Poverty, Public Health and the growth of Government in Britain 1830-75

Focusing on the Poor Law Amendment Act


Tudor law - 1536


Parishes were authorised to collect money in order to support the impotent poor and the number required to beg

Tudor law - 1576


Local Justices of the Peace (JPs) were instructed to provide materials with which able bodied poor could work in return for relief.

The 43rd of Elizabeth - The Old Poor Law


Parishes become the administrative unit for raising money for the poor relief and for giving such relief; repression and punishment were abandoned in favour of assistance.
- The impotent poor were to be looked after in poorhouses or almshouses.
- The able-bodied poor who wanted relief were to be set to work in a workhouse while they continued to live at home.
- Those who refused to work and continued to beg were to be they punished in a house of correction.
- Pauper children were to be apprenticed to a trade so that they could support themselves when they grew up.
Local magistrates appointed local unpaid officials called 'overseers' to collect and distribute the poor rate.
By giving administration to the 1500 parishes of England and Wales legislators meant ensure local needs would be met appropriately, but this led to diversity in practice.

Settlement Law


On asking for relief, individuals could be returned to the parish of their birth (marriage, inheritance or apprenticeship) to receive it.

Settlement Law


Strangers could be denied entry to a parish unless they produced a Settlement Certificate stating that their parish of origin would take them back if they needed relief.

Knatchbull's Act


Parishes could build buildings to use as workhouses and could make entry to a workhouse a condition of obtaining relief - The Workhouse Test.
By 1776 there were 2'000 workhouses throughout England and Wales, but outdoor relief remained most popular.

Tom Paine

1737 - 1809

A writer and Republican who criticised the poor law as inadequate. He proposed a property tax on the very rich to support the poor in a variety of systems including old-age pensions and allowances.

Jeremy Bentham - Benthamism & UTALITARIANISM

1748 - 1832

A philosopher and lawyer who developed the theory of utilitarianism. Any society should be organised to allow the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people. He wanted all outdoor relief abolished and help to be given only if they entered an 'industry house' and were truly destitute.

Thomas Malthus

1766 - 1834

An economist specialising in demography - the study of population. He argued that population would grow and outstrip the available food supplies. The poor law made this worse as the poor had more children to claim more relief. He favoured the abolition of the poor law.
1796 - he writes his influential ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPAL OF POPULATION.

Robert Owen

1771 - 1858

A radical Factory owner who blamed the capitalist economic system and abuse of factory system for creating poverty. In his factory he built a fair community, with a limit on working hours, school, sick pay and cost-price shop.

David Ricardo

1772 - 1823

A political economist, David Ricardo agreed that the poor law needed to be abolished. He thought that the more money that was paid out in poor relief, the less money was available in wages so more people were drawn into pauperism in an endless cycle until the poor law was abolished.

Gilbert's Act


Parishes could combine into unions to build a workhouse and so share the cost of relief, but were only to be used for the impotent poor.

French revolution


Trade was interrupted throughout Europe, this led to higher unemployment and higher requests for poor relief.

The Roundsman system


(A variant on the labour rate)
Able-bodied pauper labourers were sent round the parish until they found a ratepayer to employ them. The ratepayer paid a wage that was made up by the parish.

The Labour rate


Overseers levied a parish rate to cover the relief of able-bodied poor and then set a wage for each unemployed labourer. Ratepayers who employed these labourers were exempt from paying the poor rates.
By 1832 about 1 in 5 parishes were using some form of labour rate.

Speenhamland system


Relief given to able-bodied poor by linking it to the price of bread. Widely used in south and east of England.
It was a way of subsidising low wages and was different because it established a formal relationship between the price of bread and the number of dependants in a family.

Inclosure (consolidation act)


This was passed to tidy up previous acts. In 1845 another general in-closure act allowed for the appointment of In-closure Commissioners who could enclose land without submitting a request to parliament.

The Luddites

Approx. 1811 - Approx. 1813

Unemployed weavers opposed to the modern machinery broke factory equipment, supposedly led by 'Ned Ludd'.

Wars with France end

Approx. 1815

Allied forces defeat Napoleon; returning soldiers and discharged sailors,and the return of the economy of peace, this puts pressure on the Poor Laws.
- The harvests of 1813 and 1814 were good, ending the blockade meant that corn prices lowered with crop from the continent, with wartime taxes and loans to pay many farmers went bankrupt which meant unemployment for their labourers, those that were not lowered wages, pushing the workers closer to pauperism - straining the Poor Law system.

