The Relief of the Poor in Berkshire 1601-1929 - an archive teaching pack.
This collection of documents was made with the help of a number of teachers in the Newbury area meeting at the Newbury Teachers' Centre in 1979/80. It is meant to be used mainly by classes preparing for the G.C.E. 'O' level and C.S.E. examinations, though parts of it could profitably be studied by other students engaged in local history or projects.
Most of the local material relates to the parish of Hungerford, the originals of which can be seen at the Berkshire Record Office. Where this is so, it is indicated by the initials B.R.O. and a catalogue number after the document, Other material from the Reading Reference Library or the Public Record Office will have the relevant abbreviations. A useful guide to the availability of evidence for a given parish in Berkshire is 'A Guide to the Records of the New Poor Law 1835-1948', available from the Berkshire Record Office.
Initially this unit is being presented as four groups of facsimiles where practicable and typed copies where reproduction is poor or the references scattered throughout a long document (eg. a Vestry Minute Book). The groups are as follows:-
The approach in each section is slightly different, partly because of the nature of the evidence, and partly because this allows those who use it to vary their teaching methods. It is also possible to adapt the material into a uniform system suitable for a particular class using one or other approach as a guide.
Hungerford - some background information:
Hungerford in the period covered by this study was a small market town partly in Berkshire and partly in Wiltshire. The two main streets were High Street which lay on the main Salisbury to Oxford road, and Charnham Street on the London to Bath road. The Kennet and the Kennet and Avon cnanal also passed through the town, and the Great Western Railway arrived in 1847.
Though it was a predominantly agricultural area with wheat, barley and oats as well as livestock, there were also significant industries, in particular brewing and iron making.
The population according to the census figures was as follows:- 1801 - 2,392; 1811 - 2,073; 1821 - 2,363; 1831 - 2,715; 1841 - 2,724; 1851 - 3,072; 1861 - 3,001; 1871 - 3,064; 1881 - 2,965; 1891 - 2,964; 1901 - 2,364.
All the documents in Section 1 are facsimiles, available as pdfs here.
Each is numbered to correspond with the number in this introduction where background information can be found on each document, together with some ideas on its use.
1. Extract from the Poor Law of 1601:
The Elizabethan Poor Law Act of 1601 which, with modifications, was the basis of all poor relief until 1834, placed on each parish the responsibility for helping its own poor. This extract could be used by a class to discover:
(a) who were the Overseers of the Poor;
(b) the three groups of the poor to be dealt with;
(i) orphans or children whose parents could not care for them;
(ii) the impotent poor ( sick, aged, infirm) ;
(iii) the able-bodied poor (those unwilling or unable to find work);
(c) how the necessary finance was to be raised;
(d) the different treatment to be given to each group. Relevant phrases have been underlined, and the lines numbered.
2. Instructions and Directions to Overseers 1832 (B.R.O.D/P71/18/7):
The comprehensive and exhaustive list of duties attached tothe appointment of James Langford and John Stevens as Overseers of the Poor in April 1832 shows among other things:-
(a) the continuance of the 1601 Act (page one) ;
(b) how the poor rate was collected (page two);
(c) apprenticing poor children (page two).
Though perhaps too lengthy for normal class use, it is valuable for the detailed description of the working of the Poor Law and the succession of acts needed to modify it. Possibly it could be used selectively i.e. only a few marked paragraphs being studied, or by abler pupils in the class, or simply for display on a noticeboard - possibly with questions attached. Teachers reading it will find it a valuable source of background information.
3. Apprenticeship Indenture 1785 (B.R.0.D/P7l/14/2):
Orphans or abandoned children were usually boarded out with a village family until the age of about eight. Payments to their guardians by the overseers can be found in account books. Then they would be apprenticed at the expense of the parish, as might other children whose parents could not support them.
This document is one of the many apprenticeship indentures from Hungerford in the 18th century. Thomas seems to have been one of a large family born to Johnand Mary Coxhead in Hungerford. He may have had an elder brother, John, and 6 younger brothers and sisters. Thomas was baptised on July 24th 1767. This would have made him 17 at the time of the apprentice ship, which seems somewhat old.
The Overseers' Minute Book for 19th December 1784 notes:-
"Ordered that Tho. Coxhead be apprenticed to Jos. Brown, Newbury, Weaver, until he shall attain the age of 21 years. Premium £4. Parish to give him a Change of Sort. Master to find everything during the Term."
