrangements as they may deem necessary, with regard to persons labouring under any disease of body or mind.”

No provision whatever was made for the segregation of paupers of unsound mind, whether lunatics, idiots, or imbeciles. In an Order of 1836 we do indeed find “the ward for lunatics and idiots” incidentally mentioned, as existing in some workhouses; but such a ward was never required by the Central Authority, nor even suggested by it.

In 1842, it was ordered that, if such paupers were dangerous, they were not to be retained in the workhouse, but sent to an asylum within fourteen days. It was even suggested in an Instructional Letter in 1842 that curable cases, even if not dangerous, should be sent to asylums; and that even incurable, harmless idiots were inconvenient inmates of a workhouse. But no hint is given of the desirability of their segregation whilst they are there.

With regard to infants at the breast, no special provision was ever made by rule. But it was allowed that children under seven might be placed (though only if the guardians thought fit) in any part of the female wards; and the mothers were at any rate “to have access to them at all reasonable times.” The Central Authority remarked, in a covering letter of 1842-which was not repeated when the rules were re-issued in 1847-“that so long as any mother is suckling her child, she ought to have access to it at all times except when she is at work, and that the child ought not, even then, to be completely beyond the mother’s reach.”

In 1847, still without amendment of the classificatory scheme, the guardians were allowed to permit a mother and her infant children to occupy the same bed.

With regard to vagrants, the first departure from the policy of merely including them as able-bodied paupers came in 1842, in a rule requiring “casual poor wayfarers and vagrants” to be kept “in the Vagrant Ward,” or other separate ward-presumably separate for each sex, though this was not explicitly required.

With regard to segregation by character, the first relaxation from the classificatory scheme is to be found in a letter of 1839, in which the Central Authority permits married women of good character to be placed with the aged women, in order that they may avoid the contamination of bad characters, but only provided that their daily employment is not interfered with. We can find no contemporary document even allowing the guardians to protect from a like contamination unmarried women or young girls of good character.

In 1840, however, the Official Circular referred to “the separation of certain abandoned persons from the other inmates,” explaining that it rested “not on the consideration of their past conduct, but on that of their present habits and character.”

In 1842 the central authority incidentally observed in an instructional letter that the guardians were permitted to subdivide any of the seven classes of the scheme imposed on them, and that it was “very desirable that females of dissolute and disorderly habits should be separated from those of a better character.”

Not until 1847 do we find a rule providing that, “as far as circumstances will permit,” the guardians were to “further subdivide any of the classes enumerated” in the classificatory scheme, “with reference to the moral character or behaviour or the previous habits of the inmates, or to such other grounds as may seem expedient.”

Meanwhile, however, the Central Authority was breaking down by inconsistent provisions the classificatory scheme which it left still figuring in the forefront of its Consolidated Orders. We may cite first the provision as to aged married couples. The Central Authority had for seven years eloquently justified its insistence on the strict separation of all married couples, however aged. In 1842, however, it made a rule “that, if for any special reason it shall at any time appear to the board of guardians to be desirable to depart from the regulations contained in Art. 9, in respect of any married couple,” who were infirm through age or any other cause, “the guardians shall be at liberty to resolve that such couple shall have a sleeping apartment separate from those of the other paupers,” subject to obtaining in each case the consent and approval of the Central Authority.

In 1846, on the vehement objection and practical rebellion of the Norwich Court of Guardians, it went much further and agreed to sanction “an arrangement by which a separate room shall be assigned to each married couple of whatever class,” that the guardians thought fit. In 1847, however, Parliament swept the original policy away so far as legislation could do so, by enacting, unconditionally, that no married couple over sixty should be compelled in the workhouse to live separately and apart from each other.

A second inroad into the classificatory scheme was made by the provision that children under seven might be placed in any female ward, whether that of the sick women, that of the aged and infirm women, or even that of the able-bodied women.

Yet another, and possibly a more important inroad into the scheme was made by a rule of 1842, which permitted the guardians in particular cases to classify boys and girls over ten in any way they thought fit.

(iii.) Service

But it was in its rules as to the services to be rendered by the workhouse inmates that the Central Authority most effectually undermined its own classificatory scheme, and practically destroyed any real segregation. That scheme, as we have shown, expressly forbade the paupers in any class to leave the particular “ward or separate building and yard” assigned to such class, or to hold any communication with any other class. Nevertheless the Central Authority had, from the first, a policy of workhouse organisation inconsistent with any such segregation. Practically all the workhouse service was to be performed by the paupers themselves, and every pauper who was capable of work was to be incessantly occupied in that service. The able-bodied women who formed Class V. might be supervised by the aged and infirm women of Class IV. The children under seven who formed Class VII. might be supervised either by the able-bodied women of Class V., or by the aged and infirm women of Class IV., or by the girls of Class VI. The boys over seven who formed Class III. might be supervised by the aged and infirm men of Class I. The girls over seven who formed Class VI. might be supervised by the aged and infirm women of Class IV. These girls, so far from being confined to the premises assigned to their class, were to be employed in the able-bodied women’s wards, in the aged and infirm women’s wards, in the wards for the children under seven, and in household work generally, provided only that they were somehow kept from communicating with able-bodied men or boys. The sick, whether male or female, whether of good character or of bad, had necessarily to be waited on, and no paid nurses were required to be appointed. Consequently the provision allowing all the sick wards to be attended by the able-bodied women, by the girls between seven and sixteen, by the aged women, or by any combination of these that the master might direct, in itself necessarily destroyed all real segregation. By 1847 this permission had been so far restricted as to confine the attendance on the sick males to the aged and infirm men and the aged and infirm women; though such girls over seven, such able-bodied women, and such aged or infirm women as the master might deem fit might still be employed indiscriminately in the service of any of the wards except those for men and boys, and generally for household work throughout the workhouse.

