More Workhouse Tales: St Alkmund’s, Derby

Both shocking and saddening revelations arose from another trip to the Local Studies Library this week. Continuing to peruse the early 19th century Parish Records (Reel 32 St Alkmunds Vestry Book: Item 2 Vestry Book 1783-1822 [Entitled ‘Order Book’]) for St Alkmund’s, Derby (looking for information relating to burials, but encountering much on workhouse issues), I came across allegations of theft, fraud, and sexual abuse levelled at parish staff – resulting in dismissal and court procedures.

I also saw what (at least in hindsight) appeared to be a rapid hardening of attitudes towards the poor of the parish, and the effects of ensuing Poor Law ‘Reform’ upon the local population. The records also describe the duties (and uniform) of the parish Beadle at the time.

As I’m looking into particular issues surrounding legislative change, I was only able to continue on from the previous entries (1814-15) before jumping to the 1830s, though I intend to return to the 1810s and 20s soon.

Lodge Lane, Derby: the location of St Alkmund’s Workhouse in the early 19th century

Continued staffing problems and changes

Thursday February 10th 1814

Resolved that [a vestry committee should]… investigate Samuel Kenwicke and wife for the position of poor rates collectors, managers of workhouse

Monday February 14th 1814

…agreed that Mr Kenwicke should be appointed… and paid three pence in the pound “for his trouble”

Wednesday October 26th 1814

Resolved that…Mary Tombs should be appointed to superintendent of the workhouse, she being the only applicant that in every respect answered the terms of the advertisement…on the same terms as Mrs Keeling

[Records of 1815 – 1832 shall be subsequently reviewed]

March 25th 1835

Resolved that…John Allen and his wife be appointed Governor and Matron of the Poor House, to collect Poor Rates…at a salary of fifty pounds per annum

April 4th 1836

Resolved that… the appointment of master and matron be referred to the committee of management

[At some point after this date, Mr George Addicott and his wife appointed]

October 20th 1836

[Mr Addicott be allowed a salary of £20 p.a.]

The Beadle

December 6th 1815

Resolved that…the office of Beadle being vacant, the vestry met to appoint [someone in this position]

That the duties of the Beadle in future shall be as follows

To clean the church the gallery and the seats with the churchyard crossings[?] and steps weekly and to open the church windows every Sunday morning during the summer months to make all fires which is required and attend the vestry meetings

Salary shall be eight pounds…with the addition of livery coat waistcoat small clothes and hat annually the value not to exceed five pounds

The colours of the livery to be a dark blue coat with a red collar

The clothes to be worn only when on duty

That John Marshall Junr. [?] be appointed Beadle agreeable…

(In May 1832, one Thomas Marshall is recorded as taking over the position of sexton from his recently deceased father, John.)

March 25th 1835 (and March 28th 1836)

Charles Birch appointed as Beadle

‘Improper Conduct’ by workhouse staff

Wednesday 2nd November 1814

Resolved that…Mr Mousley be directed to prosecute the [Workhouse] Master [for damage and / or theft to / of Workhouse property]

March 28th 1836

Procedures of the Committee Management …[to investigate] the improper conduct of John Allen and his wife the Governor and Matron of the workhouse…laid before this meeting…

Resolved that…a select committee be appointed to enquire fully into the charges against John Allen [and wife]…

April 4th 1836

[Report regarding allegations against the Allens]

Charge of defraud and immoral conduct, the master and matron

[The Select Committee] Examined witnesses in support of the charges…[of] defraud, as well as that of immorality on the part of Mr Allen towards the female inmates of the workhouse…

After weighing up the accounts of witnesses and Mr and Mrs Allen…

[Regarding charges of defrauding the parish the Committee find Mr and Mrs Allen not guilty and] …’most fully acquit, but although the committee feel glad to have it in their power most fully to acquit…yet they cannot help taking notice with disapprobation of that part of the evidence (as well as by the admission of Mrs Allen) where it states that she had exchanged some of her flannel which had been worn for some new flannel belonging to the parish and making the same into a waistcoat for her own use, which new flannel had been provided for the use of a child of the name of Swindalls.