Consequently on 14 Feb 1785 the lad was apprenticed. Most of the paupers of Hungerford seem to have been put to a trade in farming or in a craft in a nearby town. None seems to have gone into a factory.
Note that the apprentice can write his name whereas his master cannot. This could be a useful discussion point with a class.
4. Report on the Education of the Poor in Berkshire 1824 (in 'Berkshire Charities' B.R.O.):
This document is part of a report to Parliament on the operation of charitable foundations in the county in the early 19th century. Though not part of the official provision for the poor it illustrates the role of private charity, and is especially significant in view of the literacy of Thomas Coxhead, the apprentice discussed above.
5. Minutes of Overseers of the Poor 1824 (B.R.0. D/P71/8/4):
The treatment of the second group of poor, those unable through sickness and old age to support themselves, and young children, is best illustrated from the account books or minute books of the Overseers.
In Hungerford there was a Special Standing Committee which dealt with Poor Law matters, but they performed the same tasks.
These minutes from January 1824 show the different kinds of payment made:
(a) permanent or long term weekly or monthly (a sort of pension)
(b) help with rent
(c) help with clothes
(d) occasional sums to those in need, possibly because of temporary illness or unemployment.
It is possible that George Newman's earnings of 10/- per week is an indication of general wage levels.
Money was paid out to the poor in public, an essential feature of the system being that justice must be seen to be done. In Hungerford there was a 'Parish Pay Table' where every Friday night or Saturday morning the poor lined up to receive their allowance. If the money ran out, the rest were sent home until more was forthcoming. There is no evidence that this ever caused public unrest in the parish.
N.B. The Coxhead family occurs again - Robert Coxhead, this time.
6. Hungerford Workhouse Accounts 1808 (B.R.O.D/P71/12/15):
The 1601 Act had ordered that the third group of poor, the able-bodied unemployed or workshy, should be put to work in a House of Correction (sometimes called a Poorhouse or Workhouse) where they would receive assistance in return for labour. By an act of 1723 parishes could deny relief to any who refused to enter the workhouse which was intended to function like a small industrial concern.
'rhis page of accounts shows the work done by those in the Workhouse or House of Industry in Hungerford, which was in operation by 1707. On the left hand side is the work done, and on the right the goods sold by the Guardians of the Poor.
By all accounts it was a going concern. Mary Pearce, who seems to have succeeded her husband as Guardian in 1808, was a woman of character, combining kindness, good management and firmness. Her title of 'Guardian' is due to the fact that Hungerford had complied with Gilbert's Act of 1782 employing paid guardians.
Some good discussion could arise from a list of the clothes sold (there were many others) and their cost compared with the wages and allowances seen in the previous documents. The reference to oil and coals for bucking (washing) the linen, and flax, plus the reference to boys, girls and women spinning should also allow the class to gain some idea of what workhouse life was like.
Unfortunately there is no indication of how much work was done for these wages.
7. Overseers' Accounts 1727 (B.R.O. D/P71/12/1):
These early 18th century accounts add more detail about life in the workhouse.
The top half of the document shows the large number of people receiving permanent help with rent. The names of landlords and their tenants are given. The class should quickly see that many tenants are widows, though Widdow Coxhead (again!) herself owns a house; and should be able to see why widows as a group needed permanent help.
The second and more important half shows the Extraordinary Disbursements (non-recurring expenditure) for food and equipment for the workhouse. The accounts seem to show a generosity absent from the post-1834 Guardians. Why? Many items were essential but some were not - tobacco, for example. 'Selletts' (line 8) is salads or green vegetables, a skimmer (line 18) could have been used in cooking, cards (line 13) were for carding wool.
Words which may be difficult to read have been printed on the left hand side, and lines numbered for easy reference.
Other evidence of care for the poor is the decision by the Overseers in June 1783 to pay a doctor, Mr. Joseph Cundell, 20 guineas a year (£21) to visit the poorhouse three times a week at least to treat the sick. He acted as surgeon and apothecary.
8 . Insurance Certificate for Hungerford Workhouse 1814 (B.R.O. D/ P71/18/9):
In the absence of a contemporary picture or description of the workhouse at Hungerford, this certificate gives a brief but useful idea of its contents.
The 1601 Act left unanswered the question of which parish was responsible for the upkeep of a poor person - in contemporary language, where did such person have settlement? Was it the parish where he was born, where he lived longest, etc.?
