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George Sims : In the Workhouse: Christmas Day

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    Gary Barnett
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  • Gary Barnett
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    Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post
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    The basic point in the poem is that Boards of Guardians had the discretion to refuse outdoor relief and in some instances this lead to starvation. Some Unions virtually abolished outdoor relief altogether. And even where it was available it wasn’t the case that anyone turning up at the workhouse door with a sob story was given a loaf of bread. The pauper would be ‘examined’ first to determine whether he/she was a deserving recipient of relief.

    Sims was using poetic language to highlight a real social evil.

    Above are my ancestor Esther Brandum’s examination notes. The relieving officer summed up by saying, ‘Statements all false pernicious in such a dreadful manner. I can do nothing with her.’
    I should point out that not all of what Esther said was false. Most of what I can check out was true. The ‘gentleman’ who examined her was clearly looking for an excuse not to waste ratepayers’ money on the poor old girl.

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  • Gary Barnett
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    Click image for larger version  Name:	7BA40CDC-980D-414A-87DE-D169193B5441.jpeg Views:	0 Size:	96.8 KB ID:	578186

    The basic point in the poem is that Boards of Guardians had the discretion to refuse outdoor relief and in some instances this lead to starvation. Some Unions virtually abolished outdoor relief altogether. And even where it was available it wasn’t the case that anyone turning up at the workhouse door with a sob story was given a loaf of bread. The pauper would be ‘examined’ first to determine whether he/she was a deserving recipient of relief.

    Sims was using poetic language to highlight a real social evil.

    Above are my ancestor Esther Brandum’s examination notes. The relieving officer summed up by saying, ‘Statements all false pernicious in such a dreadful manner. I can do nothing with her.’

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  • Gary Barnett
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ID:	578184 From the Cambridge Independent Press 27th April, 1872

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  • Gary Barnett
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    This is from the Willesden and Kilburn Chronicle of 30th October, 1877. Sims’ poem appeared a few weeks later in the Christmas, 1877 edition of ‘The Referee’.




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  • Gary Barnett
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    South London Chronicle 12th March, 1898

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    From The Croydon Chronicle, 16th October, 1880.

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  • Gary Barnett
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  • Gary Barnett
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    Originally posted by Phil Kellingley View Post

    I suggest you read the poem and deduce the time of day. He writes that the 'house was open'. He also writes that the bakers were open. And, however much you argue against it, outdoor relief was available. The article you put up shows an argument for reducing it but not cancelling it. Somewhere I have a book "The Workhouse Encyclopedia" which refutes more than just the unavailability of the bread. I'm fairly sure it also said that the poem indicates the separation of the two if they went into the workhouse whereas it was common to admit those in their old age as a couple. Unfortunately, the book is in storage so I can't quote it exactly. But it did make the point that, as with many such works, they somewhat exaggerated the reality.
    ‘The house was open’ means he and his wife were able to go into the workhouse, but not obtain outdoor relief. Bakers and other shops kept very late hours at the time.

    The first article I put up speaks of the complete abolition of outdoor relief in the East End.

    Outdoor relief was granted at the discretion of the relieving officers.

    I’ll dig out some more contemporary accounts. When was your ‘Workhouse Encyclopaedia’ published?

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  • Phil Kellingley
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    Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post
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    The time of day isn’t mentioned at all. My point was that it wasn’t just a case of anyone turning up at any time and being able to get a loaf of bread on demand.

    If you research the subject you’ll find that it was quite common for outdoor relief to be refused. The clipping above is from the Islington Gazette of 9th August, 1892. It’s easy to find numerous examples of people being refused outdoor relief but being offered indoor relief. Exactly the situation Sims was describing. He had it spot on.


    I suggest you read the poem and deduce the time of day. He writes that the 'house was open'. He also writes that the bakers were open. And, however much you argue against it, outdoor relief was available. The article you put up shows an argument for reducing it but not cancelling it. Somewhere I have a book "The Workhouse Encyclopedia" which refutes more than just the unavailability of the bread. I'm fairly sure it also said that the poem indicates the separation of the two if they went into the workhouse whereas it was common to admit those in their old age as a couple. Unfortunately, the book is in storage so I can't quote it exactly. But it did make the point that, as with many such works, they somewhat exaggerated the reality.

