Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Life in The Workhouse

I've been doing some research into the family history, which has lead me to the records of the Eastry Union Workhouse in Kent. Going through them the other day I came across this account in the minutes, which I felt like sharing with people. It's a self-contained story which reveals as much through what is not said as by what is recorded. It makes you wonder whether the generations of child abuse we see today might have their roots in the workhouse.

Extracted from the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Board of Guardians of the Eastry Union Workhouse

At a meeting of the Board of Guardians in the spring of 1840, an item arose concerning the death of a child inmate, James Mark Redman.
One of the adult inmates, Williamson, had been heard by the Schoolmaster to accuse him of having caused the boy’s death by flogging and starving him. The Schoolmaster had brought this allegation to the attention of the Master of the workhouse, which set in train a series of investigations, culminating in this hearing by the Board.
The Master had caused the Medical Officer to carry out an autopsy, in the course of which he found the boy to be “riddled with disease”, which he concluded was the cause of death. Relatives of the boy from his home parish of Deal had come to collect the body, at which time the Master advised them of the accusation and the findings of the autopsy. Whilst initially satisfied, on seeing the boy’s body the relative felt he was “severely diminished” and this gave credence to the allegation of starvation. They therefore felt an inquest should be held.
The Master had consulted the civil authorities in Deal, who felt that sufficient inquiry had been made and that no civil inquest was necessary. Nevertheless, the Master felt the Guardians should consider the matter in order to satisfy the concerns of the relatives.

17th March 1840:

James Cock stated his age as 82. Said the Boy Redman came to see him on Monday afternoon, he gave the Boy some bread and butter and asked the Boy to sit down but he said he could not. Whilst the Boy was eating his bread and butter he asked him what he was beat for. He replied for soiling his bed and that he was beaten with a rod. On an enquiry being made as to the father of the child, Cock replied “They say me”. Mr Leggatt [the Medical Officer] stated that it was impossible that the child could have been severely punished last week, as no marks could be found.

Edward Hawkes stated that he knew Redman and that he was dead. He saw him beaten with the birch a fortnight ago today – he was not much flogged, not more than the other Boys. He has known his food to be taken away, he saw Williamson [the accuser] speak to Kingsford. The Schoolmaster gave Redman two or three cuts.

Thomas Knowler, aged 13, said he knew Redman. The Schoolmaster had whipped him for soiling his bed. The birch is about the size of the one shown to him. He had known the Schoolmaster to give Redman dry bread for his breakfast a few days before his death. He did not sit at the same table as with Redman. He told Williamson what Redman had for breakfast. The Boys had told him the Schoolmaster had sold suppers for ½ d; he did not know how many suppers were bought.

He saw Shilling eat the supper he had bought. He ate it before 10 and 11 p.m. at night. He did not tell this to Williamson. He told him the Boy had dry bread.

The Schoolmaster used to hang Boys up by a rope round the waist and birch their bottoms. This was done to a Boy named Hart a long time since – not to any Boy now in the Workhouse. To the question “How often have you had dry bread?” he replied he had had dry bread sometimes – once abut a month ago, for standing by the fire. When the Boy was hung up he has hung up to a hook. Kingsford was present and Buddle. It occurred in the morning directly after prayers in the dayroom. He does not know the use of the hook.

James Shilling, aged 12 years, was questioned. “Have you had your supper taken away by the Schoolmaster?” He replied, “No, nor no other Boy – the butter had been taken away – he has bought it off the Schoolmaster. This occurred a long time since, and but once. He has been asked about it lately by the Boys. His mother gave him the ½ d. He ate it in school. He bought bread and butter, one of the rations of the house – he does not know whose it was. The Boys used to ask the Schoolmaster for a ½ d worth of bread and butter. John Holness and Thomas Sandon besides himself bought bread and butter. He has said nothing to Knowler about this, not to any one but the Boys.”

To the question: “How came you to ask the Schoolmaster to sell you bread and butter?” He replied – because other Boys did namely Holness and Sandon, none has been sold for a year, he has never asked for a supper since, none of the Boys asked for a supper now, he done not want any more.”

To the question: “How many suppers have you seen stopped at once?” he replied tow or three.

The Master stated that 8 or 9 Boys who are accustomed to wet their beds are allowed bread and butter for their supper.

James Shilling stated he had never eaten a ration bought in his bedroom. He knows that Holness bought the ration several times.

The Master informed the Board that Thomas Kingsford was a very sullen Boy. He had lately found it necessary to put him on dry rations.

