Poor Law Commissioners' Report of 1834

Prepared by: Senior, Nassau
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London: H.M. Stationery Office
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Additional preparers include Edwin Chadwick. Includes testimony by Richard Whately.
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[Part II, Section 3]


The next subject for consideration is the agency by which partial relief to the able-bodied may be abolished, and a continued administration of relief, on the principle suggested by us, maintained.


The simplicity of that principle, and the effects which it has produced, and apparently with ease, in the dispauperized parishes, naturally suggest to those who have observed only these striking instances, that the change may be effected by a single enactment. That there would be much able and correct administration of any law which the legislature might pass we entertain no doubt, since we find much ability, and often eminent ability, displayed in the administration of the existing system; neither do we doubt that the number of cases of voluntary improvement would greatly increase; for we have been informed of some instances where improvements have actually been commenced in consequence of the light thrown upon the subject by the published extracts from the Reports of our Assistant Commissioners; but the evidence collected under this Commission proves, that whilst the good example of one parish is rarely followed in the surrounding parishes, bad examples are contagious, and possess the elements of indefinite extension. The instances presented to us throughout the present inquiry of the defeat of former legislation by unforeseen obstacles, and often by an administration directly at variance with the plainly expressed will of the legislature, have forced us to distrust the operation of the clearest enactments, and even to apprehend unforeseen mischiefs from them, unless an especial agency be appointed and empowered to superintend and control their execution.

Grounds for Its Establishment


While we find, on the one hand, that there is scarcely one statute connected with the administration of public relief which has produced the effect designed by the legislature, and that the majority of them have created new evils, and aggravated those which they were intended to prevent, we find, on the other hand, that the obstacles to the due execution by the existing functionaries of any new legislative measure, are greater than they have ever been. The interests of individuals in mal-administration are stronger, the interests in checking abuses are proportionately weaker; and the dangers to person and property from any attempts to effect the intention of the statute of Elizabeth are greater than any penalties by which the law might be attempted to be enforced. That the existing law admits of a beneficial administration of the provisions of that statute is proved by the instances of the dispauperized parishes; but those instances were produced by the circumstance of there being found within each of those parishes, an individual of remarkable firmness and ability, often joined with a strong interest in good administration, great influence to overcome opposition, and leisure to establish good management. In the majority of instances the change originated with the clergyman, or some of the largest holders of land within the parish. In the absence of these fortunate accidents the example has not been followed. In Cookham and White Waltham the benefits of the improved administration have been manifested since the year 1822, but manifested without imitation.


In Faringdon, Berks, which we have already cited as an instance of improvement, the governor of the workhouse was asked,—

"Are the surrounding parishes aware of the effects produced in your parish by the change of system?—They are quite aware of them.

"If legislative measures were taken for the adoption of such a system as that adverted to by you, do you think that obstacles would be found to prevent their execution?—If the adoption of the measures were not enforced by some strong means, I do not believe they would be extensively carried into effect voluntarily.

"Are those parishes heavily or lightly burthened?—Most heavily burthened. Property is a great deal deteriorated in value in consequence of the progress of pauperism. One gentleman, the other day, mentioned to me that lately, in consequence of the heavy burthen of the poor's rates, by which, for the last two or three years, he had lost upwards of a hundred a year upon the farm his family had held for upwards of two centuries, he had thrown up that farm and gone to another parish, which was not yet so heavily burthened with poor's rates. I know that in the surrounding parishes capital is fearfully diminishing and property deteriorating.

"Are you aware of any steps being taken in those parishes to follow the example of your parish?—I am not aware of any steps being taken to follow the example. I have indeed heard some persons say they should be very glad to see the same system followed.

"What are the obstacles which stand in the way of their following it?—Partly fear, and partly the want of persons of influence and energy to come forward to take the first steps."

"The Commissioner who examined Cookham visited Bray, and made enquiries of persons connected with that and other adjacent parishes, why they did not adopt the means of reducing their heavy rates, which (as they were well aware) had been found so efficient and salutary in Cookham. The answers were usually to this effect:—"The farmers are so disunited and unwilling to stir." "The members of the vestry are so jealous of each other, that they can do nothing." "We have no one to take the lead." "We have no one who will take upon himself the responsibility." "It never can be done, unless we have among us a man of the talent and influence of Mr. Whately."


Mr. Whately himself was asked—

"Do you think your example would be followed if extensively known?—I very much doubt it. I believe it is pretty extensively known, but it has been followed only in one or two solitary cases, so far as I am aware of.

"Are you aware that any pains have been taken by the neighbouring parishes to ascertain the nature of your system?—Yes; many have made themselves fully acquainted with it by personal application to me; but either through indolence or want of firmness, or some other cause, have not availed themselves of the information they have received; nor have I any reason to hope that a great national benefit can be effected by the personal exertions of individuals, who must necessarily expose themselves to considerable obloquy, if not to great loss of property, and who, in many cases, have no immediate personal interest.

"If you were to withdraw your exertions, do you think that the present system would be carried on in your parish?—Many of the principal rate-payers, with whom I act, are of opinion that it would not.*59"


In the communication of Messrs. Cameron and Wrottesley will be found an account of the ignorance and apathy prevalent amongst the rate distributors of the adjacent parishes, with relation even to the important pecuniary results of the change of system at Cookham. Mr. Whately having been prevented, by a severe illness, from attending the vestry, the effects of his absence soon exhibited themselves in the management of the poor; and some of the members of the select vestry were convinced that the safety of the reformed system depended upon his restoration to health. It appears from Major Wilde's Report, that when the master of the workhouse at Southwell, who had long been accustomed to manage that establishment, under the admirable superintendence of Mr. Becher, went to another parish, he soon relapsed into the common habits. In Hatfield the management fell back during the short illness of the permanent overseer, who is a person excellently qualified; and it appears from various other instances, that the voluntary adoption and continuance of an improved system is dependent on obtaining, within each parish, an individual of great firmness, ability, and disinterestedness, to originate it and carry it on; or, in other words, that the good general administration of the existing system is dependent on a perpetual succession of upwards of fifteen thousand men of firmness and ability agreeing upon a system and conducting it voluntarily.


We must again state, that while there is no province of administration for which more peculiar knowledge is requisite than the relief to the indigent, there is no province from which such knowledge is more effectually excluded. The earlier part of our Report shows the consequences of acting upon immediate impressions, or upon conclusions derived from a limited field of observation. At present, the experience which guides the administration of relief is limited to the narrow bounds of a parish, and to a year of compulsory service. The common administration is founded on blind impulse or on impressions derived from a few individual cases; when the only safe action must be regulated by extensive inductions or general rules derived from large classes of cases, which the annual officer has no means of observing. Capacity for such duties comes by intuition even to persons of good general intelligence as little as an intuitive capacity to navigate a ship or manage a steam engine. The influence of the information and skill which any officer may acquire, may be destroyed by other officers with whom his authority is divided, and even though he may prevail, it usually departs with him when he surrenders his office. The improvements which he may have introduced are not appreciated by his successor. In petty and obscure districts, good measures rarely excite imitation, and bad measures seldom yield warning. "I have seen," says Mr. Mott, "sets of officers succeed sets; I have seen a great many plans and systems suggested and tried; I have seen them tried by officers of the highest respectability and intelligence, and the little good derived from the practical operation of their plans utterly defeated by their successors, who, though equally honest, come into office with different opinions and views. Here and there an extraordinary man will come into office, and succeed very satisfactorily. But when he goes, there is generally an immediate relapse into the old system. His example works no permanent change in his own parish, still less is it attended to in the adjacent parishes. In short, I am quite convinced, from all my experience, that no uniform system can be carried into execution, however ably it may be devised; nor can any hopes of permanent improvement be held out, unless some central and powerful control is established."


Such being the qualifications essential to the performance of parochial offices, our evidence abounds with indications, that in devising any new legislative measures it would be necessary to guard not only against adverse interests, but against the actual incapacity of the persons usually filling parochial offices. The following are instances from our communications:—


The Rev. Robert Ellison, the rector of Slaugham, in Sussex,—

"The accounts of eight or ten surrounding parishes should be audited by a person with a proper salary, resident in an adjoining town. It is difficult to get a proper person in villages to audit accounts. My vestry clerk is a pauper, and not a good character; the two last over-seers could neither read nor write. Need I say more? The rates rose last year 9s. in the pound, which amounted to near 700l. additional. The poor cost upwards of 1,600l.; the population not 800."


Major General Marriott, an acting magistrate of the Pershore division, containing sixty-six parishes, of Worcester, states that some of the overseers (small farmers)—

"Can scarcely write their names, and few can keep accounts (witness the Returns made to Parliament), and are so ignorant or inattentive to the magistrates' orders, wishing to slip through their half year with as little trouble as possible, that many appeals against removals and other expenses are very unnecessarily incurred, which would have been saved to the parish by a regular assistant, and at a trifling expense. In the above sixty-six parishes there may be twelve or fifteen where gentlemen or clergymen reside, and take part in parish affairs; in most of the rest, I fear, I might draw too exact a picture by saying, their affairs are managed by some few principal farmers and landholders, generally at open variance, and formed into two inveterate parties; the poor parishioners are obliged to take one side or the other, and are favoured or oppressed as their party prevails. Such are the persons for whom it is necessary to legislate (as well as for inhabitants of large towns) in making or altering laws for the poor."


Although clear and often able replies to our queries have been received from the officers of the town parishes, some of the answers, even from the metropolis, were evidently written by illiterate and ignorant men. One of the population returns from Middlesex, to which we had occasion to refer, was attested by the mark of the returning officer. The revision of the lists of votes under the Reform Act, however, brought to view, in some respects much more completely than the present inquiry, the qualifications of the general body of overseers; and it appears from the information of the revising barristers, that the inability of a large proportion of them was not confined to the comprehension of legal distinctions, but extended to the execution of the most simple directions.


"The class of persons," says Mr. Moylan, "whom I have seen in the office of overseer are generally men who, far from being able to fulfil the duties imposed upon them, seem unable to comprehend those duties. The general ignorance and stupidity of the overseers in country parishes with whom I came acquainted as Revising Barrister, in Cheshire and Nottinghamshire, surpassed anything which I could have previously conceived. In some of the agricultural parishes we found a x substituted for the overseer's signature to the list of voters. Many lists were made out and signed by the village schoolmaster, or some other person who accompanied the overseer in attendance upon our court, and was alone competent to answer on his behalf any inquiries we deemed it requisite to make. In some cases where the overseer had not had recourse to the aid of others, his blunders were ludicrous. Instead of making the list a fair transcript of the claims, he would perhaps undertake to insert what he thought a more accurate description of the qualification, which would prove, in point of fact, no qualification at all*60."


"In 1832," says Mr. Maclean, "I revised the list of voters for the Western Division of the county of Sussex, and in the present year I have revised the lists of the Northern Division of the county of Essex. In both counties I met with many overseers apparently perfectly unable to comprehend, from reading the Reform Act, what they were required to do. Many were unable to write at all, and others could with difficulty affix their names to the lists. Some appeared unable to copy accurately the schedule of the Act according to the form there given, Those lists which had any pretension to correction had been invariably written out by the parish schoolmaster, or under the advice and direction of some resident gentleman. Few were capable of furnishing any information, or of understanding that any distinction existed between a freehold and a leasehold qualification. Through ignorance or obstinacy, many had neglected several of the duties distinctly pointed out in the Act; such as to publish the names which were upon the register of the preceding year, or to sign the lists previous to affixing them on the church door. I met with few lists which did not require considerable alteration. Attempts at an alphabetical arrangement seemed to have completely failed. Several had omitted to make out lists at all. In one instance I was attended by a female overseer, and it is due to her to state, that the list furnished by her, and in her own handwriting, was one of the most correct I met with."


Mr. Flood, Revising Barrister for the Northern Division of the county of Leicester, states,—

"I found very great difficulty in revising the list of voters, owing to the illiterate character of the overseers of many of the parishes. In one instance, where there were two overseers, one had not acted, and did not sign the list, though he was able to write; and a mark × was substituted for the signature of the other. There were, I think, three or four lists unsigned, none of the overseers being able to write, and about the same number only signed by one overseer. In about 16 or 18 lists the overseers had resorted to the assistance of the parish schoolmaster or some other person to assist them. In not more than 10 parishes did the overseers appear in the least to comprehend the duties they were required to perform. I found, however, the overseers of the parishes of Loughborough, Castle Donington, Melton Mowbray and Ashby-de-la-Zouch exceedingly intelligent men, while in the eastern side of the county, where the population is exclusively agricultural, I met with a degree of ignorance I was utterly unprepared to find in a civilized country."


Mr. Villiers, when acting as a Revising Barrister in North Devon, found that not less than one-fourth of the overseers were unable to read, and he mentions one overseer who had not that qualification, and yet was intrusted with the distribution of rates to the amount of 7000l. per annum.


Such being the capacity of a large proportion of the distributors, we shall find the state of their motives to either the commencement or the support of improvement equally unpromising. Persons engaged in trade have represented the management of parochial affairs to be analogous to the management of a bankrupt's estate by creditors, where, although each creditor has an interest in the good management of the estate, yet, as the particular creditors who were appointed assignees had not an interest sufficient to incite them to exertions which necessarily interfered with their other and stronger interests, no estates were ever so extensively mismanaged, or so frequently abandoned to plunder, until a special and responsible agency was appointed for their protection. The common fallacy in which the management by overseers, that is, by two or three persons, is treated as a management by the people of the "people's own affairs," and an "attention to their own interests," meaning the affairs and interests of some hundreds or thousands of other persons may be exposed by a slight examination of the evidence. It will be found that the private interests of the distributors of the rates are commonly at variance with their public duties, and that the few pounds, often the few shillings, which any parish officer could save to himself by the rigid performance of his duty, cannot turn the scale against the severe labour, the certain ill-will, and now, in a large proportion of cases, the danger to person and property, all of which act on the side of profusion. And it must be recollected, that the consequences of a large proportion of the existing mismanagement do not fall on the parishes in which they have originated, but upon those against whom, under the present system of parochial warfare, they are aimed, and that much of that mismanagement is, consequently, mismanagement by the officers and by the vestries, not of their own affairs, but of the affairs of other parishes, or of the public at large. Even if the whole power were left to the vestry, and the vestry were composed of the proprietors as well as of the occupiers, it could not be said, except in very small parishes, that the governing body were the managers of their own affairs. Numerous bodies are incapable of managing details. They are always left to a minority, and usually, to a small minority; and the smaller that minority, the greater, of course, is the preponderance of private and interested motives.


It must be added, as indeed might have been expected, that as parochial duties become more arduous, as they require more leisure and ability, those who have that leisure and ability appear less and less inclined to undertake them. This is shown in the great falling off in the number of representative vestries, in consequence of the difficulty of obtaining the attendance of those who were the best qualified; although such vestries are amongst the best existing instruments for systematic management, with the least annoyance to those who perform the duties. It has been stated to us, that in one district where the income of the proprietors was reduced nearly one half, chiefly by the progressive increase of the rates, several of them declared that they would abandon the remainder rather than encounter the annoyance of having to contend against the system. The property of the whole parish of Cholesbury was abandoned to pauperism, apparently without a struggle.


We need only revert to the evidence, quoted in the earlier part of our Report, to mark the extent to which interests adverse to a correct administration prevail amongst those who are entrusted with the duties of distributing the fund for relief.


