Poverty and the workhouse


Poverty and the workhouse


  • Intro

    When you have no prospect of a earning a proper wage - if sickness or disability or market forces prevent you from working - what are you to do? Throughout this period, workhouses housed those who had no means to support themselves. Inmates of the workhouses were often forced into hard labour, and had to follow strict rules of behaviour. This government document from 1852 lists the jobs carried out by inmates in workhouses around the country.


    The sentence of hard labour applied equally to all male inmates. A clerk, reduced to the workhouse because he was unable to find a job, was set to work breaking granite rocks with a heavy hammer, in an open shed with no protection from frost or heat, when he may never have held anything heavier than a pen. Another occupation was oakum-picking: unravelling lengths of tarred rope, for use in sealing the seams of battleships. For all this, the pay was only enough for an allowance of coarse bread: 4 pounds a week if he was married, plus 2 pounds for each child.


    Shelfmark: Parliamentary papers, 1860

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