A report on Workhouse and English Poor Laws

Former workhouse in Nantwich, dating from 1780
Although many deterrent workhouses developed in the period after the New Poor Law, some had already been built under the existing system. This workhouse in Nantwich, Cheshire, dates from 1780.
The 'Red House' at Framlingham Castle in Suffolk was founded as a workhouse in 1664.
The Poor Laws in the aftermath of the Black Death (pictured), when labour was in short supply, were concerned with making the able-bodied work. (also see: Sturdy beggar)
"The workroom at St James's workhouse", from The Microcosm of London (1808)
The Old Poor Law or Elizabethan Poor Law is sometimes referred to as the "43rd Elizabeth" as it was passed in the 43rd year that Elizabeth I (pictured) reigned as Queen.
Former Cleveland Street workhouse, London W1, photographed in 1930. It later became part of the Middlesex Hospital.
Advertisement for builders to build a new Workhouse in north Wales, 1829
Contrasted Residences for the Poor (1836), by Augustus Pugin. He was critical of Kempthorne's octagonal design shown above.
Nassau William Senior argued for greater centralization of the Poor Law system.
The Carlisle Union Workhouse, opened in 1864, later part of the University of Cumbria
Infighting between Edwin Chadwick and other Poor Law Commissioners was one reason for an overhaul of Poor Law administration.
St Mary Abbots workhouse, Kensington, London
David Lloyd George, architect of the Liberal welfare reforms which were implemented outside of the Poor Law system and paved the way for the eventual abolition of the Poor Law.
Dinnertime at St Pancras Workhouse, London, 1911
Punch criticized the New Poor Law's workhouses for splitting mothers and their infant children.
A group of children at Crumpsall Workhouse, 1895–97
Ripon Union Workhouse, completed in 1855, replaced an earlier Georgian era workhouse. It now houses a museum.
Thomas Allom's design for St Mary Abbots workhouse in Kensington, London, is noticeably different from those produced by Sampson Kempthorne a decade earlier.
Watling Street Road Workhouse, Preston, built in 1865–1868
Eventide: A Scene in the Westminster Union (workhouse), 1878, by Sir Hubert von Herkomer

The New Poor Law altered the system from one which was administered haphazardly at a local parish level to a highly centralised system which encouraged the large-scale development of workhouses by poor law unions.

- English Poor Laws

So keen were some Poor Law authorities to cut costs wherever possible that cases were reported of husbands being forced to sell their wives, to avoid them becoming a financial burden on the parish.

- Workhouse
Former workhouse in Nantwich, dating from 1780

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Act for the Relief of the Poor 1601

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Act of the Parliament of England.

Act of the Parliament of England.

The Act for the Relief of the Poor 1601, popularly known as the Elizabethan Poor Law, "43rd Elizabeth" or the Old Poor Law was passed in 1601 and created a poor law system for England and Wales.

Relief under the Old Poor Law could take on one of two forms – indoor relief, relief inside a workhouse, or outdoor relief, relief in a form outside a workhouse.

Out-door relief: Poor people coming to a workhouse for food, c. 1840

Poor Law Amendment Act 1834

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Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed by the Whig government of Earl Grey.

Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed by the Whig government of Earl Grey.

Out-door relief: Poor people coming to a workhouse for food, c. 1840
A "Poor Law Bastille": 1835 model design of a workhouse to hold 300 paupers...
... 'classified' (men, women, girls, boys) and segregated accordingly
One of the "Somerset House Despots": Sir Thomas Frankland Lewis, Chairman of Poor Law Commission 1834–39

It completely replaced earlier legislation based on the Poor Law of 1601 and attempted to fundamentally change the poverty relief system in England and Wales (similar changes were made to the poor law for Scotland in 1845).

The Act was intended to curb the cost of poor relief and address abuses of the old system, prevalent in southern agricultural counties, by enabling a new system to be brought in under which relief would only be given in workhouses, and conditions in workhouses would be such as to deter any but the truly destitute from applying for relief.

Poor law union

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Geographical territory, and early local government unit, in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Geographical territory, and early local government unit, in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Prior to the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 the administration of the English Poor Laws was the responsibility of the vestries of individual parishes, which varied widely in their size, populations, financial resources, rateable values and requirements.

