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Campaigners against the Old Poor Law

Campaigners against the Poor Law Amendment Act

Editorial ~ Another Death from Starvation

Case reported in the Times of 16th January 1838
Inquest held at the Plough Inn Clapham Common 12th - 15th Jan 1838 Mary Stonard aged 61.

Poor Law Commissioners under the New Act.
Some persons and cases named :-

.. We shall be thought by many of our readers, and perhaps justly, to belong to the sect of optimists, when we confess that we think it almost impossible for any proved and obvious abuse, in this country at least, to go one without some attempt at a remedy. This is saying, in other words, that we think it impossible that the inquiry into the working of the present Poor Law, which was broken off by the prorogation of Parliament, can remain where it was. The glimpse which it afforded of the real working of this cruel Act must excite every one's curiosity - to say nothing of better feelings - to have a full view of the case; and though Mr Walter is now unfortunately removed from public life, it is to be hoped that a worthy successor will not be wanting. The oppressed 
have good reason to exclaim - Exoriare aliquis vestris ex ossibus ultor - 

Mr Walter's case, it must be admitted was quite made out. 
The systematic famishiing - the neglect of the sick - the decoying into the manufacturing districts under false pretences - the  cruelty to the aged and infants - and the general contempt of all the charities and decencies of life, were alas! but too easy of proof. Let us recapitulate some of this evidence.

Systematic Famishing : 
In the Report of the Select Committee, it appears, from the
evidence of Mr James Lambert (who was the governor of Westhampnett Workhouse from 3rd Nov 1832 to 1st March 1836) that as soon as the new diet table came into operation, the weekly allowance of bread was reduced from 126 ounces to 78, of meat pudding from 20 ounces
to 14, of suet pudding increased from 20 ounces to 28. 
See 17th Report p 66. 
So the experimentalist had reduced the daily slice of bread to even less than 12 ounces. 

Neglect of the Sick :
Under this head it would be sufficient to allege the perverse
ingenuity of the Commissioners in obtaining medical men at the cheapest rate, without regard to any but the technical qualifications, well knowing that this rate is often so low as not to cover even the expense of proper drugs; we have often alluded to this part of the subject, and at some length, but we think it right just to mention the case of Honor Shawyer.

This unfortunate woman died of mortification of the bowels in Bishop's Waltham Workhouse; and though the grossest neglect had been made out against the master and mistress of this receptacle, and  formally presented in the Coroner's inquest on Honor Shawyer, they were not dismissed from their situation until seven weeks afterwards.
They were succeeded by John Murphy; and so little impression had been made upon the experimentalists by this lamentable case - so little disposed were they to return to the paths of humanity, that it was during Murphy's mastership, but against his wish, that the famous attempt was made to give the paupers in Bishop's Waltham
Workhouse pork-water for soup, and puddings made of the skimmings  of pork-water instead of suet. See 3rd Report pp 104-5 and 7th  Report p 14. 

The Rev Mr Brock, seeing how the sick were neglected, used to send them foof from his own house; for which he was found fault with by the Guardians, and called meddling and officious. See 4th Report p 4.

Decoying into manufacturing districts :
Among other whims and oddities of the Commissioners, they imagined they were qualified to regulate and equalize the labour-market all over England; and accordingly endeavoured to transfer the victims of their experiments from the agricultural districts to manufacturing districts. The case of poor Sopp is mentioned ??
To aid the scheme, one Muggeridge, who is called a migration agent, sends from Manchester the price-lists of a puffing shop-keeper; and though these prices would hardly take-in a reasonable person, yet they might easily impose on a famished labourer, ready to catch at a straw.

Cruelty to the Children and the Aged :
Three children between 4 and 5 years of age, named Withers, Cook, and Warren, were sent to the Fareham Workhouse from the Bishop's Waltham Workhouse. One remained in his new abode 12 weeks, the other two for 8 weeks. 