We must anticipate that the existing interests, passions, and local habits of the parish officers will, unless some further control be established, continue to sway and to vary the administration of the funds for the relief of the indigent; and that whatever extent of discretion is left to the local officers, will be used in conformity to those existing interests and habits. Wherever the allowance system is now retained, we may be sure that statutory provisions for its abolition will be met by every possible evasion. To permit out-door relief as an exception would be to permit it as a rule. The construction which has been put on the 59th Geo. III. shows that every case would be considered "a case of emergency;" and under provisions directing that the able-bodied shall be relieved only in the workhouse, but allowing relief in money to be continued to the sick, we must be prepared to find allowances continued to many of the able-bodied, as belonging to the excepted class. We have had instances where, after the use of fermented liquors in workhouses had been forbidden, they were found in use in extraordinary quantities as medicines.


In addition to these strong elements for the perversion of any legislative measures, we cannot omit to notice again the comparatively new and still more powerful element of intimidation now openly avowed in the most pauperized districts.


The labouring men in a large proportion of the districts, where the allowance system prevails, must have seen and felt, what indeed the labourers who have been examined explicitly declare, that the discretion and irresponsible power allowed to the distributors of relief are often used prejudicially to them. We believe, however, that the acts of injustice properly imputed to those who have so exercised that power, bear no proportion to the injustice imagined, and erroneously attributed to them by the receivers, under the notion generated by the indefiniteness of the existing system of relief, that the poor's-rates are an inexhaustible fund, from which all who call themselves poor are prevented drawing to the extent of their desires, only by the cupidity or partiality of parish officers.


However groundless this suspicion may be, its existence appears to us a sufficient reason for endeavouring to remove its pretext. Every man ought, in fact, to distrust his own judgment and his own actions in the affairs of others in proportion as his interests and affections are concerned. Our law, in its jealousy of the influence of similar interests, has rendered the taint of pecuniary interest a ground for incompetency in the case of a witness, and for exclusion from the execution of trusts, and in both cases to a degree which is very inconvenient. The powers vested in the overseers by the statutes of Elizabeth can only be accounted for on the supposition that the distribution of the poor's-rates was little more than an occasional distribution of alms from the poor's box, too small in its amount and influence to be regarded. Not a century had elapsed, however, before the evils of the "unlimited power of the overseers" and their "giving relief upon frivolous pretences, but chiefly for their own private ends, to what persons and number they thought fit," had been stated and attempted to be remedied. The remedy however was, as we have seen, unsuccessful, indeed worse than unsuccessful. It gave, or was construed as giving, powers to the justices, of which we have described the effects, and it does not, in practice, appear to check the powers of the overseers, powers which enable them to reduce the value of the labour, of which they themselves are the purchasers, and even to throw on others a part of its price, to increase the productiveness of their own property, and depreciate that of their neighbours, and generally to gratify their own feelings and promote their own interests at the expense of every other portion of the community.


Whatever may have been the various causes of the agricultural riots in various districts, whether the object was to force an increase of wages or a reduction of tithes or rent, the one effect has been to prove, that the discretion exercised in the distribution of the poor's-rates can be effected by intimidation, and the rate-receivers every week show themselves more completely aware that intimidation may be made as efficient a means of producing mal-administration as the corrupt interests of the distributors. Various communications, made to us in 1833, correctly anticipated the continuance of incendiarism during the present winter. Intimidation is not unfrequently exercised in the town parishes, and the police called in for the protection of the distributors. To such an extent has it been carried in a large parish in the metropolis, that the officers thought it necessary for their safety to go armed to the vestry.


Under these circumstances, any discretionary power left to the local officers must be a source of suspicion, and so far as their persons or properties are obnoxious to injury, a bounty on intimidation. The ignorant rarely estimate, or even take into account, the motives which lead men to pursue any line of conduct except the narrow tract pointed out by their own immediate interest, and are prone to exaggerate any power that may be used against them, and to fear and hate those who exercise it. It is matter of common observation, that acts of incendiarism have been most frequently committed against persons who had done "nothing to excite animosity," or who were "distinguished for their kindness," or were "the last persons who would have been expected to become the victims of such revenge." We see no ground for expecting that any purity in act or intention in the distribution of rates will render the distributors less obnoxious to hatred, which is always the stronger as they are the more closely connected with the rate-receivers. A refusal by a person who is nearly an equal, excites more animosity than one by a person who is comparatively a stranger and has greater authority. Can a farmer at a vestry be expected to refuse relief, and endanger his own property and person, to save funds to which he is only one of many contributors, when, in proportion to his belief that the applicant is undeserving, must be his conviction of the capability of that applicant to resort to any criminal means of obtaining compliance with his demands, or of gratifying his revenge? But the immediate distributors of relief are not the only persons obnoxious to such motives. Mr. Villiers states, that a magistrate declared to him, that in his neighbourhood, if a gentleman living upon his own property were strictly to perform his duty in a large proportion of the cases where paupers appealed from their overseers, he would be in danger of having his property destroyed. Such dangers, it is to be observed, are generally incurred by refusals to increase allowances, which are now wholly illegal; and, therefore, to expect the voluntary execution of new and strict regulations by persons placed under such circumstances appears unreasonable. Mr. Day, the magistrate at Maresfield, to whose communication we have before referred, in the following passage forcibly expresses opinions which we have reason to believe are entertained by a numerous class.

"I must here guard against an impression that may be conveyed by these remarks, which might lead to a fatal disappointment. The workhouse system is at present legal, and funds for emigration may, in many instances, be raised by voluntary contributions. But were the plan advocated by me attempted to be put in execution at the mere instigation of an individual, or by a vote of vestry, it would probably induce an irritation that would lead to disastrous consequences. When in the parish of Mayfield it was rumoured that I intended interfering to reduce the rates, it was immediately suspected by the paupers that I was opposed to their interest. On the door of the first vestry I attended, I found affixed a notice, 'that they intended washing their hands in my blood.' In 1826, a threat of that kind was readily disregarded; at present it would be consummated in a riot or fire. But if the alteration be the act of the legislature, it assumes a different aspect. It comes with the sanction of the law, and however it may be murmured at, the odium is removed from the obnoxious vestryman, or the individual magistrate. The complaining pauper looks round to the adjacent parishes and the neighbouring benches. He sees his lot the lot of all; and is told that however he may meet with sympathy, there is no power of redress. He may hope to intimidate a vestry, but he cannot dare to oppose a government*61."


We believe, however, that general regulations made under the immediate control of the executive would meet with comparatively ready obedience; not from despair of the success of resistance, but from confidence in the disinterestedness of the source from which the regulations emanated. We are happy in having found no distrust of the Government amongst the labouring classes in the pauperized districts: we rather apprehend that they entertain extravagant expectations of what can be accomplished by legislative interference. In the instructive letters from emigrants of the labouring classes to their friends in England, we see few traces of discontent with the political institutions, or the general government of their former country; few expressions of satisfaction that they now live under other institutions; but we do find, in those letters, felicitations that they are no longer under local control or parochial management: "Here" say the labourers, in speaking of their new abodes, "there are no overseers to tread us under foot." Wherever in the course of this inquiry it has been deemed requisite to communicate directly with the labouring classes, the Commission appears to have been regarded with entire confidence. Our written communications from labouring men on the subject of the labour-rate are abundant; our Assistant Commissioners found their inquiries answered with alacrity by all the labourers who were examined. Under the conception that the Commissioners were invested with extraordinary powers, the labourers have appealed to us for interference against local malversations. One of the Sussex labourers was asked in the course of his examination—

"What alterations of the Poor-Laws are talked about by the labourers?—They have hopes that Government will take it in hand, as they would then be contented with what was allotted to them; they would be sure that they would have what was right, and would not be driven about by the overseers.

"Are you sure that the labourers would be pleased to see the overseers deprived of their power?—Yes, that they would, for they often fail, and take the parishes in; and besides, all parish business now goes by favour. Many people do now say that they talk about reform in the Government, but there wants reform in the parish.

"Suppose that the workmen were deprived of the allowance in aid of wages, but deprived in such numbers that the farmers would be compelled to pay wages to the same amount, how do you think such a measure would be received by the workmen?—That would give a great deal more content, and I am sure that they would do the farmer more work. The parish money is now chucked to us like as to a dog*62."


The jealousy felt by the labourers towards the local authorities, from a suspicion of their being under the influence of adverse interests, combined with distrust of their possession of knowledge qualifying them to interfere with advantage, was strongly displayed in framing the present Act for the Regulation of Friendly Societies.


Dr. James Mitchell, Examined.

"We are informed that you have paid great attention to the formation of friendly societies, and the legislative proceedings with relation to them?—I have lectured and published works on the subject of benefit societies, and took an active part in assisting the delegates of the working men of the benefit societies in London in framing the present Act of Parliament under which benefit societies are regulated, and, as an actuary, I am very often consulted on the subject.

"Was the appointment of a central authority or control, under the authority of the Government, to revise the regulations of the benefit societies, and enforce conformity to the will of the Legislature, popular with the representatives of the working classes?—Yes; in order to prevent the capricious control of the various local authorities, each of whom had his own notions, which probably differed from the notions of every body else, and were formed from very limited experience and observation, and often from no observation whatever, the working men thought it would be very beneficial to get one person appointed to revise the rules of all the societies throughout the country, in order that their administration might be rendered uniform, and that the detailed regulations might be the result of more extended information. The chief object of the labouring men was to prevent capricious local interference, which might often be the interference of employers. The clause for the purpose was framed by the delegates themselves."


In the various dispauperized parishes, the enforcement of one inflexible rule of administering relief prevented the exercise of any discretionary power by the employers of labour. The contentment which followed is, to a considerable extent, attributable to this circumstance.


The circumstances which tend gradually to drive discreet and trustworthy persons from voluntarily undertaking the management of the poor's-rates, leave it in fact either to compulsory service, performed by officers whose authority is transient, who have no appropriate knowledge, and whose only interest is to get through their service with the least personal inconvenience to themselves, or to voluntary service by persons who have either a strong private interest, or who are actuated by ardent feelings. If those feelings are well directed they produce indeed the effects which have followed at Southwell, Bingham, Cookham, and Farthinghoe, but in ill-disciplined minds they may be more injurious than the basest self-interest. On these grounds many of the most respectable parochial officers who have been examined under this commission have urged the necessity of withdrawing from themselves and from their associates and successors, all discretionary power in the distribution of relief. They implore, even as a mere protection, that they may be released from that discretion, and declare that while it lasts they dare not pursue the course which they deem the most beneficial even to the paupers by whom the intimidation is exercised.


The following Extracts exhibit the tenor of the independent Communications to the Board, as well as of the Reports of our Assistant Commissioners as to the state of opinion on this subject in the most pauperized districts.


Mr. Okeden's Report, Appendix (A.) p. 4.—"The magistrates of that county (Oxfordshire) are so fully aware of this [the evils produced by the scale and head-money system] that they are ready to concur in and support any measures proposed by Government for averting the increasing curse."


Mr. Majendie, Appendix (A.) p. 188.—"The vestries held every fortnight for determining relief are very ill-attended, the parishioners seeming to despair of any improvements; and anxious hopes are expressed of the interference of Government."


Ibid. Appendix (A.) p. 198, Disturbed Districts.—"The allowance system is represented to be so established, that without some legislative enactment, neither overseers, vestries, nor magistrates can make any effectual change."


Ibid. Appendix (A.) p. 216.—"It was observed to me at Maidstone, that the management of the poor is beyond the power of parish officers, and requires the superintendence of Government."


Mr. Power, Appendix (A.) p. 240, Cambridge.—"I have reason to think that opinion points rather to a total change of the system than to partial and palliative amendments."


Ibid. p. 249, Bottisham.—"They have no workhouse there at present; an assistant commissioner 10 years hence would probably find them with double rates, and no workhouse still; so little chance is there of the mere propagation of opinion on the subject of that system inducing its general adoption, without some active interference by the legislature to that effect."


The conclusion of most examinations of witnesses in the deeply-pauperized districts is usually of the following tenor:—

(The parish officers of the parish of Bethnal Green, London, examined:)

Mr. Hooker,—"My trade is declining; so is the trade of my neighbours. From year to year my returns are less; so are theirs; and respectable people are leaving the place, which makes it still worse.

"The condition of your parish being such as you describe, sunk deep in debt, if not absolutely bankrupt; houses deserted in consequence of the pressure of the rates; the pressure increasing; rents declining, and ruin impending; what remedies have presented themselves to the minds of those who govern the parish; what new courses are they prepared to take?—I do not know; I have not heard of anything; we cannot do anything; we must depend on Providence; I do not see what is to save us from ruin, if government does not do something for us."


Mr. Brushfield, of Spitalfields—

"The outcry for the establishment of some strict regulations is very generally increasing throughout our parish. They ask, what remedy is there for the increasing evil? I have said I see no way but by some superior and central control being established. Since I was here before the subject has been the topic of conversation at our Board of Governors, and it is agreed on all hands that some powerful central control ought to be established."


Mr. Thomas Single, of Mile End Old Town, says—

"I hear it very frequently said in the parish, that it would be a very excellent thing if the government would take the parish affairs in their own hands, for the inhabitants see no chance of the present rates being reduced under the present system. Some regulating power should be established.

"I consider it a very necessary interference for the protection of the good order of society, against the worst misgovernment. I think it necessary for the protection of property, which is now giving way, and must continue to give way, under the pressure of pauperism. Rents are now much reduced in consequence of the heaviness of the rates. We have 800 empty houses in our parish, and persons are constantly leaving it to go to other parishes where the rates are lower. As the owner of houses, I can speak to these effects from my own knowledge."


The Rev. Thomas Pitman, vicar of Eastbourne, Sussex—

"I have no hope void of the interference of Government. If Government take up the administration, we may be relieved, and the present laws, upon revision, may effect this; but as long as the system which is at present adopted here and in the neighbourhood is permitted to continue (and we have no means void of the interference of Government of having it discontinued), we have no prospect but the destruction of our property, the corruption of our people, and the distress of all."


A recommendation that the legislature should divest the local authorities of all discretionary power in the administration of relief, appears to us to follow as a necessary consequence from the mass of evidence to which we have adverted.

Instances of the Regulations which the Central Board Only Can Transfer from District to District and Enforce


Witnesses when speaking of the necessity of withdrawing all discretionary power from the distributors, in their own parishes, usually express a hope that the relief may be fixed, and to the "smallest detail unalterably prescribed by the legislature." The evidence, however, proves that little more reliance can be placed on the voluntary execution by the present agency of any regulations, than on their correct execution of any general principle of management prescribed to them.


It appears, too, that the actual condition of the pauperized districts does not admit of legislation in detail. The differences in the modes of administering the law in different districts have produced habits and conditions of the population equally different. The best-informed witnesses have represented that the measures applicable to adjacent districts are totally inapplicable to their own; and it appears to us, that measures which might be safely and beneficially introduced into the majority of parishes in a district might, if immediately introduced, be productive of suffering and disorder to the remainder. Even if the simultaneous and complete execution of so great a change of system throughout the country were practicable, we consider it desirable to avoid it.


It must be remembered that the pauperized labourers were not the authors of the abusive system, and ought not to be made responsible for its consequences. We cannot, therefore, recommend that they should be otherwise than gradually subjected to regulations which, though undoubtedly beneficial to themselves, may, by any sudden application, inflict unnecessary severity. The abuses have grown up in detail, and it appears from our evidence that the most safe course will be to remove them in detail. We deem uniformity essential; but, in the first instance, it is only an approximation to uniformity that can be expected, and it appears that it must be obtained by gradations in detail, according to local circumstances. And although uniformity in the amount of relief may be requisite, it may not be requisite that the relief should be invariably the same in kind. In Cumberland, and some others of the northern counties, milk is generally used where beer is used in the southern counties. The requisite equality in diet would probably be obtainable without forcing any class of the inmates of the workhouses in the northern counties to take beer, or those of the southern counties to take milk.


