Following on from our articles about the work of a servant, should you not have secured paid employment or found yourself in dire straits then in all likelihood you could have found yourself in the workhouse. The article gives a taste of what it would have been like to find yourself in the workhouse either as an inmate or running it and is taken from ‘An Account of Several Workhouses for Employing and Maintaining the Poor and the Rules by which they are Governed’.
This house is a commodious new brick building, on a piece of ground in Bunhill Field, leased of the City for 6l a year, at the rate is 20 shillings per annum ground rent: The charge of the building, was raised by subscription; and the house was opened at the close of the year 1724 with about 30 men, women and children who are employed in picking of oakum.
The government of it is in the hands of two churchwardens, four overseers of the poor, twelves Trustees and these gentlemen have appointed a Master and Mistress to live in the house and take care of managing the stock of provisions and materials laid in for feeding and employing the poor in the most frugal manner according to the following rules:
That the Master keep a just account of all provisions received into the house, and what is each day expended, and how many persons provided for.
That he keep an account of all work received, what is delivered to each person each day and what is received back in order to know their earnings and to give an account to the trustees for the time being, or to whom they hall appoint to inspect the accounts, that they know the disbursements of the house, and also the earnings.
That the Master and Mistress take care that the poor be kept at work from Lady-Day to Michaelmas, from 6 in the morning to 7 in the evening; and from Michaelmas to Lady-Day from 7 to 5; and that they rise by 5 and go to bed by 9, the Summer half year, and the Winter half year by 6 and go to bed by 8.
That they take care that the provisions be cleanly and well done, and that all persons have their allowance at these hours, viz, breakfast at 9 and half an hour’s time to eat the same; Dinner at 1 and an hour’s time allowed them; their supper in the summer half year at 7 and in the Winter at 6; and the persons that have not done their day’s work by supper, that they work after to finish the same.
That the Master sees all the men and boys candles are out each night and the Mistress the same for women and girls.
That the Mistress takes care of washing an keeping clean the boys and girls, and that their heads be combed every day and that they teach them or cause them to be taught to read and that every child has an hour’s time allowed to learn to spin or knit or do some other business to keep them from idleness.
That I any poor person refuses to work, being able, or misbehave themselves by fighting or making a disturbance that he or she be kept at half allowance, or upon bread and water; and at the expiration of two or three days that he or she be complained of to some magistrate in order to be sent to the house of correction.
That neither the Master nor Mistress buy, sell or suffer any distilled liquors to come into the house nor any of the poor to smoke tobacco n their lodgings or the work house. And when any of them are sick or lame, that the Master and Mistress give notice to the present officer that they may have care taken of them.
That on Wednesdays and Fridays after breakfast, the master cause the proper psalms for the day, a chapter in the Old and New Testament to be read: And that every Sunday at 9 in the forenoon, the same be read; and such as are able to go to church or other place of worship, that they go, so they return in time: And in case any of them go to any house or are found loitering their time away in the fields, or begging, that the officer have the offender sent to Bridewell.
That the Master and Mistress be under all such restrictions as shall be thought necessary to be made by the Trustees, or the major part of them for the time being, relating to the poor and workhouse. And the Master and Mistress be subject, if required by the said officers, to make an affidavit before a Justice of the Peace, that there hath been no waste or embezzlement made by them, nor by any person or persons with their knowledge or consent, of any of the stores or provisions committed to their charge. And in case the Master or Mistress shall not be thought capable of the trust, that then it shall be in the power of the said officers and Trustees, or the major part of them, upon notice given to each officer and Trustee to meet at a time appointed, signifying to each person the occasion of meeting to remove the said Master and Mistress, either by giving a month’s warning to go out, or otherwise to discharge them immediately and give them a month’s salary.
Typical Meals for the week
Breakfast Dinner Supper
Sunday Bread & beer Beef & broth Bread & butter or cheese
Monday Beef broth Pease pudding Ditto
Tuesday Bread & butter Rice milk Ditto
Wednesday Ditto Plumb dumplings Ditto
Thursday Ditto Beef & broth Ditto
Friday Beef broth Barley broth Ditto
Saturday Bread & butter Milk porridge Ditto
In summer peas, beans, greens and roots are allowed as the season affords them
Here are a couple of examples as to why someone would have found themselves placed in a workhouse, neither make pleasant reading, sadly.
On Tuesday night a woman was apprehended in Lawrence-lane, Tottenham-court road, for the murder of her bastard child: she was delivered early in the morning in her own apartment, and, it is said, dashed out the infant’s brains against the chimney-piece. She is secured in St Giles’s workhouse, till she can be safely committed to prison.
London Chronicle, 2-4 May 1758
Last Week, as the Watch was going off, they found a Woman asleep in Moorfields, known by the name of Black Hannah; she was stark naked, except a pair of mens shoes and stockings, and a rag like the neck of a shift, which reach’d no further than her armpits; in this pretty pickle she was carry’d by four Watchmen to Woodstreet Compter, where putting her in posteriours foremost, they were like to have frighted the Turnkey into fits. She remain’d there till about one a-Clock in the afternoon of the same day, when assisted by the Constable and his Guard, she made her publick progress thro’ part of the city to a Magistrate in the same Accoutrements, that she came into the Compter, and by his order was conducted to the Workhouse. N.B. She had left her cloaths behind her at the command of my Lady Gin, so that she verify’d the common proverb, that Gin is Strip and go Naked.
Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer, 4 December 1725
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Chauncey Brewster Tinker