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Reading Poor Law Union and Workhouse

Reading Poor Law Union was declared 21 July 1835, and comprised the parishes of St Giles, St Lawrence and St Mary.
Workhouses already existed in St Lawrence and St Mary, which continued to serve the new poor law union.

In 1861 the Master of the Coley Street Workhouse was Mr. Tomkins, and the Master of the Friar Street Workhouse was Mr. John Harvey. , 
1861 Berkshire Gazetteer
Submitted by Betty Judge


 I - There is a general revision of the relief lists every three months

II - The longest period for which relief is given is three months

III - "Sick" cases are given relief for periods varying according to the report of the medical officer, not exceeding a month.

"Widows with children" are given relief for three months, or for a shorter period if there is likely to be any alteration in their circumstances

"Old and Infirm" chronic cases are given relief for three months at a time.

IV - The personal attendance of the applicant is required on original applications but they do not all see the Board. It is not required upon renewed applications, but a fresh report from the relieving officer is required in all cases.

V - The relieving officer reports if he finds children of school age kept at home, further steps are taken to secure the attendance at school of out-door pauper children.

VII - In the majority of cases no member of the Board of Guardians is personally acquainted with the circumstances of the applicant.

IX - About one third of the relief is given in kind.

X - The workhouse is offered to able-bodied applicants, to persons of drunken or incorrigibly idle habits, and to those who make a dishonest or suspicious statement to the Guardians or their officers. About one-third of those to who it is offered as a test accept it.

XI - Deserted wives are frequently given out-relief if the Guardians are satisfied that there is no collusion. About half the cases are offered the workhouse, and the other half given out-relief. The husband is prosecuted, and a reward of 1/- or 2/- is offered for his apprehension.

XII - Money derived from a benefit club is looked upon favourably in determining the amount of relief, but is not dealt with upon any fixed principle. There are no cases of pensioners among persons in receipt of out-relief.

XIII - Relief in aid of earnings is given to widows and aged persons, but not in other cases.

XIV - Relations, legally liable, are professedly compelled to contribute, and I was informed that legal proceedings for this purpose were taken at least three or four times a year. There were, however, at the date of my visit, no cases upon the relief lists (with the exception of lunatics in asylums) in which contributions were being received from this source under an order of the justices.

XV - The provisions of the prohibitory order are strictly observed.

XVI - The medical officers do not attend the meetings of the Guardians.

XVII - The Guardians have no system of communication with persons administering charitable relief.

Scale of Relief - Widows with children, if able to work themselves, receive 1s and a loaf for every child after one; if unable to work, 1s and a loaf for themselves and one for each child.

An old man or woman receives 1s-6d and a loaf, to 2s and a loaf. An old couple receive from 2s-6d to 4s and two loaves.

Part II

  1. - There is one relief district and one relieving officer. (For numbers in receipt of relief see statement annexed.

2 - There is no assistant relieving officer, except a policeman for vagrants.

3 - There is no pay clerk

4 - The relieving officer does all the visiting; he does not keep a diary. 

5 - "Sick" cases are visited at intervals varying from once a week to once a month

      "Widows with children" are visited once in two months at least.

      "Old and infirm" chronic cases are visited once in 3 months.

6 - The relieving officer does not visit the home of the applicant before giving an order for the workhouse, except in cases not previously known to him. He reports all such orders to the Guardians at their next meeting.

7 - The relieving officer does not as a rule visit before giving "temporary provisional relief" but does so afterwards, as soon as practicable, and before the next meeting of the Guardians. Such relief is always in kind, and is reported to the Guardians at their next meeting.

8 - The Guardians frequently direct the relieving officer to relieve "at Discretion" They require him to report what he has done at their next meeting.

9 - The relieving officer visits at uncertain times, and unexpectedly.

10-16 etc Mode of Payment :-

There is only one relief office for the Union. Two parishes are paid on Friday and the 3rd on Saturday. Nearly 300 cases are paid in an hour.

The head of the family, or wife if married, is required to come for relief in person unless ill or at work. If unable to come, the relief is sent by a child or neighbour.

The relieving officer would not send the relief by any person not previously known to him, and makes inquiries from time to time as to whether the relief has been received.

The neighbour in many cases receives 1d or 2d for taking it, and in some cases one person takes relief for four or five others.

Bread is not at present baked by the Guardians, but they intend shortly to have it baked in the workhouse. It is at present brought from the contractor to the relief office. Weights and scales are kept there. Meat is also contracted for, and is brought to the relief office.

Wine and spirits are contracted for, and are kept at the relief office. All other relief  in kind is given by tickets on tradesmen.

17 - There is no dispensary for out-door poor belonging to the Guardians.

18 - The relieving officer attends at the relief office from 8 to 10. A.M.

The relieving officer would withhold "medical extras" if he found that the persons could procure them for themselves, but would not do so on any other grounds.


Area : 4,699 ac Population 25,876 : computed to be at this time 31,000

Maximum number of cases relieved, week ending 22nd February 1870, being the 8th week of the quarter ending March 1870 was 498;  the number of persons relieved being 1,016

Minimum number of cases relieved, week ending 5th July 1870, being the 1st week of the quarter ending Michaelmas 1870 was 426, number of [ersons relieved was 832.

Largest number of persons relieved during the present winter, being the week ending 24th January 1871, as 1,081.

Dated 3rd February 1871 - Geo. S. Bonner - Relieving Officer.

Appendix to the First Report of the Local Government Board 1871-72
Appendix B pages 107-109
Transcribed by Alan Longbottom

Records Available

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RG1 6AF.  
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Page updated March 12, 2008 by Rossbret