Ancestry UK

'Workhouse Life in Town and Country' by Mrs Emma Brewer

Mrs Emma Brewer was a Victorian author, editor and translator. Her varied writings included a novel, Love, Too, is Vanity, and a collection of London: Facts and Figures. She also wrote many 'investigative' accounts of institutions such as hospitals and workhouses that she had visited, both in Brtain and in other countries.

In in 1889-90, the magazine Sunday at Home published a series of her articles under the title Workhouse Life in Town and Country. In contrast to many earlier authors of the era, and reflecting the changes that had often taken place during the previous twenty years, her reports on the subject were largely laudatory. The establishments she visited were usually portrayed as being spotlessly clean, with sheets and pillow cases changed regularly, and towels refreshed daily. The workhouses frequently had new infirmaries, where paid and trained nurses had replaced the elderly pauper assistants of the past. Her attitude towards the inmates, however, still inclined towards the belief that most of them were there through their own failings, mainly an excessive consumption of alcohol. At Lambeth, for example, she makes the startling claim that eighty per cent of them were “there through drink” — a belief that perhaps also reflects the influence of the Temperance Movement , which was then at its height in Britain.

The articles in the series can be viewed below: