Ancestry UK

A Walk Through the Hull Workhouse (1864)

In 1864, the Hull Advertiser printed the following account of a visit to the Hull workhouse.


A member of our reporting staff having nothing of greater importance to occupy his time or attention on Monday last, visited the Hull Workhouse, on the Anlaby-road. In company with Mr. Governor Fountain and Mr. Viccars, the master, he walked through almost every room in the building, and be has supplied us with the following detailed account of his visit, the perusal of which will probably prove interesting to many of our readers:—

The Hull Workhouse is a handsome building. It is built of red brick and cut stone, and is in the Italian style of architecture. The site and grounds contain about six acres. The frontage measures 270 feet in length, and in the centre of the front range is an illuminated clock on both sides. The building contains twenty-four court yards, and there is accommodation for almost 600 paupers. The foundation stone was laid in 185l, and the 30th of June, 1852, the Governor (Mr. John Middleton) and guardians took formal possession of the house, the erection of which bad cost about £15,000.

The board-room is in the front part of the institution. It is a spacious room, and fully adequate to the accommodation of the forty guardians, who by an act of Parliament passed in the reign of George IV. were constituted a corporation, by the name the “Governor, deputy-governor, assistants, and guardians of the poor of the town of Kingston-upon-Hull.” The guardians are elected the ratepayers of the different wards, for a period of three years, and the refusal to serve subjects the person declining to tune of £2O. The governor and deputy-governor are chosen by the guardians annually. The former office has been held by Mr. Aid. Fountain now for nearly twelve years. He was first elected guardian of the poor in 1844, and was re-elected in 1847, 1850, 1853, and 1856. He was made deputy-governor in 1852, and since then has been annually elected the governor by the unanimous vote of the guardians. His sympathy for the poor is generally known. Hardly a day passes that he does not visit the house, and inquires into everything connected with it. In recognition of his zeal and urbanity the guardians presented him in 1856 with a requisition handsomely engrossed in gilt letters on vellum, with an illuminated border, and set in a carved frame of oak, from the old Workhouse building in Whitefriargate, requesting him to accept the office of governor for 1856, and passing a high eulogium upon the success of his management in previous years. In 1860 he was presented with beautiful silver waiter, and a silver tea and coffee service; and the officers of the institution also presented him with a silver claret jug and stand, as a “memorial of respect for his uniform kindness and urbanity towards, them.” Few men have been so esteemed as he, for three public banquets were given in his honour in the years 1854, 1856, and 1859, the Mayor on each occasion being in the chair. Last year Mr. Councillor John Symons was elected the deputy-governor in the place of Mr. Bishop Barnby, deceased. The Board of Guardians, for the convenience of the members, are divided into three sections, and every Wednesday afternoon 13 of these gentlemen visit the house for the purpose of receiving applications, the granting of relief, &c. A bi-monthly meeting of the whole court is holden for the transaction of general business, the Governor always presiding. The visiting committee consists of five members, the Governor and Deputy-Governor ex officio. This committee attends regularly to hear the complaints of the inmates, and to see that the regulations of the Poor-law Board are properly carried out.

On the left of the entrance is the relieving office for the west district, and on the average 800 persons attend here every Thursday to receive the relief granted to them. When the institution was first erected applicants were exposed to the inclemency of all weathers, having to wait in the Workhouse-yard until their turn came to be admitted into the relieving office; but the guardians, with that characteristic sympathy which has ever actuated them, subsequently had constructed another large room, in which those who had business there could assemble and remain comfortable until called upon by the relieving officer. On certain other days relief is given at the new relieving and rating-offices in Postern-gate, the foundation stone of which was laid by the Governor on the 21st December, 1863.

Passing through we beheld a smooth-shaven lawn, beautifully laid out. This we were told had been done by the inmates, and certainly it would have been no disgrace to a practical gardener. We had now arrived at the masters office, and inquiring for that obliging functionary he came forward and invited us to follow him over the house. His own office was a pattern of neatness. There was a place for everything, and everything was in its place. Our attention was particularly attracted to three narrow boxes, about three feet in length, on the front of each of which were painted in bold letters the words “Fire hose.” A request to have a look at these was anticipated by Mr. Viccars. Each box contained forty yards of good hose, with the stand-pipe and “nozzle.” Two men, or boys, can carry one of these boxes to any part of the building without difficulty, and, as there are fire-plugs on the premises, the stand-pipes can be attached, and the hose got into play within a few minutes of the discovery of the fire. En passant we may mention that a few years ago the front range of the Workhouse happened to get on fire, but was subdued before the police arrived. Then, as now, the old clothes of all persons who entered the Workhouse were deposited in bags, and placed in this portion of the building until such times as they should think fit to again leave the Workhouse. At the time of the fire most, if not all, the clothes were consumed, and the master had great difficulty in satisfying the demands of the claimants, one person going so far as to say that she had a new silk dress when she entered, and, consequently, expected to receive its full value. Experience seems to have taught the master wisdom, for now inventory is taken of every article of wearing apparel, and also its condition, and when a person leaves the house they are made to sign their names alongside of this inventory receipt that they have got what belongs to them.

