High days and holidays for the workhouse child

As I wrote last Christmas, workhouse children were often treated to presents and outings over the festive period. This was not the only holiday celebrated by pauper children as the regular outings on Whit Monday (or spring bank holiday) show. Whitsun was traditionally a time for new clothes and trips and Whit Monday saw Swansea’s workhouse children, children from the Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and the Swansea Blind Institution join up with children from local Sunday Schools to spend the day at one of Swansea’s beaches – Caswell Bay (below) appears to have been a popular choice.

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The minutes of meetings show that this was an annual event which in 1874 cost the Swansea Union just under £4. That year the children were taken to Caswell Bay and, along with the elderly workhouse residents, also to Penllegare (below), the beautiful home of Mr and Mrs Llewelyn where they were reported to have been ‘very kindly treated’.

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Penllegare, see The Penllegare Trust for more information

In 1893 the children of the workhouse and cottage homes were also invited to the theatre on Whit Monday. As they did over Christmas, former residents of the cottage homes came back to visit at Whitson. In 1905 it was reported that 10 old boys and girls visited and ‘gave a good account of themselves’ and some stayed overnight.

The cottage homes children also enjoyed visits to the beaches throughout the summer and often celebrated Royal Weddings and Royal visits. I have related girls being taken to Horton in the Gower for a holiday here. The boys however would go camping as a large group in various rural locations around Swansea. Sometimes they would share the camp with boys from the local Truant School.

A day trip to a workhouse?

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Gower Workhouse today is a rather beautifully situated care home overlooking Three Cliffs Bay below

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In 1869 the Swansea workhouse children were all transported to the Gower Workhouse for a day out. When I tell students about this outing they generally accuse the guardians of meanness. Maybe it was a cost-cutting measure but the descriptions of the day in the local newspaper told of the children being welcomed by cheering and bunting and plentiful food and an afternoon of games with the Gower workhouse children. It was reported that the older boys immediately ran down to the sea to swim, the photo above shows just how beautiful a spot it was – and indeed still is.

Punch at the Workhouse

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Punch and Judy Show by George Cruikshank

Entertainments were also regularly held in the workhouse itself. In 1871, the Western Mail reported with a mixture of sentimentality and satire an apparently spontaneous diversion which it reported ‘would long be remembered as a gleam of unexpected pleasure upon the monotonous surface of some scores of weary little lives’. A travelling Punch and Judy show had caused the Workhouse master to apparently rush into a Board of Guardians meeting and cry ‘Here’s Punch coming up the hill’, to the astonishment of the chairman.

The master was reported as collecting ‘two-shillings and elevenpence ha’penny’ from the bemused guardians which was enough to strike a bargain with the performers who entertained ‘every able-bodied pauper therein – man, woman and child’. The newspaper’s coverage of this event was laced with irony and satire in its representation of the guardians as quasi-Dickensian beadles debating to which parish Punch should be charged, but the Western Mail succumbed a little to the sentimentality of the occasion, with its description of ‘the absolute joy that beamed from the little pallid faces of the children’. punchandjudy-4

As with the Christmas treats and outings many local people and businesses were involved in these excursions. The Mumbles Railway transported children to Bracelet Bay and many local transport companies ‘conveyed’ the children to their annual days-out at Penllegare as well as surrounding beaches. Local confectioners would also supply sweets when children attended the theatre and there are endless thanks to local ladies supplying special ‘teas’ for the children.

I do not believe that these children were ‘lost in care’. Some were orphans and some had experienced severe trauma in their short lives. They were not forgotten children who were isolated from society, and guardians and local people treated them with compassion, kindness and understanding. One report from ‘Lady guardian’ Adelaide Perkins in the summer of 1902 reflects this very well:

 ‘We visited the Homes this day, and found Mr Elliott in charge, the master being with the boys at Oxwich. The children were taking their holiday in quite a holiday fashion, in the grounds, full of play, and rather more troublesome to the matron than when regularly at school, as is usually the case in families’.

 Not a dry eye in the house…

Most of the nineteenth-century editions of The Cambrian newspaper and dozens of others can be consulted freely online at Welsh Newspapers Online from the National Library of Wales

For more information about these lovely beaches and all the gorgeousness of the Gower Visit Swansea Bay 

Women of the Workhouse, Part 2: Ladies to the Rescue?

 

Most middle-class women of the Victorian and Edwardian period were neither ‘Angels in the House’ nor, as described by Lawrence Stone, ‘idle drones’. Civic participation was a class and gender expectation and middle-class women were involved in charitable work from the organisation of charity bazaars to the rescue of ‘fallen’ women. Ladies’ committees were standard within most philanthropic organisations and the election of women to local government posts such as school boards and as poor law guardians began in the later nineteenth century.

Workhouses always housed a large number of children and female inmates whose conditions and prospects attracted the attention of middle-class women. In 1858, social reformer Louisa Twining (below) founded the Workhouse Visiting Society  to promote the ‘moral and spiritual improvement of workhouse inmates’.

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The same year Twining wrote Workhouses and Women’s Work, in which she put her case for women helping women in workhouses:

‘The progress from the workhouse to the prison is a very easy and natural one. A girl who has lost her place and has no home, enters the union, [workhouse] and is placed with many other women, old as well as young, some of whom are far worse than herself, and is put to the usual employment of oakum picking. There is no one to give kindly advice or counsel to her; the matron is far too busy with her various household occupations; the chaplain confesses that she and her companions are beyond his reach’.

The middle-class women of Swansea were regular participants in the civic and philanthropic sphere. Many women such as Julia, Lady Llewelyn, (below) were involved in a vast number of ‘good causes’. She had been at the forefront of the Cwmdonkin Shelter, a ‘rescue’ home for ‘fallen girls’ in Swansea and was Chair of the Swansea Workhouse Ladies Visiting Committee which was established in 1893.

(c) Swansea Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

  Caroline Julia Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn, by William Carter 1889, Swansea Museum

In January 1893 Swansea guardians had received a directive from the Local Government Board empowering them to appoint a committee of women with authority to visit the workhouse ‘with a view to their reporting to the guardians any matter which appears to them to need attention’.

Over twenty women volunteered immediately and this number grew to over 90 in 1900. As Patricia Hollis argues in  Ladies Elect, female workhouse visitors and guardians were integral to the improvement of conditions and treatment of the women and children in many workhouses across Britain.

