The New Poor Law of 1834

Source B shows the plan of Linton Union workhouse in 1837. The main problem with the workhouse that concerned the poor would be the segregation of families. Parents separated from their children, who may have been very young. Even in death they would be separated because there are two dead rooms, one in the women’s yard and one in the men’s yard.

The women’s jobs were washing clothes and carrying out laundry. This is shown by the source because the washing room and the laundry room are on the women’s side. The men’s jobs often were to crush bones or stones or to mill corn in the flour and mill room.

If they were deemed refractory by either committing a refractory offence or two disorderly offences within six days then they would be placed in the refractory ward. Not only would they remain in solitary confinement but the refractory room was purposely placed next to the dead rooms to be a deterrent to all the inmates thinking of committing a refractory offence.

The master’s room is at the centre of the workhouse, this was so that he could oversee the men’s and women’s yards, this would also offer another deterrent to all the inmates because they would know that he would always be watching them.

Source C shows the ‘poor law workhouse diets in Cambridgeshire’ as used in Linton. Men would receive a greater amount of food per day because they were still deemed to be harder working so therefore needed more food.

The diet would be set depending upon the day of the week. For example on Wednesday a man would receive 6oz bread, 1.5 pts gruel, 1.5 pts soup, 6oz bread and 2oz cheese. This was another way of institutionalising the inmates, because they would know what day of the week it was depending on what foods they received.

The foods were all mainly carbohydrates and starchy foods and although boring were filling and gave the inmates a lot of energy. This was also designed to keep costs to a minimum because at the time the agricultural industry was booming. As a result foods such as grains and vegetables were relatively inexpensive.

The diet was in fact a lot better than the lowest paid labourer, because they were guaranteed a meal every day and would receive meat three times a week, which they would not be able to afford outside of the workhouse. Although the food was bland and boring they would not starve or go hungry.

The commission wanted to help the deserving poor by giving extra rations. For example the over 60’s would be given ‘1oz tea, 5ozs butter, 7oz sugar per week in lieu of breakfast gruel’ and ‘children under 9 years old’ would get a ‘flexible diet’.

The commissioners were strict Christians so as a result they enforced that ‘All drink water- no alcohol’.

In Linton on Christmas Day they would be given extra rations of ‘fare of beef, plum pudding and beer’ this was going against the rule but was disregarded due to it being a merry occasion.

Source D displays the Linton workhouse timetable and rules of conduct.

The inmates would work for 10hrs a day, this was a relatively short day compared to jobs in the factories or in mines where it was not uncommon for people to work 14hr days. The work would not be dangerous and they would not have to travel miles each day to get to work. The kind of work that would be carried out is crushing bones and stones, washing, milling and pulling hemp from old ship rope. In a day they would get two periods of free time between 5:45-6:30 when washing and dressing and 7:00-8:00 between supper and bed. The timetable and kind of work was implemented to institutionalise the inmates.

In the Linton workhouse there were four rules that if committed would be deemed disorderly;

‘1. Make a noise when silence is ordered.’

‘2. Shall use obscene or profane language.’

‘3. Shall refuse or neglect work.’

‘4. Shall play at cards or other games of chance.’

‘The punishment for a disorderly pauper shall be a reduced diet for 48hrs, the meal consisting of 8oz bread or 1lb of cooked potatoes’.

Then there were four offences that if committed would result in a pauper being deemed refractory;

‘1. Any pauper who in 7 days shall repeat any of the above offences.’ ‘2. Or shall insult the Master or Matron or the other officers of the workhouse.’

‘3. Or shall be drunk.’

‘4. Or shall wilfully distract other inmates during prayers or divine worship.’

‘A refractory pauper shall be punished by confinement to a separate room for 24 hours with or without alteration of diet.’

The main disincentive for committing any of the above offences was the restriction of diet. The diet was the only thing in the workhouse that the inmates would care about. The punishment of the offences are far better than what they would receive in a factory, they could have well been beaten in a factory for violating any of the above rules.

The commissioners did indeed achieve their aim of making the workhouse an ‘uninviting place’. The least appealing of the three sources would have to be Source B. This is because of the segregation of families. Older couples who had been together their whole lives would be split up and put into same sex yards. The next least appealing would be the working hours; the timetable would not allow them to talk during meal times and would not give them much free time.

The punishments for disorderly and refractory actions were also a major deterrent, because the inmates’ one bit of enjoyment would come from their meals, which would be reduced if they committed an offence. The source which is the best of the three would be Source C. The diet in the workhouse was far better in some circumstances. Especially in such places as the slums of Manchester, they would often starve. As a result the workhouse could not make the diet worse than the lowest paid labourer. Overall the workhouse test was implemented effectively and in nearly all cases only the most destitute would enter.

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