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1835: Cuckfield Workhouse inmates on near-starvation rations

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Brighton Patriot - Tuesday 20 October 1835


EDUCATION AND DIET - when we deliberate about the means of introducing intellectual and moral excellence into the minds of the people, one of the first things we must provide for is a generous and animating diet. The physical causes must go along with the moral, and nature herself forbids that you should make a wise and virtuous people out of a starving one. Though far from being fond of paradoxical expressions, we are tempted to say that a good diet is a necessary part of good education; four in one very important sense it is emphatically true – in the great body of the people all education is important without it. Encyclopaedia Britannica

Sir – I am sorry I am not able to furnish you with a scale of the dietary which has been ordered by the Guardians to be dispensed at the different poorhouses in this union; but if any one thing can be worse than another, I am given to understand it is their dietary.

An inmate of the Cuckfield workhouse informed me that they were nearly starved:

“On Friday”, he added “we had nothing but three very small thin pieces of pork each for dinner, and a little cabbage, without bread or plain pudding."

I was at first inclined to doubt the poor fellow's assertion, but upon enquiry I found it to be true. I wish these d___d guardians were obliged to eat their skillagalee (1) themselves, or live upon fat greasy pork and cabbage, without bread or pudding, or small beer, for one month; and then, perhaps they might have some little compassion towards their fellow creatures.

The original 18th century Workhouse in Cuckfield had accommodation for 60 inmates

The governor of the poorhouse – a man who, from his previous employment (having been many years turnkey (2) in a prison), might be supposed to be as much steeled to the sufferings of others as the Guardian at least, confessed that the diet scale was so low, that it was next to impossible for the paupers to exist upon it. He had laid the case before the Board at their last meeting, and begged of the Guardians to make some alterations; and this is, I believe, in contemplation. But if they have not made an improvement, while they were contemplating, the poor Will staff – at least those that are incarcerated in their pest-houses (3). This man (the Governor), is reported to have said, that during the whole course of his experience, he never knew the allowance of provisions given to felons to consist of so small a quantity per head.

The above facts need scarcely any comment – they speak for themselves; and were I to write volumes upon the subject, I could not place the acts of the Guardians in a more despicable point of view than the common sense of the public will put upon them.

CAPITAL! - a story is told here of Mr Hawley, which redounds (4) to anything but his credit: at a meeting held sometime ago at Lewes, he advanced, as usual, his favourite topic of the luxury of the lower classes, and said that nine shillings per week was sufficient to support a man with a wife, and a family of five or six children.

A farmer who had listened attentively to his discourse, begged to ask the worthy commissioner a question, – "pray, sir," said the farmer, "what may be the amount of your salary?”

Having declined to answer him, – " is it as much as £400 a year?" demanded the farmer.

No reply was given. "Is it not as much as £500?" Still no answer.

"Now, sir," continued the examiner, "I know that you are receiving as much as £600 per annum; but as you declined to answer me on that point, perhaps you will vouchsafe me an answer on another, –" Pray sir are you a married man?"

"Yes, I am."

"Have you any family?"


"By God I thought so!" exclaimed the farmer and immediately quitted the room.

I hope our elected Guardians will not be offended at my silence on the subject of the late parish meeting. "Better late than never," – and they shall hear from me next week.

(1) skillagalee - thin, un-nourishing broth, gruel

(2) turnkey - a gaoler

(3) pest-house - a hospital for people suffering from infectious diseases, especially the plague.

(3) redounds - contribute greatly to (a person's credit or honour)

For more on the Board of Guardians please follow link.

For more on workhouses in the country and Cuckfield in particular please follow link



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