Unfortunately, the records kept by the Ladies Visiting Committee in Swansea workhouse are rather unenlightening. Brief entries in a ledger record when women visited the workhouse but do not reveal their activities, but in the secretary’s (very brief) report of 1904, it was remarked that not all ladies even remembered to sign this visiting book. However, the thanks given to the committee in the guardians’ minutes of meetings  give some indication of the womens’ influence.

These women provided many teas, entertainments and outings for women and children (often ‘imbeciles’ were also included in these treats). Decorating the ‘wards’ at Christmas and Harvest festivals seemed to be popular among the inmates and members of the Ladies Committee were asked to contribute two and sixpence annually to pay for treats and outings. Many of the elderly women were encouraged to knit and sew and the ladies also campaigned the guardians to allow older women to have tea in their own teapots. Mrs Ebenezer Davies was also a regular visitor to the Lock Ward (venereal disease) which was often overcrowded.

However, one of my favourite entries in the huge amount of records I have consulted is when Lady Llewelyn asked permission to place canaries in the imbecile ward.

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Images showing  women who were members of the visiting committee from the Guardians Minutes of Meeting from 1907, WGAS U/S  1/40

‘Lady Guardians’.

While the Swansea Ladies Committee attracted huge numbers of local middle-class women, much fewer women served as poor law guardians. The 1870 School Board Act made it possible for (some propertied) women to stand for election to local School Boards and Poor Law Unions. Britain’s first female guardian was Martha Crawford Merrington who was elected to the Kensington Union in 1875. The law was changed in 1894 which allowed anyone who had been resident in their Union for two years to stand for election as a guardian of the poor and this greatly increased the numbers of working-class men and, to a lesser extent, middle class women serving on Boards of Guardians.

 

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Swansea guardians in 1895, showing Emma Brock as the only woman guardian

Although not all unions encouraged female guardians times had changed since the Poor Law Board issued the statement below in 1850:

‘The objections to the appointment of a female to an office of this nature, upon grounds of public policy and convenience, are so manifest, that the Board cannot readily suppose that the question will become one of practical importance in the administration of the Poor Laws’.

However, despite legal and cultural changes, in a letter to The Times on 28 November 1899, Louisa Twining argued that the work of the Society for Promoting Women Guardians was still needed. Out of 6488 unions in England and Wales there were less than 1000 women among 22,000 male guardians.

In Wales, two female guardians had been elected in 1893 and during the 1894 elections 88 women were elected to poor law unions in Wales. Emma Brock was Swansea Union’s first female guardian in the elections of 1893 and had served on Swansea School Board since 1875. She was appointed to several committees, was the Board’s asylum visitor on many occasions and was the Swansea’s representative at the Poor Law Education Conference of 1896.

Many Welsh women were involved in the temperance movement and Emma Brock was given leave to invite members of the British Temperance Women’s Association to hold meetings amongst the women inmates. She was also at the forefront of modern telecommunication technology when she introduced an internal telephone system in the workhouse in 1894.

The industrialist, novelist and lover of life Amy Dillwyn (below) was elected to the Swansea Union in 1905 and was reported to being ‘heartily welcomed’ by the Board and subsequently served on a variety of committees. She had been a long standing memeber of the Swansea School board until they were abolished by the 1902 Education Act.

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Amy Dillwyn was an incredible woman – ‘one of the most remarkable women in Great Britain’ according to the Pall Mall Gazette. However, my ‘favourite’ female Swansea guardian was the wonderful Adelaide Perkins.

She seemed to go beyond what was expected from a poor law guardian; for several weeks every year she opened her house, Grey Cottage in Horton on the Gower Peninsular, to girls from the Union’s cottage homes for their annual holiday. Similarly, this house was used as a base when the children enjoyed day trips to the beach. Donald Bibey, the son of Violet Evans who lived in the cottage homes in the early twentieth century, told me he remembers his mother talking about a Mrs Perkins and trips to the Gower.

Adelaide Perkins vetted the people to which girls would be placed in service and regularly recommended refusal if any place was not of good enough standard. She visited Swansea Union’s children who lived in Nazareth House in Cardiff and both Deaf and Blind Institutions, and Swansea Orphan Home for girls.

Even on the occasion of the marriage of her son Bertie in 1900, she included the children of Swansea Union in the celebrations and gave them a special tea.

One entry she made in the cottage homes visiting book shows her love and understanding of children:

‘As it has been such a fearful day, the superintendent wisely did not send any of the children to school this morning, and at noon received a message that neither of the schools would be opening this afternoon’ -

‘this news was not received sorrowfully by any child’.

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Adelaide Perkins died at the age of 89 in 1928, and the card (above)  points to her ‘long, unselfish, and noble life’.

Quite.

A selection of works used:

Patricia Hollis, Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government, 1865-1914 (Oxford: New York: Clarendon Press, 1987).

Steven King,Women, Welfare and Local Politics, 1880-1920: ‘We May be Trusted’, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2006.

David Painting, Amy Dillwyn, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1987.

Catherine Preston, ‘“To do Good and Useful Work”: Welsh Women Poor Law Guardians 1894-1914’, Llafur, The Journal of Welsh People’s History, vol.10, no. 1 (2010), 87-102.

Frank Prochaska, Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.

 

Women of the Workhouse, Part I – A suitable job for a woman?

The lives of women have always been one of my primary research interests, so when my friends at Archif Menywod Cymru/Women’s Archive of Wales were asked to devise a Women’s History Walk in Swansea, I started thinking about who should be included.

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Mrs Corney wooed by Mr Bumble, Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

There is no shortage of interesting and laudable women from Swansea’s history of course, but with the workhouse and the poor laws always at the forefront of my mind, I realised how many female employees and volunteers had worked in Swansea workhouse in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Female labour was the mainstay of workhouses across Britain and in many ways a career in the poor-law service was a reliable, if unglamorous choice for a working-class woman. Many middle-class women gave their time to visiting the more vulnerable of workhouse inmates, recommended improvements and often provided treats. In the later nineteenth century women were elected as guardians of the poor.

I will explore how middle-class women contributed to workhouse life in Part Two, but this post examines the roles for working-class women for whom work was generally an economic necessity.