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  • Gary Barnett
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    An ancestor of mine, Esther Brandum, applied to the Bethnal Green Guardians for outdoor relief and was refused. The examiner described her as a ‘pernicious liar’.

    It wasn’t simply a case of knocking on the workhouse door and asking for food. Paupers were first examined to establish whether they were eligible for relief. The decisions made by the Guardians were very often arbitrary and extremely harsh.

    That said, many in-house paupers were treated to a slap up Christmas dinner with plum pudding to finish.

    It may be that Sims’s poem was based on an actual case, but even if not it was perfectly in line with reality.

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  • Gary Barnett
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  • Gary Barnett
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    I believe the poem was first printed in 1877. In 1876, a Poor Law Conference was held at Northampton Town Hall attended by representatives of 64 PL Unions.

    The main topic was the subject of outdoor relief. Most delegates were against it, some suggesting it should be abolished and replaced with something better, others arguing that paying out of work paupers encouraged idleness and demanding it should simply be abolished leaving indoor relief as the only alternative.

    One delegate suggested the government should be asked to absolve relieving officers of any responsibility for the deaths of paupers who ‘refused the house’.

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  • Gary Barnett
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    Originally posted by Phil Kellingley View Post

    If you read the poem it is clear that he first approached the workhouse during the day. Perfectly reasonable. There is no reason to assume refusal - except for Sims own purposes.
    The time of day isn’t mentioned at all. My point was that it wasn’t just a case of anyone turning up at any time and being able to get a loaf of bread on demand.

    If you research the subject you’ll find that it was quite common for outdoor relief to be refused. The clipping above is from the Islington Gazette of 9th August, 1892. It’s easy to find numerous examples of people being refused outdoor relief but being offered indoor relief. Exactly the situation Sims was describing. He had it spot on.



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  • Phil Kellingley
    Tourmeister

  • Phil Kellingley
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    Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post

    Of course they gave out food, but not on demand 24/7.
    If you read the poem it is clear that he first approached the workhouse during the day. Perfectly reasonable. There is no reason to assume refusal - except for Sims own purposes.

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  • Gary Barnett
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  • Gary Barnett
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    The refusal of outdoor relief seems to have been a hot topic in the 1880s. It was argued that the fact that the amount of money saved by not giving outdoor relief was considerably higher than the increase in the expenditure on indoor relief, was proof that many of those who had formerly received outdoor relief did not actually need it to survive.



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  • Gary Barnett
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  • Gary Barnett
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    Originally posted by Phil Kellingley View Post
    The workhouse would give out food - in this case a loaf of bread. Sims was a great campaigner on behalf of the poor and downtrodden but he overstepped the message in this poem. To be fair 99% of his readers wouldn't have known that. Towards the end of the 19th century there were many books (supposedly for children but actually targetted at their parents) throwing a light on such poverty. The works of Hesba Stretton (who help found what became the NSPCC) are full of similar themes. Read them now and you'd need a heart of stone to stop yourself gagging over the portrayals - such as a poor child who finds God, just as she pops off from hunger.
    Of course they gave out food, but not on demand 24/7.

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  • Phil Kellingley
    Tourmeister

  • Phil Kellingley
    replied
    The workhouse would give out food - in this case a loaf of bread. Sims was a great campaigner on behalf of the poor and downtrodden but he overstepped the message in this poem. To be fair 99% of his readers wouldn't have known that. Towards the end of the 19th century there were many books (supposedly for children but actually targetted at their parents) throwing a light on such poverty. The works of Hesba Stretton (who help found what became the NSPCC) are full of similar themes. Read them now and you'd need a heart of stone to stop yourself gagging over the portrayals - such as a poor child who finds God, just as she pops off from hunger.

    Leave a comment:

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