(iv.) Diet

It is significant of the unity of régime insisted upon in the one general workhouse that the Central Authority laid constant stress on the uniformity to be observed in the dietaries of all the classes of paupers in the workhouse, except only by order or on the advice of the medical officer, which might be either for the sick, for those requiring a change of diet, for the nursing mothers, or for the infants.

Even to those paupers who were employed as servants only the common fare was “in general” to be given. The first dietaries issued to the boards of guardians for them to choose from were drawn up avowedly for the able-bodied, with no other variation for other classes than were contained in a few footnotes referring (apart from the sick and children under nine) to extras which the guardians might, if they thought fit, allow to persons over sixty. Thus, practically the only difference in the food to be allowed to the able-bodied males, the able-bodied females, and the children over nine, was one of quantity. Even the aged and infirm had the same diet, with nothing else prescribed for them, and with no greater indulgence allowed, even if the guardians wished it, than an ounce of tea per week, with milk and sugar, and the possible addition, in one out of the six dietaries among which the boards of guardians might choose, of meat pudding once a week instead of bread and cheese; and, in four of these dietaries, also of butter for breakfast. There was, of course, to be no alcoholic drink for any class of pauper except by written medical order. No presents of food to individual paupers or classes of paupers were to be allowed, as they would produce inequality and discontent. Even the sick, who were originally to be dieted case by case at the discretion of the medical officer, were, in 1842, to be fed with absolute uniformity as among the different classes of paupers and among the different individuals in a class, it being urged on the guardians that the medical officer should be restricted for his patients to a choice among four fixed dietaries which he was to draw up once for all, and hang up in the sick wards for permanent reference. These were described as “high, middle, low, and fever”; and he was expressly to be instructed “that the quantity of articles to be allowed for each should be minutely specified.”

Finally, as it had been found that the old men and women who were allowed weekly ounces of tea and weekly allowances of butter would not take their teas simultaneously or consume their little pats of butter evenly, this distressing deviation from the dietetic uniformity led the Central Authority to suggest the withdrawal of the privilege, in favour of a simultaneous service of “a certain quantity of liquid tea” and of portions of bread and butter.

With regard to the quantities of food to be supplied, the policy of the Central Authority passed through three phases. In 1836 the boards of guardians were expressly directed that the diet in the workhouse (which, as we have shown, was to be practically uniform for all classes of paupers) was not to be “equal”-that is to say, was actually to be inferior-“to the ordinary mode of subsistence of the labouring classes of the neighbourhood.” This was perhaps more tactfully expressed in the Consolidated Order for the Administration of Relief in Town Unions, in saying that the diet was “in no case to exceed in quantity and quality of food the ordinary diet of any class of able-bodied labourers living within the same district.” All the contemporary warnings of the Central Authority were against giving too much; and there was no provision for ensuring that each pauper got even the quantity prescribed in the dietary chosen by the local authority. No extra dinner was allowed on Christmas or other feast days, unless, indeed, this was supplied by private individuals. In 1842 a change was made. The Central Authority fixed a separate dietary for each workhouse, and there was no longer any reference to these dietaries being inferior to the subsistence of the independent labourer; on the contrary the intention of the Central Authority was avowedly “to assimilate them as much as possible to the ordinary food of the working classes in the neighbourhood”-in Kent and Sussex mainly bread and cheese, in the northern counties meat, potatoes, and porridge, and in Cornwall including fish. Moreover, it was provided that any pauper might, on demand, have his prescribed portion weighed out to him. Finally, by 1847, we gather that the principle had been silently adopted of fixing such a dietary as was calculated to keep the paupers in physical health, irrespective of the amount or kind of food that might ordinarily be obtained by the lowest class of non-pauper labourer in particular districts or at particular periods. Even extra food on Christmas Day was allowed at the expense of the Poor Rate, at the unfettered discretion of the boards of guardians.

It should, however, be added that, although the policy of the Central Authority passed, as stated, through these three phases, the actual dietaries prescribed by it, even in the first phase, seem (in the light of modern physiology) to have been ample for health, if the paupers always got what was prescribed and knew how to eat it.

(v.) Cleanliness and Sanitation

It was part of the policy that the utmost cleanliness and good order should be maintained throughout the workhouse; and (to the limited extent of the hygienic knowledge of the time) that sanitary conditions should be insisted on. It was expressly made the duty of the master and matron to enforce “industry, order, punctuality, and cleanliness” on all the inmates; every day to “see that each individual is clean and in a proper state”; daily to inspect and see that all the sleeping wards are “duly cleaned and properly ventilated,” and “to take care that the wards, kitchen, larder, and other rooms and offices be kept clean and in good order.” All paupers were compulsorily to be cleansed on admission. All the workhouse inmates were to be supplied with clean linen and stockings every week, whilst their beds were to have clean sheets monthly. This latter requirement was superseded in 1842 by the more general provision that the beds and bedding were to be kept in a clean and wholesome state. Food was to be given out as required for each meal, not once for the day. It was to be eaten only in the dining-room, and not (except as ordered for the sick) elsewhere in the house. All remnants were to be removed from the dining-room by the officers after each meal. It was compulsory on each board of guardians to appoint

The Workhouse and the Poor Law Board

In this issue about the workhouse, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: We have seen that between 1834 and 1847 the Central Authority turned directly away from the express recommendations of the 1834 Report with regard to the institutional accommodation of the paupers. Instead of a series of separate institutions appropriately organised and equipped for the several classes of the pauper population-the aged and infirm, the children, and the adult able-bodied-the Central Authority had got established, in nearly every union, one general workhouse; nearly everywhere “the same cheap, homely building,” with one common regimen, under one management, for all classes of paupers.