Various laws, beginning in 1662, attempted to define the right of settlement more clearly by decreeing that:-
(i) a married woman had settlement in her husband's parish;
(ii) children had settlement in their father's parish;
(iii ) illegitimate children had settlement in the parish where they were born;
(iv) an apprentice lad had settlement in his master's parish;
(v) an employee acquired settlement if he was hired and worked in a parish for a year and a day.
Where a person had more than one settlement, the most recent was valid.
Any person in a parish without right of settlement was questionned by the J.P.'s who ordered his removal to his last known settlement.
9. Settlelment Documents (all B.R.O.):
9 (a) Bastardy Examination
9 (b) Examination of a Pauper
9 (c) Removal Order.
Taken together, these documents illustrate the working of the settlement laws very clearly. Jane Roger's illegitimate baby (its father was William Rosier) would acquire settlement in Hungerford and so be a charge on the parish. It is likely that pressure was put on William to marry Jane since their wedding is recorded in the parish register on 11th October 1796.
Now mother and child would acquire settlement in William's parish. The J.P.'s made sure this would not be Hungerford by asserting that William's true parish of settlement was St. Andrew above the Bars in Middlesex. There is no record of the baby being born in Hungerford, which suggests that they were moved out quickly.
These are very human documents and lend themselves to class discussion.
Evidence of the cost of court cases, removals, etc. can be found in other documents, notably the Accounts of 1824 in Section 3.
N.B. A William Rosier, cobbler, appears in the Poor Rate Book of Hungerford in the 1820's. Could William have returned later when he was a respectable craftsman able to keep his wife and family?
All the documents in Section 2 are facsimiles, available as pdfs here.
The Overseers of the Poor had the right to levy rates on all the inhabitants of the parish occupying land or property including houses, land, tithes and common rights. The amount was fixed by the J.P.'s of the County, to whom detailed accounts of the amount raised and spent had to be given at the end of each year.
10. Rate and Rate Arrears 1810 (D/P71/8/4):
These two pages from the Rate Book of Hungerford show hew the system worked.
Seven and a half rates were collected for the year 1810. Each rate was imposed as the need arose, provided that notice was given in church on the Sunday following. The money was collected by the Overseers going from house to house.
The document shows that they didn't always meet with success. Indeed the Overseers of Winchester were indemnified against assault, and in 1820 the Hungerford Overseers were threatened with presentment before the J.P.'s for not collectihg the money.
In 1810 the Overseers thought some of the arrears of rates could be collected, but the rest could not, for reasons given on page 2 of the document. These reasons are probably the most useful aspects to discuss uith the class, for example:
(a) Why were the poor assessed for poor rates at all?
(b) The fate of a debtor in 1810;
(c) The significance of so many unoccupied houses;
(d) The percentage uncollected was about 11%. Does this mean people could not or would not pay because rates were becoming too heavy?
11. Monthly Returns to Parliament of Poor Law Costs in Hungerford 1824 (B.R.O. D/571/12/3):
'l'his is a useful summary document for all the previous work on the old poor law, but equally valuable as evidence of growing poor relief costs in the early 19th century. It could be used to show:-
(a) the source of income for poor relief and the amount - compare with 1810;
(b) different types of poor - old, sick, orphans, unemployed, etc;
(c) numbers on poor relief (total population of Hungerford in 1821);
(d) numbers on 'indoor relief' (in the· workhouse) compared with those on 'outdoor ' relief;
(e) numbers on permanent as compared with casual outdoor relief.
12. Affidavit of Overseers to Assess Poor Rate Fairly (B.R.O. D/P71/18/1):
While this is not an essential document it is interesting because:-
(a) it gives the occupations of the Overseers ;
(b) it indicates that some safeguard had to be made to ensure fair rating. (Compare this with the openness of the poor rate distribution, the books open to inspection, etc.).
The documents in Section 3 are partly facsimiles and partly typed extracts. and are available as pdfs here.
Each is linked to the others by a commentary to form a self contained unit which can be tackled by the class individually or as a group/ groups.
The Position of the Rural Poor from about 1790:
13. 'The Case of the Labourers in Husbandry stated and considered' by Rev. David Davies, Rector of Barkham:
Davies was only one of several Berkshire clergymen who observed the desperate state of the agricultural labourers and their families at this time. Many were poor despite the fact that they and sometimes their wives and children worked. Partly this was the result of high flour prices and partly of low wages and occasional unemployment due to sickness or accident.