The most practical witnesses concur with Mr. Mott in representing the voluntary adoption of detailed regulations hopeless, and legislation on details ineligible, if not impracticable. He is asked—

"Do you think it practicable to bring parishes to the voluntary adoption of any uniform regulation when their importance is proved to them?—He answers, I certainly do not think it practicable. I think it utterly impossible to bring the 14,000 or 15,000 parishes in England and Wales to one mind upon any one subject, however clear the evidence may be; much less so to act with uniformity in any one point. The Commissioners must be well aware that great frauds are committed by paupers in the metropolis receiving relief from different boards on different board days. I have known instances of paupers receiving pensions from three or four different parishes. It was proposed some years ago, and it has been proposed from time to time, to remedy this evil, which all the parishes are aware is very great, by one simple but effectual expedient, which it would be very easy to adopt—namely, by all the parishes paying on the same day; but they never could be got to do this. Individual conveniences prevented the remedy being applied, and the system of fraud still prevails, and will continue to prevail, so long as the present management prevails. Now, if the parishes in the metropolis cannot be got to act in concert for the suppression of an evil which affects only one part of the system, I think it will be seen that I am justified in my opinion, that any reform or co-operation in the country is quite hopeless without the establishment of a strong central management; nothing else will check the system.

"Might not such general rgulations as those to which you have alluded be prescribed by Act of Parliament?—No, certainly not. The regulations of any system must be very numerous; and though they may be uniform, it would be necessary to vary them from time to time and unless Parliament was to do nothing but occupy itself with discussions on details of workhouse management, it would be impossible to effect any great alteration in that way. Many regulations, however ably devised, must be experimental. Unforeseen and apparently unimportant details might baffle the best plans, if there were not the means of making immediate alteration. Suppose a general regulation were prescribed by Act of Parliament, and it was found to want alteration; you must wait a whole year or more for an Act of Parliament to amend it, or the law must be broken. A central authority might make the alteration, or supply unforeseen omissions in a day or two. Besides, a central board or authority might get information immediately on the matters of detail. If they had, for instance, to settle some uniform diet, they could at once avail themselves of the assistance of men of science, physicians, or chemists; but you would find that Parliament, if it could really attend to the matter, and would do anything efficient, must have almost as many committees as there are different details. If there was a central board established, and it were easily accessible, as it ought to be, persons in local districts would consult them or make suggestions, who would never think of applying to Parliament. Who would think of applying to Parliament to determine whether four or five ounces of butter should be used as a ration in particular cases, and whether the butter should be Irish or Dutch? or, if Irish, whether Cork or Limerick; or to determine whether the old women's under-petticoats should be flannel or baize, and how wide or how long? Yet on details of this sort, beneath the dignity of grave legislators, good or bad management would depend*63."


By many it is considered that the only means by which the system can be effectually amended, is the management of the whole poor-law administration as a branch of the general government. The advocates of a national rate, and those who are willing and desirous that the Government should take upon itself the whole distribution of the funds for the relief of the poor, do not appear to have considered the expense and difficulties in the way of obtaining such an agency throughout the country.


We have received no definite plan for the purpose, and have prepared none. We trust that immediate measures for the correction of the evils in question may be carried into effect by a comparatively small and cheap agency, which may assist the parochial or district officers, wherever their management is in conformity to the intention of the legislature; and control them wherever their management is at variance with it. Subject also to this control, we propose that the management, the collection of the rates, and the entire supervision of the expenditure, under increased securities against profusion and malversation, shall continue in the officers appointed immediately by the rate-payers. This course, we believe, will be the most easily practicable, and will best accord with the recommendations of the majority of the witnesses, and with the prevalent expectation of the country.


The course of proceeding which we recommend for adoption, is in principle that which the legislature adopted for the management of the savings' banks, the friendly societies, and the annuity societies throughout the country. Having prescribed the outline and general principles on which those institutions should be conducted, a special agency (which, in this instance, was constituted by one barrister only) was appointed to see that their rules and detailed regulations conformed to the intention of the law. This agency, we believe, has accomplished the object effectually. From magistrates and clergymen, who act as trustees and managers of savings' banks, we have learned, that it is found to work satisfactorily to them and to the members at large, because they are aware that the decision by which any regulation is established or disallowed is made on extended information derived from all similar institutions throughout the kingdom, instead of being made only on such as the neighbourhood might chance to afford. We believe that the control has also been found beneficial by the members of friendly societies, and has put a stop to many which were founded, either ignorantly or dishonestly, on principles fraught with ruin to the contributors. Since the adoption of this measure, there has been only one appeal against the barrister's decision, and that appeal was disallowed.




We have already recommended the abolition of partial relief to the able-bodied, and particularly of money payments. It appears to us that this prohibition should come into universal operation at the end of two years, and as respects new applicants, at an earlier period, and that the Board should have power, after due inquiry and arrangements, to shorten these periods in any district: one of their first proceedings should probably be the gradual substitution of relief in kind for relief in money.


With such powers the Central Board might discontinue abusive practices, and introduce improvements gradually, detail after detail, in district after district, and proceed with the aid of accumulating experience.


Another advantage of this course, as compared with that of a simultaneous change is, that trouble and expense may be spared to all those parishes where abusive modes of administration do not exist.


The Commissioners would assist those who were willing to exert themselves in bringing about the change, and would exonerate from responsibility those who found it too heavy, or who could not sustain it beneficially. Since the Commissioners would have no local interests or affections, they would enforce the law without ill-temper on their parts, and without exciting animosity. Unless those measures which has hitherto caused a decrease of pauperism, and diminished its peculiar burthen, the only measures which it would be the duty of the Commissioners to enforce, should produce bad effects instead of good, the benefits of the change in the first districts in which it will be effected, must be such as to remove from the minds of the ill-informed or the timid all the undefined apprehensions which beset the subject, and suppress the interested opposition with which every such change will be assailed.


As one barrier to increase of expense in the detailed management, the Commissioners should be empowered to fix a maximum of the consumption per head within the workhouses, leaving to the local officers the liberty of reducing it below the maximum if they can safely do so.


The following are exemplifications of the regulations which might be transferred from district to district, when found applicable by the Commissioners. An officer of Whitechapel parish, in London, was asked,—

"What sort of work have they in the workhouse?—They have various sorts of work in the workhouse. Out of the workhouse we employ them as general scavengers for cleansing the parish, contracting for carting only, and making the paupers cleanse all the lanes, alleys, and streets, and fill the carts, giving them a small allowance.

"What has been the effect of this regulation?—It had been in operation some years before I came into office, and has been found very beneficial. The parish is much better cleansed, and is more healthy than if left to contractors only. The contractors generally shuffle off cleansing the alleys as they cannot get the cart up them, but we make our men take the wheelbarrows up the avenues. The paupers are by this system made spies to prevent any nuisances that may occasion them trouble. If they see any one throwing down filth, they fetch the superintendent and the party is made to take it up again. For this purpose we find that the paupers are better than the police. The efficiency of this system depends mainly on the superintendent, who is paid to attend the labour of the paupers. The parish was fortunate in making choice of a proper officer."


In Mr. Codd's Report, there is a similar instance. In the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden, the able-bodied paupers were employed to cleanse the streets:—

"Our parishioners," the witness states, "say that the streets were never kept so clean as they have been since the new system prevailed. The fact is, that it is the interest of the contractors to employ as few labourers in the work as possible and to leave the streets until they are so dirty that large portions may be removed at once."


In the answer from Penrith, it is stated by the assistant overseer.—

"We have at present about ten acres of land, two of which are planted with potatoes every year by the paupers, with the spade; the remainder is sown with corn and hay-grass. We also collect manure from the streets, which we farm of the Duke of Devonshire for that purpose, and for the sake of cleanliness and employment for the poor. The streets are kept clean by those in the workhouse; and at times, when able-bodied out-door paupers apply for relief, we offer them work in the streets, which they invariably refuse. By this means, and that of spade husbandry, we get rid of both our male and female applicants."


Mr. Tweedy states, that at Huddersfield—

"Two years ago a number of men (15) applied for relief as out of work, and were ordered to come next morning, and have employment in cleansing the streets. Out of the 15, but one came the next morning, who said the others had got jobs elsewhere*64."


The same results may always be expected where the applicant cannot plead actual inability; and the labour of cleansing the streets can be offered in every town. The Reports of the various Local Boards of Health on the state of the densely-peopled neighbourhoods, show how grievously this source of employment has been neglected. Even where it has been introduced, it has seldom been enforced with regularity and upon principle: even the success of the experiment does not ensure its repetition, still less its imitation.


Another instance is the mode in which the out-door paupers are paid in some of the large parishes in the metropolis. The vestry clerk of the parish of St. Luke, Middlesex, states that,—

"For several years past a new system of paying the pensioners has been adopted in our parish. Formerly they came in crowds, the regular pensioners being then about 800, and were paid promiscuously on the presentation of their cards. It was found that some persons obtained payment twice over by getting other persons to present their cards after they had been once paid. The whole coming together, a large proportion of them was kept waiting a considerable time, and in addition to the time lost by the paupers, there was much mischief done by an extension of the opportunities ot communication, and the formation of vicious acquaintances. The mothers of bastard children might form acquaintances with others still more depraved. The children of more creditable people became familiar with the confirmed paupers.

"The improvement consisted in the pensioners being paid in sets of 100 each; each 100 is paid, and each payment entered within a quarter of an hour. Any person within the same 100 may be paid within the same quarter of an hour; the quarter of an hour, it may be observed, is printed on each ticket. If the party does not attend at the proper time their pension is suspended during the ensuing week. An hour and a half of the pauper's time is thus saved; and on an average, the crowd is reduced from 800 to 50, and the commission of fraud by repeated payments on the same ticket is rendered impossible."


The regulation might probably be made much more efficient, but such as it is, it appears to have been little imitated. The overseer of the adjacent parish of St. Matthew, Bethnal Green, states in his evidence—

"There were 400 people with new faces for me to pay the first night I sat. I had no one to assist me or inform me, and I gave money away on the mere statements made to me; I am confident I paid some of the people twice over that night."


These crowds are kept often the whole day, and usually during several hours congregated together in the most corrupting state of idleness around the workhouse door. The conduct of these crowds is thus described by the governor of St. Pancras workhouse—

"Even this course has not entirely got rid of the evil; for while they are congregated round the workhouse doors, their language and conduct are so degrading and obscene as to be a subject of heavy complaint with the neighbours and passengers; no decent female can approach them without being insulted; and I grieve to say, that the young women especially seem to have entirely lost all sense of propriety, or rather of common decency; it is no unusual sight to see them upon these occasions in situations of indecency that are most revolting."

"These very shameful practices have not subsisted for more than five or six years; but they have increased in force and frequency within that time, and we have tried every means of prevention within our reach, without success. We have called in the aid of the police, have taken the parties before the magistrates, &c., but all to no purpose."


Other witnesses, whose own parishes are the boundaries of their knowledge, as well as of their experience on the subject, assert that such evils are incurable. One parish evinces perfect ignorance of regulations which have long been in force as efficient remedies in adjacent parishes. The instance mentioned at St. Pancras relates to a form of relief which we hope to see abolished; but during the period of its unavoidable continuance, provision should be made for the introduction of regulations by which its evils may be abated. Some valuable practical improvements of the existing system are found in the voluminous codes and by-laws under which incorporations are managed.


If the sum of the good regulations which are found in single and separate, and therefore partial operation, scattered amidst a multitude of parishes, were carried into complete execution in every parish or district to which they were found applicable, the improvement would probably be greater than can be hoped for from untried enactments. We recommend, therefore, that the same powers of making rules and regulations that are now exercised by upwards of 15,000 unskilled and (practically) irresponsible authorities, liable to be biassed by sinister interests, should be confined to the Central Board of Control, on which responsibility is strongly concentrated, and which will have the most extensive information. Even if the Board were to frame bad regulations (and worse regulations than those now in practice they could scarcely devise), it would be a less mischievous arrangement than the present, inasmuch as the chances of opposition to a pernicious measure would be increased in proportion to the extension of the jurisdiction, and success in such opposition would be success throughout the jurisdiction. Those who are now maintainers of their own errors would be vigilant and unsparing censors of the errors of a distant authority. Under the existing system, when opposition is made to the continuance of a bad practice, and the opposition is successful, the success is limited to one parish, or to one fifteen-thousandth part of the whole field in which the practice may prevail. In the next parish, and in other parishes, the form of the abuse is generally varied, and requires a varied as well as a renewed opposition. These variations elude legislative enactments, and divide and weaken the force with which the opinion of the intelligent part of the community would act against them. But if a bad practice is rendered uniform, it becomes obnoxious in proportion to its extent, to the full force of public opinion; the aggregate of its effects, immediate or collateral, which may appear insignificant, and unworthy of attention, in the single and obscure parish, or in any group of parishes, may be correctly estimated, and brought completely within the cognizance of the Legislature. For this purpose, therefore, in addition to the others which we have already laid down, we consider that uniformity of management would, in many cases, be essential to improvement, and to the permanency of any improved system. To the accomplishment of these objects, other measures, to which we shall shortly advert, appear to us to be requisite. By means, however, of the agency which we have proposed, by alterations of detail after detail, with which the Legislature could not occupy itself, bad practices may be weeded out of every district, good practices may be planted in every district. The precedent which we have adduced with relation to the control of savings' banks and friendly societies illustrates this course of operations. Mr. Tidd Pratt states—

"I invariably forward to all the institutions suggestions of the expediency of adopting rules which have been found to work beneficially; and I also warn them of mischievous results experienced from particular rules in other places. For example, with regard to the former, I found in one of the savings' banks (the Exeter) a rule which allowed the trustees to apply to the member's benefit any portion of the deposits in case of insanity or imbecility; and not one of the other savings' banks possessed such a rule. The consequence was, that when a member became insane, they would have had no other mode to enable them to apply the member's money to his use than an application to the Lord Chancellor. Sometimes the sums to be applied were only 10l.: this rule I communicated by circular to the members of every savings' bank, with a recommendation that it should be adopted: many of them have already adopted it; and I believe that in a short time it will be generally adopted. Where I find a good rule, I send it to all; and when I find a bad rule, I stop it in all, and the chances of finding good rules are just in proportion to the extent of the jurisdiction."


The central agency instituted by the Legislature for the control of the administration of the Poor Laws, would form a depository of comprehensive information to guide the local officers in cases which, from their comparatively limited experience and knowledge, might appear to them to be, or which really were, anomalous. Applications in cases of this nature have already been made to the Commissioners. Their information would be received with the conviction of its being the best existing upon the subject. The last witness cited was asked, with reference to this point,

"Are you often consulted in cases of difficulty experienced by magistrates and others who are managers of the several societies within your supervision?—Yes; and by chairmen of quarter sessions, by Members of both Houses, under the supposition, as I conceive, that I am paid by salary, and that, being a servant of the Crown, they are entitled to apply to me in cases where they themselves feel difficulty. I invariably give the assistance asked, although it takes up a great deal of a professional man's time."


The chief remedy for the principal evil of the system, the increase of the number of the able-bodied paupers, having been shown to be their reception in a well-managed workhouse; we shall next consider by what means by which such workhouses can be provided, and the requisite management enforced.


