Why did Tall's enter the
Workhouse three times?
Entry in the Workhouse
2. Percy Tall's Entry in the Workhouse
Entry in the Workhouse
Fanny’s parents, and her husband were dead. On her first visit she had to support five young children. Her second visit resulted from her pregnancy with Percy. Whilst family rumour stated that Fanny was working for a family named Ansell, the embellishment (that this was the brewery, family and that Fanny’s pregnancy was caused by the younger son, the son was sent to Canada) is almost certainly fanciful. Whatever happened, Fanny had no money because she couldn’t work. Working as a servant she would have been instantly dismissed when she became pregnant - whoever was the father:
‘My employer’s son was creeping into the senior parlour maid’s bed quite regularly. I was terrified of him. Eventually the girl became pregnant and was instantly dismissed without references, as a dirty girl.’
(SSW Description by woman who was a parlour maid in the early 1920’s)
Once dismissed, Fanny had no choice but to enter the workhouse; her two eldest children would not yet have been able to provide assistance (Mary Ann was 17 and Frederick 13). Fanny entered Hitchin Union Workhouse with her youngest daughter Harriet. She was in a worse position than the woman who commented, she:
"hoped that her parents would relent and that she could have the baby there: I said, `I’ve come home to have the babe.’ So she says, `Well, you can’t have it here, you can’t stop here.’ I says, `Well, what am I going to do?’ She says, `I don’t know, there’s only one thing for it. You’ll have to go to the workhouse that’s all. I haven’t got room for you here."’
(SSW A woman describing her experience aged 19, in 1930)
When Hitchin workhouse discovered that Fanny’s husband had been born at Maulden they immediately arranged to send her to Ampthill; she arrived the night before Percy was born.
The 1834 poor laws encouraged Parishes to form union workhouses, which were built to house paupers from a wide area. In the Unions:
"Conditions were deliberately made as unpleasant as possible in an effort to encourage the poor to seek work and, to this end, employers were supposed to provide a living wage." (Cole & Armstrong)
"Amongst the poor and working people in general, the ‘salutory dread’ of the workhouse remained. Entry into the workhouse was a matter of shame, the respectable poor preferring to exist on the minimum rather than join the dregs of society inside" (Martin, H. (1988) Britain Since 1800: Towards the Welfare State Methuen, p37)
"My first visit to a Workhouse was a memorable one... made it easy for me to understand why the poor dreaded and hated these places, and made me in a fashion realise how all these prison or Bastille sort of surroundings were organised for the purpose of making self-respecting, decent people endure any suffering rather than enter... Officials, receiving ward, hard forms, whitewashed walls, keys dangling at the waist of those who spoke to you, huge books for name... searching and then being stripped, bathed in a communal tub, and the final crowning indignity of being dressed in clothes which had been worn by lots of other people, hideous to look at, ill-fitting, coarse... The place was clean.... but of goodwill, kindliness there was none." George Lansbury, who in 1892 was elected to Poplar Board of Governors. (Martin, 1988, p.38)
George Lansbury’s views are confirmed by inhabitants in the 1920’s:
"My God, I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy, places like that.... They used to say `Get on with your work, get on with your work,’ that’s all they used to say to you. You were given so much to do; some days I don’t know at the end of the day how I stood up. It was dreadful. There was scrubbing the tables, scrubbing all the stone floors, all the loos, cleaning the wards out, because they had sick people there, old people, sick, babies being born, you used to have to do all the hard work right until your time was ready. Work like a horse, a horse couldn’t have worked any harder. And dragging pails of water, hot soda water, great big scrubbing brush, it was dreadful. It was really heartbreaking. You were there as workers, that’s how you were tret. And you were allowed to go to bed at nine o’clock and you had to be up at half past four. And you worked from half past four in the morning. You got a slice of bread and a mug of tea. There was never any breakfast of any sort, always bread and dripping or bread and jam, bread and marmalade." (SSW p99)
Workhouses were theoretically abolished by the National Assistance Act of 1948, but in 1960 they still accounted for just over half of the accommodation used by councils a survey into workhouses between 1958 and 1960 described conditions found in them 90 years after Percy was born:
Most dormitories contain from 6 to 12 beds and some can only be reached through washrooms and other dormitories....there are few furnishings. Over half the residents share a locker... I went through one dining room containing 50 infirm women which is scarcely big enough for 20. there were bits of food scattered on the floor and a stench of urine. The main dining-room holds 110 persons and is overlooked by a balcony from which the former workhouse master could survey the inmates... There is scarcely a single personal possession, such as a photograph or a clock, to be seen throughout the institution. (Peter Townsend, The Last Refuge, Routledge&Kegan Paul)
Hardly a pleasant place for a woman with young children! Certainly the attitude of my grandparents ‘in the sixties was very negative, they referred to Wellingborough’s Park Hospital as the ‘Workhouse’ and did not want to go there!
2. Percy at Hinwick Workhouse
Percy’s mother died when Percy was just 3 years old and his stepfather, a pensioner died when he was 6. It is not surprising, therefore, that whilst Hitchin workhouse records can not tell us when he entered the workhouse, but Percy was certainly there in 1881
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