To prove his point, Davies described in detail the budgets of several labourers' families of different sizes, with and without the wages of the wife and children. One of them is reproduced as document 13.
Some of the words look unfamiliar because they are rarely used now. A list of these is given below. Others look strange because at this time the letter 'S' was written as ' ' The amounts are all expressed in old currency:-
- £ equalled 20 shillings (20s.) - decimal currency 100p.
- one shilling (1s) equalled 12 pence (12d.) - decimal currency 5p.
- 6 pence (6d.) - decimal currency 2½p.
- The smallest coin was a farthing, a quarter of one penny (-¼p)
Glossary of unusual words:
- gallon (of flour) about 8 lbs.
- bushell (of malt) about 60 lbs.
- lying in when a woman had a baby,
- physick = medicine
What comments would you make about their food? Perhaps you could compare it to that of the poor in the workhouse. Is there a connection between this food and the fact that many children died early, and that the family had to allow a considerable sum for medicine? Where might the family find the money to make ends meet?
14. Pages from the Minute Book of the Overseers of the Poor 20th September 1792 and 1793 (with transcript):
Several attempts were made in the 18th century to make the poor law more efficient. The most important was an Act of 1782 called Gilbert's Act which allowed parishes to unit to run one workhouse, to which the sick, the old and children could be brought. Guardians could be employed for a salary and their duties would include finding work for the able-bodied, receiving their wages from the employer and passing it on to the worker after deducting something for expenses. Able-bodied poor were not allowed in the workhouse
according to the Act. Hungerford, however, continued with the old system until 1800 since it appeared to be working satisfactorily. They appointed a governor of the poorhouse (Samuel Sawyer in 1793) on a yearly contract.
Can you work out from the Minute Book of 1792:-
(a) what the governor had to provide for the poor in the poorhouse (line 10)?
(b) how much was allowed per person perr day? How does this compare with the budget of the poor in Rev. Davies' examples? (line 11).
(c) how the governor made a profit (i.e. his wages) out of the post? (lines 13 - 15)
Look at the page from 1793 and see:-
(a) who was the governor of the workhouse
(b) what sort of work the poor were doing for the farmers
By 1800 the Overseers of the Poor had changed this system and adopted that of Gilberts' Act by employing a Guardian on a yearly salary.
Speenhamland System 1795:
Rising prices in the 1790's which caused the hardship noticed by Rev. Davies helped bring about a new development. When in 1795 the Berkshire Justices of the Peace met at the "George and Pelican" Inn at Speenhamland, they agreed 'that the state of the poor does require further assistance than has been generally given them'. But they said it was 'not expedient for the magistrates (i.e. themselves) to grant assistance by regulating the wages of day labourers'. They recommended farmers and other employers to increase labourers' wages 'in proportion to the price of provisions'. They also agreed that they would 'in their several divisions (areas of the county) make the following calculations and allowances .... for the relief of the poor and industrious men and their families'. Below is an extract from the tables they drew up.
This shows at one view what should be the Weekly Income of the Industrious Poor, as settled by the Magistrates for the County of Berkshire at a meeting held at Speenhamland May the 6th 1795:
- When the gallon loaf is 1s. 0d.: Income for a man shall be 3s 0d; man and his wife: 4s 6d; with one child 6s 0d, with four children: 10s 6d.
- When the gallon loaf is 1s. 6d.: Income for a man shall be 4s 3d; man and his wife: 6s 3d; with one child 8s 3d, with four children: 14s 3d.
- When the gallon loaf is 2s. 0d.: Income for a man shall be 5s 0d; man and his wife: 7s 6d; with one child 10s 0d, with four children: 17s 6d.
i.e. so in proportion as the price of bread rises or falls (that is to say) 3d, to the man and 1d. to every other of the family, on every penny which the loaf rises above the shilling
Compare these amounts with what the family in Rev. Davies' lists were earning and paying out.
15. Annals of Agriculture Vol. 25. December 1795 edited by Arthur Young. Letter from G. Ward of Bradfield House, Reading:
Ward suggests that labourers would no longer word hard to earn proper wages because of the Speenhamland system. What reasons does he give for this?
Can you see why the poor rate should rise to three times the usual level as a result of the scales of relief begun in 1795. (Note that the harvest failed in 1795. The plan mentioned at the bottom of page 634 is the Speenhamland System.)
