The Poor Man’s Guardian was the weekly newspaper of The Poor Man’s Guardian Society, a campaigning organisation dedicated to exposing examples of neglect and cruelty towards the poor. The Society was founded in response to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which restricted the freedom of charities and local governments to aid the poor of their districts as they saw fit. The Act was fundamental in the construction of new workhouses throughout Britain: giant labour factories with attached dormitories, in which the poorest were obliged to live and work rather than remain illegally in the streets. Being moved to a workhouse meant long hours of menial labour in poor and unsanitary conditions, very often miles from home and family.
Charles Cochrane’s report, published here, indicates the relationship between charity and economics, as in the case of the St Marylebone parish who were attempting to reduce the cost of relief - by reducing the numbers of people applying for relief. The parish was prepared to publish the names of those applying for poor relief, ‘in order that the parishioners might by personal inspection inquire into their characters and condition, and learn whether they are deserving of the relief afforded'. Cochrane suggests that people were literally being turned away from the crowded workhouse onto the streets.
Charles Dickens agreed to be listed as an 'officer' of the Poor Man’s Guardian Society. He was also a staunch opponent of the new Poor Law. In Oliver Twist (1838), he writes of ‘the deep, philosophical men’ who established the new workhouses, dedicated to ‘the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not they) of being starved by a gradual process in the [work]house, or by a quick one out of it.’
- Article by:
- Ruth Richardson
- London, Poverty and the working classes, The novel 1832 - 1880
The hardships of the Victorian workhouse led to Oliver Twist utter the famous phrase ‘Please Sir, I want some more’. Here Ruth Richardson explores Dickens’s own experiences of poverty and the social and political context in which he was writing.