With regard to the charge of immorality the committee are of the opinion that Mr Allen is guilty of immoral conduct towards Sarah Fidler, and Elizabeth Swindalls when inmates in the workhouse.

In consequence…the committee consider him to be an improper person to be continued in the situation as Master of the workhouse

Poor Relief Management

Wednesday 1st March 1815

Richard Eaton [serving on Vestry] resigned his position as Guardian of the Poor

Resolved that…Harry Bailey, John Hall and Thomas Crayne [all serving on Vestry] be recommended for consideration…as Guardians of the Poor and Harry Bailey …for Governor of the Poor House… thirty five pounds per annum to be paid to Harry Bailey and thirty nine pounds per annum to John Hall

March 2nd 1833

A meeting to be called to consider propriety of altering our present system of managing the parish business and that hand bills be printed for the occasion

March 14th 1833

Resolved that…it is the opinion of this meeting that the present Vestry should be dissolved from the 25th March instant, and that the business of the parish should be conducted in future by Churchwardens and Overseers together with a Committee to be hereafter appointed, according to the plan pursued in the parish of All Saints, or upon any other better system that may then be proposed and adopted

March 25th 1833

Ordered that…12 persons to be named….[to] constitute the committee

[The new Committee mostly comprises previous vestry members]

Resolved that…Mr Columbell be appointed Assistant Overseer, Governor of the Poor House and vestry clerk.

…be allowed a gratuity of ten pounds in addition to his stated salary according to an order of vestry April 1st 1830

March 25th 1835

Resolved that…Mr Columbell to be allowed a salary of sixty pounds

March 30th 1837

Election of Guardians for the parish and members of said board Guardians for the Derby Union

Naming and shaming the poor

April 4th 1836

Resolved that…the General accounts of the expenditure of the parish, the names of the persons who have received parochial relief, also the names of illegitimate children and the names of the inmates of the workhouse, for the past year, be printed and circulated amongst the parishioners

More on medical provision

Wednesday December 14th 1814

Resolved that…Mr Davenport be appointed as surgeon to the parish on the terms he proposed viz. 15 guineas

March 25th 1833 (and 1835)

Resolved that…Mr John Hill to be appointed as surgeon with the salary twenty guineas per annum

March 28th 1836

70 guineas per annum to be paid to the dispensary for medical attendance and drugs for the poor

Workhouse conditions: make do and mend

A previous post noted that the poor condition of St Alkmund’s Parish workhouse during the late 1820s – early 1830s may have been well-known in the town.[i] A parish committee was established to investigate what should be done. However, the committee’s awareness that the Royal Commission of 1832[ii] would be likely to lead to parliamentary reform in the future clearly affected their responses to local problems,[iii] though it would not be until 1834 that such reforms took shape in the New Poor Law[iv] (an Act seen by many as brutal and draconian).[v]

August 2nd 1832

Resolved that…It having been represented…that the present poor house is in a very poor state of repair and in all probability will have to be rebuilt in a very short time. And a building now offering itself which is to be sold by auction on Friday evening next which is in every respect very suitable for a poor house and very probably would be very advantageous for the parish to purchase.

Resolved that…that the Guardian is requested to attend the sale and endeavour to purchase the same, but not exceed twelve hundred and fifty pounds

August 23rd 1832

Moved by …Mr Mousley Esq. and seconded by Mr John Harrison that the purchase of the Depot made for the purpose of a workhouse by Mr Hall be referred to a committee to enquire into expediency of completing this contract or rejecting it, and that of such purchase be rejected that the purchase shall be indemnified from all …that may arise from the contract entries into

November 1st 1832

[Committee established to consider the proposal of a new Workhouse] decided that first it needed to ascertain state of present workhouse and concluded after personal examination “found the building in as good a state of repair as they could have expected but also found that it was necessary to expend a small sum of money in imminent repairs and that repairs to a small extent would be annually necessary”

Grounded upon the opinion Mr Thomas Cooper and Mr Macconnell your committee found that with these small repairs the present building would be kept in tenantable condition for twenty or thirty years

Your committee also found that the present building was sufficiently commodious for the comfortable accommodation of fifty persons (which is something more than the average number in the House) and that a number far exceeding that had been Inmates there for a short period but inconveniently crowded.     They also found that every attention consistent with economy had been paid to the Health and comfort of the Inmates by the authorities of the parish under the excellent management of Mr Wacher[?]