16. Abstract of Returns relative to the Expense and Maintenance of the Poor 1803:
These figures drawn up in 1803 show how the amount spent on caring for the poor increased at the beginning of the 19th century. Though the increase was not three times the normal as Ward had forecast, the amounts were still very large. The total population of Hungerford was only 2,392 in 1801, yet the parish spent £1,389 on poor relief. Go back to Document 11 (1) and see what the cost was in 1824. Write down the amount paid at each of these dates - 1776, 1785, 1803, 1824 - for the parish of Hungerford.
17. Complaint about excessive poor rate at Quarter Sessions 7th April 1812:
The feeling against the large rates is shown by this complaint to the Justices by Edward William Leyborne Popham Esquire. Was he successful in his request for a reduction in his rate?
Just how much the poor rate was costing can be seen from these figures for the whole of England and Wales. Part of the increase was due to higher prices. The cost of living was about 25% higher in the 1820s than in 1780.
Year / Spent on Poor Relief / % of population receiving poor relief
1776 / £1,529,786 / 3.8%
1803 / £4,077,891 / 8.6%
1818 / £7,870,101 / 13.2%
1832 / £7,036,969 / 9.9%
18. Parliamentary Report on Poor Relief 1817:
Other problems which developed as a result of the ideas in Gilbert's Act, are outlined in this report. In some areas a system called 'Roundsmen' was used by which able-bodied unemployed were sent round the parish to find work. Part of their wages would be paid by the farmer and part by the poor rate. Four of the difficulties which developed are discussed in the document in the sections which are underlined. See if you can put each 'evil' in your own words.
Hungerford overseers do not seem to have used the roundsmen system. Instead they employed the ablebodied poor on the roads and other public works. These two extracts from the Overseers' Minute Book show how they tried to enforce their ideas. Can you think why they wanted to prevent the unemployed poor from working for farmers in the parish?
Overseers' Minute Book 27 Nov. 1816:
A Meeting to consider the propriety of Employing the Poor of the Parish to the best advantage it was proposed and agreed by the Undersigned Guardians, Overseers and Parishioners then Present that those Persons out of employ should be equally divided between the four tythings and so continued during the Winter to be employed on the Roads or such other Public Work as may be necessary, and to be paid at the rate of 1/- a day for each effective Person by the Surveyor of the Roads of such Tything so employing them, and the deficiency of earning to be made up by the Parish according to the Table, but it is agreed that no person shall employ such persons for his own private business or advantage, and should any parishioner think Proper to take off such Poor from the Rpad he agrees to Pay him the whole Amount of Weekly Pay as agreed by the Parish.
Overseers' Minute Book Oct. 20. 1818:
At a meeting held at the Poor House on Tuesday Oct. 20th 1818 it was agreed
2. No land occupier or inhabitant contributing to the Poor Rate is to employ out parishioners and they to immediately discharge such as are not hired servants
3. that the price of labour be reduced from and after the 24 inst. to 9/- a week
4. it is agreed that a list of all the labourers belonging to the Parish of Hungerford be prepared stating their names and for whom they work.
One Berkshire J.P., Thomas Goodlake, did not approve of putting the poor to work on the roads. He said that while they worked unsupervised they were 'tempted to dawdle away their time for a pittance of bread and water at the end of the week' and that they could use the opportunity to make 'plans of depredation and plunder'. 'Let us employ the poor ourselves' he told his fellow land owners 'and thereby preserve the good relations between master and servant.'
N.B. 'out parishioner' means a person not from Hungerford.
19. Letters from
(a) William Cobbett to the 'Reading Mercury' August 1819
(b) J. Westall Churchwarden of Hungerford to the Reading Post Master, November 1830
(c) John Pearse, M.P. for Devizes, to the Home Secretary Dec.1830
In spite of all the expenditure, the plight of the poor and especially of the agricultural labourer was not improving.
William Cobbett, the author of 'Rural Rides' and himself a farmer, explained in a letter to a local newspaper in 1819, what he had seen in the countryside of Southern England and how the rising price of food would make matters worse.
Several local landowners also saw danger in the situation in the 1820s. Thomas Goodlake of Letcombe Regis and Charles Dundas M.P. for Berkshire both suggested that if farmers employed more men and paid them better wages there would be less crime. Attempts by labourers to supplement the family's food with an occasional rabbit were punished by the very severe game laws. To make matters worse the introduction of a horse drawn threshing machine deprived labourers of work in the winter when there was great unemployment in the countryside.