The justification for the policy which, as we have seen, Sir Francis Head induced the Central Authority to substitute for the recommendations of the 1834 Report, may have been his confident expectation, in 1835, that the use of the workhouse was only to serve as a “test,” which the applicants would not pass, and that there was accordingly no need to regard the workhouse building as a continuing home. This was the view taken by Harriet Martineau, who, in her Poor Law Tales, describes the overseer of the depauperised parish as locking the door of the empty workhouse when it had completely fulfilled its purpose of a test by having made all the applicants prefer and contrive to be independent of poor relief. By 1847, however, it must have been clear that, even in the most strictly administered parishes, under the most rigid application of the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, there would be permanently residing in the workhouse a motley crowd of the aged and infirm unable to live independently; the destitute chronic sick in like case; the orphans and foundlings; such afflicted persons as the village idiot, the senile imbecile, the deaf and dumb, and what we now call the mentally defective; together with a perpetually floating population of acutely sick persons of all ages; vagrants; girls with illegitimate babies; wives whose husbands had deserted them, or were in prison, in hospital, or in the Army or Navy; widows beyond the first months of their widowhood and other women unable to earn a livelihood; all sorts of “ins and outs”; and the children dragging at the skirts of all these classes. The workhouse population in 590 unions of England and Wales on 1st January 1849, was, in fact, 121,331. The condition of these workhouse inmates, and the character of the regimen to which they were subjected, had been brought to public notice in 1847 in the notorious Andover case. The insanitary condition of the workhouses of the period as places of residence, and, in particular, their excessive death-rate, was repeatedly brought to notice not only by irresponsible agitators, but also by such competent statistical and medical critics as McCulloch and Wakley. But the very idea of the general workhouse was now subjected to severe criticism. “During the last ten years,” said the author of an able book in 1852, “I have visited many prisons and lunatic asylums, not only in England, but in France and Germany. A single English workhouse contains more that justly calls for condemnation in the principle on which it is established than is found in the very worst prisons or public lunatic asylums that I have seen. The workhouse as now organised is a reproach and disgrace peculiar to England; nothing corresponding to it is found throughout the whole continent of Europe. In France the medical patients of our workhouses would be found in ‘hopitaux’; the infirm aged poor would be in hospices; and the blind, the idiot, the lunatic, the bastard child and the vagrant would similarly be placed each in an appropriate but separate establishment. With us a common Malebolge is provided for them all; and in some parts of the country the confusion is worse confounded by the effect of Prohibitory Orders, which, enforcing the application of the notable workhouse-test, drive into the same common sink of so many kinds of vice and misfortune the poor man whose only crime is his poverty, and whose want of work alone makes him chargeable. Each of the buildings which we so absurdly call a workhouse is, in truth [1] a general hospital; (2) an almshouse; (3) a foundling house; (4) a lying-in hospital; (5) a school house; (6) a lunatic asylum; (7) an idiot house; (8) a blind asylum; (9) a deaf and dumb asylum; (10) a workhouse; but this part of the establishment is generally a lucus a non lucendo, omitting to find work even for able-bodied paupers. Such and so varied are the destinations of these common receptacles of sin and misfortune, of sorrow and suffering of the most different kinds, each tending to aggravate the others with which it is unnecessarily and injuriously brought into contact. It is at once equally shocking to every principle of reason and every feeling of humanity, that all these varied forms of wretchedness should be thus crowded together into one common abode, that no attempt should be made by law to classify them, and to provide appropriate places for the relief of each.”

During the period now under review, 1847-71, we see the Central Authority becoming gradually alive to the draw-backs of this mixture of classes. At first its remedy seems to have been to take particular classes out of the workhouse. We have already described the constant attempts, made from the very establishment of the Poor Law Board, to have the children removed to separate institutions and to get the vagrants segregated into distinct casual wards. It was the resistance and apathy of the boards of guardians that prevented these attempts being particularly successful, and the Central Authority appears not to have felt able to issue peremptory orders on the subject. The policy of the Lunacy Commissioners drew many lunatics out of the workhouses, but this was more than made up by the increasing tendency to seclude the village idiot, so that the workhouse population of unsound mind actually increased.

We do not find that there was during the whole period any alteration of the General Consolidated Order of 1847, upon which the regimen of the workhouse depended. In spite of the increasing number of the sick and the persons of unsound mind, the seven classes of workhouse inmates determined by that Order were adhered to, and received no addition, though the Poor Law Board favoured the sub-division of these classes so far as it was reasonably possible in the existing buildings, especially in the case of women. In a letter of 1854 it lamented the evil which arose “from the association of girls, when removed from workhouse union schools, with women of bad character in the able-bodied women’s ward,” and wished that it could be prevented. At the same time it stated that in the smaller workhouses it was “often impracticable to provide the accommodation” which would be necessary in order to maintain a complete separation; and while pointing out that it was legally competent for the guardians (with its approval) to erect extra accommodation, by means of which this contamination could be avoided, the Central Authority did not even remotely suggest that it was the guardians’ duty so to do. By 1860 it “had given instructions that every new workhouse should be so constructed as to allow of the requisite classification.”

From about 1865 onwards we note a new spirit in all the circulars and letters relating to the workhouse. The public scandal caused by the Lancet inquiry into the conditions of the sick poor in the workhouses, and the official reports and Parliamentary discussions that ensued, seem to have enabled the Central Authority to take up a new attitude with regard both to workhouse construction and workhouse regimen. From this time forth the workhouse is recognised as being, not merely a “test of destitution” for the able-bodied, which they were not expected long to endure, but also the continuing home of large classes of helpless and not otherwise than innocent persons. “Able-bodied people,” reported the Medical Officer in 1867, “are now scarcely at all found in them during the greater part of the year…. Those who enjoy the advantages of these institutions are almost solely such as may fittingly receive them, viz. the aged and infirm, the destitute sick and children. Workhouses are now asylums and infirmaries.”

From now onwards we see the Central Authority always striving to improve the workhouse. In the Circulars of 1868 much attention was paid to the sufficiency of space and ventilation. It was required that parallel blocks of building should be so far apart as to allow free access to light and air; blocks connected at a right or acute angle were to be avoided.

