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Harrogate Story 




Life in the Harrogate Workhouse

From the Reign of George III

"That at the ringing of a bell ... the whole family do rise in the morning, and go to bed each night; and that the like notice be given them to attend morning and evening prayers ... read by the Master"

So, according to the Orders for the Government and Regulation of the Harrogate Workhouse, the day began and ended, in what was variously called the " Poor House," the " House of Industry," and (by an outsider once) the " Castle of Comfort." This summons by bell and this compulsory attendance at prayers take us back to the medieval monasteries. The paupers lived like monks, also, in having little contact with the outside world. If one of them were to venture out without the Master's permission the penalty would be the loss of the "dinner next following." Official inspections were made by the Justices of the Peace and members of the Workhouse Committee, of course, came occasionally to look round. But otherwise all visitors were banned. "Nor shall any Stranger be allowed to come into any of the Rooms of the Work-house, to see or speak with any of the Paupers (though their nearest relations) without an order from a Magistrate."

But perhaps the most striking reminiscence of monastic life was the strict time-table followed during the working day. "That the Master and Mistress take care that the Poor be kept to their Work; from Lady-day to Michaelmas, from six in the morning to six in the evening; and from Michaelmas to Ladyday, from seven to seven; and, that they rise by five and go to bed by nine in the Summer Half-year, and in the Winter Half-year that they rise by seven and go to bed by eight; and that they constantly repair to such Place or Places as are appointed for them to work in, being allowed one hour respite at Dinner, and half an hour at Breakfast; and a reasonable allowance being likewise made according to their Age, Abilities, and Infirmities." If anyone should refuse "to work orderly at his or her proper business, and so many hours as are here appointed," the Justice would impose the legal penalty; and a particularly sharp one on those who might "pretend themselves sick, lame or blind, to be excused from labour."

Each Saturday, after dinner, every pauper must be present to hear the Master read over the Orders; and "every Lord's Day," he must go to church twice, if a member of the Church of England, and not be disorderly or loiter on the way back.

There was a quaint punishment for any tendency to insobriety. Should anyone "bring into the House, or drink therein, any Spirituous Liquor," he would be " confined in a dark room and allowed nothing but Bread and Water, for the next day following." But the Justice would again have to be called in to deal with any who might "curse or swear or quarrel, or make disturbance or despise the reproof of the Master, or utter ill language against him," or "encourage their own or the Children of others to break any rules or orders."

In addition to the maintenance of discipline, the Master's duties were to see that "the Workhouse, and all the Poor therein, be kept clean, and the Rooms well aired "; to keep a detailed register of inmates; to buy in all supplies, whenever possible wholesale; and to maintain accurate bookkeeping.

Each week the Master worked out the average cost of the maintenance of a pauper, so that any excessive expenditure could be immediately detected by the Workhouse Committee. This body, consisting of about a dozen prominent townsmen, though regularly elected by the Vestry Meeting, seems to have acted rather irregularly, for it took to itself the whole of the poor relief in the township, most of which belonged properly to the Overseers.

The Workhouse building seems to have been completed in the summer of 1810. During the autumn, the Overseer's accounts show a good deal of equipment bought for it (including such picturesque but necessary items as "yeast can and grater, candle box, iron coal pan, pudding dish " - the last of institutional dimensions. The House was certainly in active operation from early in 1811, when separate Workhouse Accounts began, but the first Master was not appointed until April, 1812. Possibly the Vestry Clerk, Richard Blackburn, was in charge till then, though his salary was only £10 5s a year.

In the spring of 1811, the garden was "plowed" and much manure led by Francis Mountain. Incidentally, his sister (Fanny) did sewing at the Workhouse at the same time for 6d. a day. Gardening was one of the permanent activities, for there were large (for those days) yearly bills for plants and seeds. In 1827, for example, William Pullan, who then had the Bachelor Gardens, was paid 30s for seeds. Immediately after Henry Peacock became Master, in 1825, he made the grounds decorative as well as useful by planting poplars and rose bushes and making an "arbour."

Already in 1811, the grocer's bill from John Stott, the butcher's from John Dearlove, and the milk bill from John Pennington are of a size to suggest a considerable number of inmates. From then on, various butchers contract to supply both beef and mutton in quantity, so Workhouse fare, for the first twenty years or more, must have been quite varied. In 1834, however, there was a determined attempt everywhere to cut down the expenses of Poor Relief which were crippling the country. Peacock, the then Master, reported to the Commissioners with obvious pride his revised "diet table": "Sunday, meat-and-potato pies; Monday and Saturday, rice milk; Tuesday and Thursday, boiled beef; Wednesday, pease soup; Friday, suet dumplings." By cutting down as he said, the "butcher's meat," he had reduced the average weekly cost of a pauper to 2s. 4½d., and to half this for children under 8. Fuel, as well as all provisions, was included in the reckoning. During the 1820's, the average had been about 3s.