The first room we entered was that of a number of old men, who were unable to walk about or to do any kind of work, light or otherwise. Their time is occupied principally in reading books, which the person deputed to watch over them obtains from the library, of which we shall have few words to say anon. They also appear to be occasionally supplied with newspapers, for at the time of our visit several were lying about. The bedroom immediately adjoins the day room; the infirm can thus be assisted to their couch with little difficulty. These sleeping-rooms, and, in fact, every room in the house, are scrupulously clean, and would put to the blush many domestic servants of the present generation. The cleansing of them is left entirely to the men and boys told off to that duty. Every person is supposed to make his own bed, the old men, of course, excepted. There were also two other rooms for old men unable to work; but there appeared to be very few of this class in either of them. The bedrooms of the able-bodied men are a flight higher. In close proximity to each of the day rooms is a lavatory, in which is a large bath supplied with both hot and cold water; but truth compels us to acknowledge that the inmates only avail themselves the latter luxury under compulsion. The men are admirably clad, every requisite description of apparel being provided. It is the intention of the Governor at an early day to suggest to the board the desirability of providing the adults with cloth coats, the same as the boys, so that when out on leave they will have less the appearance of being paupers.

Descending again the scoured stone staircase, we proceeded to the boys' schoolroom. In answer to our inquiry, the master, an intelligent young man, informed us there were at present on the books sixty-seven boys, of from five to sixteen years of age. The lads were drawn up in classes, and were all attention. Not a whisper escaped them. They appeared healthy, gay, and happy, and some of them gave promise that one day they may claim to take their place by the side of the town's most prominent men. We noticed, however, few boys who appeared to be above the age of fourteen. At that age they are usually sent to learn one of the trades carried on in the Workhouse, or apprenticed to tradesmen in the town. In summer time all the elder boys are employed in the large garden at the back of the institution. They are supplied with one new suit of fustian every year; but each boy possesses two suits additional in reserve, so that he is thus enabled to send regularly to the wash. Sundays they wear neat blue cloth, which gives them such a respectable appearance that few people would know they were charity boys were they to be seen in odd twos and threes. The boys have a good drum and fife band, founded by Mr. Governor Fountain, who purchased and presented all the instruments; and Mr. Howard, a professional teacher, is paid by the guardians to instruct them in music and singing. The band consists fourteen members, who are distinguished from their school-fellows by narrow red stripe down the outside of their trousers.

There is an excellent library containing over 1000 volumes of instructive and amusing books. The schoolmaster acts as the librarian, and the inmates are allowed to take out one volume weekly; should they wish to retain it for longer period they must renew it in the proper course. The different periodicals are also taken. They include the “Sunday at Home,” “Leisure Hour,” “All the Year Round,” “Once-a-Week,” &c. These are bound into volumes every half-year, and added to the library. We were gratified to learn that the inmates appreciate the library thoroughly, and regularly avail themselves of its privileges. The benevolently disposed who have duplicate copies of works in their libraries could not dispose of them in a more charitable way than by presenting them to this valuable institution.

Having walked along corridors which seemed interminable, but which were remarkably clean, we were conducted to that part of the establishment devoted to the females. The matron's room was the first that claimed our notice. Mrs. Viccars appeared to divine our errand, for almost before the ceremony of introduction bad been gone through, she commenced in a thoroughly business like fashion to induct us into the mysteries of her sanctum. Huge drawers and boxes were opened for our inspection, in which piles of new shirts, drawers, and stockings were exhibited to our astonished gaze, all of which we were assured bad been made by the inmates. Every article of dress is sent to the wash regularly, and the system of classification was fully explained. So excellent are the arrangements that it would be next to impossible for any person in the house to receive his linen minus a button, or with a rent, be it ever so small. Adjoining the matron's room, and under her care is the “store.” On entering this room it is difficult for the visitor to divest himself of the idea that he is not in a draper's or hosier's establishment. Neatly arranged on shelves are piles of cloth, shirting, flannels, &c., while any quantity of worsted, buttons, cotton and thread, are carefully disposed in closets. Not the least onerous of the matron's duty is to serve out to the proper parties the material to be made up, and to see that a correct return is made to her.