The first difficulty arises from the small population of a large proportion of the parishes. Of the 15,535 parishes (including under that name townships maintaining their own poor) of England and Wales, there are 737 in which the population does not exceed 50 persons; 1907 in which it does not exceed 100; and 6681 in which it does not exceed 300. Few such parishes could support a workhouse, though they may have a poorhouse, a miserable abode, occupied rent-free by three or four dissolute families, mutually corrupting each other. Even the parishes which are somewhat more populous, those containing from 300 to 800 inhabitants, and which amount to 5353, in the few cases in which they possess an efficient management, obtain it at a disproportionate expense.


In such parishes, when overburthened with poor, we usually find the building, called a workhouse, occupied by 60 or 80 paupers, made up of a dozen or more neglected children (under the care, perhaps, of a pauper), about twenty or thirty able-bodied adult paupers of both sexes, and probably an equal number of aged and impotent persons, proper objects of relief. Amidst these the mothers of bastard children and prostitutes live without shame, and associate freely with the youth, who have also the examples and conversation of the frequent inmates of the county gaol, the poacher, the vagrant, the decayed beggar, and other characters of the worst description. To these may often be added a solitary blind person, one or two idiots, and not unfrequently are heard, from among the rest, the incessant ravings of some neglected lunatic. In such receptacles the sick poor are often immured.


In the former part of the Report we have given instances of the condition of the larger workhouses in the metropolis. The statements with respect to those in the provincial towns and in the rural districts are equally unfavourable: we annex a very few instances.


Captain Pringle states that, in

"Portsea Workhouse—In the women's yard all characters mix together, excepting that the very old have small rooms, in each room three or four; in these, and in the large day-room, in which were nurses with bastards, they had fires in August, and were cooking, making tea, &c. The general character of the house, both as to the persons of the paupers, their day-rooms and bed-rooms, is slovenly and dirty. The space so limited also, that in rooms containing from twenty to thirty beds, they were so close as merely to allow a person to pass between them."*65


"In that at Rumsey, in which the inmates amount to forty-eight, they are farmed at the price of 3s. weekly, children included. There is no scale of diet, that being left to the farmer or contractor, who also employs the paupers where and how he pleases. The house was dirty, the old men particularly so; the younger men and boys were out at work. On inquiring for the boys' dormitory, I found they slept each with one of the men; the mistress said this was done to keep them quiet. The overseer, who accompanied me, and whose duty it was to inspect the house, stated that he was not aware of the placing men and boys to sleep together; that he never had any complaints either as to diet or beds, and he believed all were comfortable. And as a further proof of the little attention paid by these constituted authorities to the duties confided to them, one of the girls, it appeared, had a child by the brother of the contractor. The overseer did not consider this as a circumstance of any importance. Nothing was said to the contractor, and his brother was still allowed to be about the house.*66"


"With regard to classification it may be observed, that in the small poor-houses, with the exception of Millbrook, I never found it more than nominal; and even in the larger poor-houses, classification and other regulations appeared never to be carried into effect in an efficient manner, for which the master was probably often less to blame than those under whose control he held his situation. The children are the sufferers from this neglect, as may be inferred from so large a portion turning out badly."*67


"In the small agricultural parish of Tandridge, with a population of 478, a double tenement has been hired as a poor-house: in one of the rooms, in one bed, sleep the master with two boys, aged 15 and 12; in the other bed, a girl of 15 with a boy of 11; in another very small room, a man and wife, and two children, lie in one bed, and two children on the floor. The parish cage, the interior of which is about eight feet square, is used as the habitation of four persons,—a man, his wife, and two children; a grated opening in the wall admits light and air."

"In Dover workhouse the number of inmates is 250; the average expense of diet 2s.d.; seven lunatics are confined here, two of whom are very dangerous, and are chained to their beds; one of them was lately at large in the yard, and had very nearly put one of the paupers to death, who was saved by the master coming in time to rescue him. In many workhouses in this county there are idiots and insane persons who are a great annoyance to the inmates in general; probably this nuisance will not exist much longer, as the asylum near Maidstone is nearly completed."*68


Mr. Osler, in his communication, gives the following instances of the condition of the workhouses in the vicinity of Falmouth:

"Mabe House, a ruinous hovel, utterly unfit for the residence of a human being, two men, four women, three children; of whom four receive 8s. 9d. weekly, and a man, his wife, and three children, have only shelter. A married couple occupy the same room with two women*69."

"Mylor.—Eight men, seventeen women, seven children, who are placed in the different rooms, supporting themselves either by an allowance of money from the parish, or by their own labour. A barber, who carries on business in the house, has his pole hung out at the door. No governor, or domestic authority of any description*70."


In such places, when questions of the following tenor are put—Why is no labour found for the able-bodied? Why are not the children placed under proper tuition? Why is not proper care taken of the lunatic?—the usual answers are, "The parish is too poor to pay for a keeper;" "We cannot keep a school-master for so few children;" "To provide a superintendent to keep half a dozen or a dozen men at work would be too heavy a charge." Even the superintendence of the whole of these various classes, and the management of the house, is often found a pecuniary burthen disproportionately heavy; and the parish officers attempt to diminish it by confiding the whole to one who is in reality, and sometimes avowedly, a pauper.

"Constantine House.—Ten men, nineteen women, two children. The governor has been dismissed for the sake of economy, and an infirm old pauper regulates the diet and keeps the accounts. All rooms, except the kitchen, close, dirty, and offensive. Bedsteads, clumsy wooden ones. Men's dormitory, their sitting-room, very low, with windows too small for ventilation; excessively dirty, and an abominable musty smell. The fish dinners are cooked here. House appeared not to have been whitewashed from time immemorial. Two men slept in the women's rooms, but the new overseer expressed an intention to correct these evils*71."


The Rev. Peyton Blackiston, the curate of Lymington, Hants, states—

"It appears to me that parochial workhouses are in most places very inefficient, owing to their want of a proper and extensive subdivision, so that the bad may be completely separated from the good. All the parish officers with whom I have conversed upon the subject have at once acknowledged the evil; but they say that the parishes could not afford the expense of such subdivisions.

"The result of my inquiries and observations respecting the moral and religious education of the children in the parochial workhouses is, that it is greatly neglected. Even in the workhouse of Lymington there was no such instruction previous to the year 1831, with the exception of about an hour a day, in which the girl who cooked taught the children to read. This has also contributed to make them turn out badly. At this moment the generality of parochial workhouses in Hampshire do not supply any effective religious and moral instruction; the children cannot do even the coarsest needlework in a creditable manner, nor are they practised in that kind of work which, as domestic servants, they would be required to perform. I dare say the parish officers will endeavour to gloss over the matter, and from shame would make it appear that the moral and religious instruction of the parish children was well attended to; but as an eye-witness of many parochial workhouses, and having conversed with many of my brother clergy on the subject, I can state that such is not the case. In the workhouse of Lymington parish, which is one certainly of the most improved provincial towns I know, a school was established in 1831, when an able woman was appointed to give instructions in reading and religious duties, and to teach and superintend needlework. The advantages were most striking. It is almost past belief, that about two months ago the vestry discontinued the schoolmistress, although her salary was only 10l. per annum and her dinner*72."


Even in the larger workhouses internal subdivisions do not afford the means of classification, where the inmates dine in the same rooms, or meet or see each other in the ordinary business of the place. In the largest houses, containing from eight hundred to a thousand inmates, where there is comparatively good order, and, in many respects, superior management, it is almost impossible to prevent the formation and extension of vicious connexions. Inmates who see each other, though prevented from communicating in the house, often become associates when they meet out of it. It is found almost impracticable to subject all the various classes within the same house to an appropriate treatment. One part of a class of adults often so closely resembles a part of another class, as to make any distinction in treatment appear arbitrary and capricious to those who are placed in the inferior class, and to create discontents, which the existing authority is too feeble to suppress, and so much complexity as to render the object attainable only by great additional expense and remarkable skill. Much, however, has been accomplished in some of the existing houses, but much more it appears to us, may be effected, and at a less expense by the measures which we proceed to suggest.


At least four classes are necessary:—1. The aged and really impotent; 2. The children; 3. The able-bodied females; 4. The able-bodied males. Of whom we trust that the two latter will be the least numerous classes. It appears to us that both the requisite classification and the requisite superintendence may be better obtained in separate buildings than under a single roof. If effected in the latter mode, large buildings must be erected. since few of the existing buildings are of the requisite size or arrangement, and as very different qualities, both moral and intellectual, are required for the management of such dissimilar classes, each class must have its separate superintendent. Nothing would be saved, therefore, in superintendence, and much expense must be incurred in buildings.


If, however, a separate building is assigned to each class, the existing workhouse might, in most cases, be made use of. For this purpose the parishes possessing these houses must, for certain purposes, be incorporated. By these means four parishes, each of which has at present no means of classification, might at once obtain the means of the most effectual classification; and though so small a number of parishes as four might be sufficient for an incorporation, it is obvious that a much larger number might unite, and obtain the advantages of wholesale management and good superintendence, not only without any increase, but with a great diminution of expense.


The salary of the masters of separate workhouses in towns does not usually exceed fifty or sixty guineas per annum; the aggregate expenses of management of four such workhouses may be stated to be two hundred or two hundred and forty guineas, and yet no special provision is usually made for the superintendence of the labour of the able-bodied, nor for the education of the children. Under a system of combined management a less salary would probably suffice for the person who superintended the poor-house or receptacle for the old, whilst a larger salary might be given to a person of appropriate qualifications to act as task-master or superintendent of the workhouse, properly so called, for the reception of the able-bodied, and also to a person properly qualified to act as a schoolmaster. Each class might thus receive an appropriate treatment; the old might enjoy their indulgences without torment from the boisterous; the children be educated, and the able-bodied subjected to such courses of labour and discipline as will repel the indolent and vicious. The principle of separate and appropriate management has been carried into imperfect execution, in the cases of lunatics, by means of lunatic asylums; and we have no doubt that, with relation to these objects, the blind and similar cases, it might be carried into more complete execution under extended incorporations acting with the aid of the Central Board.


Apprehensions are frequently expressed of the evil consequences from congregrating "large bodies of sturdy paupers together in workhouses." Such consequences have not ensued in the instances of the dispauperised parishes, and we believe that the most effectual means of preventing them is the classification which we propose. It is natural, indeed, for those who judge from the conduct of the able-bodied paupers in small classes under the existing system to anticipate that in larger classes their conduct will be proportionably worse, and that the difficulty of controlling them will be increased, and could be overcome only in edifices constructed for the purpose. We should admit this opinion to have weight, if the able-bodied paupers were brought together in larger classes, without being placed under better management; the probable mischief of an ill-regulated and idle class being proportionate to the chances of there being found within the class persons able to give it a mischievous direction, and all other things remaining the same, these chances are of course increased by the increase of the class; but by good management, those chances are almost annihilated. The evidence which we have received appears to establish that continued tumult on the part of able-bodied paupers, is conclusive proof of inexperience or incapacity on the parts of those charged with their management. The testimony upon the subject of Mr. Mott, a witness of the most extensive practical experience of any witness examined under this Commission, is corroborated by that of others.

"The refractory poor," he states, "occasion great mischief and confusion in all workhouses; but the mischief arises more from the bad example of the few, than from the many, for all my experience has shown that the number of refractory paupers is not great, as compared with the gross number of paupers in any parish or district, perhaps not much above five per cent., certainly not ten per cent.; and the conduct even of persons of this class must be attributed to the inducements offered by the present defective system, rather than to any innate disposition to act unlawfully. They know that their customary allowances and the rules of management are discretionary in the breasts of the parish officers; they have daily proof that the most refractory frequently obtain their ends, and get their condition 'bettered,' partly through the fear or dislike of the officers to come in contact with such characters, and partly from a desire of the stipendiary manager to save himself trouble, well knowing that a complaint to the magistrates is only a waste of time, because the punishment awarded is in fact no punishment whatever. These refractory characters are generally the most expert work-people (of those who apply for relief) under proper guidance. If I had a given quantity of work to get done in a certain time, by paupers, I should say to the parish officers, 'Let me have your most refractory characters;' as I find that, with mildness and persuasion, but with a determined conduct, constant superintendence, and suitable encouragement, they may be brought to do much more work than other paupers. They are not to be calculated upon as permanent paupers under a good system, and I do believe that to a man they would run to steady industry, if compelled by superior authority to conform to regulations rendering such industry preferable."


The success of the management of various institutions in the metropolis, which give no partial relief, such as the Philanthropic Society, where the children of criminals are educated and brought up to useful trades; the Refuge for the Destitute, in which young persons who have been discharged from prison are supplied with the means of instruction and reformation; and the Guardian Society, in which females who have become outcasts from society are provided with a temporary asylum and suitable employment until their conduct affords assurances of their amendment, are instances of what might be done by the good management of separate classes of the existing paupers.


These societies take for their subjects persons trained up in vice, and are stated, in a large proportion of cases, to reclaim them. The children who enter an ordinary workhouse, quit it, if they ever quit it, corrupted where they were well disposed, and hardened where they were vicious.


The circumstances which appear to conduce to the success of the excellent institutions to which we have referred (and to which we might add the Asylums for the Indigent Blind, the Schools for the Deaf and Dumb, the Marine Society's Schools), appear to be, first, that by classification of the objects of relief, the appropriate course of treatment is better ascertained, and its application and the general management rendered less difficult; secondly, that the co-operation of persons of leisure and information is obtained. The institutions for females are generally superintended by ladies' committees.


The following extracts from some evidence given by Mrs. Park, wife of Mr. Adam Park, surgeon, Gravesend, the brother of the celebrated traveller, will serve to show, that under good arrangements much voluntary service might be made available in a great proportion of the workhouses throughout the country.

"About two years ago the state of our workhouse attracted my attention, from the condition in which I learned that it was during my inquiries respecting Mr. Park's patients, he being then the surgeon of the parish. There were then fifty females in the workhouse. Of these, twenty-seven were young, stout, active women, who were never employed in doing anything whatever. There were five of these young and able women who were accustomed to go to bed in the forenoon, solely to pass off the time. There was no separation of the sexes during the day, and the most frightful demoralization was the consequence. Four old females did the whole of the work of cooking and cleaning the house.

"The younger females, the children, were brought up much in the same way; they were educated by an exceedingly ignorant, ill-conducted man, a pauper, who acted as the parish schoolmaster. These females were brought up in the same school with the boys, and very great disorders prevailed.

"The old females were also very ill regulated. I found that they made it a practice to send the children to the public-house for spirits. How they obtained the money was a mystery which I have never been able to penetrate. On the whole, the workhouse appeared to me, from all I saw and all I could learn, a frightful and increasing source of demoralization to the labouring classes, and of burthens to them in common with the higher classes.

"Seeing this I got several ladies to form a committee, and we tendered our services to the church wardens and the parish officers to educate the children, and to make the young and able-bodied paupers of our own sex work a certain number of hours a day, and conform to industrious and religious habits.

"The first object was to bring all the inmates to more industrious habits. Instead of four old persons always doing all the work in the house, our intention was, that the requisite number of persons should perform the cooking and other work in turn, so that these young women might learn household work, and form useful domestic habits, instead of bad habits and immorality."