Ordinary wards were to be at least ten feet high and eighteen feet wide, the length depending on the number of inmates; 300 cubic feet of space were required for each healthy person in a dormitory, 500 for infirm persons able to leave the dormitory during the day, and 700 in a day and night room. The Visiting Committee was to “ascertain not merely whether the total number for which the workhouse is certified has been exceeded, but whether the number of any one class exceeds the accommodation available for it.” No wards were to be placed side by side without a corridor between them; the corridors were to be six feet wide, and ordinary dormitories were to have windows into them. Windows and fanlights into internal spaces were to be made to open to be used as ventilators, and ventilation was also to be “effected by special means, apart from the usual means of doors, windows, and fire-places,” air-bricks being recommended as a simple method. No rooms occupied by the inmates as sleeping-rooms were to be on the boundary of the workhouse site. Hot and cold water was to be distributed to the bath-rooms and sick wards. Airing yards for the inmates were to be “of sufficient size”-with a rider that “if partially or wholly paved with stone or brick or asphalted or gas-tarred they are often better than if covered with gravel.” Yards for the children, sick, and aged were to be enclosed with dwarf walls and palisades where practicable, presumably with the object of giving a look-out, and making the yard slightly less prison-like. “Small yards, and a work-room, and a covered shed for working in bad weather,” were to be provided for vagrants. For workhouses having a large number of children the Poor Law Board recommended, “in addition to the school-rooms, day-rooms, covered play-sheds in their yards, and industrial work-rooms.” The staircases were to be of stone; the timber, Baltic fir and English oak; fire escapes were to be provided; these and many other details were laid down, all tending to make the building solid and capacious. There was no mention of ornament, no regard to appearance, no hint that anything might be done to relieve the dead ugliness of the place; but it must be recognised that the Central Authority had, by 1868, travelled far from the “low, cheap, homely building” which it was recommending thirty years before.

Separate dormitories, day-rooms, and yards (apparently not dining-rooms) were required for the aged, able-bodied, children, and sick of each sex, and these were the only divisions laid down as fundamental, but the Circular went on to recommend provision [1] “so far as practicable for the sub-division of the able-bodied women into two or three classes with reference to moral character, or behaviour, the previous habits of the inmates, or such other grounds as might seem expedient,” and (2) “in the larger workhouses” for the separate accommodation of the following classes of sick-

Ordinary sick of both sexes.

Lying-in women, with separate labour room.

Itch cases of both sexes.

Dirty and offensive cases of both sexes.

Venereal cases of both sexes.

Fever and smallpox cases of both sexes (to be in a separate building with detached rooms).

Children (in whose case sex was not mentioned).

In the furnishing of the wards the simplicity of 1868 was equally far removed from that of 1835. Ordinary dormitories contained beds 2 feet 6 inches wide, chairs, bells, and gas where practicable. Day-rooms were to have an open fireplace, benches, cupboards (or open shelves, which were preferred), tables, gas, combs, and hairbrushes. “A proportion of chairs” were to be provided “for the aged and infirm”; and of the benches, likewise, “those for the aged and infirm should have backs, and be of sufficient width for reasonable comfort.” In the dining-rooms were to be benches, tables, a minimum of necessary table utensils, and if possible gas and an open fireplace. The sick wards were to be furnished with more care, and with an eye to medical efficiency. It is unnecessary to go into the long and detailed list of the medical appliances which were required. There is even some notice of appearances in a suggestion that “cheerful-looking rugs” should be placed on the beds, and of comfort in the arm and other chairs “for two-thirds of the number of the sick.” There were also to be short benches with backs, and (but these only for special cases) even cushions; rocking-chairs for the lying-in wards, and little arm-chairs and rocking-chairs for the children’s sick wards. Dr. Smith had further recommended a Bible for each inmate, entertaining illustrated and religious periodicals, tracts and books, games, and a foot valance to the bed to “add to the appearance of comfort,” These suggestions were not specifically taken up by the Central Authority, but Dr. Smith’s report was circulated to the guardians, without comment. We have the beginning, too, between 1863 and 1867, of the improvement of the food, which was regulated in each workhouse by a separate Special Order, prescribing a dietary, differing widely from union to union. In 1866 the report of the medical officer in favour of skilled cooking, by a professional cook, instead of by a pauper inmate, really hot meals (even to the use of “hot water dishes”), and efficient service, so as to increase the comfort of the inmates, was circulated to the boards of guardians. After many reports and elaborate inquiries, the Central Authority in 1868 issued a Circular of very authoritative suggestions for a general improvement in the workhouse dietaries. After a protest that no cause had been shown for any fundamental change in the principles which had been hitherto recommended, it was urged that there were various points which the guardians should remember in framing dietaries. The first of these points was the addition of several classes who were to have separate dietaries, viz.:-

(a) The aged and infirm not on the medical officer’s book.

(b) Inmates on the medical officer’s book for diet only and not on the sick list.

(c) Inmates allowed extra diets on account of employment, and those allowed alcohol for the same reason.

(d) Children aged nine to sixteen, if the guardians thought they should be separately dieted.

(e) Sick diets to be framed by the medical officer as before.

(f) Imbeciles and suckling women to be dieted as the aged, “with or without the substitution of milk porridge and bread at breakfast or supper or at both meals.”

