03 January 2019

The Poor Laws

From the BBC In Our Time series on Radio 4, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, from 1834, poor people across England and Wales faced new obstacles when they could no longer feed or clothe themselves, or find shelter.

Parliament, in line with the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus, feared hand-outs had become so attractive, they stopped people working to support themselves, and encouraged families to have more children than they could afford. To correct this, under the New Poor Laws it became harder to get any relief outside a workhouse, where families would be separated, husbands from wives, parents from children, sisters from brothers. Many found this regime inhumane, while others protested it was too lenient, and it lasted until the twentieth century.

One startling fact for me was that the workhouse in my home town of Great Yarmouth became a major source of bodies for medial education and research under the Anatomy Act of 1832.

Bonus material not in the original BBC broadcast is in the recording.



Sylvia said...

This is a fascinating programme and well worth a listen.

I have found at least one Scottish Parochial Board had similar arrangements Edinburgh with medical schools to dispose of unclaimed corpses of the poor rather than go to the expense of burying them. When I tewwted to thes effect a few months ago. Fergus Smith of https://www.oldscottish.com/ advised me that some families were able to reclaim their relative before the cadaver ending up on the anatomist's table.

Fergus has been working to index Anatomy School records which can be found here:


Gail B said...

In Ontario some were called Houses of Industry and Refuge. We visited the Woodstock ON one decades ago, as an ancestor was housed there. It has since been taken down. In St. Catharines the place was called a House of Refuge, Linhaven, (doing this from memory!) and the burial ground for 'residents' is currently of interest and dispute to members of the Historical Society of the city.

Gail B, St. C.

judylynne said...

I may be wrong, but I think that the Wellington County Museum and Archives is found in what was once a "poor house" or "house of industry" on the road between Fergus and Elora. It is an incredible building in so many ways, not the least of which is the Archives and Museum.