The exertions of these ladies were greatly impeded by the parish officers; much good was nevertheless accomplished. The witness states, that—

"The elder paupers were taught knitting stockings, and the younger females needlework. Before we went to the workhouse they were badly clothed, and some of them were almost in a state of rags and nakedness. We wished to have the whole clothed in one way, with gowns of blue linsey-woolsey, check aprons, dark handkerchiefs, and close white caps. After violent opposition from the mistress of the house and the females themselves, this was acceded to. Hitherto they had purchased the most gaudy prints for the females, and ready-made slop shirts for the men in the house, whilst the young women were lying in bed idle. One of the paupers, a girl of eighteen years of age, who refused to work, was dressed in a dashing print-dress of red and green, with gigot sleeves, a silk band, a large golden or gilt buckle, long gilt earrings, and a lace-cap, turned up in front with bright ribbons, in the fashion of the day, and a high comb under the cap, and abundance of curls. A general order was given that the hair of the females should be braided, and put under their caps, and no curls or curl-papers seen. We got the whole of the young females clothed in the manner we designed in two months during the first year. This was done by their own labour, under the instructions we gave them. The benefit of this dress was, that whenever they went out of the work-house they were known and liable to observation, and could not act as they had been accustomed to act when they could not be distinguished. In the next place the parish saved money. They were thus clothed comfortably for 10s. each; the clothing consisting of one chemise, one apron, one cap, gown, and petticoat, stockings, handkerchief, and all for 10s.

"After that we procured them needle-work, in which we had no difficulty, though we were opposed, in the first instance, under the notion that we should injure the National School, where work is taken in. It was supposed also that it would injure industrious poor people in the neighbourhood. But, according to the statement of the National School Society, the amount of the labour done was not diminished. Neither could we ascertain that any industrious people out of the house had been injured by it; we never had any complaint, nor ever heard of one from any industrious people. I believe the fact to be, that a great part of the work we procured was work created, or which would not have been done had it not been taken in at the workhouse. But it would have been much better that the work which might be done in wealthy families should be done in the workhouse, that these paupers should be occupied usefully, and instructed. The ladies paid great attention to the work, and employed one of the most intelligent and active of the inmates of the house as the general superintendent. The work was remarked for its neatness; no slovenly or indifferent work was permitted to go out; and the committee were so particular, that the instruction they received was necessarily much better than that which they would have obtained in the houses of their own parents. One effect of this partial discipline in the house was, that in almost two months about one-half of the workers left. Some of them called themselves widows; others said that they did not come in to work; they merely came in until they could accommodate themselves, until they could get themselves another situation; but they would not remain to work, indeed, that they would not; they would take a room and keep themselves when they were out of place, sooner than put on a dress, and be made to work! One refractory person said, 'The poor were not going to be oppressed by work.'

"If you had been seconded in your exertions, and been allowed to carry into effect the alterations which you thought desirable, what further effects do you believe, judging from your experience, would have been practicable?—In the first place, we should have had the hours of work at least doubled. I am well convinced that the work-house might, as regards females, be made a school of industry, and a place of wholesome restraint, instead of a school of vice. Whilst no one would come to it under the influence of the inducements afforded by indolence, those who must necessarily come there, orphans, and the great numbers of young people who have been born on the parish, might be so instructed as to be made superior servants and good nurses, and superior wives of working men. In the first place, the workhouse affords the means of giving to females instruction in household work and in domestic economy, which at present is their great want, and which so frequently occasions the ruin and misery of labouring men when they take wives from this class. That which is done by the Guardian Society in London, might be done in every workhouse throughout the kingdom. If matrons, with proper qualifications, were appointed, they might conduct the system, and might obtain the assistance of the ladies of the vicinity. I was told at the outset that ladies could not be got to form a committee, but I found no difficulty whatever in getting a committee of the age and qualifications to command respect. The household work, scouring, cleaning, washing, plain cooking, needlework, knitting, mending and making up carpets, and economical industry might under such a system be taught in a much higher degree than they could be learned in a cottage, or even in the house of a person of the middle classes. They might also receive superior instruction in another respect; they might be well qualified to act as nurses when sickness occurred in the families of their employers or in their own families. There are always poor people sick in the workhouse, and they might be usefully taught to wait upon the sick people. There are very few females capable of acting as nurses; in fact, it requires good instruction of a nature which might be given by the physician who attends the workhouse. The ladies' committee might maintain a very high order of domestic instruction in these places; and the children of misfortune, who are now a prey to every vice, might be good servants, and in every respect good members of society. This is, in fact, accomplished by the ladies of the Guardian Society in London.

"Did you attempt to make any classification in the house?—In such a house classification was nearly impossible. We did on some occasions separate the very old from the young, which was deemed by the old a very great blessing. Some attempt was made to separate the very bad females from the others who were less depraved, but we never could effect it. In short, it appears to me that the only classification which could be made, would be by placing them in separate houses, which might be effected, I am sure, without any addition to the present number of houses. When I look at the parishes around here and their houses, I see no difficulty whatever in making a good classification of the inmates, provided they were under one general management. The persons who are placed as superintendents should have no local interests, and therefore should not be locally appointed. So surely as they are, so surely will there be disorder. The rules will not be so rigidly applied as they ought to be from the numbers in the house who are connected with them or known to them. The mischief which we find to result from this exercise of partiality goes beyond the violation of some rules, and the weakening of all others, in the ferment and discontent and disorder excited in the minds of the other paupers by the injustice done by the exercise of this partiality. If the class were large, as it would be for a time, from such a district, it might be worth while to employ, as the superintendent of the house for the females, a person of education and respectability. Such persons as the widows of noncommissioned officers would be extremely glad to accept such situations; and they might also be made acceptable to such persons as the widows of poor clergymen, and it would be cheap to the public in the end to obtain the services of such persons. They would be incapable of the low cunning and petty jobbing which exist at present."


The different effects of different modes of education and treatment upon the same descriptions of persons are strikingly exemplified in some portions of the evidence collected under this Commission, in which it is shown that whilst nearly the whole of the children of one parish where their education and training is neglected, become thieves or otherwise pests of society, nearly the whole of the children of another parish where better care of them is taken, are rendered industrious and valuable members of the community*73. In the latter case much of the beneficial results may be ascribed to the attention of persons of education who visited and superintended the schools. One great advantage of the classification obtainable by means of a combination of workhouses would be, that the aid of voluntary associations or local committees, of the class of persons who have conducted useful public institutions, might be more extensively obtained, to superintend the education of the workhouse children, as well as of the other classes of paupers adverted to by the lady whose testimony we have cited.


Although our evidence does not countenance the apprehension that, under a good system of management, a large proportion of the existing able-bodied paupers would continue permanently dependant on the poor-rates, it appears that in the first instance the chief arrangements must be made with reference to this class of paupers. But we do not apprehend that in many instances new workhouses would be requisite for their reception. It is another of the advantages held out by the aggregation of paupers from a district for the purpose of classification, that the separate classes of the proper objects of relief might be accommodated temporarily in ordinary dwelling-houses, and it is a fortunate district in which there are no empty tenements available for their reception. The tenements belonging to the parish might be rendered available for the separate accommodation of one class of paupers, and the poor-house itself for that of the able-bodied; and on the whole it appears from the evidence, that although a considerable proportion of the parishes are without workhouses, there are a few districts in which, by combined management, and under good regulations, the existing workhouse-room would not suffice.


By assigning one class of paupers to each of the houses comprehended in an incorporation, a greater number of persons might be received within each house. In small districts there are considerable fluctuations of the numbers of persons in each class; in the workhouse of a single parish the rooms appropriated for the reception of the sick must often be empty; in a house for the reception of the sick from a number of parishes, the absence of patients from one parish would be met by an influx from another, and a more steady average number maintained, and so with the other classes of inmates. The rooms left empty by these fluctuations or reserved for emergencies under the existing management, cannot, without great inconvenience, be immediately appropriated to the use of the redundant class. If any rooms on the female side of the house be left unoccupied, they cannot be readily appropriated to the use of an extra number of male paupers. The witness last cited states—

"In Lambeth, under the present arrangement, 800 is as great a number as we can reasonably calculate upon accommodating; whereas, if the whole workhouse was appropriated to the reception of only one class of persons, from 900 to 1,000 might be fairly accommodated. If you add to this the room that would be obtained by the discharge of those of the present inmates who would not submit to the restraint of strict workhouse regulations, I think ample accommodation might be made for all those who would avail themselves of the workhouse dietary and accommodation, when their money allowance was discontinued."

Powers and Duties of the Central Board


Although such is the general tenor of the evidence, we cannot state that there may not be some districts where new workhouses would be found requisite, but we have no doubt that where this does occur, the erection of appropriate edifices, though apparently expensive, would ultimately be found economical. Under a system of district management the workhouses might be supplied under one contract at wholesale prices. Mr. Mott states, that if 500 persons cost 10l. per head, or 5,000l.; 1,000 persons would cost only 9l. per head, or 9,000l.; He also states, that there would be no more difficulty in managing five or six combined workhouses than five or six separate wards or rooms in one house. Considerable economy would also be practicable in combined workhouses, by varying the nature of the supplies. In the smaller workhouses the children receive nearly the same diet as the adults; if they were separated they might receive a diet both cheaper and more wholesome.




The power of incorporation for workhouse purposes appears to us to be absolutely necessary. It also appears to us that parishes may be beneficially incorporated for some other purposes. As this opinion depends in some measure on a further opinion that extended management is in certain points and withen certain limits economical, and as this opinion is at variance with a prevalent impression in favour of the general economy of small districts, we shall support it at some length. In the minds of many, management on a large scale, and large establishments, are associated with large expenses and general profusion: where every thing is magnified, abuses, which, though greater in proportion, would have been imperceptible on a smaller scale, become visible and striking; but we find that in the small parishes the expense per head of the persons entitled to relief is generally the greatest, and that, although the actual burthen per pound on the rental is often small, that is effected, not by diminishing but by shifting and often aggravating the real burthen, by destroying cottages, preventing settlements, and driving the labourers into the adjoining district. The following answer by Mr. Mott both states the comparative economy of the larger parishes, and accounts for it. He was asked,—

"What would be the effect of dividing Lambeth into as many independent parishes as there are in the city of London?"


He replies,—

"The chief effects which appear to me to be likely to ensue are, that we should have ninety-six imperfect establishments instead of one; ninety-six sources of peculation instead of one; ninety-six sets of officers to be imposed upon by paupers instead of one set; ninety-six sources of litigation and of expense for removals and disputed settlements instead of one; and ninety-six modes of rating instead of one.

"It appears that the 96 city parishes, (many of which are extremely wealthy, and lightly burthened with poor) with a population of 55,000, expended for the relief of the poor, in the year 1831, 64,000l. Lambeth, with 32,000 more people, and many densely-peopled districts containing very poor people, expended on the relief of the poor only 37,000l. during the same year. In the wealthy parishes of the city of London, the money annually paid as poor's-rates amounted to 1l. 3s. 3 1/4d. per head; whilst in Lambeth the amount annually paid is 8s. 6d. and a fraction per head. The adults of Lambeth parish are now supported in the workhouse at 3s. 11d. a week per head; whilst in the city of London, the greater proportion of all classes of poor, including children, are farmed out at an expense of from 4s. 6d. to 7s. each, and the expense of those maintained in the small city workhouses varies from 5s. to 8s. per head per week for all classes."


The following is a recapitulation of an examination of the comparative expense of the poor's-rates per head, in the largest, the least, and the intermediate sized parishes; comprehending all the parishes from which we have received returns, belonging to the first seven counties, taken in alphabetical order, referred to in our Supplement.

      Population. Rate per Head.
BEDFORDSHIRE       £ s. d.
  16 Parishes     12,224 1 0
    5 Largest     6,163 0 16 5
    6 Intermediate     4,012 1 6 10¾
   5 Least     2,049 0 17
  30 Parishes     40, 971 0 14
   10 Largest     29,489 0 12 10¼
   10 Intermediate     8,401 0 17
   10 Least     3,081 0 19
  35 Parishes     34,456 0 14
   12 Largest     22,655 0 11
   11 Intermediate     8,386 0 18
   12 Least     3,415 1 4
  41 Parishes     59,016 0 13
   12 Largest     37,114 0 11
   12 Intermediate     11,830 0 14
   12 Least     5,410 0 14 10¼
  17 Parishes           
   6 Largest     6,481 0 7
   5 Intermediate     1,568 0 6
   6 Least     871 0 9
  30 Parishes     60,121 0 6
   10 Largest     43,328 0 4
   10 Intermediate     11,520 0 9 7
   10 Least     5,273 0 9 5
  46 Parishes     45,607 0 5 8
   12 Largest     32,979 0 5
   12 Intermediate     6,419 0 6 3
   12 Least     2,223 0 7 11¾
Of these 7 Counties, s d        
  The 67 largest parishes give 9 per head on the population.
  The 66 intermediate parishes 14 4 ditto.
  The 67 least parishes 14 11¾ ditto.


Of all England,—


The 100 absolutely largest parishes, containing a population of 3,196,064, give 6d. 7s. per head.


The 100 intermediate parishes, containing a population of 19,841, give 15s. per head.


The 100 least parishes, from which Poor Rates Returns are made, with a population of 1,708, give 1l. 11s. 11 1/2d. per head.


The 100 intermediate parishes are of the size of which there is the greatest number, and where the population is not too large, to allow the parish officers to obtain a personal knowledge of the individuals relieved.


We have no recent returns of proportions of paupers in the parishes referred to in the preceding statement; but on referring to the Parliamentary Returns of the number of paupers in each parish in the years 1803 and 1813, it appears that the number of persons relieved in the large and small parishes bears some proportion to their relative amount of rates. In the three hundred parishes of which the comparative amount of the poor's-rates on the population has been stated, the

Table. Click to enlarge in new window.


The economy of extended management in the rural districts, is also proved by the evidence derived from the incorporated hundreds. These hundreds are, on the whole, distinguished by the economy and general superiority of their administration, as compared with the unincorporated hundreds. From a comparison of the expense of the eight unincorporated hundreds of Suffolk with the expense of the nine incorporated hundreds of the same county, making the calculation on the basis of the real property assessment of 1815, it appears that the expense of maintaining the poor, during the years from 1824 to 1831, was 53 per cent. in favour of the incorporated hundreds.


Captain Pringle, who appears to have examined carefully the administration of the poor's-rate in the Isle of Wight, the whole of which is incorporated, shows that notwithstanding much general ill management, the result, after a trial of 60 years, is greatly in favour of incorporation. On a comparison of the amount of property assessed in the year 1815, with the amount of rates raised in the year 1829, it appears that the rate per pound for the whole county was 3s. 6d.; for the county exclusive of the island 3s. 8d.; for the island exclusive of the rest of the county, 1s. 10d. In this incorporation, however, litigation about settlements and the expense of removals are almost entirely avoided*74.


Much of the saving is attributable to the efficiency of the officers of the incorporations, and to the more methodical transaction of their business. Mr. Meadows White, a solicitor of great experience in the management of incorporated hundreds, states that each of the parishes incorporated in Blything hundred for less than 10l. per annum. obtains for the management of the in-door poor the services of a

    £ s. d.
Chaplain at a Salary of 50 0 0
Governor and a Matron ditto 100 0 0
Schoolmistress ditto 20 0 0
Superintendent of the Labour (a weaver) ditto 20 0 0
Clerk ditto 140 0 0
Visiting Guardian ditto 40 0 0
House Surgeon ditto 52 0 0
TOTAL for 46 parishes £422 0 0


If it were possible that the several functions performed by each of these officers could be performed by any one person, at least five times the amount of money paid by each of the parishes incorporated would be requisite to obtain the services of such a person. But it is obviously impossible that one officer could execute these functions: the performance of the duties of the school-master or matron of the workhouse imply a neglect of the duties of the school, in which it appears that there are rarely less than 100 or 120 children; neither could the business of the superintendent of the pauper labour, nor the business of the clerk (an attorney, whose salary includes the remuneration for all his attendances, journeys and law business in the county) be performed unless at the expense of other duties.


