On this day … 21 May 1842

The Preston Chronicle delivered a blistering attack on the new Poor Law that would force paupers into the workhouse if they wanted help, breaking up families in the process.

What made it even worse, according to the Chronicle’s editorial writer, was that it did nothing to relieve the situation of the poor, since the ‘the most obnoxious features which made the old law so repulsive, are retained in the new’.

It was the use of the workhouse as a deterrent, a place of absolute last resort, that so appalled the Chronicle. It meant:

That all relief, excepting in a few almost impracticable or unavoidable cases, shall be given within the walls of a prison – we beg pardon of the tender mercy of the framers and executors of the merciful new poor-law for the 𝘮𝘪𝘴𝘯𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘳; we should have used the milder term, 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘬𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘴𝘦 – and that those workhouses shall be governed by general rules; by which rules husbands shall be dissevered from their wives, and children from their parents – not because they have been wicked, but for the more heinous offence of being poor, and so unable to help themselves …

… Another principle was this; that the destitute, instead of being kindly sympathised with, should be scouted as wretches, and driven from applying to the public relief fund, in order that the commissioners might be enabled to talk, in their reports, of saving 40 per cent in one union, and 75 per cent in another; they not being anxious to parade the reverse side of the picture, however.

Is there anything to solace the poor broken-down ratepayer, the declining labourer, the unfortunate artisan, in this respect, in the bill? No! he has only the same gloomy prospect, as soon as, from bad times, he gets out of employment (he only deriving a miserable pittance when at employment, and so being incapacitated from saving anything) of being thrown into the workhouse, to be incarcerated there, until, by some legerdemain which the commissioners do not or cannot explain, while pining in his dungeon, he is to obtain more work at a higher rate of wages to enable him to get out again.

Fulwood Workhouse, Preston
Batty Addison’s Fulwood Workhouse: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnnyenglish/3168013739

Turn the page of the Chronicle and you discover the arch mover of the new Poor Law in Preston, Thomas Batty Addison, chairing a meeting of the Poor Law Guardians, at which the cost of out-door relief, which the new law wanted to do away with, was totalled at £210 13s 6d.

The introduction of the new Poor Law was to prove one of the most contentious issues in local politics in Preston for most of the rest of the century. The supporters of the new law were led by Batty Addison, its opponents by Joseph Livesey. Batty Addison’s dream was a great central workhouse into which all the paupers of the Preston Union could be herded. The union stretched to and included Longton in one direction, Broughton in another, and Ribchester way over to the east.

Batty Addison won, and the Fulwood Workhouse was the result.

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