Parliament passes the Corn Laws

Approx. 1815

Import of foreign corn forbidden until price of British corn reached 80 shillings a quarter. Farmers protected but price of bread kept high which led to radical protests and riots.

Report of select committee on the poor laws

Approx. 1817

Poor Laws condemned as being the creators of poverty

Habeus Corpus suspended

Approx. 1817

People could be imprisoned indefinitely without a trial.

The peterloo massacre

Approx. 1819

The Manchester patriotic union (looking for parliamentary reform) organised a demonstration of 80'000 to hear speeches from radical reformers. Local magistrates called the army and the cavalry charged; 15 were killed & 400-700 injured. The name was an irony from the battle of Waterloo.

Six Acts Passed

Approx. 1819

Confirmation of the government's policy of repression in the face of protest.
-Prohibited meetings of more than 50 people
-Increased stamp duties on newspapers.
-Made the publication of blasphemous and seditious material a transportable offence.
-Forbade military training by civilians
-Limited the ability of an accused to delay their trial
-Gave magistrates powers to search peoples homes.

Select Committee on labourers' wages publish their report


Select Committee on the Employment or Relief of Able-bodied Persons Report IV published.


French revolution

Approx. 1830

The French forced the abdication of their King Charles X. Following the urban and rural discontent the British government were scared that the revolution would spread. Many MPs believed that a change to the voting and Poor Law system was required to prevent revolution.

Swing riots

Approx. 1830 - Approx. 1831

Series of riots by agricultural labourers mainly in south and east England, the government feared rebellion.
-They wanted to halt the reductions to their wages
-They wanted the removal of the steam powered threshers that deprived them of autumn and winter employment.
- Petitions and threats signed 'Captain Swing' gave the impression of an organised revolt under one leader.
-19 rioters were hanged, over 400 sentenced to transportation, 644 sentenced to imprisonment, 7 fined, one was whipped and 800 acquitted or bound over to hold the peace.

Bristol riots

Approx. 1831

500-600 young men demanded the vote rioted and continued for three days; property including the Bishop's palace and Mayors mansion were looted and destroyed with the gaol.

General election - Whigs

Approx. 1831

The General election of 1831 gave the Whigs a clear majority in the commons, the voters thought something had to be done about the state of the poor.

Royal Commission of Enquiry into the Operation of the Poor Laws

Approx. 1832

Concerns it was set up of because:
-The increasing cost of poor relief - reaching 7 million in 1818
-The growing belief that the system and overseers a were corrupt.
-Fears that current systems such as speenhamland were encouraging larger families and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
-The swing riots
-Fear that unrest would turn to revolution, France was again in the middle of one in 1830
The commission consisted of 9 commissioners (including Edwin Chadwick and Nassau Senior - Oxford professor who disapproved of the allowance system) and 26 assistant (non paid) commissioners who collected the evidence, knowing what they were supposed to find. The commissioners had written most of the report before the evidence was collated. Two sets of questionnaires were sent out to towns and villages, around 10% of parishes replied. The assistant commissioners were then sent out to see if this was true. Many questions were badly phrased and elicited the desired response and interviewees were led along the desired paths. The report was published in early 1834, it recommended;
- Separate workhouses should be provided for the aged and infirm, children, able-bodied males and females; they deemed these 4 classes at least, necessary.
- Parishes could group into unions to provide these workhouses.
- All outdoor relief should stop
- The Principle of lesser eligibility to be enforced, conditions inside worse than those of the lowest paid labourer.
- A new central authority to be set up to make and enforce regulations concerning the workhouse system.

The Great Reform Act

  • Disenfranchised 56 boroughs in England and Wales and reduced another 31 to only one MP.
    • Created 67 new constituencies.
    • Broadened the franchise’s property qualification in the counties, to include small landowners, tenant farmers and shopkeepers.
  • Created a uniform franchise in the boroughs, giving the vote to all householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more and some lodgers. Limited change had been achieved, but the majority of working men still could not vote but proved that change was possible.

Emancipation act


Abolished Slavery in the British Empire

Factory act

Approx. 1833

In 1833 the Government passed a Factory Act to improve conditions for children working in factories. Young children were working very long hours in workplaces where conditions were often terrible. The basic act was as follows:

no child workers under nine years of age
employers must have an age certificate for their child workers
children of 9-13 years to work no more than nine hours a day
children of 13-18 years to work no more than 12 hours a day
children are not to work at night
two hours schooling each day for children
four factory inspectors appointed to enforce the law

However, the passing of this act did not mean that the mistreatment of children stopped overnight.