In the establishments of the larger parishes, whilst there is great gain in efficiency by the division of labour, there is also frequently gain by the concentration of labour where it may be concentrated without interfering with the performance of other equally important duties. One of the assistant-overseers of Lambeth parish, in reciting his duties, states,—

"Besides inquiring into the cases of applicants for relief, I inquire into the cases of the non-payment of poor's-rate, and whether the neglect or refusal proceeds from inability to pay, or from any other causes, and I report the same to the overseers. It is also my duty to inform the vestry-clerk of all houses newly erected in the parish, and of all houses, noted in the rate-book as empty, which have become inhabited; I report them in order that they may be assessed to the rate; I enter this in a book kept for the purpose, and called the Draught-book. This serves as a check on the collectors and on overseers, who, from favouritism or other causes, might be disposed to overlook the houses of friends. The overseers or parish officers may be persons in business who are desirous of favouring friends. By imposing these duties on the assistant-overseers, who have to traverse districts for purposes relating to the paupers, they are performed at a very little additional expense, as it is all done under one head. I find frequently that when I am inquiring of a person about a house, he can also give me information with relation to a pauper."


To these advantages may be added the greater facility of obtaining securities against embezzlement.


One of the most prominent suggestions of those who have written on Poor-Law amendment, is compelling the adoption of a uniform and well-arranged system of accounts, a provision which they often appear to consider a sufficient check on peculation. There can be no doubt that arrangements to insure completeness, clearness, uniformity and publicity of parochial accounts are as requisite in this as in any other department of public administration. WE RECOMMEND, THEREFORE, THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE EMPOWERED AND REQUIRED TO TAKE MEASURES FOR THE GENERAL ADOPTION OF A COMPLETE, CLEAR, AND, AS FAR AS MAY BE PRACTICABLE, UNIFORM SYSTEM OF ACCOUNTS. But it appears to us that new arrangements as to the mode of transacting the business in question and the establishment of self-acting checks (which are partly independent of accounts) are equally requisite. It is one advantage of management on a large scale, that it admits of these arrangements and securities, without any increase of expense. Thus, in the incorporated hundreds, there are six distinct functionaries for the collection and the expenditure of the rates. 1. The assessments are fixed by the Board of Guardians. They are collected by, 2, the Overseers of the several parishes incorporated, who are compelled under a penalty to pay within a certain time to, 3, the Treasurer, the money collected. The latter gives security. 4. The Clerk of the incorporation receives the commodities supplied, and enters an account of them into the stock-book. 5. The Governor of the workhouse attends to the distribution of the goods supplied, and is answerable for it. 6. It is the duty of the Visiting Guardian to see that the goods received are in conformity to the contracts, and, in fact, to act as a check on the two last-mentioned officers. In the parishes of the unincorporated districts, one person, the overseer, is usually assessor, collector, treasurer and distributor, and the checks derived from the performance of the business by separate individuals are lost.


Similar advantages to those of the incorporations are possessed by the larger parishes.

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Here then the parish being large, the business of collecting and distributing the fund is managed by five different hands, exclusive of the workhouse-keeper and other assistant officers. The following is the account which the vestry-clerk gives of one simple expedient by which a check is obtained against peculation in the distribution of the casual relief.

Mr. Watmore, Vestry Clerk of Lambeth; Examined.

"Each overseer relieves the casual poor in cases within his district, which are cases of necessity; and this relief is by a little printed ticket on the clerk of the workhouse. The overseer relieving signs his name and the amount on the ticket, and this serves as a voucher for every one, the smallest item.

"Before the establishment of the checks, I have known casual poor obtain relief from the whole eight overseers. Frauds have been committed with the tickets; one woman was prosecuted for increasing the amount of the ticket, but frauds in this way cannot be very extensive. I see every day the benefits of this check as regards officers as well as the applicants, and I can see no reason why it should not be adopted in other parishes. In our parish the overseers neither receive nor pay any money; the collectors are bound to pay in every week to the bankers the money collected; we have eight collectors, with securities of 1000l. each."


Some large parishes, however, neglect these precautions, and commit to one person the whole distribution of the rates. In one case the overseer draws from the treasurer a sum of money which he distributes at his discretion; in another, the money is paid into the hands of several overseers who severally distribute it as they think proper, and account for it at the end of the year; the only check being their honour. It appears, however, that this check is not always sufficient, and that cases occur in which the officers mix fictitious names in the crowd of items, and overcharge the sums paid to real characters; thus, where 1s. 3d. has been given, 1s. 9d. is charged; where 1s. 6d. has been given, 2s. or 2s. 6d. is often charged. The following portions of the examination of the parish officers of Bethnal Green show the danger of omitting proper checks.

The Parish Officers of Bethnal Green; Examined.

"Mr. Bunn.—The overseers do not pay by ticket, but pay money out of their own pockets, which they charge to the parish, and account for the money at the end of the quarter; my last weekly account of the casual relief for one division was 27l. odd; this was paid away in shillings and sixpences. It is paid in advance for the quarter, and we receive no interest for the outlay.


"Has this been the usual course of proceeding for years past?—I believe it is; there has been no alteration.

"Is this expenditure discretional with the annual overseer?—Yes, the casual relief is.

"Does he frequently sit alone, or is he assisted by other parish officers?—On Thursdays and Saturdays we sit alone, unless some governor by chance drops in in the course of the day, but generally we sit alone.

"And are you not regularly assisted by any permanent officer?—No, we are not assisted by any one.

"Do you not find that you are frequently imposed upon?—In spite of all an annual officer can do, we are frequently imposed upon. There were 400 new faces for me to pay the first night I sat. I had no one to assist me or to inform me, and I gave money away on the mere statements made to me. I am confident that I paid some of the people twice over that night.

"Have you had overseers serving more than one year?—Mr. Davis.—Yes. Since I have been in office, two have served three years, and one two years.

"Have you had others who have been desirous of serving?—Mr. Davis.—Those who last served were known to have been desirous of serving again.

"What reason did they allege for being desirous of serving again?—Mr. Davis.—I do not know.

"Mr. Bunn.—For my own part I would have gladly paid to have been excused. I have offered 60l. to be excused from serving after I was in office; I also offered to put down 50l. as a subscription to extricate the parish from its difficulties, but not a soul followed my example. I was offered by my predecessors, when I entered into office, to have my duties performed for me, but this offer I declined, as I must have been responsible for all monies.

"Can you judge or state what you suppose to have been the object of the parties in again serving so burdensome an office?—I know their object, Sir, but that I must, if you please, decline stating.

"Have there been any cases of malversation in your parish?—Never, that I am aware of.

"Nor any suspicions or rumours of malversation prevalent in the parish?—There have been such rumours.

"Have there been no grounds for such rumours?—I do not know of any of my knowledge, and cannot speak to them.

"Are you ready to swear that you know of no grounds?—All that I can say is, that the expenditure this year is less than it was last year; I cannot say how that was.

"But in a parish like yours, where there are a number of small tradesmen, whose credit is not very good, and where large sums pass through the hands of parish officers, with considerable opportunities for malversation on the part of any one who has the inclination, is not the parish exposed to very considerable danger unless a prudent choice be made?—Certainly. I have heard such persons boast that if they were in office they would take care of themselves."


Mr. Masterman, another parish officer of Bethnal Green; Examined.

"What other opportunities has the system afforded for considerable malversation?—The payment of the casual poor, and the out-door relief, affords very great opportunities for fraud on the parts of the overseers, as well as the paupers, but I cannot say that I know of any instances. I suggested the payment by tickets, but the suggestion was not adopted.

"What is the popular opinion on this subject?—That to be an overseer and take care of the poor is a very good thing.

"On what grounds has that opinion been founded?—They have seen a person's condition greatly improved after having served the office of overseer; they have seen this take place without seeing any increase in his business, and without having heard or known of any money having been left to him; having, in short, no ostensible reason except that he has been in office.

"Is the remark common?—Yes, it is."


In the smaller parishes the state of things is still worse. There one officer collects and distributes, and unless he have some personal adversary who inspects the accounts, and objects to them, this officer really accounts to no one, for the audit by the magistrates is confessedly a form.


Many parishes have been agitated by contests to obtain publicity of accounts; these accounts have accordingly been published, and peace has ensued; but the statements published leave the satisfied rate-payers almost as much in the dark as ever.


The items are usually published in the following form:—

    £ s. d.
Beer and Ale ...... 440 0 6
Bread and Flour ...... 1779 7 6
Butcher's Meat ...... 1694 11 11
Butter, Cheese, and Bacon ...... 691 13 6
Candles and Soap ...... 120 15 6
Coals ...... 238 13 0
Grocery ...... 324 19 0
Clothing for Paupers ...... 175 9 0


The parishioner knows not from such items what was the character of the purchases; whether 3s. or 7s. per pair was paid for shoes, if any were included in the general item Clothing. If the account were made out in detail, the other shoemakers or the other bakers of the parish might judge of the reasonableness of the charges; but even these details would still leave room for fraud in the misstatement of the quantity of goods supplied, and as to the actual consumption of the whole quantity supplied.


We consider, therefore, that any uniform and good system of accounts would not of itself suffice, unless the operations or the mode of doing business were clearly arranged. One system of accounts might be prescribed to the two parishes, Lambeth and Bethnal Green: it might be required in both, that every item of casual relief given should be entered in the accounts; but whilst in Lambeth the security against fraud, derived from the checks arising from the method of doing business, would, perhaps, be found nearly complete, in Bethnal Green the accounts would afford little or no security whatever; the names of the parties alleged to have been relieved may be fictitious; the amount of the payments may be misstated; and yet the accounts may, primâ facie, afford to the auditor no means of detection. Clearness does not ensure truth. Captain Pringle, who has had much experience in the examination of the accounts of commissaries, states that he generally found that the greatest peculators had the clearest accounts. Clear accounts, then, must be based on good arrangements of the modes of transacting business. Uniformity as to some points in the modes of keeping accounts would be of great service for the purpose of comparing the detailed expenditure of one district with another, and would form a necessary means of any general system of management, but the same forms in every point cannot suit every parish. The forms requisite in Mary-le-bone, containing 122,206 inhabitants, would be unsuited to the 1657 parishes, containing, collectively, only 122,170 inhabitants, and managed by 1657 different sets of officers.


The sources of peculation will be to a great extent extirpated by the abolition of money-payments; by the supply of goods on public contract, under proper securities, and by the adoption of the checks rendered practicable by more extended management. In a large proportion of the smaller parishes, it would be requisite to obtain in each the services of a good book-keeper. In the larger establishments this is accomplished without difficulty, and at a comparatively trivial expense; one set of books serves instead of forty or fifty sets; and the officers of the establishment are usually competent to the task of keeping them.


A further advantage of extended districts arises from the comparative facility of providing for the paupers' useful employment. Opportunities for such employment are wanting in many parishes; in others, exist in forms too large to be undertaken; and in still more numerous instances exist uselessly, in consequence of the jealousies which always act most powerfully in small neighbourhoods. It appears that one of the first preliminary measures must be the preparing for the able-bodied more of this employment than we believe that they will accept.


Employment of some kind can, indeed, be always provided, but it appears to us that it ought to be useful employment. Parish officers, whilst they have had sufficient labour of this description before their doors, in their unwillingness or their inability to take upon themselves the trouble of superintendence, or to make any immediate pecuniary sacrifice for the purpose of enforcing the performance of that labour, have resorted to the expedient of sending paupers on fictitious errands, with baskets full of stones, or blank paper directed as letters, and other devices of the same nature, obviously intended to torment them. Such contrivances are pernicious in the revengeful feelings which they generate in the minds of the paupers themselves, and they are also pernicious in exciting sympathy in behalf of the indolent and vicious, and in the obstacles which they create to the use of legitimate labour and salutary discipline. We believe that they ought to be carefully prevented. The association of the utility of labour to both parties, the employer as well as the employed, is one which we consider it most important to preserve and strengthen; and we deem everything mischievous which unnecessarily gives to it a repulsive aspect. At the same time we believe that in extended districts the requisite sources of employment will be easily found. The supply of the articles consumed in workhouses and prisons would afford a large outlet for the manufactures carried on in the house; and, with respect to out-door employment, it is probable that there are few districts to which such evidence as that contained in the following extracts would not be applicable. Mr. William Winkworth, overseer of the parish of St. Mary's, Reading, whilst advocating the necessity of the incorporation of the parishes in that town, states,—

"The town, for example, wants draining. We have brickmakers, and carpenters, and other labourers on the parish receiving relief; and the whole town might be well drained by the labour of these paupers, at the expense of materials only; bricks, wood, mortar, and sand. This, however, is a work which the parishes cannot, or will not, undertake separately; it is prevented by petty jealousies and dissensions, and the want of able officers to direct the work of the paupers. The owners of premises well situated and well drained, say. 'Drainage is a benefit to the owners of the property, and we do not see why we should be called upon to contribute money for their benefit.' The owners of the houses where the drainage is most wanted, say, 'We can get no rents to pay for the work, and the nuisances which are caused by the want of it must therefore continue.' No account is taken of the necessity of finding work of any sort for the able-bodied paupers; nothing can be done with the separate parishes governed by open vestries, no cordial co-operation can be got, and the benefit of considerable labour is lost. As the surveyor of the road from this town to Basingstoke, and also of the road from hence to Shillingford, I can state, from my observation of the several parishes (nineteen in number) through which these roads pass, that very considerable labour might be found, under good direction, in improving their private roads. This is an instance of the sort of work which might frequently be found for paupers. In some of the parishes the roads are kept in very good order, but this is mere accident; whilst in the immediately adjoining parishes more money will be expended, and the roads will nevertheless be in so bad a state that the parish is indictable for them. The farmers steadily adhere to their old practices, and never willingly conform to any improvements; they employ waggons where carts would serve much better; they throw down on the roads materials totally inapplicable, and think they can mend them with big loose stones, which stones would really be useful if they were broken up."


The Rev. James Randall, rector of Binfield, Berks, states—

"In this parish I think the poor might be beneficially employed in making roads; the parish having been lately inclosed, many cottages and many fields are only approachable by drift ways, which are mere green lanes, almost impassable in winter, the soil being a stiff clay. The inhabitants of these houses are consequently cut off from the village, and remain in a very uncivilized state. It would be a public benefit to turn these lanes into good roads; but the vestry will never agree to such a measure, unless under legislative compulsion, because it would require an immediate outlay, from which temporary occupiers would derive no advantage, and also because the chief benefit, after all, would be to the cottagers, not to the large rate-payers."


Mr. Villiers states that an opinion was expressed to him—

"By many different persons, that from the present state of the communication in many parts of the county of Worcester, that if the roads were placed under any general system of superintendence, and properly attended to, assuming that the same number of paupers as at present should remain dependent upon their parishes, that employment for the five next years at least might be found for them, and with the greatest advantage to the county, a fact which is worth considering, if an immediate change in the system of maintaining the poor is contemplated."




We must not, however, conceal our fear, that the appointment of efficient permanent officers will be difficult.