Mr William Harrison, the master of the Bishop's Waltham Workhouse, describes their state when they returned. They were standing against the wall in a passage, he desired them to walk into a room; they attempted but could not. It was a cold day moreover, and they were without proper clothing. After about a quarter of an hour, food was offered to them, which Warren vomited up again. It appears, that during their stay in Fareham Workhouse, in order to cure their dirty habits, these miserable infants had been additionally starved, flogged, and placed in the stocks, sometimes
from 9 till 12 and from 2 till 5. See 3rd Report p 43.
This monstrous case was rather too bad, even for the Poor-Law Commissioners, if they had no compassion, at least they had some fear of public indignation, and accordingly reproofs were dealt forth to all the persons concerned in tormenting these poor little creatures.

Cruelty to the Aged :
Nor has the other extremity of life been a protection from the 
rigour of the new regulations. James Sparshott, aged 91, had his allowance reduced from 3s-6d to half-a-crown a week (2s-6d) See 10th Report p 21.
The Rev Mr Spencer, indeed, Chairman to the Board of Guardians of the Bath Union, and a starvationist of the first water, speaks with indignation of a pauper aged 84, who refuses to reside in the  workhouse, as well as of certain mischievous ladies who not only abet and comfort him in this nefarious obstinacy, but actually give him a weekly allowance. Our austere Chairman says, that rather than be washed, shaved, and have his hair cut, many a pauper has
gone away from the workhouse. Perhaps this aversion to being shaved,  Mr Chairman, may arise from your shaving them very close. See 2nd Report of Poor Law Commissioners.

Source: The London Medical Gazette1837-8 Vol 21 1053 pp p 693 27th January 1838
Submitted by Alan Longbottom

William and Catherine Booth 
Both born in England in 1829. 
They were especially concerned for the poor, and in 1865 opened the East London Christian Mission, which they began to call The Salvation Army. By 1872 they had five lunchrooms where the industrial poor could obtain meals at little or no cost. 
One of their publications "In Darkest England and the way out" published 1890 described the economic, social and moral problems of London, and prescribed a number of reforms for social improvement.

Charles Booth 
Famous for his Poverty map of London transformed the methods of social survey of that time. He published "Labour and Life of the people in London" in 1889, a study of the existing poverty in London.

Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree 
Son of Joseph Rowntree, who had conducted two major surveys of poverty in Britain, believed his duty was to help the poor and disadvantaged. He joined his Fathers business in York, and there decided to conduct his own survey, which took two years to complete. 
His completed work "Poverty, A study of Town Life" was published in 1901, and became an influential factor to David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer when he introduced the Old Age Pensions Act in 1908. His second survey, "Progress and Poverty" in 1941 stated there was a 50% reduction of poverty in York. 
He ascribed the cause of poverty in the 1930's to unemployment, whereas in the 1890's it was due to low wages.

Beatrice Webb 
Born 1858 and a cousin of Charles Booth, married Sidney Webb a member of the Fabian Society. They lived off Beatrice 1,000 per year inheritance whilst practicing social work in London, feeling that society structure was more a cause of poverty than the individual. Beatrice joined the Charity organization society in 1883, but soon left realizing that Charity alone would not solve the problems. 
They created the "New Statesman" an influential periodical promoting socialist reforms in society, and in 1891 published one of their many works "The co-operative movement in Great Britain". 
Beatrice was asked to serve on the Royal Commission to look into "the working of the laws relating to the relief of poor persons in the United Kingdom", but found she could not agree with the other members views. On completion Beatrice and Sidney Webb published the Minority Report recommending the end of the Poor Law, the establishing of an employment bureau, and improvement of essential services. The Majority report was accepted by the Liberal Government.

The Fabian Society 
Formed 1884 as a socialist debating group produced many pamphlets on social issues, with the ultimate aim of reconstructing society with high moral values. Another member of the Fabian Society was Ramsey MacDonald, who became the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924.


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