The Lancet Reports on Country Workhouse Infirmaries, Windsor.
In 1867, The Lancet — as part of a campaign to improve the conditions in workhouse infirmaries — conducted published a series of reports detailing the results of its visits to a number of provincial workhouses. Below are extracts from the report on the Windsor workhouse, published on 28th September, 1867.
THE Windsor Workhouse is a modern but irregular pile of buildings situated at Old Windsor, on the confines of the park. It is certified to hold four hundred inmates, but at the period of our visit there were less than two hundred; and, with the exception of the bedrooms, we should think the establishment would be excessively crowded if the present number were materially exceeded. The building is approached through a well-kept garden, yards being railed off for the confinement of the various classes. The master lives in the centre, behind which is the kitchen and scullery. We visited the body of the house under the escort of the matron. The first room is devoted to the class of females erroneously called able-bodied. There were eighteen in the house, of whom two were in the last month of pregnancy, and the rest more or less disabled by infirmity either of mind or body. Three only were really able to do a day's work, and there is often a great difficulty in finding sufficient hands to maintain cleanliness in the establishment. At the end of this ward is one devoted to half-a-dozen aged and infirm. The beds are comfortable and clean; they are stuffed with wool. The room is provided with chairs, tables, and a few books. There is no special diet for the infirm, but a considerable number are under the doctor's charge, and have meat every day, with an allowance of ale or beer. In a room opposite some old women were at needlework; they were stronger than the last, and slept up-stairs. These rooms have all a somewhat cheerless aspect, and would be greatly improved by a few pictures hung about the walls; they were, however, perfectly clean and wholesome. At the end of the building is the schoolroom and children's dining-room, in which were seventeen girls, chiefly illegitimate, who are under the instruction of the matron's daughter. The playground is close at hand, and we certainly could not endorse the complaint of Dr. Smith that it needs to be covered with asphalte, the gravel being both clean and dry. The children appeared perfectly healthy. There is neither ophthalmia nor skin disease, both of which disorders are said to have diminished since the introduction of milk with bread and butter in the place of oatmeal porridge for the breakfast and the supper. The dormitories are above all the day-rooms : they are clean and comfortable, and fitted with ventilators, though the latter were all closed, as they always will be if left to pauper management. On the opposite side of the house the arrangements are exactly similar for the male inmates. There are no able-bodied men, and there is no sadder spectacle than to see the poor old creatures, many of whom have passed industrious lives, sitting about in dreary wards 'without any amusement or useful occupation to while away the time. One capital " old worker," as the matron fitly called him, had brought up a family of five children on 15s. a week as one of the gardeners to the Queen. Another had been for thirty years in the employ of the Thames Commissioners, and had brought up nine children on the same sum. Although one ought, perhaps, to be thankful that there is any asylum, for their declining years, we must say that it cannot be right to confine them in the same wards with worthless individuals, from whose ribaldry and unkindness there is no escape.