The grouping of the parishes into unions caused larger centralised workhouses to be built to replace smaller facilities in each parish.

Horse-powered threshing machine

Swing Riots

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The Swing Riots were a widespread uprising in 1830 by agricultural workers in southern and eastern England, in protest at agricultural mechanisation and harsh working conditions.

The Swing Riots were a widespread uprising in 1830 by agricultural workers in southern and eastern England, in protest at agricultural mechanisation and harsh working conditions.

Horse-powered threshing machine
A letter threatening to burn Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, sent in 1830 and signed "Swing".
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
Lord Melbourne

As well as attacking the popularly hated threshing machines, which displaced workers, the protesters rioted over low wages and required tithes, destroying workhouses and tithe barns associated with their oppression.

The rioters directed their anger at the three targets identified as causing their misery: the tithe system, requiring payments to support the established Anglican Church; the Poor Law guardians, who were thought to abuse their power over the poor; and the rich tenant farmers who had been progressively lowering workers' wages while introducing agricultural machinery.

John Everett Millais' The Blind Girl, depicting vagrant musicians

Vagrancy

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Condition of homelessness without regular employment or income.

Condition of homelessness without regular employment or income.

John Everett Millais' The Blind Girl, depicting vagrant musicians
A woodcut from c.1536 depicting a vagrant being punished in the streets in Tudor England
The Pass Room at Bridewell, c. 1808. At this time paupers from outside London apprehended by the authorities could be imprisoned for seven days before being sent back to their own parish.
Caricature of a tramp
Political cartoon by Art Young, The Masses, 1917.

Historically, vagrancy in Western societies was associated with petty crime, begging and lawlessness, and punishable by law with forced labor, military service, imprisonment, or confinement to dedicated labor houses.

Due to the Poor Laws, vagrants to receive and poverty relief had to seek it from the parish where they were last legally settled, often the parish where they were born.

Women in Plymouth, England, parting from their lovers who are about to be transported to Botany Bay, 1792

Penal transportation

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The relocation of convicted criminals, or other persons regarded as undesirable, to a distant place, often a colony, for a specified term; later, specifically established penal colonies became their destination.

The relocation of convicted criminals, or other persons regarded as undesirable, to a distant place, often a colony, for a specified term; later, specifically established penal colonies became their destination.

Women in Plymouth, England, parting from their lovers who are about to be transported to Botany Bay, 1792
Neptune, a 19th-century convict ship that brought prisoners to Australia
Joseph Lycett, an artist transported for forging bank notes, The residence of Edward Riley Esquire, Wooloomooloo, Near Sydney N. S. W., 1825, hand-coloured aquatint and etching printed in dark blue ink. Australian print in the tradition of British decorative production.
1848 Woodcut of HMD Bermuda on Ireland Island, Bermuda, showing prison hulks
This notice on a bridge in Dorset warns that damage to the bridge can be punished by transportation.

For example, from the earliest days of English colonial schemes, new settlements beyond the seas were seen as a way to alleviate domestic social problems of criminals and the poor as well as to increase the colonial labour force, for the overall benefit of the realm.

This allowed judges to sentence "clergyable" offenders to a workhouse or a house of correction.

Workhouse Test Act 1723

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The Workhouse Test Act 1723 (9 George 1, c.7) also known as the General Act or Knatchbull's Act was poor relief legislation passed by the British government by Sir Edward Knatchbull in 1723.

Between 1723 and 1750, 600 parish workhouses were built in England and Wales as a direct result of Knatchull's Act.

Homeless people sleep near the "LUKOIL" in Moscow

Pauperism

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Pauperism (Lat.

Pauperism (Lat.

Homeless people sleep near the "LUKOIL" in Moscow

pauper, poor) is poverty or generally the state of being poor, or particularly the condition of being a "pauper", i.e. receiving relief administered under the English Poor Laws.

The Local Government Act 1929 officially abolished workhouses, and between 1929 and 1930 the Poor Law Guardians, the "workhouse test," and the term "pauper" disappeared.