The Illustrated London News 2 (Nov. 7, 1846)


A public meeting was held on Thursday, at the London Tavern, for the of taking into consideration Mr. B. B. Cabbell’s plan to remedy some of the evils of the New Poor-Law. A brief notice of the objects and proceedings of the meeting appears in another part of our paper. Such a meeting, numerously and respectably attended, and presided over by the Chief Magistrate of the Metropolis, is indicative of the popular dissatisfaction which prevails against the Poor-Law Commissioners. The startling disclosures before the Andover Union Committee have made the present system of Poor-Law Administration a common topic of conversation. The Poor-Law Commissioners, abandoned by all parties, hold their offices in suspense and disgrace, till the sentence passed on them by universal acclamation is executed. The Act which gives them official existence expires next year ; and, in this particular juncture of affairs, rather complicates the political considerations which the subject involves. “What,” say the advocates of the present system “will Lord John do with the Commissioners ?” “What new plan for the relief of the poor,” ask its opponents, “will Lord John devise ?” The Poor-Law Act, though conferring unlimited power on the Commissioners, is based on a sound principle, viz., that labour ought to be given in return for lodging, clothing, and maintenance. Like the statute of Elizabeth, it is essentially humane; but, like that statute, it has been abused by those whose peculiar duty it is to enforce its principles in a spirit of kindly feeling to the poor. The spirit in which it has been administered may be gathered from official papers. In the earliest days of the Commission, plans for Workhouses were arranged, under the immediate superintendence of the Commissioners themselves. Sir Francis Head, who was then an Assistant-Commissioner, has the merit of designing one for 500 inmates, who were to be confined in two yards. He describes his design to be “founded on the principle that, in the construction of a rural Workhouse, the height of the rooms, the thickness of the walls, &c. &c., should not exceed the dimensions of the cottage of the labourer; well-built, substantial rooms being a luxury as attractive to the pauper as food and raiment.” The other designs, which are also published in the 1st and 2nd Annual Reports of the Commissioners, have the name of an architect attached to them, but, in fact, are tracings from designs for American prisons.

Canterbury Workhouse

The young and inexperienced architect who appropriated these prison plans to a purpose for which they were never intended, was not, it may be supposed, overmuch startled when Cobbett denounced the new build  as “Bastilles.” Mr. F. Lewis, one of the Commissioners, when a member of the House of Commons, asserted that the statute of Elizabeth meant “to inflict compulsory labour by way of punishment, not to afford labour for the mere purpose of maintenance.” The man who put such anodious interpretation on that Act, who regarded poverty as a crime, was not likely to approve of plans for Workhouses which did not bear all the external appearances of Bastilles. The Andover Union Workhouse is constructed after the design which we have copied from the second Annual Report of the Commissioners. It was erected under the immediate superintendence of the Commissioners’ own architect, and, when completed, was estimated to be capable of accommodating a greater number of inmates by one-third than the medical attendant ventured to recommend the Guardians to admit into it. It will be perceived that there are only four yards: these yards mark the number of classes into which the inmates are to be formed. The space allotted to each boy or girl in the dormitories was 77 cubic feet, and it was proposed by the Commissioners that the beds should be arranged in tiers, like berths in a ship. The Chapel and Dining Hall was the only day-room for the women, young and : and there was only one day-room for the boys and girls, which was intended to be Day-Room, School-Room, and Dining-Room. The Guardians soon discovered that the space allotted to each inmate was insufficient, and, having dispensed with the services of the Commissioners’ architect, they erected new School-Rooms for the boys and girls, and provided new wards for the sick by the addition of another story to one part of the building. The windows are constructed in such a manner as to deny to the inmates a view of all external objects, excepting a slanting glance at the sky! The windows in the front of the building are those of the Guardians Board-Room and Porter’s Offices, and must not be confounded with the prison-like windows of the poor inmates wards.


The work to which the male inmates were set was “compulsory labour by way of punishment.” They were employed to pound bones charged with animal matter, the effluvium from which is described as having been intolerable. This kind of labour was very generally resorted to in the Workhouses in that part of England. Mr. Parker, the Ex-Assistant Commissioner, not only constantly verbally objected to it, but, in several instances, stated his objections in writing, whilst Mr. Chadwick wrote an unanswerable paper recommending its discontinuance. Mr. George Lewis, who succeeded his father as Commissioner, paid as little heed to the one as to the other until public opinion declared itself, and was about to hurl destruction on the supporters of this bone-crushing: then, and not till them, did he and his colleagues forbid this description of labour. Having been called to account for their tardiness in forbidding the poor to be employed at such disgusting and unhealthy work, the Commissioners endeavoured to shift the responsibility on their subordinate, who repelled the accusation, and brought home the delinquency to the Commissioners themselves.