Having made a somewhat prolonged stay in this department, we proceeded on our tour of inspection, peeping into one room and then into another. In one, the women were making new clothes for the inmates, while in another they were industriously engaged in knitting. In all the wards the floors were perfectly white, and the passages free from stain or spot. There was not a speck of dirt to be seen in any part of the Workhouse, a fact which cannot be too highly commended, and which speaks volumes for the care and attention of the master and matron. The beds lay in uniform rows, and were a pattern of tidiness. Those belonging to the old and infirm women were made of feathers, the rest of flocks.

From every part of the house there is bell communicating with the master's sleeping apartment. Should any disturbance arise, or in case of fire, all the inmates have to do is pull the bell, when the master can see by the number over the bell near to his chamber, in what part of the institution he is wanted, and can be on the spot within a minute of the first alarm being given.

The girls school is presided over by an amiable and accomplished young lady, whom were glad to hear had won the utmost confidence of the governor and guardians. She is thoroughly au fait with the duties of her position, and is, we were assured, indefatigable in attending to those duties. The average number of girls attending the school is about fifty-eight. They are instructed in the usual branches of education, and also how to knit and sew, an occupation in which they were engaged when we entered. A number of the older girls were also employed in the wash-house, where they have an excellent opportunity of gaining a comprehensive knowledge of all that appertains to the laundry department.

The wash-houses are admirably constructed, and are fitted with all the necessary conveniences of a first-class laundry establishment. The fire-grates, boilers, &c., are on Mr. Arkwright's principle, a gentleman who for some years was the governor of Chesterfield Workhouse, and who devoted a great portion of his time in inventing improvements for the more economical working of the establishment over which be presided. By the use of his boilers and ovens, an immense saving of coal is effected, and in an establishment of the magnitude of the Hull Workhouse this is a great consideration.

The bakehouse is managed by a master baker, who has a fixed salary, but he is assisted by two or three of the inmates. They bake all the bread consumed in the house, and also that supplied by the relieving-officers to those parties who are entitled to out-door relief. On an average twenty-four sacks of flour are used every week.

The master tailor has also a fixed salary. He has always an abundance of work on hand, having not only to repair the old clothes, but likewise to make every new article of dress that is required the inmates. He has several assistants, and also a number of boys to whom he imparts a knowledge his trade. The shoemaker is also well employed.

In an institution of this kind the services of a joiner are continually called into requisition, and hence it is necessary to have a practical workman on the premises. When not occupied in the repairs of the house, the joiner is employed in making coffins, a large number of which are always kept on hand.

Having visited the oakum shed, where a number of men were engaged in teasing oakum, and the stone breaking yard, we retraced our steps to the dining-hall, a spacious apartment 80 feet by 40 feet, and capable of dining 550 persons at one time. From the dining-room to the kitchens is few yards, and here are to be seen ranged side by side coppers of polished metal, and immense polished ovens, in which you might almost see yourselves. Next to the kitchen is the room containing the soup coppers and the great steam boiler. All these contained large fires, but so well-ventilated are the rooms that the temperature was not in the least oppressive.

By the rules of the Workhouse the inmates are expected to get out of bed when the bell rings at a quarter before six o'clock in the morning. An exception is made in the case of old people, who are allowed to remain until breakfast time. The men are engaged up to breakfast time, half-past seven, in making preparations for their day's labour. Having breakfasted, they go out again at half-past eight and remain until ten minutes before twelve, when they are summoned to dinner. One hour is allowed for this meal, at the termination of which they return to their workshops, and are industriously employed until half-past five o'clock. At a quarter to six the bell rings for supper, after which they employ themselves in reading or other amusement until eight o'clock, when they retire to rest.