The government did not realise the seriousness of the situation until rioting spread from the West Country through much of Southern England in 1830. In Berkshire it began at Thatcham on 15 November when the farm labourers demanded work and better wages. John Pearse's letter will tell you how much they wanted. When this was refused they began to destroy threshing machines. Can you see why?
John Westall who was one of the churchwardens of Hungerford, wrote of the events in the town at the height of the riots. Read his letter and make a list of all the damage done by the rioters. Does he agree with John Pearse about the demands made by the labourers? Which letter sounds the most sympathetic?
The soldiers Westall wanted soon arrived. The Reading Mercury on November 29th carried an account of how the Grenadier Guards from Windsor arrived at Kintbury in three stage coaches to join the Sheriff of Berkshire and his special constables. The village was surrounded on 24th Nov. and all the rioters, including some who had been at Hungerford, were arrested and taken to Reading Gaol.
Special Assize Courts were held to try them since the gaols were overcrowded. 130 men from Hungerford were tried at Reading on Dec. 27th 1830 or Abhngdon on Jan 5th 1831. All were found guilty of various crimes. These included breaking windows (fined 10/-), rioting (imprisonment for 14 days to 12 months), demanding money or victualls - bread, cheese and beer - with menaces (imprisonment), machine breaking (death but commuted to life imprisonment) and carrying a red and black flag (12 months' imprisonment). Three ringleaders, William Winterbourne, a wheelwright, Alfred Darling and William Oakley were found guilty of stealing small sums of money during the riots and sentenced to death. However, only William Winterbourne was hanged - in public at Reading - probably because the Judge, Justic Parker, was a severe man who regarded him as a ringleader. The others were sentenced to transportation for life as were rioters, from other parts of the country.
Look again at John Pearse's letter. Did the rioters get what they asked for? There were no further disturbances in Berkshire but perhaps another letter written to the Reading Mercury in December 1830 by a farmer will give a clue about the position of the poor after the riots. He gave a list of the weekly needs of a family with four children as:-
- Husband's food 3s. 9d
- Wife and children's food 4s. 0d.
- Rent 1s. 6d.
- Shoes & clothing 1s.0d.
- Children's clothes 4d
- Fuel 6d
- Washing, soap, candles 3d
- Beer 8d
- Total: 12s 0d.
Wages before the riots: 8 - 9 shilllings.
A man in prison was allowed Fuel 3s. 9d. worth of food per week.
How does this compare with the wages the rioters achieved?
The documents in Section 4 are mostly facsimiles and are available as pdfs here.
20. Map of the Berkshire Poor Law Unions 1835:
In 1834 a Law to change the methods of providing for the poor was passed by Parliament. It was called 'The Poor Law Amendment Act'. The word 'amend' means to improve. Perhaps you might like to discuss whether you agree with its name when you have finished this section.
The Law set up a Poor Law Commission in London whose Secretary was Edwin Chadwick. They divided the country into 21 Districts with an Assistant Commissioner in each to make sure the law was obeyed. The 15,000 parishes of England and Wales were combined to form 640 Poor Law Unions, administered by a Board of Guardians consisting of J.P.'s and members elected by the ratepayers.
Though the Board members were not paid, they employed various officials who were. One of these was the Master of the Workhouse which every union had to have. To this workhouse all poor people had to go after 1835 when outdoor relief was forbidden,
By 1835 all the Berkshire Unions had been set up. Using the map of the Berkshire Poor Law Unions:-
1. make a list of all the Unions in the County
2. make a list of all the parishes in the Hungerford and Ramsbury Union.
Were the boundaries of the Unions the same as those of the county?
21. The First Page of the Minute Book of the Hungerford Union (G/H 1/1):
The Board of Guardians of the Hungerford Union kept an account of all their decisions in a minute book of which this document is the first page.
Use it to find out:-
1. When they first met?
2. Who they were?
3. What officials (officers) they employed?
4. How large was the population for whose poor they were responsible?
22. Plan of a Workhouse drawn up for the Poor Law Commissioners:
Hungerford already haa a poor or workhouse in Charnham Street which it had to alter but any Union which did not had to build one or adapt an existing builling. This plan was for a workhouse for about 200 paupers, a little smaller than Hungerford's. Many such buildings still survive, becoming hospitals in the 1920's and even museums nowadays.
From the plan try to work out
(a) the advantages of the layout for the Poor Law authorities
(b) the disadvantages for poor families living there.