The Poor Law Amendment Act

Approx. 1834

The Poor Law commission established to implement and administer the act.
-A central authority should be set up to supervise the implementation and regulate the administration of the poor law.
-Parishes were to be grouped together to form Poor Law unions in order to provide relief efficiently.
-Each poor law union was to establish a workhouse in which the principle of lesser eligibility was used.
-Outdoor relief for the able-bodied poor was to be discouraged but not abolished.
The commission worked in Somerset house, London and there were 3 commissioners:
Thomas Frankland Lewis, the chairman who had been a Tory MP
George Nichols, an ex-overseer under the old poor law
John Shaw Lefevre, a lawyer.
Edwin Chadwick was bitter that he was only a lowly secretary.

Opposition to the New poor Law

Approx. 1834 - Approx. 1847

Violent protests against the New poor law, particularly in north of England. Workhouses are given the nickname of Bastilles, (book of murder). Troops are required to restore order in Todmorden, Bradford and Huddersfield, outdoor relief continues to be paid in these areas.
-Many attacked the centralisation, the commissioners were seen as being London based with no knowledge of or concern for elsewhere.
-Many feared it would break the traditional paternalistic 'contract' between the poor and rich.
-Rural ratepayers realised that outdoor relief was cheaper than indoor.
-Ratepayers in northern industrial areas, prone to cyclical employment knew that a workhouse large enough to accommodate all the paupers of an economic depression would be very expensive, near impossible.

Thomas Carlyle (social commenter) interpreted the new poor law as "an announcement sufficiently distinct, that whosoever will not work ought not to live".

Protest in the south:
-In Amersham the riot act was read when people took to the streets over the transportation of inmates to the new workhouse.
-In East Anglia newly built workhouses were attacked, St Clements in Ipswich being badly damaged.
- 1834 Dorset Labourers the TOLLPUDDLE MARTYRS were sentenced to transportation for swearing an oath into a trade union.

Opposition in the North:
-Ten hours movement.
-Armed riots in Oldham, Rochdale, Todmorden, Hudderdfield, Stockport, Dewsbury and Bradford were put down by the local militia.
- The Rebecca Riots took place between 1839 and 1843 in South and Mid Wales. They were a series of protests undertaken by local workers in response unfair taxation. The rioters, often men dressed as women, took actions against toll-gates, as they were representations of high taxes and tolls
-In Stockport 1842 the workhouse was attacked and bread distributed to the poor outside.
- John Fielden, radical MP and factory owner of TODMORDEN. In 1838 he closed his factories in protest and refused to pay the new poor rate . His workers attacked the homes of local guardians and troops were required to restore order. The PLAA was not implemented until 1877 there, years after his death.

Workhouse schools established

Approx. 1834

Workhouse schools were established and became one of the first forms of state education. These breached the principle of lesser eligibility because they provided an education for pauper children that was better than that provided by voluntary schools outside the workhouse, indeed most poor children outside the workhouse rarely had any education at all.

Sampson Kempthorne - architect of commission

Approx. 1835

Smapson Kempthorne is appointed as the architect to the Poor Law Commission, he produces basic workhouse plans to be adapted by guardians building new union workhouses.
The design and structure of workhouses was in themselves designed to be a deterrent to paupers and instil discipline to inmates.
He designed two basic plans:
-A Y shaped building inside a hexagonal boundary wall, this was designed to accommodate up to 300 paupers and the Master's apartments were in the centre of the Y looking out over all the exercise yards.
-A cruciform shaped building inside a square boundary wall, each arm of the cross held dormitories and workrooms etc. It was designed to hold up from 200 to 500 paupers.
These buildings were designed to separate the paupers into the recommended 7 classes:
-Impotent men
-Impotent Women
-Able bodied men
-Able bodied women
-Girls 7-15
-Boys 7-15
-Children under 7 years old
segregation prevented moral 'contamination'

Commissioners begin work in Southern England


General Prohibitorry Order forbidding outdoor relief


People's Carter published CHARTISTS

Approx. 1836 - Approx. 1848

Chartism was a working class movement, which emerged in 1836 and was most active between 1838 and 1848. The aim of the Chartists was to gain political rights and influence for the working classes.

