An interesting insight into the way Victorians thought about the poor and needy in the community is given by the following entry in the November 1879 Parish Magazine:
Something about Vagrants in Berkshire:
"At the end of 1878 attention having been called to the enormous number of vagrants perambulating the County, enquiry was made as to what extent Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire were infested, and the number in both counties being very great, various schemes were proposed to mitigate the evil. In Berkshire the number of tramps relieved in the year 1878 at the thirteen Unions in the County amounted to 26,722. These did not by any means include a vast number who got enough from the public be begging to live on the fat of the land. The average daily collection by each individual being computed at not less than three or four shillings a day.
The first thing that was done was to consult the Chief Constable, Col Blandy, who at once recommended that the Ticket System introduced in 1872, which so long as it was in force worked so well, should again be tried. This plan was given up in 1872 solely from the apathy of the public.
Col Blandy's suggestion was approved of, and a Committee, consisting of one Magistrate and one Guardian in each Union, selected. The County was placarded to inform the inhabitants that a plan was in operation to suppress Vagrancy. The public were requested to give neither food nor money to beggars, and to call attention of the Police to any one begging. A person in each village was selected to distribute circulars and to ask for a small subscription from sixpence to five shillings to defray the cost of bread to be given to the vagrant on his journey from Union to Union. This was to assure the public that no one could starve on his way through Berkshire if really passing through to seek work.
The Ticket is given at the first Union the vagrant arrives at in the County but before he can get admission to the Union he has to present himself to a Policeman who in most of the Unions is appointed Assistant Overseer. The Policeman gives the vagrant an order for admission to the Union, the master of which takes his name and description and enquires where he is going. A Ticket is then made out describing the route to be followed, and the Unions he will sleep on his way through the County; this Ticket also specifies the Police Stations where the vagrant can obtain eight ounces of bread for his mid-day meal.
It will thus be seen that the vagrant is inspected twice a day, by the Police and by the master of the Union from which he starts in the morning, and by the master of the Union he reaches in the evening. Should a vagrant be found wandering from the road and begging, he is apprehended and sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment.
This scheme was commenced in March 1879, and the number of vagrants in the first quarter ending June were reduced two thousand, and in the second quarter ending September four hundred: and this reduction took place during a year of unprecedented depression in all trades.
If the public will aid the Committee by abstaining from giving anything to the vagrant, and will hand every one begging over to the Police, the regular tramp will take care to avoid Berkshire, and the real work-seeker traversing the County will be aided on his journey.
The Report from the Chief Constable as to the diminution of crime in Berkshire attributes the improvement to the working of the scheme for the repression of Vagrancy now under trial in the County."
- Parish Magazines, esp Nov 1879, Nov 1882.