logo - Join me in the 1900s early C20th
Florence Cole as a child

Victorian and Edwardian workhouses,
through to the mid 20th century

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What workhouses were

The English Poor Laws

The English Poor Laws provided relief to the poor in England and Wales. They developed out of late-medieval and Tudor-era laws, and were first formalised in 1587-98. The system existed in some form until the welfare state came into being after the Second World War.

Workhouses were where local people who couldn't support themselves could go to live. Sometimes whole families had to go there, but they had to work for their keep and their living conditions were harsh. In some ways they were like prisons, but the inmates (paupers) were encouraged to take up paid work outside and leave.

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Management and staffing of workhouses

Boards of guardians

Workhouses were setup under the English Poor Laws system, and every workhouse was under the management of a Board of Guardians and funded by the local parish. For many years, my uncle was the chairman of our Edmonton Board of Guardians.

Labour masters

The day to day manager of the staff was called a labour master.

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Associated provision for the poor and sick

Workhouses had associated casual wards and infirmaries, which were also managed by the local Board of Guardians.

Infirmaries were a kind of hospital for the infirm and aged poor. At one time my father was an ambulance driver for our infirmary in Edmonton. He transported children from the infirmary to Chase Farm School as well as children whose parents were in the workhouse.

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The end of the workhouse system

In 1930 the last workhouses were officially closed, marking the end of what was known as the Poor Law system. However they continued in some form until the establishment of the Welfare State, just after the Second World War.

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