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Workhouse Matrons 

Women in the Victorian period contributed greatly to the caring, nurturing and domestic professions. The workhouse matron was the most senior of female workhouse staff, overseeing all the other women workers and inmates. She was considered second in command to the workhouse master and would take charge of the establishment in his absence. Often, the workhouse master and matron were appointed as a married couple, although in the case of an incumbent matron’s death another woman may have been employed.

Following the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act Swansea’s first workhouse matron was Mrs Hernaman. Soon after, The Cambrian newspaper complimented Mrs Hernaman for her care of the inmates and pointed to the ‘remarkable’ lack of illness in the establishment. The Hernamans were employed from 1834-1848 and three of their daughters Ann, Georgiana and Patience were all workhouse schoolmistresses at some point during this time.

Another Swansea matron Jane Prosser was the innocent party in a workhouse scandal in 1855. Her husband William Prosser was accused of ‘gross immorality’ by the Board of Guardians when a female inmate named him as the father of her unborn child. The cutting below from a very long and salacious piece in The Cambrian shows that guardians’ meetings could be gripping events.

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Prosser was dismissed and although Mrs Prosser was a respected matron, she followed her husband and a few weeks later sadly gave birth to a stillborn son.

In 1865, after a series of unsuccessful appointments of masters, and by association their wives the matrons, Swansea Union increased the joint salary of husband and wife to £80 per year to attract a higher calibre couple. This resulted in the employment of the Hewsons who stayed for almost 30 years. In previous years masters and matrons were expected to have no dependent children and Mrs Hewson at first was forced to leave their four-year old child with its grandmother. In 1866, when the grandmother died Mrs Hewson applied successfully to the guardians for the child to come and live with them in the workhouse.

Mrs Hewson also gave birth to a daughter and when she, Jane Jones Hewson, was 20, was employed as children’s nurse and later as assistant matron to her mother. One of the major advantages of a career in the Poor Law Service was the contributory superannuation or pension scheme. In 1894 the Hewsons retired and their daughter Jane left with them. While Hewson only enjoyed his pension for two years until he died, Mrs Hewson was still receiving a sizable sum in 1910.

Bad Behaviour

Some of the female workhouse staff were not so committed to their posts. In 1861 Mary Thomas the nurse, Margaret Hoskins the cook and Ann Williams the industrial teacher were found to be incapable of discharging their respective duties because they were drunk. They all admitted it and, as it wasn’t their first ‘offence’, all were dismissed. Margaret Hoskins (the cook) alleged ‘gross misconduct’ by Master Robert Clark whose wife had died recently and he was subsequently forced to resign after admitting ‘improper intimacy’ with her.

Teaching

According to the 1851 census teaching was the fifth most common job for women. While a workhouse teacher was not paid (or valued) as well as a teacher in an elementary school, it was a reliable if demanding job.

In 1840 an advertisement in The Cambrian (below) newspaper sought ‘a fit person’, with good character references and an ability to teach reading, writing, ‘the common rules in arithmetic’, along with plain needlework and knitting. Many schoolmistresses employed by the Swansea Union had neither experience of school teaching or workhouse employment. Elizabeth Davies, who was recruited in 1845, had been a milliner prior to her appointment. Her lack of teaching practice was no doubt disregarded because of her vocational sewing expertise.

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Working hours were long for schoolmistress. It appears that expectations of the poor law schools inspectors about the duties of a teacher differed from those of the Swansea Union. During one visit schools inspector Jelinger Symons complained that both schoolmaster and mistress were expected to perform ‘certain menial offices’ for the children and the schoolmistress was also expected to nurse sick children.  A visiting Swansea guardian’s scathing comments regarding workhouse girls being left unattended by their schoolmistress for ‘many hours’ in the evening was in direct contrast with Symons’ opinion that time for the school teachers’ recreation was inadequate. Michelle Cale argues that the staff may have felt as ‘imprisoned’ within the institutions as the children, given the long hours and commitment required.

Swansea Union seldom enjoyed a large pool of applicants for the position of school mistress and often had to re-advertise the post. The low salary – £12 per year in Swansea until the 1850s when it was raised to £25 – coupled with long hours and little recognition must have resulted in less competent instruction. Margaret Crowther has calculated from figures taken from a Poor Law Return that the average salary paid to workhouse school mistresses in 1849 was £16 a year. Some unions, such as those in East Anglia, paid up to £20 a year.  From 1846 unions could claim monetary grants for education from the central authorities. The amount depended upon the skill level of the teacher and the numbers of children taught.

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Married couples were also employed as schoolmaster and mistress. Although chosen from a strong field of four shortlisted couples Mary and Alfred Roskilly subsequently ill-treated the children which was uncovered when boys started running away from the workhouse. Mary Roskilly was involved in the ill treatment and was reported to use a bat for beating children. Both were dismissed. While corporal punishment was an accepted (but not undisputed) method of correction in the nineteenth century, its use on workhouse children was, in theory, strictly controlled. An 1841 report on the training of pauper children warned guardians to take care in the employment of school masters ‘lest we introduce a tyrannical despot rather than a father’.

Medical staff

In the first half of the nineteenth century provision of health care in workhouses was variable to say the least, and illnesses resulting from overcrowded conditions were endemic. Although the 1834 act had sought to bring uniformity to pauper relief the medical treatment of inmates depended largely on the benevolence (or otherwise) of local poor law guardians. In 1866, reformer Joseph Rogers established the Association for the Improvement of London Workhouse Infirmaries and medical treatment improved across the country as a result.

In Swansea, perhaps because of the redoubtable Mrs Hernaman, medical treatment was lauded (maybe just a little unconvincingly) in correspondence with the central authorities in London. In March 1837, the chair of Swansea Board of Guardians reported that:

‘The poor have been much better attended by medical relief since the formation of the Union – the attention of the medical officer has given general satisfaction to the board and not a single complaint has been made by any pauper – the slightest cases of indisposition immediately attended to’.

Again, women provided most of the nursing care in Swansea’s workhouse although male medical officers and orderlies were also employed.

In 1874, Mrs Esther Quigley was appointed as head nurse at a salary of £25 per year. During her 27 years of employment her name was only recorded in the salary accounts. This silence points to a job well and quietly done, which was confirmed when she retired in 1901. The guardians successfully requested that the Local Government Board add five years to her length of service (to increase her pension) because of her ill health, small salary and absence of holidays. As well as this the guardians awarded her a gratuity of £10 because she was ‘in a very bad state of health and not likely to benefit from her superannuation but for a short time.’ Sadly, she died in June 1903.