Then followed various detailed suggestions, some of which dealt with ingredients and methods of cooking. Soup or broth dinners were not to be given more than twice a week; nor were bread and cheese or suet pudding dinners, except to the able-bodied. Fresh vegetables were to be provided, if possible, five times a week, and boiled rice alone was not to be made a substitute for them. Rice pudding was not to be given as a dinner except to children under nine, and to them not more than twice a week. Children were not to have tea or coffee, except for supper on Sunday, but milk at breakfast and supper, and they were to be given two or three ounces of bread at 10 A.M. It was “suggested that tea, coffee, or cocoa, with milk and sugar, and accompanied by bread and butter or bread and cheese, should be allowed to all the aged and infirm women at breakfast and supper, and the same to aged and infirm men, or milk porridge with bread” might be given at one of those meals. The ordinary rations were-of meat (cooked, without bone), for men four ounces, for women three ounces; of soup, one to one and a half pints (containing three ounces of meat) for an adult; and of bread at breakfast or supper, six ounces for able-bodied men, for the aged, women, and children over nine five ounces, and proportionately less for younger children.

The movement for the improvement of the workhouse thus initiated by the Central Authority in 1865-70 represents a vast departure, not only from the policy of the Poor Law Commissioners of 1835-47, but also from that of the Poor Law Board itself from 1847 to 1865. Unfortunately, in the absence of any embodiment of the new policy in a General Order, it was left to the slow and haphazard discretion of the six hundred boards of guardians how far it was carried into practice. There is, however, evidence that by 1872, at any rate, the Metropolitan workhouses were reported to have become “attractive to paupers,” and to contain “many persons … who could maintain themselves out of doors; and, in short, that the workhouse furnishes no test of destitution.” Moreover, though the Central Authority sought to improve the physical conditions of workhouse life, and even to promote the comfort of the classes who now formed the great bulk of the workhouse population, it does not seem to have had any idea of remedying the mental deadness of the workhouse, the starvation of the intellect, the paralysis of the will, and the extinction of all initiative to which such an existence inevitably tended. The only hint that we can find during the whole period of any consciousness that the hundred and fifty thousand workhouse inmates had minds is a statement by Mr. C. P. Villiers in 1860 that “the board had readily consented to establish libraries” for the inmates. We cannot find any order authorising the provision of workhouse libraries, or any circular suggesting them; nor do we discover their existence from such local records as we have been able to consult.

The Workhouse and the Local Government Board

In this issue about the workhouse, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: We left the Central Authority in 1871, fully accepting the view that the workhouse was not merely a “test” which few only might be expected to pass or to endure for long, but a place of permanent or long-continued residence for whole classes of paupers. The workhouse population on 1st January 1871 numbered, in fact, 168,073. The Central Authority, reverting to the proposals of the 1834 Report, had accordingly started out to differentiate the workhouse into separate institutions for particular classes (the children, the sick, and, in the Metropolis, also the imbeciles and idiots); to impose an altogether new standard of expensive structural efficiency on the boards of guardians; to press incessantly for new buildings of approved pattern; to increase the healthiness and comfort of the wards for the sick, the aged, and the children; and to make the dietaries for these classes better adapted to their likings and their needs. “Those who enjoy the advantages of these institutions,” had said the Central Authority’s own medical officer in 1867, “are almost solely such as may fittingly receive them, viz. the aged and infirm, the destitute sick, and children. Workhouses are now asylums and infirmaries.” There was, after 1871, no change and no arrest in this policy. So far as the children, the sick, and the aged and infirm were concerned, we have already described its continuance and its progressive development. The improvement of the institutional provision for the pauper, by removing some of the objections to the indiscriminate general workhouse of 1835-65, fitted in, we may say, with the new crusade of the inspectorate against outdoor relief as such. That crusade was, however, for the first twenty years, pushed without regard to whether or not the particular boards of guardians had accepted the new idea of the specialised institutional treatment for particular classes, or were still wedded to the indiscriminate common workhouse, which aimed at being “deterrent.” Mr. Longley realised that the higher standard of comfort that was coming to be allowed to the aged, the sick, and the children in a general workhouse inevitably tended to prevent the necessary strictness and severity being applied to the able-bodied. The inspectorate accordingly strove in London to get specialised institutions for the able-bodied also, the result being the “Poplar test workhouse” that we have already described.In 1874 the Central Authority expressed its regret at the slow progress “towards the permanent classification in separate establishments of the various classes of indoor paupers, other than the sick…. We attach the utmost importance to this improvement of the classification of indoor paupers, which we believe to be a necessary condition of the maintenance of that discipline which lies at the root of an effective administration of indoor relief. This improvement, however, cannot be effected, except at an enormous and almost prohibitory cost, otherwise than by the combination of several boards of guardians for this purpose. Their existing workhouses would, in that event, become available for the separate accommodation of various classes of indoor paupers chargeable to the several combined areas. We are advised that in the existing state of the law it is doubtful whether such a combination can be effected otherwise than by the voluntary action of boards of guardians, which we trust may still take place, and the desirableness of which we shall continue to press upon the guardians.” No such combinations took place, and the Central Authority, baffled by the expense and apparently not prepared to adopt the heroic expedient of issuing orders merging several unions in one, abandoned the attempt to get classification by institutions, except with regard to the children and the sick. The able-bodied had to be dealt with in a general workhouse; and we must note, for twenty years after 1871, battling with the ameliorative efforts of the departmental architect, the departmental medical officer, and the departmental educational experts, on behalf of particular classes of inmates, an attempt to make the workhouse more “deterrent” to other classes of paupers.

The most marked increase of severity was directed against the class of “ins and outs,” called in America “revolvers,” and it took the form of enlarged powers of detention. By an Act of 1871 the guardians were enabled to detain a pauper (other than a vagrant) who gave notice to quit, in any case for twenty-four hours; if he had already discharged himself once or oftener within a month before giving the notice, for forty-eight hours; and if he had so discharged himself more than twice within two months, for seventy-two hours. Under the Act of 1899 a pauper may even be compulsorily detained for 168 hours (one week) “if he has, in the opinion of the guardians, discharged himself frequently without sufficient reason.”

