Poverty: rules, orders, and regulations for the workhouse




  • Intro

    Poverty rates throughout the 1700s were high. Many families struggled to pay for their daily bread, and lived below the ‘breadline’ in abject conditions. Illnesses, accidents and old-age also prevented people from working, again resulting in poverty and often destitution. From the 1720s, workhouses were set up by local parishes to house the poor. Men, women and children lodged in single sex ‘wards’ where the able-bodied were set to menial tasks: breaking stones, spinning thread or sewing clothes, for example. Inmates were ordered to follow strict rules of behaviour and to conform to daily routines. This document is from the rulebook of a London workhouse, and lists the food on offer to inmates. Some workhouses were clean and comfortable havens for the poor. Many provided education, rudimentary health care and clean clothing. Others were hopelessly overcrowded, prison-like institutions in which disease and even death were common as were accidents and exhaustion from strict work regimes.

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