Chartism got its name from the formal petition, or People’s Charter, that listed the six main aims of the movement. These were:

a vote for all men (over 21)
the secret ballot
no property qualification to become an MP
payment for MPs
electoral districts of equal size
annual elections for Parliament

The movement presented three petitions to Parliament - in 1839, 1842 and 1848 – but each of these was rejected. The last great Chartist petition was collected in 1848 and had, it was claimed, six million signatures. The plan was to deliver it to Parliament after a peaceful mass meeting on Kennington Common in London. The government sent 8,000 soldiers, but only 20,000 Chartists turned up on a cold rainy day. The demonstration was considered a failure and the rejection of this last petition marked the end of Chartism.

Some opponents of the movement feared that Chartists were not just interested in changing the way Parliament was elected, but really wanted to turn society upside down by starting a revolution. They also thought that the Chartists (who said they disapproved of violent protest) were stirring up a wave of riots around the country. For example, Preston in Lancashire was the scene of rioting in 1842.

Support for Chartism peaked at times of economic depression and hunger. There was rioting in Stockport, due to unemployment and near-starvation, and Manchester, where workers protested against wage cuts, wanting "a fair day's pay for a fair day's labour".
Although the Chartist movement ended without achieving its aims, the fear of civil unrest remained. Later in the century, many Chartist ideas were included in the Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884.

Commission begins work in industrialised North


Protests, riots and the formation of the anti-poor law movement

Trade depression

Approx. 1837 - Approx. 1844

The Panic of 1837 was a financial crisis in the United States that touched off a major recession that lasted until the mid-1840s. Profits, prices and wages went down while unemployment went up. Despite a brief recovery in 1838, the recession persisted for approximately seven years. Banks collapsed, businesses failed, prices declined, and thousands of workers lost their jobs. Unemployment may have been as high as 25% in some locales. The years 1837 to 1844 were, generally speaking, years of deflation in wages and prices.

During this unsuitable time the Poor Law Commissioners decided to implement the PLAA in the industrial north.

General prohibitory order set aside for unions in Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire


Book of Bastilles

Approx. 1841

publication of the Book of Bastilles, a compilation of Workhouse horror stories by George R. Whythen Baxter

Vaccination ruling

Approx. 1841

A poor person receiving a smallpox vaccination from a poor law medical officer did not, because of this, become a pauper.

Labour test orders state...


Labour Test Orders state that outdoor relief can only be given in return for some parish work and may not be given wholly in cash

General outdoor relief prohibitory order

Approx. 1844

This applied to all unions and forbade outdoor relief to the able-bodied poor. At this time the commissioners were experiencing problems implementing the New Poor Law in the industrial North, and so the order did not extend there, instead the outdoor labour test order was supposed to apply.

Andover Scandal

Approx. 1845 - Approx. 1846

The Andover Workhouse Scandal and enquiry
Inmates were found to be eating bones to survive.

Grant for school teachers.


A government grant was made available to Boards of Guardians to enable them to pay the salaries of workhouse schoolteachers.

Poor Law commission replaced by Poor Law Board

Approx. 1847

The Poor Law Commission is replaced by the poor law board, this makes the administration of the poor law, directly accountable to parliament.
The Poor Law Commission was replaced because:
-The Andover scandal revealed the worst abuses of the system and the lack of willingness of the commission to detect and correct such matters.
-The select committee revealed tensions within Somerset house. Edwin Chadwick never reconciled himself to the 'lowly' position of secretary and used the Andover scandal to criticise his employers.

The new poor Law Board was intended to rid the administration of the Poor law of arrogance, hypocrisy and rigidity but to link it more firmly to parliament.
-The President of the Board and the parliamentary secretary, Charles Butler and Lord Ebrington, were both in the House of Commons.
-George Nichols (one of the former commissioners) was appointed permanent secretary and was responsible for the day to day operations of the commission. He had been an avid supporter of bone crushing and had blamed the scandal at Andover on the depravity of the paupers themselves. Despite being kept on his salary was dropped from £2000 to £1500.
-The assistant commissioners were kept on, their numbers raised from 9 to 13 and they were renamed the poor law 'Inspectors' . However with large districts to supervise, inspectors were able to visit individual unions no more than a couple of times a year.

Separate rooms for elderly paupers


The poor law board ruled that separate bedrooms should be provided for couples aged over 60 if they asked for them, but in reality few were made available.