Your committee finding that no plan or estimate in reference to the conversion of the depot for the projected purposes had been procured and being anxious that if practicable the comfort and employment of the Poor might be provided for…they apptd. from their members … a sub-committee to obtain the necessary plan and estimates for the better information of the committee And of the parish at large

Your committee had received information that it was the intentions of the purchasers of the depot to proceed on the premises not only for the usual accommodation of the poor but also for pauper lunatics and to erect a committee room for parish meetings, and engine house, and other conveniences – the sub-committee therefore in their instructions to the surveyor employed by them included those objects

The sub-committee proceeded with the labours and plans and an estimate procured by them from Mr Wood of Nottingham a respectable Architect and Surveyor have been laid before your committee from which it appears that the best arrangement that could be made of the depot property (comprising an area of about 1680 yards) a committee room, engine house and a room for  working tools might be erected and accommodation provided for seventy paupers (with very limited means of employment) and apartments for twelve additional paupers in the rooms adapted for lunatics

In adapting buildings of one establishment for the purpose of another difficulties frequently arise and great expenses are incurred. And by the est. obtained it appears that the alterations and erecting necessary for the purposes contemplated including Cooking Apparatus, Oven, Boilers, Laundry, Hot Closet, Dining Tables, Bath, in Pumps and Spouts and Sough would cost the sum of seventeen hundred and thirty five pounds over and above the purchase money for the premises.

Your committee consider it quite impracticable in the present state of … our parochial finances to complete the purchase and expend this sum of money an amount together of three thousand pounds upwards.

Besides this difficulty your Committee consider it would not be advisable at present to expend money in the erection of a poor house under any other than circumstances of absolute necessity as there appears to your committee a probability of a Government measure as to the relief and maintenance of the poor which might render the sum expended in a great measure unavailing – and in default of such a measure there also appears a prospect of an incorporated Poor House for the whole town, all other parishes in the town being equally at least in grant[?] of accommodation with ourselves.[vi]     Under all[?] circumstances your committee cannot recommend that the purchase of the depot be completed for the purpose contemplated but submit whether in the event of a New Poor House being at some distant period determined upon it would not be advisable to have it at a distance further removed from our present increasing population when the Health and comfort of the poor and the means of their profitable employment might be better consulted at a much less expense.

Resolved that…the Report be adopted

Resolved that…this meeting taking into consideration the circumstances stated in the report. Do not consider it to be expedient that the contract entered into by Mr Hall should be completed and that the property shall accordingly be disposed of by Mr Hall under the direction of the Committee already appointed and that he be indemnified from all costs that may arise from the contract.


[i] See also Glover, Stephen (ed. T. Noble) 1833 The History, Gazetteer, and Directory of the County of Derby, Part II, p. 520

[ii] Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws; see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Commission_into_the_Operation_of_the_Poor_Laws_1832

[iii] Much easily accessible information, and many sources, on Poor Law Reform is available, e.g. see the National Archives, Parliament website; and Peter Higginbottam’s Workhouse website. Hansard (parliamentary debate) available here; and Act here

[iv] The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834: An Act for the Amendment and better Administration of the Laws relating to the Poor in England and Wales; see e.g. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/poorlaws/1834intro.shtml; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poor_Law_Amendment_Act_1834; http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/plaatext.html

[v] E.g. see school resources provided by the National Archives; and blog article here http://richardjohnbr.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/opposing-1834-poor-law-act.html

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