Economy did not stop here, for a proportionate reduction was made in out-door relief as well : aged and infirm paupers not in the Workhouse were now given only 2s a week, the able-bodied ls. 6d., and children ls. or 9d. Peacock added in his report a general comment : "Great attention is paid to economy, regularity, cleanliness and comfort, in the diet and management of the poor." The opening part of the statement, at least, appears to have been true.

Mary Pennington, John's widow, continued at that time to supply milk at ld. a pint in large quantities. "New milk " as well as "best flour" came in small amounts, being clearly intended for the Master himself. The butter ration was decidedly meager, rarely more than a pound a week among some fifty persons.

Baking was done, for the most part, on the premises. Occasionally baker William Morley sent bread, but it was flour that he usually supplied, as did Henry Deighton, William Scruton and others. Wheat was bought - in 1815 at 7s. 6d a bushel - and "maslin" (a mixture of wheat and rye) which was usually a little cheaper. The large yeast supply would serve for the baking and also for the brewing, as Hardisty of Beckwithshaw sent malt. The ordinary drink was, no doubt, beer or skim milk, for tea and coffee were not given to the inmates though sent in sometimes by friends. The beer was home-brewed, for very little was bought. There is a unique entry in 1811 : "A Bottle of Wine for the Workhouse 2s. 6d." but there is no explanation of this lordly gesture.

From the first there were "set-pots" for the "family" washing; and a large outside wash-house was built in 1843. Voackes' pig-sty - his "peg coate” - had been made in 1811. Pigs were fattened, probably for sale rather than home consumption. A Master, in the 1840's, was severely reprimanded for keeping his own pig along with the others. A smithy was built and equipped in 1813, but it is not clear whether it was used for long. Some thirty years later a "stiddy" (anvil), belonging to the township, was lent to a needy smith. And in the House itself room was found, somehow or other, for weaving; for in 1824 Susannah Kemp, of Knaresborough, supplied the Master with a "Loom all compleate."

Though it never at any time approached the self-sufficiency of the monks at Fountains, the Workhouse tended to become more and more an independent community. The requisite skilled labour might easily be found among the inmates themselves, for in those days any artisan in middle life might find himself in the Workhouse through some stroke of bad luck. In 1827 there is a bill of £2 for "sole leather," with an additional 3s for "leather for shoe strings," so some of the shoe-repairs were done on the spot.

Shoes and also clogs - most useful in what was then a marshy place - were supplied, and their repairs usually done by shoemakers like Storey, White, Surr, Pattinson and Thomas Paley. In general, it was the main tradesmen in the town that did business with the Workhouse. The "surgeons" also, as doctors were then called, who undertook for a yearly salary the care of the township poor, were sometimes leading practitioners, like Dr Jaques and Dr Richardson.

A rather curious detail about Workhouse life is that most of the men did not shave themselves : in the 1820's barber John Dunn shaved them, and once also a woman, for ld. a week.

The community included always a number of children, sometimes even babies, from birth. The boys and girls were given two years' schooling, from 7 to 8. As soon as possible after they reached the age of 9, they were apprenticed. Fortunately for them, Masters could usually be found for them in the township: they escaped the fate of so many in other places who were drafted to factories.

But, from time to time, there were paupers who seem to have preferred freedom to the relative luxury of institutional life. In 1812, for example, the Constable, William Malthouse, notes his "Expences in Searching after Widow Richardson when she Broke out of the Workhouse." Among the later imitators of the widow was one of a romantic type. At Christmas, 1828, the Master summarises an incident in the Workhouse Book: "Elizabeth King Eloped from the Workhouse with a Pauper of the name of Wm. Franklin. Report say they are Marrid. I fear some Bribery with Markington. Calld at the Workhouse. Road to Hull." Markington was, at that time, one of the "out-townships."

In 1813, Harrogate made its first contract with another township, and began to receive paupers from outside. The arrangement was that the out-township should pay a rent of £5 a year and meet the cost of its paupers, based on the weekly average. Birstwith, Felliscliffe and Plompton joined in 1813; Fewston, Hampsthwaite, Pannal and Thruscross in 1814; Killinghall in 1815. Others were to join, some to withdraw, until the Workhouse ends its life as a township institution in 1854. The maximum number of out-townships at any one time was 16 - in 1836. Altogether, accounts were presented for payment to 33 out-townships, though actual contracts with all of these have not been found. Almost every township within a radius of nine miles or so, with the exception of, Knaresborough, was included at one time or other.

Paupers normally slept on beds filled with chaff, but in an inventory of bedding belonging to the out-townships (for it was in the contract that this should be supplied), Plompton stands out as an exception. It actually possessed "one feather-bed and pillow."

The introduction of these paupers from the out-townships with their separate loyalties, particularly in a district where local feeling has always been strong, must have made it difficult for the Master to foster a "family" spirit. Even apart from this, the community was mixed enough, with its differences of age, and of class, and of character. ..... The fact that the Master with, of course, the help of the Mistress, secured the smooth working of the institution, suggests that they well earned their joint salary (the envy of many of their neighbours) of a year, with their keep.





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