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In 1903 the workhouse built a large new infirmary which cost over £17,000. By this time the workhouse appears to be primarily a hospital and home for old people and vagrants. The following year medical officers were giving lectures in midwifery to female nurses, and midwives were also going out into the community. In 1910 the workhouse employed 18 nurses in various stages of training. Dances were held for nurses in the workhouse dining hall; in 1909 it was recorded that friends could also attend and it was ‘lights out by 12.30 am’.

In September 1910 applicants were invited to apply for a vacancy for an assistant medical officer in Swansea Workhouse.  Eight well qualified young doctors were shortlisted, five of whom were women. Three of the women had qualified in Edinburgh, while the other two received their medical degrees in London and St Andrews. The position was however offered to a local man.

Also in 1910, charge nurse Albena Williams applied for and gained a significant promotion. The practice of boarding-out or fostering pauper children in the surrounding areas was gaining popularity and the desirability of female supervision for this was reinforced by a Boarding-Out Order which instructed that at least one-third of boarding-out committees should be women. Unions were also encouraged to employ a female ‘Visitor’. After consultation with several other unions in Wales and England, Swansea Union resolved to appoint a ‘Female Visitor’ in June 1910.  She was to be a trained nurse between the ages of 25 and 40 and preferably a Welsh speaker.  The post also included the office of Infant Protection Officer, as well as visiting the elderly and ‘deserving’ poor who were in receipt of relief, and visiting the Workhouse maternity wards.

The duties of the Female Visitor appear to be commensurate with both a district nurse and social worker and it seems to have been an important appointment as the starting salary offered was £70 per annum, which rose incrementally to £90. This was more than (male) relieving officers received and only slightly less than the (male) Union Clerk. Albena Williams was appointed from a strong field of seventeen applicants and saw her salary double.

Fit work for women? Probably some of the better ways to earn a living for a working-class woman in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. My next post will look at the unpaid work done by middle-class women in the workhouse

A selection of works consulted:

Hannah Barker, ‘Women and Work’, in Hannah Barker and Elaine Chalus, Women’s History: Britain, 1700-1850 : An Introduction, London; New York: Routledge, 2005.

Anne Borsay, Peter Shapely, Medicine, Charity and Mutual Aid: The consumption of Health and Welfare in Britain c. 1550-1950, Aldershot: Adgate Publishing, 2007.

Michelle Cale, ‘Working for God? Staffing the Victorian Reformatory and Industrial School System’, History of Education, 21:2 (1992).

Penelope Corfield,  Power and the Professions in Britain,1700-1850, London 1999.

Margaret Crowther, The Workhouse System, 1834-1929: The History of an English Social Institution, London: Batsford Academic & Educational, 1981.

B Hurwitz, ‘Joseph Rogers and the Reform of Workhouse Medicine’, History Workshop Journal, 43:1 (1997), 218-225.

Pat Thane, ‘Women and the Poor Law in Victorian and Edwardian England’, History Workshop Journal, 6 (1978), 29-51.

Some useful primary sources: 

West Glamorgan Archives in Swansea holds many sources for Swansea and Neath Poor Law Union.

Local newspapers such as The Cambrian always included job vacancies and are a useful source when researching women’s work and wages.

The National Archives in Kew holds a multitude of Poor law Correspondence (a tiny percentage of which is now digitised),

Report on the training of pauper children, 1841.

Boarding-Out (Within Union) Order 1909, Local Government Board Circular Letter.


Local Heroes: Tears of a Historian

The First World War was never far from my mind while researching pauper children in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century. Boys who were 8 or 9 years old in 1905 would be old enough to ‘join the colours’ when war broke out in 1914. My PhD research focussed on the period between 1834 and 1910. One of my reasons for not continuing into the First World War was my reluctance to encounter ‘my’ lovely young boys and girls grown up (barely) and gone to war.

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Swansea Cottage Homes on the brow of the hill, c 1910.

Recently, while searching the wonderful Cymru 1914 database I stumbled on the article (below) about the cottage homes where many of Swansea’s pauper children were sent after 1877. Although I knew it was bound to happen it came as a huge shock and quite frankly I cried my eyes out.

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Cambrian Daily Leader, 27 October 1915

So many familiar names. George Palfrey was one of five siblings who were all brought to live in the cottage homes by the local NSPCC inspector and their mother was subsequently imprisoned for neglecting them. His older sister Harriet appeared to be very attached to the homes and visited on many occasions after she left in 1908.

Willie Standing came to the homes because his mother Lizzie was described as a prostitute and was adopted by the guardians. He was subsequently placed with a farmer but ran away and reported to the police that he had been beaten by his employer who was investigated by both the police and the guardians.

Percy Lloyd was hardly mentioned in the records I have consulted apart from some time spent in the workhouse infirmary. In the Cambria Daily News in 1916 it was reported that Percy Lloyd had been killed.

Although there are huge opportunities opening up for exciting research into these young people’s war, part of me feels that they shouldn’t be the subject of a historian’s curiosity. And, although I believe respectful research, commemoration and remembrance of the people of the First World War during the next four years will be vital for the understanding of future generations, I feel with these boys its rather personal as I have spent so much time getting to know them over the last five years.

Whatever my reservations, this is research that I can’t NOT do and I hope it will produce happier news for my cottage homes boys.

Am I being too emotional? I believe emotional engagement with our research enhances scholarship rather than undermining ‘objectivity’. Some of the best (and most rigorously researched) historical blogs are written by historians who have ‘come out of the emotional closet’ to quote Joanne Bailey . Similarly, Helen Rogers’ emotional commitment to her nineteenth-century convicts lads enriches an already superb blog.

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George Evans

In the meantime to end on a more hopeful note, one boy George Evans (above) although not mentioned in the above article survived the war. In 1914 at the age of 20 George joined the South Wales Borderers. He transferred to the Liverpool Regiment and was wounded in France and sent home for several weeks. He then joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in 1915 and was posted to Gallipoli.

In 1916 he was again wounded in France and in 1917 he transferred to the South Lancashire Regiment. In 1918 he married Elizabeth Cameron and was demobbed in 1919.  He returned to his early career on the railways and died in Swansea in 1973 at the age of 79.