The Ex-Assistant Commissioner offended the triumvirate on the subject of Workhouses. He objected to the prison-like appearance of the Commissioners’ plans, and designed four or five Workhouse plans, which possess some claims to architectural taste. We have taken one of his designs ” way of contrast to that of the Commissioners. It is an isometrical view of the Workhouse which is about to be erected at Canterbury. A building after the same design is erected at Aylesbury, and, with the exception of the range of buildings at the back and the group in front, which are not yet erected, one also at Rye, in Sussex.

It would appear that Mr. Parker did not propose to “test” within four walls the youthful and the aged poor; instead of walls their playgrounds and airing-yards are enclosed by an open fence. At Aylesbury, the aged inmates have converted their airing-yard into a pleasant garden, where they may be seen tending shrubs and flowers with as much care as they would bestow on the culture of similar plants in their cottage gardens. At either end of the main building are colonnades where the children can take recreation in wet weather.

The windows throughout the building are arranged in such a manner as to enable the inmates to enjoy the prospect from them. From the windows of the Aylesbury Workhouse there is a delightful view of the Chiltern Hills, and from the Rye Workhouse the coast of France is discernible in a clear day. The range of buildings at the back is the Infirmary. It contains spacious dormitories and wards for various diseases, which require separate treatment. It is also provided with a £: nurses’ rooms, and baths, The group of buildings in front is the Guardians Offices and the Porter’s Lodge. The yards at the back of the main building, separated by the Chapel, are appropriated to the able-bodied male and female inmates. The sitting-room of the Master and Matron commands these yards. he Schoolmaster and Mistress, from their respective oriel windows in the wings of the principal building, view their pupils in the hours of recreation. The nurse, in like manner, can see the sick patients in the garden where the infirmary patients take air and exercise, whilst the porter and his wife can overlook the aged people. The Kitchen department is at the distant end of the Chapel. The cooking is conducted by means of a steam apparatus, which not only performs all the duties required of a steam-kitchen, but also boils the linen in the wash-house, and supplies hot water to the washing-tubs in the laundry, and baths in the Infirmary and receiving wards.

The Chapel is a handsome hall 58 feet by 23 feet. The roof is included in the area of the section, and its timbers are so arranged as to give the hall the appearance of a place of worship. The service in a Workhouse is in the nature of domestic prayer, and therefore the Chapel is not inappropriately the Dining Hall as well as the hall where the family assemble for their orisons. The Turret in the centre of the principal building is a shaft, which, by a simple contrivance that has received the approbation of Dr. Arnott, effectually ventilates the day rooms and dormitories. The necessity for ventilation in such establishments as Workhouses is too obvious to require remark. The means which have been employed to effect this desideratum in public buildings have generally been so imperfect as to make it doubtful whether the prospect of fever and the ills of an unwholesome atmosphere were not equivalent to the chance of colds, catarris, and other ailments, which are brought about by exposure to currents of chilling air. According to Mr. Parker’s system, the apartments are heated by hot water, and the warmth evolved by it attracts fresh air, which, tempered by contact with the heated water-pipes, flows into the apartments in small jets, whilst the vitiated air escapes through the ventilators, and passes off through the central shaft. The Commissioners, in their plans, deemed 150 cubic feet sufficient space for a full grown person, and 77 for a child. Mr. Parker, with efficient ventilation, assigns to each adult in health 266 cubic feet, being the average volume of air drawn into the lungs of a full grown man in twenty-four hours, and in sickness 300; whilst to each child he allows 160 cubic feet. The bitter feeling which the Commissioners evinced before the Andover Committee on the subject of Workhouse Plans was remarkable; they insinuated that Mr. Parker had no authority to visit the Aylesbury Union for the purpose of introducing his improved plans. Dysentery, diarrhea, and fever, had made sad havoc there, amongst the in: mates of the old Workhouse; yet, with the knowledge that such diseases were endemic, they insinuated that he committed an official irregularity in going there to remedy the evil. In conveying this insinuation they violently objected to the production of notes marked “private,” as if they expected Mr. Parker to sit quietly under an insinuation, and keep his defence in his pocket. The production of a note marked “private,” overturned the much-abused doctrine of confidentiality and the tables on these high public functionaries. Under the administration of the present Poor-Law Commissioners the Poor-Law expenditure has increased about one million in the last eight years. In 1837, says the Edinburgh Review, it was four millions: in 1845 it was five millions. In 1843, one-tenth of the population was in a state of pauperism; whilst in 1844, say the Commissioners in their Eleventh Annual Report, the number of persons relieved may be taken at nearly one-eighth #’ of the population. The Westminster Review, which has taken alarm at this state of things, says:—“There is to us a solemnity in this announcement like that of a funeral knell—the knell of a nation. One-eighth part of the population of England and Wales paupers in a year of railroad activity, and with wheat at 51s, and 5d.!” The Commissioners’ days are numbered, and, in the meantime, public opinion forbids the erection of “Bastiles.”

Andover Union Workhouse

Source: Google Books

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