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1836-37: Snow forces workers into workhouse

The new Workhouse system was being reviewed and brought into question by quoting a situation that arose in the Cuckfield and Andover Workhouses:

… in the Cuckfield union (Sussex), a few days after the heavy snow had set in, in December of the same year, application was made by a hundred and forty-nine able-bodied labourers for relief, on account of the inclemency of the weather.

To a few, as being urgent cases, the guardians gave some relief in kind, but to a hundred and eighteen of these men the workhouse was offered, six of whom accepted it.

On the following board-day more applications for relief were made, and sixty were offered to be taken into the house, but five only entered, and three of these left it on being set to work at the corn-mill.

In both these cases [the other being Andover Workhouse], as in many others precisely similar, were it not for the option which the guardians possessed of tendering relief in the workhouse, not only the men who applied, but the whole labouring population of these districts, would have been thrown upon the rates, and thus helped to spread the debasing influence of pauperism.

The total number of able-bodied men in the Cuckfield workhouse during the heavy snow-storm in the winter of 1836-37 was twenty, and they all quitted the house on the snow ceasing. And the commissioners state that ‘they have not known a single instance of any workhouse, with proper accommodation, in any rural union, having been filled by an influx of able-bodied paupers’.

But the conclusion was that the system was not being too charitable. The fact the the workforce was having to take such drastic action by having to turn to the workhouse for food should have encouraged employers to take the workers welfare into account and take a more generous approach themselves.


A History of the English Poor Law in Connexion with the Legislation and Other Circumstances Affecting the Condition of the People · Volume 2, by Sir George Nicholls · 1854

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



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