I know so much about George Evans (and his lovely sister Violet) because Violet’s son and grandson Donald and Allister Bibey contacted me and shared their family history research. I was thrilled to be able to answer many of their questions and solve some mysteries using my own research. Cooperation between local, family and academic historians can enhance everyone’s research and I hope to work more closely with many of these very knowledgeable and enthusiastic historians in the future.  Everyone’s a historian after all.

There are many sources relating to Cockett Cottage Homes, Swansea in West Glamorgan Archives Service (WGAS) in Swansea.

‘Altogether a right merrie day’? Christmas in the Workhouse

Although it is true that Charles Dickens and Prince Albert did not invent the Victorian Christmas, they did influence the Victorian imagining of Christmas considerably. Were workhouse inmates and other recipients  of poor relief allowed to participate in Dickensian festivity over Christmas or was it more a case of Bah Humbug?

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In the years following the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the central authorities in London ruled that no extra food or drink should be given to paupers in workhouses at Christmas. Many local poor law unions ignored this directive including the guardians of Swansea Union. In 1837, The Cambrian newspaper reported that: ‘The paupers of Swansea Union were regaled on Christmas Day with an excellent dinner of roast beef and plum pudding, by a few individuals who subscribed the necessary sum for the laudable purpose’.

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Swansea Workhouse

An entry in the guardians’ minute book from 1883 is particularly poignant, one guardian wrote about a Christmas night party and concert:

‘The remarkable feature in the programme was the difference in the ages of the musicians, The youngest being 3, sang ‘a little cock sparrow who sat in a tree’, the oldest a sprightly young fellow of 83. Altogether a right merrie day was the Christmas of ‘82 and the grateful inmates went to their wards feeling thankful that in the general joy they were not forgotten’.

Gifts of tobacco or snuff, tea, sugar, jam and sometimes beer were given to the elderly residents, and the children and ‘imbeciles’ were taken on several outings over Christmas and New Year. A regular event on New year’s Day was a visit to Studt’s funfair, or ‘Venice’, where they rode on the ‘gondolas’ and received presents around the Christmas tree.  Visits to the pantomime, circus and Poole’s Diorama were an annual event and benefactors also gave the children gifts of cards, toys and games, ‘aerated water’, oranges, buns and sweets.

However in 1880 although the ‘usual Christmas dinner’ was to be given to inmates, it was reported that they should have pea soup on the ‘meat day’ before Christmas to save the meat ration for Christmas day. Bah Humbug etc…

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Western Mail 1894

Events such as Christmas, royal weddings, jubilees or particularly harsh weather could also generate generosity from poor law unions. Extra relief of around sixpence or one shilling per pauper was generally given by Swansea Union at Christmas, although not all unions did the same. Monmouth, Llanelli and Carmarthen were among Welsh unions who declined to give extra relief at Christmas.

Gifts were also made to outdoor paupers from benefactors such as shop owner Thomas  Trew who gave toys and fruit in 1865. However, it appears that largesse to children in the workhouse and cottage homes was much greater than to outdoor pauper children, possibly because they attracted more pity as they were seen as ‘waifs’ or ‘orphans’. It is also possible that gifts to outdoor pauper children were not recorded as often as to children living in institutions.

When Swansea Union built ‘cottage homes’ in 1877 to move the children out of the workhouse, the imagined Dickensian Christmas began in earnest.

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Postcard of Cockett Cottage Homes, Swansea c. 1910 (the ‘cottages’ are on the brow of the hill)

For the children of the cottage homes, Christmas brought presents, sweets, decorations, entertainments and vastly superior food.  Although it is clear from comments written by visiting guardians and the donations received from a wide range of people that a great deal of kindness was shown to the children, a lesson was also apparent. Striving to become responsible working-class citizens would bring appropriate rewards such as the enjoyable, yet respectable, celebrating of Christmas.

Many gifts and services donated to the cottage homes were recorded by the superintendent. The annual reports of many charitable establishments also detailed the benevolence of their subscribers in this way, no doubt to advertise the fact that generosity would be acknowledged publicly.

In 1882 the superintendent reported ‘that several of the boys who once belonged to the homes but who have since been placed in situations returned to spend the day with their former friends and companions and it was with great pleasure he noticed the successful results of their former training’. In the evening all the children assembled in the large cottage when all danced, marched and sang to the music of Mrs Grossmith [the head matron].

In 1903 a guardian remarked that the ‘lively’ preparations of the officers and children were pursued with a ‘joyousness’ that ‘gladdened one’s heart’. On Christmas morning ‘every child found a special toy, orange and apple in his or her shelving’ and Christmas dinner was a ‘huge success’ with every child ‘delighted beyond bounds’.

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The Llewelyn family of Penllegare led much of the festive celebration in the cottage homes. Lady Llewelyn and her daughters regularly hosted a Christmas tree event with gifts of toys and edible treats for the children. The tree was described as being ‘loaded with presents of all descriptions’.

 During the Christmas celebrations of 1908, the Llewelyns gave the children bananas and ‘new half pennies’ while a gramophone could be heard playing in number three cottage. Some Christmas entertainments became annual events, such as the Boxing Day visit to local theatres for the pantomime. An invitation to the Star Theatre in 1881 had not been welcomed by all guardians, but by the end of the Victorian period, pantomime was patronised by the Royal Family and considered suitable entertainment.

One report from 23rd December 1903 in particular demonstrates that the cottage homes children were cared for.  Although ‘decorations for Christmas are all in hand’, there had been a message from the workhouse regretting that they could not supply the cottage homes with cake in time for Christmas. The guardians recorded that:

‘We therefore empower the superintendent to purchase 100 lbs [pounds] elsewhere at 3½d  per lb, as we hardly think it is fair to deprive the little ones of their Christmas cake’. That’s a lot of cake!

 Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Every One!

ew

Gratuitous photo from the incomparable The Muppet Christmas Carol

The Guardians Minutes of meetings for Swansea Union and documents relating to the cottage homes can be consulted at West Glamorgan Archives Service in Swansea.

For more on the Victorian Christmas, see Neil Armstrong, Christmas in Nineteenth-Century England, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010.

For Pantomime (oh yes it is), see Jim Davis, ed., Victorian Pantomime: A Collection of Critical Essays, Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.