French revolution


District Schools act

Approx. 1848

The district schools act allowed Poor Law unions to combine to provide district schools, where pauper children were educated in buildings often far distant from the workhouses where they lived. Some progressive boards of guardians, like those in Leeds and Manchester set up industrial schools where pauper children lived and took 'honest and useful industrial courses', enabling them to become 'good servants or workmen'.

Public dispensaries

Approx. 1850 - Approx. 1859

Poor Law Unions set up public dispensaries, which dispensed medicines to the general public as well as to paupers.

On site workhouse schools

Approx. 1850

Some boards of Guardians abandoned district schools in favour of smaller, on-site schools where boys were taught a trade and girls learned domestic skills.

Outdoor Labour Test Order


Able-bodied men required to undertake monotonous work in return for outdoor relief.

Medical ruling


A poor person who could not pay for medical treatment or prescribed medicines automatically qualified for outdoor relief.

Poor Law Board forbidding Outdoor relief.

Approx. 1852

The poor Law board made an attempt in 1852 to incarcerate all the able bodied paupers in workhouses by issuing a general order forbidding outdoor relief to the able-bodied. It failed. Many Boards of Guardians used all the loopholes to continue giving outdoor relief (the most common being sickness), aware that poor rates were rising again, cost-conscious guardians preferred the cheaper alternative of outdoor relief.

Boarding pauper children

Approx. 1860

1860's Some Boards of Guardians begin to experiment with boarding pauper children with working class families.

Public works act

Approx. 1863

The superiority of outdoor relief was endorsed in 1863. The failure of the American cotton crop in the early 1860's, causing a failure of the in the Lancashire cotton mills meaning thousands of workers needed relief.
the public works act allowed local authorities to borrow money in order to set up work schemes to employ paupers.
The basic principle of the 1834 PLAA the ending of outdoor relief for able bodied paupers had been breeched and breeched by parliament.

The Union Chargeability act

Approx. 1865

This act puts the financial burden of caring for the poor on the Poor Law union as a whole and not on individual parishes, thus spreading the cost. Each parish contributed to a common fund and its contribution was based upon the rateable value of properties in the parish, not the number of paupers for whom the parish was responsible.

Parliamentary reform act


.The growth and influence of the chartist movement from 1838 onwards was proof that more parliamentary reform was desired. However the call for universal manhood suffrage was still resisted bu parliament and the second reform act passed in 1867 was still based around property qualifications. The 1867 reform act:
- Granted the vote to all householders in the boroughs as well as lodgers who paid £10 a year or more.
- Reduced the property threshold in the counties and gave the vote to agricultural landowners and tenants with very small amounts of land.
Men in urban areas who met the property qualifications were enfranchised and the act roughly DOUBLED the electorate in England and Wales from one two million men.

The Metropolitan Poor Act...


This organised London into 'asylum districts'. Each district provided general, isolation, specialist and mental hospitals

1867 Metropolitan Poor act


Organised London into 'asylum' districts, which provided general, specialist, isolation and mental hospitals.

Poor Law loans act


Guardians could now take out loans for capital projects and extend the repayments over a period of thirty years, thus avoiding huge poor rates as the guardians were often concerned with keeping costs low.

Elementary Education act (Forster's act)


Board schools set up for all children and poor law guardians encouraged to send children to them.

Forster's education act


This set up Board schools and guardians were encouraged to send their pauper children to these, enabling them to mi with children outside the workhouse.

Poor Law Board replaced by local Government board

Approx. 1871

The government still retained control, as the president of the Local government board was invariably a cabinet minister. These administrative shifts reflected too a shift in the attitude to poverty among legislators and the public. poverty and therefore pauperism, came to be seen as less as a disgrace associated with deliberate idleness and more as a misfortune associated with events beyond the control of the individual.
The board tried desperately to reduce the number of paupers receiving relief:
-it issued a circular condemning outdoor relief as it took away from the poor all desire to save for bad times by offering relief in their own homes whenever it was needed.
-it supported local authorities when they took a harsh line with paupers seeking outdoor relief. Poplar in east London for example, opened a deterrent workhouse that set the undeserving poor to hard work. others followed suit and they wer3e able to do this as charities were emerging to provide charity payments to the deserving poor.
-it authorised boards of guardians to take part in immigration schemes, whereby groups of paupers were sponsored to emigrate.
However there was always a greater number of paupers outside than inside the workhouse.