With regard to the able-bodied pauper, at any rate for the first fifteen years after 1871, there was to be no leniency. The spirit of the administration, whether of the workhouse or of the casual ward, was that subsequently expressed by Mr. Walter Long. “I would treat the wastrel and the vagabond, and the man who makes his wife and children paupers because of his own degraded habits, in a severe way, and I would make life a burden to him while he remains in the workhouse. I try to insist upon it that in the administration of our workhouses we should make such men realise that if we are compelled to keep them out of the rates we will do it at some discomfort to them.” But it was not, in fact, found practicable to avoid improving the accommodation, even for the able-bodied. For them, as for all other inmates, the Central Authority insisted on a sufficient supply of blankets, sheets, bedroom furniture and conveniences. For them, too, the Central Authority insisted on such comforts as knives and forks to eat their meals with-in one case having a long tussle with a recalcitrant board of guardians on this point. The able-bodied shared, too, in the improvement of the cooking which took place, particularly after the general investigation which led to the new Dietaries Order of 1900. “This Order,” said an inspector, “has certainly had two good incidental results. It has induced many boards of guardians to engage paid cooks, instead of employing chance inmates knowing nothing about the work … and the cooking appliances have in many cases been overhauled and improved. In some places they have been of the most rudimentary character.”The able-bodied may even get special privileges. Inmates employed on specially heavy work are permitted to receive an extra meal, as lunch. The discretion in this matter at first belonged to the medical officer, but now the guardians have power to order lunch as they think fit. In no case can any inmate claim it as a right, and it is not to be given merely on account of household work. Lunch, when allowed, is very plain, and may not include alcohol. The medical officer is to advise as to the degree of employment necessitating lunch, but the Central Authority suggests that “heavy work,” earning lunch for able-bodied men and women, should be taken to mean “an average day’s work with sustained exertion, e.g. corn-grinding, pumping, stone-breaking or crushing, shifting heavy goods, digging, scrubbing, washing, ironing, etc.,” while heavy work for the aged and infirm (or light work for the able-bodied) is “employment without sustained exertion, e.g. wood-chopping and wood-bundling, hoeing or weeding, sorting light articles, sewing, etc.” Beer was particularly objected to. In 1877 the Hackney Board of Guardians, who wanted to give beer to two paupers who assisted the coachman, were told that they were “legally empowered to require from inmates such labour as might be required without having recourse to exceptional indulgences”-in this case the giving of beer-“which would only, in effect, vitiate the principle of the workhouse being a pauper test.” On the other hand, it appears that beer is habitually allowed to the able-bodied inmates of certain workhouses at certain times, in return for work. A number of boards of guardians, having land to cultivate, have been permitted by Special Orders to “make to paupers employed in harvest work on land belonging to the guardians such allowance of food and fermented liquor as may be necessary,” without any direction of the medical officer. And when in 1903 an auditor surcharged a workhouse master for beer allowed to certain inmates for work done, it was explained “that if such allowance was withheld, some of the paupers would leave the workhouse”-surely a strange threat to make to a Poor Law authority-and with others “difficulties would arise to get them to work.” On this explanation the Central Authority (whilst upholding the auditor’s decision in point of law) remitted the surcharge. Finally, it may be observed that the shelter of the workhouse was not to be denied to the able-bodied, even for bad conduct. The master must admit all persons who present the proper order, at whatever hour of the day or night. He may not refuse admission even to a man in a state of drunkenness. Nor could a man be punished for being admitted whilst suffering from delirium tremens.

There is, thus, a marked change of tone after 1885 in workhouse administration, as in other branches of policy. This change of tone becomes specially marked in the Circular of January and the Memorandum of June 1895, in which the newly elected boards of guardians, chosen for the first time on a democratic franchise and without any high rating qualification, were specially instructed as to their administrative duties. These authoritative documents breathe a spirit of humane consideration for the pauper inmates, without excepting the able-bodied, which Mr. Longley would, we think, not have regarded as “deterrent.” The medical officer, rather than the master, was to advise the guardians on practically all the points on which the general regimen of the institution depended. The visiting committees were to take care that all the arrangements were in order; they “should satisfy themselves whether there is any structural defect in any part of the house; whether painting or lime-washing is required; whether the wards are clean and provided with such conveniences as lockers or shelves, so that they may be kept in proper order; whether there is any defect in the construction of the sanitary arrangements or in the general sewerage of the house; whether the yards are defective as airing courts or places of recreation. The attention of the visiting committee should be carefully directed to the subject of ventilation, which should be effected by special means, apart from the usual means of doors, windows, and fire-places, and should be so arranged that each ward may be brought into uninterrupted communication with the open air.” The classes of inmates are to be subdivided “with reference to their moral character or behaviour, or to their previous habits.” The employment to be provided is to be “unobjectionable in its character.” The clothing of inmates when absent on leave from the workhouse “should not be in any way distinctive or conspicuous in character.” The visiting committees are to see that there is always enough underclothing in stock to allow all the inmates the requisite changes; that “sufficient means for ensuring personal cleanliness are provided; that a convenient lavatory, as well as baths, with water laid on, and supplied with towels, soap, and combs, are accessible to each class.” “A piece of cocoa fibre matting or other material, or a mattress, should be placed between the bedstead and the bed. A sufficient supply of blankets, sheets, bedroom furniture and conveniences should be provided.”It remains only to mention the great improvement in the workhouse dietary carried out, after prolonged inquiries, in the General Order of 1900. During the preceding twenty years there had been but little attention paid to the subject. The Central Authority had, in 1871, sanctioned the use of Australian tinned meat. It had also authorised in over a hundred unions fish dinners once a week. In 1892 it had drawn attention to the great variation among unions in the amount of alcoholic drink consumed. In 1896 it had engaged in a prolonged struggle with the Chorlton Board of Guardians, and others elsewhere, who objected to the waste involved in supplying each inmate with a fixed and weighed-out allowance of bread, and who found by experiment that much less was used (and very much less thrown into the pig-trough) if the paupers were allowed to help themselves at meals without stint. The Central Authority long resisted this subversive proposal, and insisted on the General Consolidated Order of 1847 being obeyed. When the rebellious boards persisted, the Central Authority gave way-not, however, amending its Orders, but permitting, by letter, the breach of them. An official Departmental Committee appointed to consider the matter advised the president that the injunction of the Order to weigh out a fixed ration to each pauper might with advantage be abandoned in the case of bread. But when, in 1901, the Association of Poor Law Unions asked that the same principle should be applied to vegetables, the Central Authority consented only to bear the suggestion in mind.