23. Poor Law Commissioners' Rules for the Workhouse:
The rules were drawn up more for the convenience of the Master of the Workhouse than for the comfort of the paupers. Find one rule you feel was particularly sensible and one which seems cruel or unfeeling. Say why you chose them.
24. Minute Book - Display of the Workhouse (G/Hl/1):
Most workhouses had a fixed pattern of meals which was very similar to this one at Hungerford. What comments would you make about:-
1. how nourishing it was
2. how expensive it was
3. what it was like to eat.
25. District Medical Officer's Relief Book 1875:
The Guardians were responsible for the health of the paupers. In June 1835 they ordered the Parish officers in Rambsury 'to prevent the increase of the smallpox (which appears by the Medical report for that parish to have broken out there) by vaccinating the paupers of the parish at the expense of the Parish'. Document 24 shows that he treated the sick poor of the parish who were not in the workhouse. In April 1875 he visited nine old people with 'flu, brochitis or 'debility' ('run down'). He usually prescribed brandy or porter ('stout'), if anything at all. One little girl, Alice Parker, aged 3, had bronchitis but no medicine was given to her.
The 1851 Census:
Every ten years from 1801 a census was taken in England and Wales. The books in which the Census Enumerator (the official who collected the information from each household) wrote the details still survive. The Reading Reference library has a microfilm of the 1851 Berkshire Census.
In the Returns for 1851 for Hungerford there is a list of every person in the Workhouse. The Master and Matron were Francis and Mary Hoare, aged 32 and 30, the schoolmaster Thomas Walters aged 37 and the schoolmistress Miss Jane Eliza Davies aged 27. The nurse was a widow Mrs. Julia Dixon aged 36.
In all there were 239 paupers, agricultural labourers and their families, with the exception of 3 blacksmiths, 2 old nurses and 5 servants, mostly old.
Over 100 children and young people under 18, either orphans or with one or two parents. 48 were old people over 60, some of whom were married, like Thomas and Sarah Chapman. Marthur Brown John, a nurse, and Sarah Connor, a servant, were over 80. Here are some of the people named in the census. Their ages are in brackets.
- Elizabeth Gilbert (widow) Ag. lab. George (11), William (3)
- Ann Townsend (widow) Ag. lab. Martha (12), Mary (10, Matilda (5), Levi (1)
- William & Mary Sopp (husband and wife) Ag. lab. Sarah (14), Lucy (10), Ann (9)
- Thomas & Sarah Chapman (husband and wife), Ag lab. They were both 68 - no children.
- Moses and Elizabeth Smith (husband and wife), Ag. lab. James (14), Mary (10, Sarah (9), Charlotte (5), eliza (3), Ann (1)
- William and Ann Butler (husband and awife) Ag. lab. Thomas (10, Sarah (9), Hannah (7), Noah (2).
Imagine what life was like for these families in Hungerford workhouse. Go back to Document 23 and work out how they would have been split up. What circumstances might have forced them into the workhouse?
26. Punishment Book - Wantage Union. 1909-17 (D/GW9):
Paupers who refused to work or who disobeyed the rules were punished. The system was still in operation at the beginning of this century. Look at the entries in this document and pick out some offences where you think the punishment was reasonable and some where it was too severe. Why did you choose them?
27. Register of servants and apprentices (G/H8):
The Board of Guardians apprenticed children to local employers as soon as possible. From this register of Hungerford 'apprentices' what can you learn about the sort of people who employed them, the wages and conditions of their work and whether they were happy. Would you call any of them 'apprentices' in the real sense of the word? See Tho. Cox apprentice indentury.
28. Boarding out agreement between Bradfield and Hungerford Unions 192:
Increasingly towards the end of the 19th century, children were boarded out with foster parents instead of living in the workhouse. This document shows the sort of arrangements made for such children.
- "Something about Vagrants in Berkshire", Parish Magazine Nov 1879
- "A Gilbert Act Parish: the relief and treatment of the poor in the town and parish of Hungerford, 1783-1834" by D.S. Stafford, University of Reading 1983
In the HHA Archives:
- Guide to the Records of the New Poor Law and its Successors in Berkshire.
- 1835-1948. - Berkshire Record Office. [S5]
- New Poor Law and its Successors - Berkshire - B.R.O. [S7]
- Poor Rate, Hungerford 1704 [B17]
- Overseers of the Poor Accounts, 1725 [B17]