Those only who have a full knowledge of the peculiar nature of the duties to be performed would be qualified to judge of the fitness of the agents to perform them; a knowledge which, as it does not influence the daily practice, can scarcely be presumed to exist in the districts where abusive systems prevail. In the dispauperized parishes the appointment of fitting officers was found to be attended with great difficulty, and was rarely accomplished without opposition. The person appointed as the permanent overseer and master of the workhouse at Hatfield had been a drill-serjeant and paymaster-serjeant in the Coldstream Guards. One of the witnesses states,—

"That the parish was entirely indebted for the change to the talents and personal energy applied to the work by the Marquis of Salisbury, and to the peculiar personal qualifications of the person appointed by him to serve the office of permanent overseer. This appointment would never have been made had the matter been left in the hands of the ratepayers at large. Many of them openly said that a stranger ought not to be brought into the parish; that they ought to appoint a person from amongst themselves, some poor person, who wanted a comfortable home; when the duties of the office required a person of peculiar firmness and habits of command, and were such as ninety-nine out of a hundred in the parish would have been unable to execute*75."


The success of this appointment occasioned similar appointments to be made in some adjacent parishes where the larger proprietors attempted to amend the administration. The Hon. and Rev. Robert Eden states, that in Hertingfordbury.

"A permanent overseer was appointed, who was also to collect the rates in the adjoining parishes of Bayford and Little Berkhampstead, and to keep the accounts, and superintend the men employed at parish work. He had been a pay-serjeant in the Guards; his appointment was opposed chiefly on the ground of his being a stranger*76."


The Rev. Ralph Clutton, curate of Welwyn, states,—

"A permanent overseer has been appointed, who is also the governor of the poor-house; he was serjeant in the Coldstream Guards, a married man, and not a parishioner. It is to the efficiency of himself and his wife that the success of the undertaking thus far must in a great measure be attributed. His chief qualifications are firmness, order, clearness and accuracy in his accounts, unconquerable resolution and integrity; and on the part of his wife, extraordinary cleanliness, and a sincere desire to better the condition of those (especially the young) under her care*77."


The wife herself stated "that the selection of her husband had excited great displeasure, because it was considered that none but a parishioner ought to have been appointed." In Waltham, where some improvements were carried into effect,—

"A permanent overseer has been appointed, who is also governor of the workhouse, but is not a parishioner: having been in the army, his qualifications for the discipline and management of the workhouse, by the aid of that order, regularity, and system in which he had been there initiated, together with a perfect ability as to the arrangement and keeping of the accounts, are his merits. Dissatisfaction was manifested to this appointment: the principal objections were his being a stranger, and not a parishioner*78."


The statement of Mr. Richard Gregory, of Spitalfields, is characteristic of the circumstances under which the permanent officers are frequently appointed in the town parishes:—

"Might not paid and responsible officers be elected by the parishioners?—He answers, No; I think you would never get such offices well filled, unless it was by accident. The people have no conception of what sort of men are requisite to perform properly the duties of a parish officer. If such a situation were vacant, what sort of a man would apply for it? Why, some decayed tradesman; some man who had got a very large family, and had been 'unfortunate in business,' which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, means a man who has not had prudence or capacity to manage his own affairs; and this circumstance is usually successful in any canvass for a parish situation to manage the affairs of the public. Men who have before been in office for the parish would obtain a preference. And what sort of men are those who would be likely to be at liberty to accept a vacant situation? The situations of overseer and churchwarden are by some considered situations of dignity, and dignity always attracts fools. I have known numbers of small tradesmen who were attracted by 'the dignity of the office,' and succeeded in getting made overseers and churchwardens. Their elevation was their downfall. They have not given their minds to their own business as before. The consequence of this was that they have lost their business and have been ruined. Now and then a good man of business will be desirous of taking office when he thinks he is slighted, or has had an affront put upon him by being overlooked; but in general, any man in decent business must know, if he has the brains of a goose, that it will be much better for him, in a pecuniary point of view, to pay the fine than serve. I could name from fifteen to twenty people in our parish, who have been entirely ruined by being made churchwardens. These would be the people who would succeed best in parochial or district elections; for the people would say of any one of them, 'Poor man, he has ruined himself by serving a parish office, and the only recompense we can give him is to put him in a paid office.' This always has been the general course of parish elections, and I have no doubt would always continue to be so. There is infinitely more favouritism in parish appointments than in government appointments. In appointments by the government there is frequently some notion of fitness; but in the case of parish appointments, fitness is out of the question. When I was the treasurer of the watch department of the parish, I took great interest in the management of the police of the district, and determined to make it efficient. You would conceive that the inhabitants would have been so guided by their own apparent interests, as to get active men appointed, but I had solicitations from some of the first and most respectable houses in the parish to take their old and decayed servants and put them on the watch. I had also applications from the parish officers to put men up on the watch who were in the workhouse. As I was determined to make the police efficient, I resolutely resisted all these applications.*79."


It is also clear that such officers should be selected as would not be biassed by local interests or partialities. The most fitting persons must often, as in the instances we have cited, be sought for in distant districts, and, cæteris paribus, would be preferable to persons within the same districts.


These premises appear to lead to a conclusion that the Central Board ought to be empowered to appoint the permanent and salaried officers in all parishes, or at least in those which they should incorporate. But we do not venture such a recommendation. In the first place, because we doubt the power of a single Board to select a sufficient number of well-qualified persons; secondly, because such a duty would occupy too much of their time and attention; and, thirdly, because the patronage, though really a painful incumbrance to them, would be a source of public jealousy. But believing that, after all, more will depend, as more always has depended, on the administration of the law than on the words of its enactments, and that the good or bad administration will mainly rest on the selection of the inferior administration will mainly rest on the selection of the inferior administrators, we think that no security for good appointments should be neglected, and no means of preventing the effects of bad appointmentsomitted. We think that the first object might be aided, if the Commissioners were directed to prescribe some general qualifications, in the absence of which no person should be eligible as a salaried officer, and we think that the number of competent persons who must in time come under their observation would enable them frequently to assist parishes and incorporations by recommending proper candidates; we also think that they might, to a great degree, both aid and support the well-disposed, and prevent the continuance in office of improper persons, if they were invested with the power of removing them. Some of the ablest of the permanent officers who have been examined under the authority of this Commission, have urged that they ought to be immediately responsible to the authority whose regulations they are to enforce; that it ought to be obvious that they really have no discretion, that the rule of duty is inflexible, and that, if they violate or neglect it, suspension or dismissal must be the consequence. If the permanent officers continue responsible only to the annual officers or to the vestry, a screen will be interposed between the Central Board and the actual administrators of relief, which will encourage and protect every form of malversation.




The alteration of some portions of the existing law with respect to contracts for the supply of food and other necessaries to the workhouses will be requisite to protect the public from continued jobbing, fraud and mismanagement. The extensive prevalence of these evils is indicated not only by the direct testimony contained in our Appendix, but by the recurrence in the answers to our circulated Query as to the propriety of giving relief in kind, of apprehensions of peculation. Such an alteration is necessary also in order to facilitate a change, which in many districts will be more strenuously opposed by the few who will lose, than supported by the many who will gain by more rigid management. Private interest, often apparently inconsiderable, has always created the strongest and the most successful opposition to improvement. The Hon. and Rev. Robert Eden states,—

"In the year 1827 I endeavoured to unite, under Sturges Bourne's Act, the parishes of Hertingfordbury, Essendon, Little Berkhampstead and Bayford. Could I have succeeded, we should have built a central workhouse, and have had under superintendence a population of 2000 persons, and been able to pay a really efficient officer. My plan failed, partly from the lukewarmness of the landowners, from the unwillingness of the occupiers (being tenants at will) to contribute to the formation of a new building, and from the opposition of the tradesmen of the various parishes, who were employed occasionally in the old repairs of the old workhouses, but had no chance of getting the tender for building the new."


In Cookham and other parishes, as soon as the general benefits of improved management had become apparent, a renewed opposition was organized by publicans and beer-shop keepers, who found that they were losers by the frugality created among their customers. In many instances, the profusion which prevails in the workhouse management has been directly traced to the tradesmen who took the most active part in the parochial business.


Mr. Richmond, one of the guardians of the poor in St. Luke's parish, Middlesex, states,—

"When I came into office it was a recognized principle, that the purchase of commodities for parochial consumption should be confined to the tradesmen of the parish. The effects of the patronage incident to the purchase of goods to the amount of upwards of 20,000l. per annum from shopkeepers within the parish, patronage exercised by a board who are themselves shopkeepers or connected with shopkeepers, may well be conceived. For several years I have contended, but unsuccessfully, for the universal application of the principle, that contracts should be taken from those who made the lowest tenders, wherever they resided, provided they gave the requisite securities for the due performance of the contract. On investigating the purchases of goods within the parish, I found that some of the charges were upwards of forty per cent. above the market prices. Whatever opposition may be made against an extensive or efficient reform or generalization of the management of the funds for the relief of the poor, will be based on the retention of the parochial patronage and power, although such a motive will never be ostensibly avowed. I have no doubt they will even assume that extended management will be more profuse than their own."


What may be expected is also indicated in the following extract from the evidence collected by Mr. Codd:—

"Before we had a select vestry, it was not unusual for our overseers to be quite willing to take the office, and even to continue in it for more than one year; and it was well understood, that this was because they had the means of spending money on behalf of the parish with their neighbours, or with whom they pleased. Since the establishment of the select vestry, however, we purchase every thing by open contracts, and the consequence has been, that our rates are 25 per cent. at least below what they were prior to the formation of the select vestry. Our tradesmen now cry out against being exclusively called upon to serve as overseers, and they have said, that they will insist upon having the gentry included with themselves."




This will prevent much indirect fraud. Direct embezzlement must also be guarded against more effectually than while left to voluntary prosecution. It is vain to expect men to proceed, on public grounds, against their own neighbours, friends, or connexions. It is to local influence, not to the absence of peculation, that we ascribe the rarity of prosecutions against parochial defaulters; and the prosecutions which do take place are often attributed, truly or falsely, to private motives, and public sympathy becomes enlisted in favour of the criminal.




The pecuniary loss by bad management, or the pecuniary gain from good management, are of course insignificant when weighed against the moral evils of the existing system. It will be necessary, however, to guard sedulously against pecuniary mismanagement, as it is usually a primary cause of the extension of pauperism, and we trust that it will be found that the measures which we have proposed, though recommended by us chiefly as beneficial to the labouring classes, will also be found the means of pecuniary saving.


Not one instance has been met with where a permanent increase of expenditure has followed any moderately well directed efforts to repress abusive modes of administration. Where select vestries have been established, and a strict management has been introduced, even under the existing law, the expenses have been reduced by an amount seldom less than one-third. In the dis-pauperized parishes, the real reduction has seldom been less than half the expense. In Durham and Cumberland, paupers are kept well and contented, at a weekly expense of 1s. 6d. per head for food. In most of the southern counties the expense varies from 3s. 6d. to 4s. 6d., 5s., and 6s. per head. The average is probably not less than 4s. per head; the expense may in all probability be reduced to 2s. per head, the common expenditure of a labourer's family, and the legitimate objects of relief be much better provided for. The whole evidence proves that if a Central Board be appointed, consisting of fit persons, and armed with powers to carry into general effect the measures which have been so successful wherever they have been tried, the expenditure for the relief of the poor will in a very short period be reduced by more than one-third.


From the metropolis, from the provincial towns, and indeed from nearly every district, complaints have been received that large classes of persons, who obtain, during particular seasons, such wages as would enable them to maintain themselves and their families until the return of the season of work, and provide by insurance against sickness and other casualties, spend the whole of their earnings as fast as they receive them, and, when out of work, throw themselves and their families on the parish, and remain chargeable until the period of high wages returns. The alternations of dissipation and of privation to which such persons have become habituated, render it probable that even under an improved system of administration, many of them would endure the most rigid workhouse discipline during the winter, to gain freedom from self-restraint during the spring, summer, and autumn.


The following extracts from the Evidence describe the nature of the evil, and suggest the remedy:—


Mr. John Coste, relieving overseer of St. Leonard, Shore-ditch—

"We have frequently amongst our paupers mechanics who obtain very high wages during particular periods, and when work fails, immediately come upon the parish. These men are, generally speaking, the greatest drunkards. I formerly carried on the business of a willow-square maker, and have paid as much as 4l. or 5l. a-week to particular men for months together. I do not believe that one of these men ever saved a pound; several of them are now in the workhouse, and receiving relief, who might have provided for themselves by means of savings' banks, until they got some other description of profitable labour. The sawyers are another set of men of the same description. It would be of great advantage to parishes, if relief were given to all these classes in the way of loan, and power were conferred to attach a portion of their wages for repayment*80."


Mr. Teather, an assistant overseer of Lambeth, when examined as to the condition of some of the paupers, stated,—

"We have had many bootmakers and shoemakers who might have saved enough money when in work to keep them from the parish when they are out of work. Amongst the barbers there are several who have been master barbers, who might have saved enough money to keep them from the parish; one man I know could not have got less than 3l. or 4l. a week; he boasted that he made 30s. on a Sunday. Amongst the tailors are many who might save money. Some of them on the parish are very good workmen, who could earn about 6s. a day, and when they chose to work over-work, about 7s. One of them now on the parish, a man named M'Innis, is said by persons in the trade to be one of the best workmen in London. He is now just out of the tread-mill for neglecting his family. The greater part of sawyers could save enough to keep them from the parish during the intervals of work. The greater part of them, that is, all the able men, before the saw-mills came up, could have put by at least 1l. Before the saw-mills were established, a pair of sawyers have, during the whole year, earned 5l. a week; they have acknowledged to me, in blaming their own improvidence, that there have been times when they have earned as much as 10l. a-week; they have acknowledged also that when they have been earning money they have never taken their families more than 1l. a-week regularly; they have paid rent and bought coals besides; but they have themselves lived at the public-house with the rest of their money. Barge-builders are men who could save money; they have 6s. a-day standing wages. The coal-porters earn a great deal; they have been known to get as much as 9s. or 10s. a-day, but they are very rarely known to save anything*81."


Mr. Robert Oldershaw, vestry clerk of Islington,—

"Amongst the able-bodied labourers are many brick-makers, men who, during seven or eight months in the year, work hard and obtain very high wages. They sometimes earn 6l., 8l., or 10l. a-week per gang. Some of these gangs are children. The adults will, I have been informed, earn from 2l. to 3l., 4l., or 5l. a-week. The head of the gang, I am informed, often earns as much as 5l. per week. They drink much beer, and perhaps their labour requires it; but they might, out of their wages, wholly, or in part, make provision for the winter, if they were so inclined; but they spend all; they make no provision whatever for the winter, and when the weather sets in, they throw themselves upon the parish as a customary thing. We have tried to make savings' banks available against this course of improvidence, but without effect. Formerly, however, their wives have made small deposits in the savings' banks to provide for their confinement, or the payment of their rent in the winter, unknown to their husbands. If their husbands knew they had the money, they would beat them to force it from them, and would then spend it improvidently. I was a member of the savings' bank, and have seen the poor women bring their little pittances there. They have besought me to keep it secret from their husbands*82."


Mr. Money, builder and master brick-maker, Shaw-cum-Donnington, Berkshire, was asked with respect to the men in his own employment, of the class adverted to by the last witness,—

"What do you think would be the effect of an enactment enabling the parish to order the employers of men of this class to receive a portion of their wages to repay the parochial expenditure of the winter?—This would be of great advantage, and I believe would be entirely practicable.

"You would perhaps say that if the deduction were too great, he would abscond?—There is certainly that danger.

"What deduction do you think might be made from a brick-maker's wages without material danger of his absconding?—I think, in the instance of any labourer in my employment, a deduction might be made, from Lady-day to Michaelmas, of about 5s. a-week.