In 1900 the new Dietaries Order, as we have already mentioned, greatly increased the nutritive value, variety, and attractiveness of the diets allowed; whilst the accompanying Memorandum formulated a whole code of suggestions for the improvement of the meals.

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

See Also

The Workhouse and the Local Government Board

In this issue about the workhouse, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: We left the Central Authority in 1871, fully accepting the view that the workhouse was not merely a “test” which few only might be expected to pass or to endure for long, but a place of permanent or long-continued residence for whole classes of paupers. The workhouse population on 1st January 1871 numbered, in fact, 168,073. The Central Authority, reverting to the proposals of the 1834 Report, had accordingly started out to differentiate the workhouse into separate institutions for particular classes (the children, the sick, and, in the Metropolis, also the imbeciles and idiots); to impose an altogether new standard of expensive structural efficiency on the boards of guardians; to press incessantly for new buildings of approved pattern; to increase the healthiness and comfort of the wards for the sick, the aged, and the children; and to make the dietaries for these classes better adapted to their likings and their needs. “Those who enjoy the advantages of these institutions,” had said the Central Authority’s own medical officer in 1867, “are almost solely such as may fittingly receive them, viz. the aged and infirm, the destitute sick, and children. Workhouses are now asylums and infirmaries.” There was, after 1871, no change and no arrest in this policy. So far as the children, the sick, and the aged and infirm were concerned, we have already described its continuance and its progressive development. The improvement of the institutional provision for the pauper, by removing some of the objections to the indiscriminate general workhouse of 1835-65, fitted in, we may say, with the new crusade of the inspectorate against outdoor relief as such. That crusade was, however, for the first twenty years, pushed without regard to whether or not the particular boards of guardians had accepted the new idea of the specialised institutional treatment for particular classes, or were still wedded to the indiscriminate common workhouse, which aimed at being “deterrent.” Mr. Longley realised that the higher standard of comfort that was coming to be allowed to the aged, the sick, and the children in a general workhouse inevitably tended to prevent the necessary strictness and severity being applied to the able-bodied. The inspectorate accordingly strove in London to get specialised institutions for the able-bodied also, the result being the “Poplar test workhouse” that we have already described.In 1874 the Central Authority expressed its regret at the slow progress “towards the permanent classification in separate establishments of the various classes of indoor paupers, other than the sick…. We attach the utmost importance to this improvement of the classification of indoor paupers, which we believe to be a necessary condition of the maintenance of that discipline which lies at the root of an effective administration of indoor relief. This improvement, however, cannot be effected, except at an enormous and almost prohibitory cost, otherwise than by the combination of several boards of guardians for this purpose. Their existing workhouses would, in that event, become available for the separate accommodation of various classes of indoor paupers chargeable to the several combined areas. We are advised that in the existing state of the law it is doubtful whether such a combination can be effected otherwise than by the voluntary action of boards of guardians, which we trust may still take place, and the desirableness of which we shall continue to press upon the guardians.” No such combinations took place, and the Central Authority, baffled by the expense and apparently not prepared to adopt the heroic expedient of issuing orders merging several unions in one, abandoned the attempt to get classification by institutions, except with regard to the children and the sick. The able-bodied had to be dealt with in a general workhouse; and we must note, for twenty years after 1871, battling with the ameliorative efforts of the departmental architect, the departmental medical officer, and the departmental educational experts, on behalf of particular classes of inmates, an attempt to make the workhouse more “deterrent” to other classes of paupers.

The most marked increase of severity was directed against the class of “ins and outs,” called in America “revolvers,” and it took the form of enlarged powers of detention. By an Act of 1871 the guardians were enabled to detain a pauper (other than a vagrant) who gave notice to quit, in any case for twenty-four hours; if he had already discharged himself once or oftener within a month before giving the notice, for forty-eight hours; and if he had so discharged himself more than twice within two months, for seventy-two hours. Under the Act of 1899 a pauper may even be compulsorily detained for 168 hours (one week) “if he has, in the opinion of the guardians, discharged himself frequently without sufficient reason.”

