On this day … 6 March 1867

Thomas Batty Addison
Thomas Batty Addison painted in 1865. The portrait hangs in the Preston Crown Court building on Lancaster Road. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Batty_Addison_Clay.jpg

The Preston Guardian carried a report with the headline, ‘The Revelations of Preston Workhouse’, reporting the criticisms contained in an article in the Morning Star. The report by a Mr Cane for the national Poor Law Board painted a horrifying picture of conditions in the Preston Workhouse in 1867. The report was picked up by the Morning Star, a radical London newspaper, much to the disgust of the workhouse’s board of guardians.

The rival Preston Chronicle reported the board meeting at which the article was discussed, where one member, a Mr Ambler, quoted from it extensively as he expressed his outrage at length. The report to the Poor Law Board, according to Mr Ambler, focussed on the workhouse’s ‘itch ward’, where those with contagious conditions were confined in a room with no ventilation, swarming with vermin and:

… slept two or even three in one bed. At the moment of inspection, six men were found occupying one ward, and these had two beds placed at their disposal. This was the ward specially allotted to itch cases; and in one instance lately two men and two boys were allowed to sleep in one bed.

Treatment was rudimentary:

… in the midst of this ward Mr. Cane saw an adult patient standing upright without a fragment of clothing upon him, whilst a pauper attendant painted him over with a brush he dipped in an application for his disease.

The board’s chairman, Thomas Batty Addison, a wily political operator, twisted the condemnation of the workhouse, which was then on a site on Deepdale Road near the present bus depot, into an argument in favour of his pet project: a new workhouse serving the wider Preston area. He eventually won, against fierce local opposition, and the result was the workhouse built on Watling Street Road in Fulwood. Addison peppered his response to the Morning Star article with a shotgun blast of slanders against the working people of Preston, which included the following:

When Mr. Cane talked of want of ventilation, he (Mr. Addison) might ask if the houses of the poor, the lowest class, were ventilated (‘no;’) did they like ventilation; would they permit it – could they persuade them to open their windows (‘no’) on any occasion were their windows made even to open? Let them compare the workhouse with their own houses. If this were done, would they not find the Preston Workhouse a palace in comparison with their own abodes?

A full transcription of the Preston Chronicle report, which is revealing of the contemporary views of politicians both Tory and Liberal on poverty.

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