The Workhouse Conditions

The Bainbridge Gilbert Incorporation


One administrative unit which favoured no change was the Bainbridge Gilbert Incorporation whose workhouse seems to have been run upon more efficient and hygienic lines than the parochial workhouses without becoming less humane.

Here, the governor, who was paid an annual salary of £40, which increased to £45 in 1819, was responsible to the guardians of the member townships and subject to the scrutiny of visitors appointed by them. His accounts were audited by a salaried treasurer.

Each member township paid a proportion of the general expenses and an equal share of the ‘incidents’ plus a fixed sum per pauper in the workhouse per month. Townships were naturally eager to see their money well-spent.

Provisions were strictly contracted for, with the exception of clothing which was supplied by the appropriate township when a pauper entered the house.

For economy, pigs were reared, a garden cultivated and attempts made at the keeping of cows. Diet was nevertheless substantial and wholesome and the workhouse well-heated.
During the year 1812-13 a weekly average of 10. 7 paupers were bought 45 bushels of oatmeal, 74 bushels of potatoes, 518 gallons of milk and 180 gallons of beer.
They also seem to have consumed 64 stones of beef, 25 lbs, of mutton and veal, 14 stones of bacon and an unspecified amount of cheese, butter, tea, sugar, salt, mustard, pepper, treacle and nutmeg.
49 stones of flour were used for baking. Fuel bills were paid for 153 loads of coals and 18 loads of peat.

By 1825-26 the diet was even more varied. A weekly average of 21 inmates was bought during the year 135 bushels of oatmeal; 16 bushels of wheat meal and 68 bushels of potatoes. They also used 125 stones of beef, 368 lbs. of veal, mutton, pork and bacon plus various sheep’s hearts and beast’s heads. 1,421 gallons of old and new milk, 80 stones of flour, 18 stones of treacle, 189 lbs, of cheese plus other assorted groceries, and 13 stones of soap.

There was no lack of vitamins since the governor acquired 32 pecks of apples and made regular purchases of cabbage, onions, and peas.

Bedsteads were made by a local joiner. Bedding consisted of a straw mattress, a bolster in a hurden case, a pair of hurden sheets and a blanket. Each inmate was provided with a hurden towel and a comb.

In the 1830s the inmates cost of food per head was from two shillings and four pence to three shillings and sixpence.
Meals were eaten from long tables set with mess tins.
Breakfast consisted of gulls (porridge) and milk, occasionally treacle, washed down with either coffee or beer.Dinner consisted of broth, pea soup, bread and cheese.
From the 1840s, 50s, the lunch had improved.The inmates had things like mutton, beasts heads, beef and potatoes, even things like fried onion and berry pie. Supper consisted of oatmeal, tea, bread and butter, and sops.

The workhouse seems to have been kept much cleaner than its contemporaries. The general account regularly included ‘soap for washing old beds’ and bed clothing, besides regular whitewashing and the purchase of ‘yallokre’ (Yellow ochre pipe clay) for the floors and perhaps walls.

There was also an annual fumigation. A shilling was spent on ‘Tar to burn in the House’ in 1827 and 41bs, of tar were again bought to burn the following year.

From the outset, paupers worked both inside and outside the workhouse. Two wheels were made and stock carts and hand carts acquired in 1811. A hurden loom and a cotton loom were bought from Kendal in 1816.
Paupers were also variously employed at knitting stockings and picking wool.

Departure and return times of paupers leaving the house to work were noted by the governors. The earnings of paupers inside the house were paid into the victualling account and those of paupers outside paid to the account of the townships to which they belonged.

In January 1821 it was also agreed to employ a weaver to live in the workhouse to teach and supervise the manufacture of *hurden.

Eventually, in October 1822, Stephen Preston, an Askrigg weaver, provided a number of looms for cotton weaving free on condition that he received the first four months earnings of any pauper whom he instructed and half his earnings for the next 14 months. He was also to be paid 6d, a week for the use of his looms by paupers who could already weave.

In the absence of sufficient weavers, Preston was permitted to fill the vacancies from any of the corporate townships. The experiment began almost immediately and, although nothing is known of its profitability, it enjoyed a longer life than most work schemes since the annual insurance premiums for cotton and looms, part of which was paid by the resident weaver, were still being met in 1829.

Workhouse discipline was moderately strict. Tobacco and other ‘unaccounted goods’ were only allowed with permission of the pauper’s guardian.

Reading material was limited to two bibles and seven volumes of Burn’s ‘Justice’. Nevertheless there is no suggestion of maltreatment or inhumanity, and partly because of what Assistant Commissioner Revans called ‘an excellent workhouse’, this Gilbert union was able to withstand the Commissioners’ attempts at dissolution and survived until the establishment of the Aygarth Union in 1869.

  • Hurden – a coarse linen. Hurd – the coarse part of flax or hemp.*(S.D.English Language 1899).

From RP Hastings
More Essays in North Riding History.
With thanks to G. Keeble.

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