With regard to the able-bodied pauper, at any rate for the first fifteen years after 1871, there was to be no leniency. The spirit of the administration, whether of the workhouse or of the casual ward, was that subsequently expressed by Mr. Walter Long. “I would treat the wastrel and the vagabond, and the man who makes his wife and children paupers because of his own degraded habits, in a severe way, and I would make life a burden to him while he remains in the workhouse. I try to insist upon it that in the administration of our workhouses we should make such men realise that if we are compelled to keep them out of the rates we will do it at some discomfort to them.” But it was not, in fact, found practicable to avoid improving the accommodation, even for the able-bodied. For them, as for all other inmates, the Central Authority insisted on a sufficient supply of blankets, sheets, bedroom furniture and conveniences. For them, too, the Central Authority insisted on such comforts as knives and forks to eat their meals with-in one case having a long tussle with a recalcitrant board of guardians on this point. The able-bodied shared, too, in the improvement of the cooking which took place, particularly after the general investigation which led to the new Dietaries Order of 1900. “This Order,” said an inspector, “has certainly had two good incidental results. It has induced many boards of guardians to engage paid cooks, instead of employing chance inmates knowing nothing about the work … and the cooking appliances have in many cases been overhauled and improved. In some places they have been of the most rudimentary character.”The able-bodied may even get special privileges. Inmates employed on specially heavy work are permitted to receive an extra meal, as lunch. The discretion in this matter at first belonged to the medical officer, but now the guardians have power to order lunch as they think fit. In no case can any inmate claim it as a right, and it is not to be given merely on account of household work. Lunch, when allowed, is very plain, and may not include alcohol. The medical officer is to advise as to the degree of employment necessitating lunch, but the Central Authority suggests that “heavy work,” earning lunch for able-bodied men and women, should be taken to mean “an average day’s work with sustained exertion, e.g. corn-grinding, pumping, stone-breaking or crushing, shifting heavy goods, digging, scrubbing, washing, ironing, etc.,” while heavy work for the aged and infirm (or light work for the able-bodied) is “employment without sustained exertion, e.g. wood-chopping and wood-bundling, hoeing or weeding, sorting light articles, sewing, etc.” Beer was particularly objected to. In 1877 the Hackney Board of Guardians, who wanted to give beer to two paupers who assisted the coachman, were told that they were “legally empowered to require from inmates such labour as might be required without having recourse to exceptional indulgences”-in this case the giving of beer-“which would only, in effect, vitiate the principle of the workhouse being a pauper test.” On the other hand, it appears that beer is habitually allowed to the able-bodied inmates of certain workhouses at certain times, in return for work. A number of boards of guardians, having land to cultivate, have been permitted by Special Orders to “make to paupers employed in harvest work on land belonging to the guardians such allowance of food and fermented liquor as may be necessary,” without any direction of the medical officer. And when in 1903 an auditor surcharged a workhouse master for beer allowed to certain inmates for work done, it was explained “that if such allowance was withheld, some of the paupers would leave the workhouse”-surely a strange threat to make to a Poor Law authority-and with others “difficulties would arise to get them to work.” On this explanation the Central Authority (whilst upholding the auditor’s decision in point of law) remitted the surcharge. Finally, it may be observed that the shelter of the workhouse was not to be denied to the able-bodied, even for bad conduct. The master must admit all persons who present the proper order, at whatever hour of the day or night. He may not refuse admission even to a man in a state of drunkenness. Nor could a man be punished for being admitted whilst suffering from delirium tremens.

There is, thus, a marked change of tone after 1885 in workhouse administration, as in other branches of policy. This change of tone becomes specially marked in the Circular of January and the Memorandum of June 1895, in which the newly elected boards of guardians, chosen for the first time on a democratic franchise and without any high rating qualification, were specially instructed as to their administrative duties. These authoritative documents breathe a spirit of humane consideration for the pauper inmates, without excepting the able-bodied, which Mr. Longley would, we think, not have regarded as “deterrent.” The medical officer, rather than the master, was to advise the guardians on practically all the points on which the general regimen of the institution depended. The visiting committees were to take care that all the arrangements were in order; they “should satisfy themselves whether there is any structural defect in any part of the house; whether painting or lime-washing is required; whether the wards are clean and provided with such conveniences as lockers or shelves, so that they may be kept in proper order; whether there is any defect in the construction of the sanitary arrangements or in the general sewerage of the house; whether the yards are defective as airing courts or places of recreation. The attention of the visiting committee should be carefully directed to the subject of ventilation, which should be effected by special means, apart from the usual means of doors, windows, and fire-places, and should be so arranged that each ward may be brought into uninterrupted communication with the open air.” The classes of inmates are to be subdivided “with reference to their moral character or behaviour, or to their previous habits.” The employment to be provided is to be “unobjectionable in its character.” The clothing of inmates when absent on leave from the workhouse “should not be in any way distinctive or conspicuous in character.” The visiting committees are to see that there is always enough underclothing in stock to allow all the inmates the requisite changes; that “sufficient means for ensuring personal cleanliness are provided; that a convenient lavatory, as well as baths, with water laid on, and supplied with towels, soap, and combs, are accessible to each class.” “A piece of cocoa fibre matting or other material, or a mattress, should be placed between the bedstead and the bed. A sufficient supply of blankets, sheets, bedroom furniture and conveniences should be provided.”It remains only to mention the great improvement in the workhouse dietary carried out, after prolonged inquiries, in the General Order of 1900. During the preceding twenty years there had been but little attention paid to the subject. The Central Authority had, in 1871, sanctioned the use of Australian tinned meat. It had also authorised in over a hundred unions fish dinners once a week. In 1892 it had drawn attention to the great variation among unions in the amount of alcoholic drink consumed. In 1896 it had engaged in a prolonged struggle with the Chorlton Board of Guardians, and others elsewhere, who objected to the waste involved in supplying each inmate with a fixed and weighed-out allowance of bread, and who found by experiment that much less was used (and very much less thrown into the pig-trough) if the paupers were allowed to help themselves at meals without stint. The Central Authority long resisted this subversive proposal, and insisted on the General Consolidated Order of 1847 being obeyed. When the rebellious boards persisted, the Central Authority gave way-not, however, amending its Orders, but permitting, by letter, the breach of them. An official Departmental Committee appointed to consider the matter advised the president that the injunction of the Order to weigh out a fixed ration to each pauper might with advantage be abandoned in the case of bread. But when, in 1901, the Association of Poor Law Unions asked that the same principle should be applied to vegetables, the Central Authority consented only to bear the suggestion in mind.

In 1900 the new Dietaries Order, as we have already mentioned, greatly increased the nutritive value, variety, and attractiveness of the diets allowed; whilst the accompanying Memorandum formulated a whole code of suggestions for the improvement of the meals.

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

See Also



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  • Article Name: Workhouse
  • Author: Valentine Latham
  • Description: The Workhouse and the 1834 Report In this issue about the workhouse, the book English Poor Law Policy [1] reads as follows: [...]

This entry was last updated: May 19, 2017

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