‘Likely to conduce to the happiness and advantage of the inmates’? – Victorian Education for Deaf Children.

‘Disability is everywhere in history, once you begin looking for it, but conspicuously absent from the histories we write’ observed Douglas Baynton in 2001. Of course, since then historians have begun to fill this lacuna and disability history has burgeoned, especially here at Swansea University.

Baynton’s argument that disability is everywhere in history carries particular resonance for me as throughout my research into the poor laws between 1834 and 1910, I have encountered numerous allusions to disabilities. Women defined as prostitutes were  ‘diagnosed’ as feeble-minded and the possibility of ‘troublesome’ and ‘incorrigible’ workhouse inmates being admitted to a lunatic asylum was discussed. One child had been sent home from school because her teacher described her as ‘an idiot’ and a boy with epilepsy was removed from the poor law’s cottage homes as he required more attention than the home felt they could provide. Roman Catholic girls with physical or mental disabilities were regularly sent by Swansea Union to live in Nazareth House in Cardiff.

For the final chapter of my PhD thesis I have been exploring disability explicitly via the lives of children sent by the Swansea poor law union to the Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Swansea and South Wales Institution for the Blind.

cambrian

Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb

The education of deaf children in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was dominated by the use of the ‘oral’ system, or training deaf children to speak and lip-read. This ‘triumph of Oralism’ had been endorsed in 1880 by the International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Milan and consequently sign language, also known as the manual method, was regarded as crude and inefficient. A Royal Commission in 1889 revealed that the manual system was used in 22 institutions, a combined system in 48, but the oral system was used in 507 institutions across Britain.

However, maybe because Benjamin Payne the principal of the Cambrian Institution was himself deaf, the oral system did not dominate teaching to such a degree. A report written in 1909 stated the Cambrian’s position: ‘oral teaching is given merely as an accomplishment, the authorities having no faith in its value as a means of communication’.

deaf 1896 sign languageFrom the annual reports of the Cambrian Institution

In 1868, a poor law inspector said of the Cambrian: ‘I consider that the institution though limited in its sphere and unambitious in its pretentions is well conducted, well superintended and likely to conduce to the happiness and advantage of the inmates’. What sort of future could a former inmate of this establishment expect? Evidence given by Benjamin Payne to the Royal Commission on the Blind and the Deaf & Dumb in 1889 (below) suggests that although tailoring for boys and dressmaking for girls headed the lists of occupations, there appears to be a wider range of career possibilities. As you can see there appears to be rather more for boys than for girls, which suggests that career prospects for deaf girls were as gendered as those of hearing girls.

deaf ceareer

One girl who became a dressmaker was Beatrice Isaac. In January 1893, William Isaac had applied to the Swansea Guardians for a grant to enable his 9 year old daughter Beatrice to become a boarder at the Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.

In 1891 Beatrice was one of five sisters and one brother. The family would grow over the years and by 1911 a further four daughters had been born. William Isaac was a copper smelter and his wife Eleanor did not work (apart from looking after 11 children). They were not paupers, yet Beatrice’s time at the Cambrian Institution was subsidised by the Swansea Union. This was because new legislation in the Elementary Education Act of 1893 had extended compulsory elementary education to blind and deaf children.

school deaf

Adelaide Perkins, one of Swansea Union’s ‘Lady Guardians’, inspected the Cambrian Institution in 1898 when four girls funded by the guardians were living there. She wrote a very favourable report about the institution and also mentioned that Beatrice was doing well in her studies. Adelaide Perkins talked specifically about the emphasis on sewing: ‘they do all their own needlework and help make their dresses, they are also taught fancy work, knitting and weaving’, but she was also highly complementary about the academic work of the children.

Many of the annual reports of the Cambrian Institution contain compositions and letters written by the pupils, although these sources need to be read with caution and are unlikely to be unmediated, they can help us build a picture of Beatrice’s life. A composition in the 1894 annual report by a 12 year old girl talks about girls going to the park and how Annie and Beatrice went to town and took pairs of boots to a Mr Wilson, probably a cobbler. This suggests that pupils could experience life outside its walls and, for me at least, it paints a picture of two girls on an errand, but also probably enjoying window shopping and companionship as well.

letter deaf

A longer letter from Beatrice appears in the 1900 annual report when she was 16. This was a lovely, chatty letter which tells us a lot about her family and her future plans. She was writing to her elder sister Mary Ann and brother-in-law Tom who live in London and appear to have a younger sister, Nellie, staying with them, who I think is around four years old. Another younger sister Katie who is about two, is reported to be home from hospital. Beatrice also wrote that her mother and elder sister Jane came to visit her recently and that Jane’s baby had a bad cold. She also hinted (strongly!) that she would love to come and visit her sister and her husband in London. She was looking forward to Christmas and a prize-giving with prizes for being ‘well behaved, for being best sewer, for being good conduct, and for being the best in school’. She said that the girls go for a walk every day except Monday and Saturday and wrote that she wanted to become ‘a tailoress or dressmaker’.

Another report by Adelaide Perkins concurred with Beatrice’s hope. Mrs Perkins recommended that Beatrice and Elizabeth Phillips stay on another year as she was very pleased with the girls’ appearance and described them as looking ‘bright, happy and intelligent’. The girls’ needlework was inspected and praised and thought to be a means of earning their own livelihood.

sew deaf

Beatrice did become a dressmaker. As the 1911 census shows, both Beatrice and her sister were self-employed dressmakers living at home. In fact, eight of the children were still at home with their parents and little Nellie, now 15, appears to personify 20th century modernity as a typist. Were Beatrice’s expectations lowered by the Cambrian Institution? Would she have earned her living by different means if dressmaking had not been foregrounded at the school? Were dressmaking and tailoring the deaf equivalent of the ‘blind trades’? I would love to hear your comments, please get in touch.

For a very recent in-depth survey of deaf education see my colleague Mike Mantin’s, ‘Educational Experiences of Deaf Children in Wales: The Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, 1847-1914’ (Swansea University: unpublished PhD thesis, 2012).

Sources:
Royal Commission on the Blind and the Deaf & Dumb, &c, 1889.
Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act 1893.
The National Archives, ED 224/18, 30 October 1909.
Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb: Annual Reports, available in Swansea Central Library.
West Glamorgan Archives Service, Swansea Guardians’ minutes of meetings. The archives also houses minutes books and letter-books from the Cambrian institution.