"I should recommend that no relief whatever be given to able-bodied single men or women, but let the officers have authority to advance small sums of money by way of loan, upon receiving some acknowledgment or security for the repayment of the same. With regard to applicants for relief who may have families, or where there is sickness, the local board should have discretionary power either to relieve them under the same conditions, or otherwise, according to the circumstances of the case, and when the parties get into work, the overseer should have the same power of recovering the sum advanced from their employers, either by instalments or otherwise, as they now have of claiming seamen's wages in the merchants' service, or the pension for past services in the navy or army, for money advanced either to the parties themselves, or to their families. There is a provision already made to authorize overseers to advance small sums of money in this way; but there is no power to enable the overseers to enforce a repayment of the money so advanced from the employers*83."


Mr. Hollands, some time vestry clerk of Bermondsey, examined,—

"When in office I found that the provisions of the 59th Geo. III. c. 12, enabling parish officers to stop the wages of merchant seamen, and to receive those of men in the king's service, were provisions of the greatest utility. They were satisfactory to the well-disposed poor, and the parishes were greatly benefited. I have had deserted wives express the highest gratitude for wages saved from vagabond and unprincipled husbands. I have no doubt that these provisions might be profitably extended to all classes of workmen. Parish officers would not make the deduction from wages too heavy*84."


In the returns of the occupations of the depositors of the savings' banks, we have found a number of mechanics of each of the large classes, whose unworthy members we see in the condition of paupers. These habits detract extensively from the support of savings' banks and friendly societies, so meritoriously sustained by a large proportion of the working classes. Eleemosynary aid, even in cases of sickness, to those who, from their condition, will probably have wherewithal to repay it, is a bounty on improvidence. Statements to the following effect have been made to us from various quarters:—

"We are of opinion," say the trustees of the Mary-le-bone Savings' Banks, "that, if the facilities given to the able-bodied of obtaining parochial relief or public charity (and we are induced to lay much stress upon the latter) were removed, the number of members of such institutions as ours would be increased.

"We are unable to state in what proportion the increase would take place; but we think that, wherever any considerable number of a class of labourers and others are found to be depositors in banks for savings, almost all such persons might follow their example, and probably would do so, were they not encouraged in their thoughtless and improvident habits by the expectation of obtaining relief from some established public charity in almost every circumstance of difficulty or distress to which they can be exposed*85."


The Rev. William Otter, vicar of Kinlet, Salop, states,—

"When I first came to this living, the landlord and myself persuaded the farmers to join in the establishment of an institution which was intended to combine the advantages of a sick club and a savings' bank. In the former capacity, after doing some good, it has gradually declined, because it was found difficult to make the members contribute steadily and regularly; and there seemed, besides, to be a notion prevalent that, in case of sickness, the parish doctor might always be had recourse to for nothing."*86


On this subject, as well as the general question of the poor-laws, we have had ample evidence tendered by some of the most respectable of the workpeople themselves. Launcelot Snowdon, the witness whose evidence we have before cited, was asked,—

"Do you find any effect produced by men obtaining parochial relief readily, when they are out of work, or have anything the matter with them?—I have always seen that men who have had parish relief have been very careless of work and of their money ever afterwards. It has also acted very mischievously on the benefit societies, as these men would never contribute to them. We had a large and very good society of our own, which failed some time ago, and I have known the societies of other trades fail: and it has been a common complaint amongst us, that, but for the parish, they would have stood firm. I am myself confident, that, but for the parish, they would have stood firm.

"Do you think that rendering a workman's wages attachable, when in work, as repayment for any relief which he may have had from the parish, would be serviceable as a remedy for the evil you have mentioned?—Yes, I think it would be highly useful in every point of view. I have no great hopes of the old ones who have had parish relief, but I have no doubt that it would make many of the young ones subscribe, and keep themselves from the parish.

"Do you think the body of operatives with whom you are acquainted would agree with you in this view?—Of course those who have been paupers would not agree; but all the respectable workmen would decidedly agree. I think that, in instances of real misfortune, which I have known occur, it would be thought better of, if the relief was given as a loan, and not as a charity. But the workmen would generally object to any compulsory payment to guard against future liabilities.

"Do you think the process of collecting this sort of repayment would be difficult?—I think not."


A large proportion of those who become in any way chargeable to the parish, are incapable of self-control, or of altering their habits and making any reservation of money when once it is in their possession, although they acknowledge their obligations, and are satisfied to perform them.


It appears that, from the Chelsea pensioners, there are about 3500 quarterly assignments, or 14,000 annual assignments, of pensions to parish officers, and 1480 pensions annually claimed by virtue of magistrates' orders, in cases in which pensioners have allowed their wives or families to become chargeable to the parish; and that from the Greenwich out-pensioners, 1200 pensions, amounting to 12,530l., were attached and recovered last year. The parish officers examined upon this subject agree, that, but for the provisions of the Act, the whole amount of these pensions would be lost to the parish, and would be injuriously wasted by the pensioners, from their incapacity to take care of large sums of money.


Any collection from the labourer himself must be weekly, and the labour of collecting these small instalments would often prevent its being undertaken; but if wages were attached in the hands of the master, the payments might be at longer intervals, or in liquidation at once of the whole demand.


Tradesmen declare that they should feel it no grievance to be compelled to make reservation of wages to satisfy such demands, and that whatever money was recovered, would be recovered from the ginshop. The more important object of the measure is the reimposing motives to frugality on those who possess the means of being frugal; on this account we consider that it would be deserving of adoption, though the greater number of labourers defeated the claims upon them by absconding. By a tolerably vigilant administration of the proposed law, however, much money might be recovered from them. A large proportion of the labour of the classes in question is of a nature not to be found everywhere. A tailor may run away, but a brickmaker can only get work in the brick-fields, where he may be found. During the period when the labourer is in the receipt of full wages, if he spend them he will have in prospect the necessity of absconding in search of work at the commencement of another season; and if subjection during the interval to strict workhouse regulation be comprehended in the view, there can be little doubt that he will often be impelled to have recourse to the savings' banks to avoid the inconvenience.


It appears, then, that if power were given to parish officers of attaching wages, or of ordering the reservation of such instalments as they deemed expedient for the liquidation of debts due to the parish, a proportion of those debts would be recovered.


We are further of opinion that such a measure might be made still more useful, if the principle on which the 29th, 30th, 31st, and 32nd clauses of the 59th Geo. III., cap. 12, are founded, were acted on more extensively. The 29th clause enables the officer to whom it appears that the applicant for relief might, but for his extravagance, neglect, or willful misconduct, have been able to maintain himself, or to support his family, to advance money to him weekly, or otherwise, by way of loan. It appears from our evidence that in some places this clause has been acted upon beneficially, but that in general little use is made of it, partly because a person who has not been guilty of extravagance, neglect, or wilful misconduct, is excluded from its operation, and partly because the existence of the clause is not notorious. It appears to us advisable that, under regulations to be framed by the Central Board, parishes should be empowered to treat any relief afforded to the able-bodied, or to their families, and any expenditure in the workhouse, or otherwise incurred on their account, as a loan, and recoverable, not only in the mode pointed out by the clause to which we have referred, but also by attachment of their wages, in a way resembling that in which the 30th, 31st, and 32d clauses of the same Act direct the attachment of pensions and seamen's wages.




In our recommendation of the prohibition of partial relief to the families of the able-bodied, we proposed that relief by apprenticing should, to a certain extent, be excepted from that prohibition. In the instructions given by us to our Assistant-Commissioners, we directed them to ascertain "the practice in the different parishes as to the apprenticing of poor children, inquiring to what class of persons they are apprenticed, and whether such persons take them voluntarily or by compulsion, and if the latter, according to what principle they are distributed; whether any and what care is taken to see that they are well treated and taught; and whether there are any grounds for supposing that a power to bind for less than seven years would be expedient."


But we regret to say that we have received less information on this subject than on any other. The most important is that collected by Captain Chapman*87 and Mr. Villiers*88, but even that is contradictory; and if it were consistent, too meagre to afford grounds for legislation. It is a mode of relief expressly pointed out by the 43d of Elizabeth, and so much interwoven with the habits of the people in many districts, that we should hesitate, even if its evils were much more clearly ascertained, and even if we believed that those evils will not be much diminished by the alteration which we shall propose respecting settlement, to recommend its abolition until it has been made the subject of further inquiry, and until the effects of the measures now likely to be introduced have been ascertained by experience.


At the same time we think it probable, perhaps we might say certain, that further inquiry will show that the laws respecting the relief to be afforded by means of apprenticeship are capable of improvement, particularly those portions of them which render the reception of a parish apprentice compulsory.




On the subject of vagrancy, a large mass of evidence is contained in the Appendix, particularly in the Reports of Mr. Bishop*89, Mr. Codd*90, Captain Chapman*91, and Mr. Henderson*92. It appears from this evidence, that vagrancy has actually been converted into a trade, and not an unprofitable one; and it also appears, that the severe and increasing burden arises from the vagrants by trade, not from those on account of destitution. We state, in proof of this, and the statement is more valuable, as it points out the remedy as well as the cause of the evil, that in those few districts in which the relief has been such as only the really destitute will accept, the resort of vagrants has ceased, or been so much diminished as to become only a trifling inconvenience. But it appears vain to expect the remedy from detailed statutory provisions. The tendency of legislation respecting the poor to aggravate the evils which it was intended to cure, a tendency which we have so often remarked, is strikingly exemplified in that portion of it which respects vagrancy. The early statutes attempted to repress it by severity. "This part of our history," says Dr. Burn, "looks like the history of the savages in America. Almost all severities have been exercised against vagrants except scalping; and as one severity fell short, it seemed naturally to follow that a greater was necessary." But such was their effect, that every successive preamble admits the inefficiency of the former law down to the 1st and 2d Geo. IV., c. 64, which recites, "that the provisions theretofore made, and then in force, relative to the apprehending and passing of vagrants, were productive of great expense, and that great frauds and abuses were committed in the execution thereof;" and to the 5th Geo. IV., c. 83, which declares that it is expedient to make further provision for the suppression of vagrancy. Nor has the last-mentioned Act been more successful than those which preceded it. As one among many instances in which its provisions have been perverted, we will mention the effect of the 15th clause, which allows the visiting justice of prisons to grant a certificate, or other instrument, enabling any person discharged from prison to receive relief on his route to his place of settlement. The intention of the clause was to enable prisoners, after having undergone their punishment or trial, to go from prison to their own homes without temptation to further crime. The effect has been "for the benefit of the pass" to convey into prisons paupers, and families of paupers, as if the legislature intended that they and their children should have all the terrors of a prison obliterated from their minds, and receive instruction in the worst schools of vice; as if provision ought to be made to increase the stock of juvenile delinquents, already more numerous in England than in any other European country. By what foresight could the benevolent author of this clause have guarded against such an administration of the enactment as that of which one of the witnesses, a gaoler, thus describes? "It is a melancholy thing that poor people are sent into prison as vagrants that they may be passed home. There is now a mother, a widow with five children, under my care; the boys are from five to fifteen years of age. The mother was committed, not for any crime, but having been found sitting in the open air. Now what, I beg to ask, can be the effect of sending these children with their mother to a gaol? What can they not learn? In general, vagrants are told that they are sent to prison, not for their punishment, but for their benefit. Prisons should not, in any case, as I humbly conceive, be held out as places where people are to be benefited. They are now looked upon as a places of relief, and the large class of vagrants are told that they are sent to prison avowedly for their advantage*93."


"When the law," says another witness, "was made restricting pauper passes to Scotch and Irish, very few for a time came to Westmoreland or Cumberland; but the vagrants soon found that they might easily resume their trade by swearing they belonged to those countries; and the expense became as large as ever. When this again was checked by making the contract for a fixed sum annually, to convey all paupers with passes by cart through the country, the number of vagrants calling themselves discharged prisoners (and therefore not subject to these regulations) began to increase, and has continued to do so progressively*94."


Feeling convinced that vagrancy will cease to be a burthen, if the relief given to vagrants is such as only the really destitute will accept; feeling convinced that this cannot be effected unless the system is general; and also convinced that no exactments to be executed by parochial officers will in all parishes be rigidly adhered to, unless under the influence of strict superintendence and control,—WE RECOMMEND THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE EMPOWERED AND DIRECTED TO FRAME AND ENFORCE REGULATIONS AS TO THE RELIEF TO BE AFFORDED TO VAGRANTS AND DISCHARGED PRISONERS.


We have now given a brief outline of the functions, for the due performance of which we deem a new agency, or Central Board of Control, to be requisite; and we have inserted none which the evidence would warrant us in believing attainable by any existing agency. The length of this Report precludes the statement, in further detail, of the powers and duties of the proposed board. The extent of those powers and duties must be measured by the extent and inveteracy of the existing evils, and by the failure, or worse than failure, of the measures by which their removal has been attempted. If for that purpose the powers which we have recommended are necessary, to withhold those powers is to decree the continuance of the evil. The powers with which we recommend that they should be invested are in fact the powers now exercised by 15,000 sets of annual officers. By far the majority of those officers are ignorant of their duties, influenced by their affections, interests and fears, and restrained by scarcely any real responsibility. The Commissioners would act upon the widest information, under the direct control of the legislature and the supervision of the public, and under no liability to pecuniary or private bias, partiality or intimidation. They would have the immediate advantage of having well-defined objects assigned to them, powerful means at their disposal, and clear rules for their guidance; and they would soon have the aid of varied and extensive experience; and it appears to us, that the best means of preventing their negligent or improper use of the discretion with which it appears to be necessary to invest them will be, not to restrict that discretion, but to render their interest coincident with their duty, and to let them be removable at Your Majesty's pleasure.


We entertain, however, no hope, that the complicated evils with which we have to contend, will all be eradicated by the measures which we now propose. The mischiefs which have arisen during a legislation of more than 300 years, must require the legislation of more than one Session for their correction. In order to secure the progressive improvement from which alone we hope for an ultimate cure; and in order to bring the proceedings of the Commissioners more constantly and completely within the superintendence of the executive and the legislature, we propose that the Commissioners should be charged with the duty, similar to that which we now endeavour to perform, of periodically reporting their proceedings, and suggesting any further legislation which may appear to them to be desirable.




We consider that three Commissioners might transact the business of the Central Board. The number of the Commissioners should be small, as they should habitually act with promptitude, as responsibility for efficiency should not be weakened by discredit being divided amongst a larger number, and as the Board, whenever the labour pressed too severely, might avail themselves of the aid of their assistants. The Central Board would probably require eight or ten Assistant Commissioners, to examine the administration of relief in different districts, and aid the preparations for local changes. As the Central Board would be responsible for the performance of the duties imposed upon them by the legislature,—



Notes for this chapter

App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Part I. Report of D. C. Moylan, Esq. p. 280 a.
Appendix (C.) p. 152.
Appendix (A.)
App. (A.) Part II.
Tweedy, App. (A.) Part I. p. 808.
App. (A.) Part I. p. 292.
App. (A.) Part I. p. 296.
Mr. Majendie, App. (A.) Part I. pp. 173, 174.
App. (A.) Part I. pp. 217, 218.
App. (C.) p. 167.
App. (C.) p. 166.
App. (C.) p. 167.
App. (C.) pp. 1, 2.
App. (A.) Part II.
Capt. Pringle, App. (A.) Part I. p. 309.
App. (A.) part II.
App. (A.) part II.
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (C.) [The reference to this footnote is missing.—Econlib Ed.]
App. (A.) pp. 431, 432, 433, 434, 435.
App. (A.) Part II. pp. 6-8.
App. (A.) p. 894.
App. (E.)
App. (A.) Part I. p. 456.
App. (E.)
App. (A.) Part II. Ex.
App. (A.) Part I. 317.

Part II, Section 4

End of Notes

16 of 17

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