Every day in the week the adults are allowed, for breakfast, six ounces of bread and a pint and a-half of porridge; but the Poor-law Board also allows to each person of the age of sixty years and upwards a sufficient quantity of tea for breakfast, not exceeding one pint per meal, sweetened with an allowance of sugar not exceeding half-an-ounce to each pint of tea, together with an allowance of butter not exceeding five ounces per week, in lieu of the porridge for breakfast. On Sunday the adults have for dinner six ounces of bread, and a pint and a half of hash, or stew; on Monday, five ounces of cooked meat and sixteen ounces of vegetables (potatoes); on Tuesday, six ounces of bread and a pint and half of soup; on Wednesday, men twenty ounces of suet or rice pudding, and women sixteen ounces; on Thursday, five ounces of cooked meat and sixteen ounces of vegetables; on Friday, six ounces of bread and a pint and a half of soup; and on Saturday, five ounces of cooked meat and sixteen ounces of vegetables. For supper, they are allowed every day in the week six ounces of bread and one pint of tea, sweetened with half an ounce of sugar to each pint. Children between the ages of nine and sixteen are allowed for breakfast six ounces of bread and one pint of porridge; between the ages of five and nine, four ounces of bread and one pint of porridge; and between the ages two and five, three ounces of bread and three quarters of pint of porridge: for Sunday dinner, the elder children have four ounces of bread and one pint of hash, or stew, and the younger children three ounces of bread and three quarters of a pint of stew; on Monday they are allowed respectively five ounces of bread and sixteen ounces of vegetables, four ounces of bread and twelve ounces of vegetables, and three ounces of bread and eight ounces of vegetables; Tuesday the two first-named four ounces of bread and one pint of soup, and the youngest three ounces of bread and three quarters of a pint of soup; on Wednesday, sixteen, fourteen, and twelve ounces of suet or rice pudding; on Thursday, five, four, and three ounces of bread, and sixteen, twelve, and eight ounces of vegetables; on Friday four, four, and three ounces of bread, and one, one, and three-quarters of a pint of soup; and on Saturday sixteen, fourteen, and twelve ounces of suit or rice pudding. For supper they have every day in the week six, four, and three ounces of bread, and one, one, and three quarters of pint of milk. Sick paupers and infants under the age of two years are dieted in such a manner as the medical officer shall direct.

The tenders for the supply of butchers' meat, leather, groceries, best crock or tub butter, coals, and flour, are received quarterly, of which due notice is given by the clerk.

The chapel is at the rear of the hall, but is connected with the main building by a covered way on each side, so that in inclement weather the paupers may reach it protected. It is a neat little place, and measures 60 feet by 34. The roof is of open dressed timber, stained and varnished. The seats are also stained and varnished. The Rev. T. S. Bonnin is the chaplain. Services are also held by the Revs. A. Dodgson, Appleby, G. Lamb, J. Scruton, S. Walker, H. Ollerenshaw, J. Sibree, S. B. Brown, C. Garrett, R. A. Redford, and J. Gostick. Service is held every Sunday afternoon at three o'clock, and on Friday evenings at half-past six.

The extreme rear of the premises is occupied by the infirmary, which is under the care of Dr. Angus McMillan. Every care is taken to preserve the health of the inmates. The doctor attends daily, and in case of a person giving up work through sickness, is immediately summoned, and prescribes for the patient, or at once orders him into the hospital. The dead-house is detached from the workhouse.

Vagrants apply at the lodge and are admitted to the vagrant ward. On entering they are supplied with some refreshment, and again before leaving in the morning at eight o'clock. Generally speaking, they are an unruly lot, and the master has great difficulty in dealing with them. Some of them tear their clothes into shreds in order to get a better suit, while others even go so far as to destroy the bedding with which they are provided. Formerly these people were compelled before leaving the house to do a certain amount of work, but the practice was not found to answer, and they are now permitted to depart immediately after breakfast.

It is gratifying to know that the country provides such retreats for the indigent poor, and were the comforts of the Workhouse more generally known, we feel certain that many who have now have now an to objection to enter its walls would avail themselves of the privilege when prevented through sickness or old age from an honest livelihood. The ratepayers of Hull should be proud of their townsman whose benevolence of disposition, and whose activity of mind have prompted him to devote himself so entirely to the service of its inmates. The whole of the arrangements are of the most perfect character, and it would be next to impossible to suggest an improvement. On more than one occasion the Poor-law inspector has expressed his admiration of the management, and has affirmed that the Hull Workhouse is the best conducted of all the unions he visited in his district. Such an opinion from such a quarter is very flattering, and it is to be hoped that the guardians will continue to do honour to themselves and to the town by annually re-electing the worthy Governor to his present proud position, and thus enable him to achieve what must be the dearest wish of his heart to “die harness.”

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