Douglas C. Baynton, ‘Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History’, in The New Disability History: American Perspectives, eds. Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky, 33-57 (New York: New York University Press, 2001).

‘Saucy Harry and his Moll’ – (Workhouse) Men Behaving Badly

There is no doubt that grim tales of brutality in Victorian workhouses sell popular history books, and of course the workhouse system did generate many cases of neglect and cruelty. Most perceptions of the poor laws are defined by these incidents, but some paupers also used (and abused) the system successfully.

The horrifying scandals in the Andover workhouse in 1845, where inmates were so hungry that they took to gnawing at the rotting bones they were crushing into bone meal, are retold seemingly automatically whenever the word workhouse is used. One of the major flaws within the Andover Union was the failure of local poor law guardians to properly supervise the brutal master, Colin McDougal.

Swansea workhouse inmates, date unknown.

A photo of Men from Swansea Workhouse (undated, maybe 1920s)

We know so much about this scandal because of subsequent widespread press coverage and a Government Select Committee being charged to investigate and report on the incidents. This publicity and Government inquiries initiated much needed changes to the poor law system.

A fascination with the ‘evils’ of the workhouse system was very apparent in the nineteenth century. From 1837 to 1842, The Times lavished more than two million words on the ‘new’ poor law’s administration and related 290 ‘horror’ stories. Many of the more sensationalist pieces proved to be untrue, but instances of cruelty and neglect to workhouse inmates were not uncommon. The Age argued that if the measures proposed by the Poor Law Commission were enacted, their opinions about ‘the united wisdom of the country’ would turn into ‘sentiments of indignation and horror’; later in the year John Bull alleged that the Poor Law Commissioners had ‘begun their reign of terror’.

However, far less publicity has been given to the graffiti reprinted by poor law inspectors in the 1866 Reports on vagrancy (cmd 3698). There are pages of comments like the ones below and also excerpts from poetry written on the walls by ‘gentlemen of the road’ or, as described by the inspectors, tramps and vagrants.

graffiti

There were long, long lists of paupers just appearing to ‘sign-in’ and advertise they had stayed in a certain workhouse. Many comments complained or praised the treatment in the workhouse, which reads at times rather like a workhouse ‘trip adviser’!

One of my favourite comments is:

‘Bow Street and two other ragamuffins slept here on the night of the 12th April, and was quite shocked at the clownish impudence of the old pauper at the lodge. The thundering old thief denied us a drink of water. So help me Bob’.  I would think he was referring to the porter.

Before I appear as an apologist for the workhouse system, some graffiti seen on a wall of Swansea Workhouse and copied by Noah Williams in his journal/diary between May 1888 and May 1890 demonstrates that the life  a ‘vagrant’ was a harsh one. With thanks to his descendent Darris Williams of Family Search.

Jesus wept and well he might

To see us poor tramps in such a plight

A can of skilly in our hand

They call it relief in a Christian land

O God! defend the tramps say I

Send the Guardians to hell as soon as they die

We lie on boards at their command

They call it relief in a Christian land

Victorian education for the blind: ‘cheer them in their affliction’?

Were blind children the ‘preferred figures of disability in the Victorian imagination’ as Martha Holmes argues? Depictions in art such as The Blind Girl by John Millais, 1856 (below) suggests that representations of blindness did generate widespread Victorian sentimentality and pity, which in turn led to the establishment of specialist institutions for blind children and adults. The Royal School for the Blind in Liverpool was the first institution of its kind in Britain when it was founded in 1791 by Edward Rushton. By the end of the nineteenth century there were over 50 such institutions, which educated, employed and relieved over 1,000 people.

millais

Pity was not the only motivating factor; it was feared that without suitable education and employment blind children could grow up to be a drain on the poor rates and dependent on the state. This poem, written in 1887, captures these motivations well:

Lonely blindness here can meet
Kindred woes and converse sweet;
Torpid once can learn to smile
Proudly o’er its useful toil.

‘Useful toil’ for blind people in the Victorian and Edwardian period (and beyond) generally meant the ‘Blind Trades’. This included basket weaving, brush making, rug weaving and piano tuning. Former Labour cabinet minister David Blunkett was apparently told the best career he could hope for was a piano tuner. Anne Borsay argues that blind and deaf Institutions ‘depressed the expectations of all their pupils’, but I wonder whether their expectations were depressed by society before any specialised education.

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Michael Frederick Halliday, The Blind Basket Maker and his First Child, 1856

My research into pauper children in Swansea has revealed that the guardians of the poor paid for many blind pauper children to attend the Swansea and South Wales Institute for the Blind. Founded in 1865 as a society for teaching and helping adult blind people, a permanent home was established in Swansea in 1873. By 1884, the annual report related that there were 37 men, women and children either ‘learning some handicraft, working at their trade, or being educated in the schoolroom’.

blind
Swansea and South Wales Institute for the Blind

Moses Rees – ‘a foundling’

Moses Rees was born blind, around 1873, and was abandoned by his mother as a baby. However, unlike many other orphans at that time he was not brought up in the workhouse or in cottage homes. The Swansea Guardians paid for him to be ‘boarded out’ or fostered with the Heffron family in Landore, a working-class area of Swansea. Happily, in the 1881 census, he was described as an ‘adopted son’ and his name was recorded as Moses Heffron Rees. He was one of eight children (5 boys and 3 girls) living at home ranging in ages from 26 down to 6. His adopted father was an engine driver in the nearby Hafod Copperworks.

