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The New Poor Law 1834

When hard times came, obtaining support under the New Poor Law of 1834 was not an easy option.

In 1834 the New Poor Law was enacted which joined together about six Parishes into a Union for the administration of the measures to deal with the poor under the national leadership of the Poor Law Commissioners. Several citizens in the Parish, usually the well to do, were appointed to run them, the Guardians.

The Guardians normally served ratepayers interests not the paupers, they might regard poverty as the fault of the poor, and they supported and carried out harsh treatment of the poor.

Every Union had a Workhouse. Homes were broken up and people moved into the Workhouse if they had no relatives to look after them.

The applicant for relief had to go before the Board of Guardians who would decide whether to offer support in the home or in the new 'deterrent' workhouse. The board of Guardian's Minute Books contain many snapshots of personal tragedies, such as 'bastard' children whose mother had been sent to prison for debt, so an order was made for them to be sent into the workhouse.

In the Workhouse, couples were separated, families also. In 1842, a year of wide spread industrial depression, a weaver applied for relief as he was unemployed, he, his wife and their six children were sent to the workhouse and lived separately.

Life in the Workhouse was harsh, with hard work and poor food. Workhouse dwellers were given a uniform in exchange for their clothes, usually a coarse gown or cotton shirt. These would have letters sewn on to them, 'P' for Pauper, followed by the letter of the Parish.

The old seem to be supported in their own homes. The standard assistance might be 4lb. of bread, sugar and half an ounce of tea, the total cost amounting to 1s. 6d. It is easy to see they were on the border line of starvation. When sickness was the problem, medical relief was given, which might also include extra rations; malt rice, even beef. If a member of the family died an application was often made for a coffin and it was usually provided.

1929 End of Boards of Guardians, the new poor assistance system has been gradually replaced by Old Age Pensions scheme or National Insurance scheme.

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