Workhouses

Discussion in 'Institutions' started by Daft Bat, Mar 20, 2014.

  1. Daft Bat

    Daft Bat Administrator. Chief cook & bottle washer! Staff Member

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    Only a generation back, the word ‘Workhouse’ would put fear into people’s eyes. They or their parents or grandparents would remember the stigma of having been in there – even if it was the Infirmary that had been attached to or grown out of the original Workhouse. An Act of Parliament in 1601 decreed that parishes should legally take responsibility for looking after their own poor people, with taxes being levied on the rich landowners to help pay for this.

    A Bit of History

    Workhouses only really came became part of the landscape after the Workhouse Test Act was passed in 1723. Parishes could provide relief as an individual parish, combine with other parishes or poor relief could be sub-contracted out to those that would feed, clothe and house the poor in return for a weekly rate from the parish. It also allowed Parishes to join together to form Unions, which in turn were able to build the workhouses themselves.

    In 1782, Thomas Gilbert persuaded Parliament to pass the Poor Relief Act, which provided a more simple way for groups of parishes to set up a common workhouse for paupers other than able-bodied adults. It did this by introducing changes in workhouse administration, so that they were managed by a Board of Guardians appointed from the member parishes, and regulated by a Visitor. The Act also included a set of standard rules under which workhouses were to operate rather than each operating to their own. Funding was still provided by taxing the rich, many of whom were beginning to think that their taxes were paying for people to shirk work and live for free!

    The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 saw that the poor were housed in workhouses and were clothed and fed but in exchange for this, they all had to work for several hours each day. Children in the workhouse did receive some schooling. The conditions within these workhouses were severe. This was on purpose so that only those who were desperate would resort to the workhouse. They were made to wear a uniform and, although food was provided, it was nearly the same each day. The work that the inmates were made to do was equally monotonous and soul-destroying: breaking rocks and picking oakum – unravelling old, tarred rope – was commonplace.

    By 1913, workhouses were being referred to as Poor Law Institutions in official documents and the Local Government Act of 1929 abolished all Poor Law Authorities and transferred their responsibilities for ‘public assistance’ to local councils.

    Some records survive:
    • Admission and Discharge books or Registers – daily lists of everyone who was admitted, discharged or died
    • Creed Registers – lists of the religious faith of each inmate
    • Registers of Births – from 1904, a birth certificate could not state that a birth took place in a workhouse. Instead, the street name and house number were recorded.
    • Registers of Deaths – only death records were kept; burials were recorded in the parish register of where the burial took place.
    • Guardians’ Records – these usually included records of people who were sent to asylums as well as those who were admitted to the workhouse infirmary.

    Many records can be found in the local County Archives appropriate to the parishes covered. There are also Ministry of Health records held at the National Archives about the workhouse staff. An excellent source about Workhouse history can be found at
    Code:
    http://www.workhouses.org.uk/
    and census records will also help you in your quest.
     
  2. Daft Bat

    Daft Bat Administrator. Chief cook & bottle washer! Staff Member

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    Updated :)
     

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