Two years later in 1883, he became a boarder at the Swansea and South Wales Blind Institution. The Swansea Union paying for the necessary clothes and all tuition and boarding fees. An inspection of 1900 by Swansea guardians said that ‘too much cannot be said as to the necessities of this institution and we trust it will receive the support and encouragement that it merits. The public can help by buying baskets and mats. We may mention that we always buy for the Union’.
schbasket

 Below, from the Report of the Royal Commission on the Blind, the
Deaf and Dumb, &c., of the United Kingdom. 1889
Trades employed by institutions for the blind across the UK

  trade girlstrades

Apart from his studies it is difficult to ‘reconstruct’ the life Moses would have led. I hope he would have enjoyed the annual picnic, when the children would join those from the Cambrian Institution for the Deaf (To be featured in a future post). In 1879, The Cambrian newspaper recorded that around 80 children were taken to the Gower Inn in Parkmill where they enjoyed a break from what was rather patronisingly described as their ‘somewhat monotonous life’. Music and singing were apparently popular pastimes in the institution for both children and adults. It was also thought that memorising hymns in particular would ‘cheer them in their affliction’. It is possible that Moses was a member of the choir as he must have shown some musical aptitude as in 1892 the Swansea guardians were asked to increase their contribution for Moses from 7 shillings to 11 shillings a week, to enable him to complete his musical training at another specialised institution.

norwood

Moses was sent to the Royal Normal College and Academy of Music for the Blind in Upper Norwood, South London (pictured above). As the fees for the college were £60 a year it is likely that he was awarded a scholarship. In 1899 it was reported that several pupils had won scholarships to Norwood, leading to one becoming a teacher in South Shields and another teaching in the Swansea Institution. Moses went to Norwood to train as a piano tuner.

I’m not really sure whether Moses did earn his living as a piano tuner. Although both the 1901 and 1911 census gave his occupation as a pianoforte tuner, the annual reports for the Institution record him as being employed there as a basket maker and still living in Landore in 1912. At an inspection of the institution by the guardians in 1900, they reported that he was consumptive and was unable to earn much; his pay at that time was 3 shillings week and he also received four shillings a week from Swansea Union. This was increased to 6 shillings in 1907 after he had broken his leg.

Was Moses a ‘passive and grateful recipient’ of education for the blind as John Oliphant argues? He appears to have been offered opportunities, albeit ‘blind trades’ ones. He travelled to and spent time in London learning a new skill and he seems to have been considered as a son by his ‘adopted’ family. Unfortunately, his health was not too good, but he does appear to be among family when at home and with friends in the institution, while also earning money on his own account.

Swansea and South Wales Institute for the Blind Annual Reports can be consulted at Swansea Central Library.
Swansea Guardians’ minutes of meetings are available to consult at West Glamorgan Archives Service, Swansea.

Works consulted:
Anne Borsay, Disability and Social Policy in Britain Since 1750: A History of Exclusion, Houndmills; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Martha Holmes, Fictions of Affliction, Physical Disability in Victorian Culture, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.
John Oliphant, ‘Empowerment and Debilitation in the Educational Experience of the Blind in Nineteenth-Century England and Scotland’, History of Education, 35: 1 (2006), 47-68.
Gordon Phillips The Blind in British Society: Charity, State and Community, c.1780-1930, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.

‘A d_m cock eyed b_’ Wild Workhouse Women

Many female workhouse inmates did not conform to the popular imagining of submissive downtrodden pauper, but instead resisted and sometimes undermined the power of workhouse authorities. Contemporary representation of the inmates of poor law workhouses in the nineteenth century was that of a submissive underclass, humbled by the wretchedness of their circumstances. This perception has been propagated by some historians and continues to stimulate a genre of pity and outrage surrounding the real and imagined harshness of the post-1834 poor laws.

At its inception, the ‘new’ poor law intended that the workhouse should be the last resort of poverty. Paupers were classified rigorously according to age, sex and health, and all aspects of their lives such as eating, working, washing, sleeping, interaction and recreation were to be ordered in accordance with exacting guidelines. Women formed a substantial proportion of workhouse inmates throughout the nineteenth century. Whilst those let down by the alleged weakness of their husbands were perceived more sympathetically, mothers of illegitimate children and women defined as ‘fallen’ incited the strongest condemnation.punnish

Workhouse management was empowered to impose punishments on inmates who broke the rules of obedience and compliance.  This ranged from a change of diet to a spell of isolation in the ‘refractory cell’ or, in more serious cases, being taken before a magistrate. The representation of a workhouse as an isolated ‘total institution’ proves to be unrealistic both in theory and practice. Inmates could leave the workhouse for Sunday worship, personal business or to find employment. Going out with or without permission and returning drunk was a popular enterprise for both sexes. The phrase ‘over the wall’ was frequently used.

My research is derived primarily from newspapers and the Swansea workhouse punishment book, and while not a complete record of misdemeanours, it demonstrates how women inmates disregarded workhouse rules and appeared to remain impervious to punishments and at times manipulated the pauper system with great success.

The most common ‘offences’ were swearing, quarrelling and fighting. In 1864, Ellen Macarthey and Mary Brown ‘quarrelled and fought, abusing each other in the most savage manner like brute beasts, and after being parted would not give over their abusive language to each other’. For some women, disruption of workhouse life appeared to be a regular pastime.  Between November 1866 and March 1868, Mary Ann Daniels was charged with breaking windows in the workhouse, for which she was sent to gaol for 14 days, quarrelling, fighting, threatening and obscene language, ‘going to bed in the day time’, disobedience, impertinence and ‘threatening to do for the cook’.

punish

Another inmate who troubled the authorities repeatedly was Harriet Nichols. As well as a string of offences similar to Mary Ann Daniels above, she enjoyed a drunken evening in the workhouse in 1863 which included shouting and singing obscene songs and dancing around the bedroom. This culminated in her and Mary Rees ‘exposing their persons at the windows in a state of nudity’.

One woman’s resistance to the conventions of control was so successful that she publicly overturned the power and authority of the poor law establishment. Miriam Jackson was taken before the magistrates for breaking a window in the refractory cell where she had been confined for the night.  Her performance in the dock resulted not only in an acquittal but also censure for the workhouse management from the Bench. While being escorted back to the workhouse she apparently ‘abused the master with the most filthy language’, and boasted that she had the magistrates on her side. Similarly, The Cambrian newspaper later commented on her incarceration in the refractory cell as:

‘Such a state of things is not only a disgrace, it is cruel, it is monstrous!’

When I first read the punishment book, I laughed out loud throughout at the sheer, glorious, bloody-minded anarchy and disruption these women (and men) caused to those in authority. Their experience and conduct is a stimulating area of women’s history and their behaviour should not be sanitised and neither should they be categorised solely as victims.  They were active agents – of their own downfall perhaps – and I have no doubt they were replicated in workhouses all over Britain.

The Swansea workhouse punishment book (U/S 24) is available to consult at West Glamorgan Archives Service, Swansea.