In the nineteenth Century, no official support system or benefits were available for those who were unemployed, elderly, sick or disabled. People had to work to earn money, and so if they were unable to for any reason, they had no means of paying rent or buying food. It was decided that help should be provided for the needy, and so the Poor Law Amendment Act, or New Poor Law, was passed in 1834. Parishes (like council wards) joined funds in order to build a workhouse - a place for the impoverished and destitute to live and work. Several parishes were grouped together into Unions, so that many of the establishments were known as union workhouses.

The general attitude towards the poor was one of disdain, and the belief that they deserved their unfortunate status was widely held. Conditions in the workhouses were deliberately basic to act as a deterrent, and to discourage people seeking an "easy" option. It was meant as a last resort solution to poverty, providing shelter, clothing and food. Only the most desperate people turned to the workhouses for help.

Once admitted to the workhouse, people were known as inmates, and would be categorised according to their status. Men, women and children were segregated, meaning families were separated, some never to be reunited. Many children were born into workhouse life, as unmarried mothers were cast out from society and forced to seek shelter there.

Meals were basic at best. Cheap, filling food such as gruel (a thick porridge-like sludge), bread and cheese, broth, rice milk, and potatoes were most common. The workhouses were strictly run, with many rules which were to be adhered to at all times, with consequences for those who flouted them. Jobs were found for the inmates, either inside the workhouse to maintain the building and the residents, or sent out as cheap labour to fund the workhouse. The institutions had infirmaries for the sick, and employed some of the more adept inmates as nurses. Many workhouses developed and became hospitals in the 20th century.



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