Thomas Kingsford was questioned. He said he knew Redman. He had told Williamson that the Schoolmaster had flogged Redman. He told him that last Sunday when Redman was flogged he fell down and cried very much. He was flogged with the rod now shown to him. He, Kingsford, had never been flogged with the birch, he had always had his food, his suppers are never stopped. Other Boys have had their supper stopped for wetting their beds and have had nothing from dinner time till their breakfast in the morning. All the Boys who wet their beds, their suppers were sent into the school to James Shilling and Sandon. This occurred a long time since – 6 or 8 months. He has known the suppers to be sold in the presence of all the Boys. He was not present, but the other Boys who bought their suppers told him so. He knows of no other Boys who bought the suppers, he does not know what suppers are bought now, he never asked to buy a supper. He has been flogged with a cane. The Boys are always flogged the same way. The Schoolmaster puts the Boys head between his legs and beats his breech. He once tied a Boy up to the hook in the Day Room, the Boy’s name was Hart. No other Boys had been so treated. The hook was never used at any other time, he has talked about it to the Boys today – all the Boys talked about it because Williamson began to put our names down. The Boys came to see the Master one night, and then Williamson talked to us. He went into our yard on Sunday and Jorden told him to go out – we never talk through the key-hole. The hook is on the right side of the Day Room. Redman had his breakfast and supper like the other Boys. He had bread and butter at night.

The Master stated that Henry Hart was discharged 20th May 1839.

The Schoolmaster with the Boys Knowler, Kingsford and Shilling were called in again. James Shilling stated that he has had another Boy’s supper which was bought of the Schoolmaster for ½ d. It was a long time since and occurred but once. He bought it in the schoolroom. Holness and Sandon were present. He ate it in the school in the presence of the Schoolmaster, Holness and Sandon. He did not name it till lately. He named it to Henry Hall last Sunday.

Thomas Knowler said he had never bought a supper. He has seen Holness and Sandon have them. They slept in the same room as Knowler. He has seen them eat their suppers, and Sandon told him he bought it of the Schoolmaster. The suppers were all sold at about the same time. The Boys used to stop up.

The Schoolmaster acknowledged having hung up the Boy Hart for punishment – his feet clear of the ground. The rope was put under his arms, and that whenever he stopped a Boy’s supper he gave it to the Boy for breakfast the next morning if he did not wet his bed.

James Shilling said the Schoolmaster sometimes gave him a ration of bread. The Master stated that sometime since, the Boy Shilling was employed to attend upon his room when the Boy fared the same as himself, but having proved that the Boy ate his meat, he sent him back to the school.

The Schoolmaster said that the Boy had on one occasion stolen 8 medicinal pills from the Surgery, which he had put into a bit of bread and given to another Boy named Ashby to eat.

The Chairman expressed his opinion that no evidence had been produced to establish the charge made by Williamson.

Mr Leith, a Guardian, informed the Chairman that Robert Hogben who is employed to nurse the sick Boys was in attendance. Robert Hogben said the Boy Redman was brought to him on Wednesday evening, he attended upon him and given him Medicine according to the direction of the Medical Officer. The Boy never told him he was starved or that he had been flogged. He sat the whole afternoon on the form without difficulty – he complained of a pain in his head. The Schoolmaster sent Redman Toast from his own loaf and Tea and Coffee.

The Chairman stated it to be his opinion that with all the evidence which had been produced, there was nothing to prove that Williamson’s charge had been established.
Mr Hammond, a Guardian, expressed his opinion that it would be desirable that children who are not in a good state of health should no be allowed to be among the other children and that children in an ill state of health should not be punished at all, and suggested that the Schoolmaster should be admonished as to severe punishment and particularly as to the use of the rope.

Mr Pemble, a Guardian, recommended that for the habit complained of [bed wetting] no Boy should be punished physically or deprived of his food.

The Chairman suggested that whenever the Schoolmaster proposed to stop a meal he should first take the opinion of the Medical Officer.

On being advised of this finding, the Schoolmaster requested that the Board would adopt some mode of punishment and hoped some rules may be given for his guidance. The Chairman stated that though the Board are perfectly satisfied that the punishment of the Boys may be arranged by the Master and the Schoolmaster, he considers that no child should be deprived of his food without reference to the Medical Officer or Master.