There is one shocking defect in this part of the house, which was reported at the end of last year by Dr. E. Smith. There are no in-door waterclosets. Each dormitory is provided with a night-stool, and an abundant supply of chamber utensils; but the chief accommodation seems to be a tub, which is placed upon the landing of the stairs. And in this tub the faeces and urine are collected, and carried down. We are certainly astonished that so obvious an evil has not been felt before; and more astonished still that, having been officially pointed out, the remedy should have been so long delayed. The infirmary is at the back of the kitchens, from which it is separated by an intervening yard. It consists of several distinct parts, all under the control of a paid nurse, who has had considerable experience in the London hospitals. The first ward was 16 ft. square and 10 ft. high. It contains four beds, one being devoted to a pauper wardswoman, who has full diet and beer for her services. Two beds were permanently occupied by paralytic cases, the husbands contributing 5s. per week for their support. One was propped up by a chair, although a proper bed-rest was close at hand. The beds are good, and the patients thoroughly clean and comfortable. There is an abundant and separate supply of linen for each ward, all of which are provided with tables and easy-chairs. Each patient had a small stool at the side, and a small shelf on the wall above the head; but this was not sufficient for the many little things the sick require, and, consequently, clothes, a syringe, and other articles were found hidden beneath the bolsters. The ward, also, suffered from the same untidiness. Wash-basins, sweeping-brushes, and even the coal-scuttle, were thrust under the patients' beds; knives, forks, and wooden platters were exposed on shelves, and lay about in table drawers, when it would be so easy to supply each patient with a drawer in which to put her clothes and necessaries, and with a shelf on which to place a teacup, basin, plate, knife, fork, hair-brush, and other little articles which all require. A wash-basin is supplied to every other bed, and a clean towel to each patient, The wards would be greatly improved by some pictures, and in only one place did we observe a looking-glass, which consisted of a broken piece, about as large as one's hand, set by one of the inmates in a frame of wood. There is a convalescent ward, in which the patients who can move about sit and take their meals. The patients were at dinner when we entered. The table was spread with a tidy cloth, and the dinner was of bacon, with a plentiful supply of potatoes and broad beans. Throughout the infirmary the windows are provided with curtains. In a smaller ward were two beds for bad cases, one of which was occupied by a person with severe diarrhoea,. There was an abundant supply of medical appliances, shower-bath, air-beds, screens, slippers, easy chairs, foot and stomach warmers, leg-rests, splints, cradles, crutches, syringes, &e. There were no bed-head tickets or prescription papers. Medicines for special cases are kept in the nurse's room. We saw several bottles, however, without a label. House medicine, diarrhoea and anodyne mixture, are left under the nurse's charge, and are kept in the surgery.
The lying-in ward is a most improper one for the purpose. It is a small room, containing only about 300 cubic feet to each of its three beds. As, however, there are other bedrooms near, more than two beds are rarely, if ever, occupied; so that the cubic space may be reckoned at 450 feet per bed. At the same time the lying-in couch was reported by Dr. E. Smith as being too narrow. It is cruelly small (only 60 by 40 inches), and should be immediately replaced. It was well fitted with mackintosh and foot-board, and beautifully clean. At the back of the infirmary are two small separate buildings, devoted to foul and disagreeable cases. There are two small wards, each about ]4ft. square, with a slanting roof which reaches the wall at 7 ft. from the floor. On the women's side were three beds, occupied by women labouring under venereal diseases; and with a table, chair, night-stool, and the space necessary for a small fireplace. The ward was inconveniently full, and must be extremely unhealthy when closed at night. This deficiency of ventilation was also reported by Dr. Smith, and has not yet been remedied. The men's apartment was even worse than the women's. There were four beds, besides chairs and tables; and the foul stench was perceptible notwithstanding that doors and windows were widely open.
Two new wards, with bath and nurse's rooms, have just been erected, and are not yet opened. They are intended for the reception of fever and small-pox cases. They form an admirable contrast to the wards we had just seen, and we would earnestly advise the guardians to appropriate them to the patients who now occupy the foul wards, and raise the roofs and improve the ventilation of the latter before they are again used.
One great advantage is conferred upon the poor in the Windsor Union. They are visited by a society of ladies, who B' interest themselves greatly in the comfort and welfare of all the inmates. The number of visitors is limited to seven. They visit the wards and the schools nearly every day, reading to, and conversing with, the sick and aged. They act under the advice and direction of the chaplain, and they are instructed to respect the religious opinions of those who differ from them. Should complaints be made by the paupers, the visitors are requested to tell the complainants that they must address themselves to the visiting guardians, as the proper persons to attend to them; but this direction is of little use, since we observe the visiting guardians rarely attend more than once a month. However, whilst intelligent ladies of position continue to visit the workhouse inmates, there is some protection against serious neglect; and we confidently believe that, excepting the shortcomings we have indicated, the poor are well and kindly treated in the Windsor Union. It must be confessed, however, that these faults are very grave ones, and the more so because two of the worst of them had been faithfully pointed out by the inspector (Dr. Smith), and that the guardians have declined, or at any rate neglected, to remove them. The filthy faeces on the stair-landing of the able-bodied men's department, the overcrowded female venereal wards, and the lying-in bed, are as disgraceful as almost anything which our Commissioners discovered in the London workhouses.
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