Around 50 people attended the October meeting of Mytholmroyd Historical Society when Peter Higginbottom gave a talk on “Aspects of Workhouse Life”, writes Judith Wilson.
In 1601 the Poor Relief Act made the Parish responsible for the poor. Poor Rates were collected and Out Relief given to the needy. The able-bodied were expected to work and were supplied with materials to do so. There was help for housing for the sick and elderly.
Later, workhouses were opened. They were run by private contractors paid so much per head from the Parish. By 1776 there were 99 workhouses in the West Riding.
In 1834 a new Poor Law was passed requiring Parishes to open Union Workhouses. These had to conform to very strict rules and there were protests, including riots in the streets. Todmorden held out for 40 years before they opened a Union Workhouse. Entry to Union Workhouses was voluntary, but there was no other relief so many had no option. Families went in together but males, females and children were segregated and only saw each other on Sundays. They were clothed in uniforms and fed very simply.
The able-bodied worked all day except on Sundays when they went to church. There was only one hour a day not strictly timetabled. The children were treated better and were often trained for a trade. Workhouses also had hospitals but medical attention was poor with many untrained, illiterate staff. However, in the 1870s, after campaigning by Florence Nightingale and others, trained nurses were employed. By the 1890s the food had improved, there were some comforts for the elderly and toys for the children, but the shame of being in the workhouse never went away.
In the 1830s the Board of Guardians was abolished and local councils took over the buildings. Audrey Short thanked the speaker.
The next meeting will be at Mytholmroyd Methodist Church on Friday, November 8 at 7.30pm, when John Spencer will give a talk on “The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment In World War One”.
The library will be open from 7pm. New members and visitors welcome.