24th March 1840:

The Chairman read the report of the Visiting Committee in which a remark is again made on the state of the walls on the S and SW side of the New Workhouse and Girls School. Also that there are two cases of lunacy which the Medical Officer has been directed to examine.

It is also suggested that in order to enforce more strictly the separation of the various classes, a wall be built across the able-bodied Men’s Yard, enclosing a passage to the Boy’s Yard, with entrance to the Porter’s Lodge. It is also stated that the Master has reported that the separation of the Wards between the Boys and the able-bodied on the Balcony is found to be ineffectual. The Visiting Committee also suggest that the Chaplain’s attention may be directed to the Female Pest House. The Chairman engaged to speak to the Chaplain about this.

The Chairman read the Master’s Report in which it is stated that the doors on the Balcony leading from the able-bodied Men’s to the Boy’s Yard require some additional spikes to prevent the Boys from getting over and communicating with the Men. The Master also informs the Board that last Wednesday night two Boys were found in one of the Wards in the able-bodied Yard, having passed over the wall. He had punished the Boys by locking them up for the night and the circumstances had been reported to the Visiting Committee.

31st March 1840:

Total number of inmates – 440.

The Chairman read a letter from the Schoolmaster referring to a paragraph which appears in the Kent Herald newspaper of Thursday last charging him with ill-treatment of James Mark Redman deceased, and stating the opinion which had been adopted respecting his conduct towards the child, in the Parish of Ickham, by the manner in which he had been addressed on Saturday last, requesting that the Board will grant him such protection in support of his character as will enable him to continue as an officer of this Establishment in discharge of his DUTY and explain to the satisfaction of the Public that after an investigation of the case which originated with himself, no blame can be laid to his charge concerning the Death of ill-treatment of the deceased child.

Mr Garside, a Guardian, suggested that the statement in the Newspaper be contradicted by the Board.

It was determined that the Schoolmaster be called in when the Chairman informed him that the Board had no reason to be unsatisfied with his conduct.
The Schoolmaster expressed his thankfulness for the communication of the good opinion of the Board, but as the charge made against him was in a public paper and his feelings had been much injured, he requested that the Board would contradict the statement in support of his character. The subject was deferred for consideration until the next weekly meeting.

7th April 1840:

The Chairman read the Paragraph published in the Kent Herald on 26th March 1840, relating to the treatment of James Redman, deceased. It was determined by the Board that no reply be made to the statement referred to. The Schoolmaster was informed of the determination of the Board.

28th April 1840:

Thomas Kingsford absconded with three other Boys on 22nd April whilst out for a walk with the Schoolmaster. They returned later. Kingsford didn’t initially return, but came back on the day of the meeting with his uncle, Thomas Pilcher. He attended before the Board and stated:

That Kingsford was his nephew for whom he could obtain employment for 5 or 6 months. Resolved that Thomas Kingsford be discharged under the care of his uncle.

Subsequently, more boys absconded from the Schoolmaster’s care whilst out for a walk.

19 May 1840:

The Chairman read a letter from Mr W Wyver, communicating his desire to resign the office of Schoolmaster, finding it impossible since the investigation which occurred in the case of James Mark Redman deceased to maintain order and discipline in the management of the Boys. A free passage to Australia having been offered to him within the last few days, he has considered it desirable to avail himself of this opportunity. As the ship will sail on 7th June, he would be obliged if the Board could arrange to release him from the duty in the course of the next few days.
The Board having consulted the Master as to the possibility of selecting a person to take charge of the School temporarily, in order that the Schoolmaster might be released and the Master being of the opinion that arrangements may be made with the occasional attention of the Porter until another Schoolmaster is appointed, it was determined that the Schoolmaster be allowed to resign his Duty on Friday next.
The Schoolmaster was called in and informed of the determination of the Board, requesting to be informed whether the Board would purchase a few articles of furniture he had found desirable to procure for his use and which he would have no further use for. It was determined that the Furniture be purchased at a Valuation to be determined by the Clerk and Master and that the Quarter’s salary which would become due to Mr Wyver on 24th June be paid without any deduction.

Directions were given to advertise the appointment in the usual Canterbury papers at a salary of £35 per annum, including the usual provisions, washing etc.

Post postcript

26th May 1840

The Master states that Mr Wyver, the late Schoolmaster, to the request of the Board, has left for consideration some rules for the future management of the Boy's School, which were laid before the Board.

The articles of furniture left by the Schoolmaster have been valued at £6 5s.

If you are interesting in finding out more about workhouses, try this link.


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