Among the many joys of the internet is the unexpected availability of information hitherto unavailable to the non-paying public. Recently, an American website offered, for a limited period, unrestricted access to the entire run of the ‘Times’ newspaper, all indexed. Of course, I took the opportunity to search for all Lobley references. Among these were these gems. In two letters to the Editor in December 1846, the issues raised by the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act were debated. The first was signed by ‘A Small Yeoman’, the second – a response – was penned by George Lobley, local farmer and Overseer and Guardian of the Poor of Scampton in Lincolnshire.
Before I give a flavour of the letters, I will refresh your memory on the subject:
By the 1820s, growing dissatisfaction with the administration of poor relief - where parishes appointed overseers to administer relief giving) led to unrest and rioting (including those supporting ‘Captain Swing’). In 1834, the Poor Law Amendment Act:
The collection of the poor rate within each parish continued to be performed by parish overseers. Overseers performed a number of other local administrative duties relating to poor relief, education and health, often in conjunction with Union officials such as the Board of Guardians or the Relieving Officer
In an attempt to cater only for the most needy, workhouse conditions could never be better than those of "an independent labourer of the lowest class". It was based on the belief that the deserving and the undeserving poor could be distinguished by a simple test: anyone prepared to accept relief in the repellent workhouse must be lacking the moral determination to survive outside it.
The 1834 Act received
much criticism, including even from The Times which claimed that
bill would "disgrace the statute-book." Within weeks of its opening, the first
new workhouse built under the new law at Abingdon was in the news when its
master had been the subject of a murder attempt and in 1843 the satirical
magazine Punch reported how in Bethnal Green "An infant, only five
weeks old, had been separated from the mother, being occasionally brought to her
for the breast."
It was in this climate that the following letters were written to the Times. It is interesting to note that one year later, in 1847, following the Andover scandal and other bad publicity, reports of internal quarrels and divisions, together with a desire by the government to make the poor law administration more directly accountable to parliament, the Poor Law Commission was abolished and replaced by a new Poor Law Board.
The Times, Dec 07, 1846
-TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
-Sir,-The Poor Removal Act is strangely embittering the lot of the poor in the comparatively contented villages of Lincolnshire, and sadly setting the parishes together by the ears. There has long been a despicable disposition on the part of the proprietors of wealthy and close parishes to shirk the maintenance of their labourers in sickness and old age, and to cast them upon the skirts of market-towns, or upon the parishes that are poor and open, and now comes this Removal Act; a perfect Godsend to these shirking proprietors, for at one fell swoop they can now clear their estates of the aged, the sick, and the infirm and cast them upon the parishes where they have surreptitiously forced them to reside. Upon the poor of the open parishes has long devolved the responsibility of providing habitations for the labourers of wealthy proprietors, The Removal Act is making this the established order of things. Need we wonder that the dwellings of the rural poor are wretched? Is it any marvel that decency, morality, and religion are outraged? We have not, indeed, heard that any secret orders have been given to the village midwives, nor have we heard that a modern Moses has been found in the bulrushes, but we certainly do know that our country squires pull down their cottages; suffer them to tumble down, or altogether refrain from buildings, that no child may be born upon their estates.
It is a fatal policy to group in certain spots large masses of men deeply sensible of the wrong that is done them. In some poor but open parishes, that happen to be surrounded by many that are close - in the hand of one owner - there is perfect reign of terror the live-long winter through. The numerous poor are clamorous for work, and the farmers have none to give. In the summer time the wealthy proprietors of those close parishes whistle the best of the labourers over the border, and there is peace; but as soon as the harvest is over they scowl them back again, and the parochial hostilities are renewed. In the beer shops of the crowded parishes there is growing up a spirit of insubordination that will one day cry havoc, and shake the security of those who have wilfully made a solitude around them.
Besides the wrong and cruelty to the poor which the clearance system perpetrates, it is unjust and galling to the small freeholders. By covertly thrusting the support of the poor upon them, it becomes an active agent in rooting a valuable class of men from the soil. To destroy the small freeholders may suit the soulless philosophy of the political economist, who delights in a massive mountain of wealth and a dead level of labour around it. But it will be found, when the middle-class yeomanry are gone, that the balance-wheel of the political machine has been destroyed. Ireland is lost for want of a middle class yeomanry to work our noble Saxon institutions. The laws of Alfred are a mockery amidst the degradations of the sister isle. Our old Saxon laws were made for a race of freemen and freeholders; they never can be worked by a herd of serfs. As our small farmers and small freeholders have disappeared from the soil of England, so has England ceased to be "merry England." As this old and indigenous race has melted away, so have we found ourselves more and more within the gathering folds of that system of centralisation “which has enslaved the energies of surrounding nations.”
To illustrate the working of the Removal Act I will cite a case or two among the many that are occurring. George Hobson won his settlement by service at Scampton, near Lincoln, and was adopted by that parish about nine years ago without appeal to the magistrates, because his case was then recent and clear. Last week he was informed that there was no more work for him at Scampton; he must apply to Sturton, where he had been residing for the last five years, - where his parish had forced him to reside, by not allowing him to enter its sacred precincts. He was not a pauper - he was not receiving relief - he was not on the books of the union; he was an able bodied man in the prime of life. His parish deliberately conspired to oust him – to weed him out, by not giving him work. They starved him to pauperize himself in his residentiary parish. Was there ever such a shocking perversion of the humane intentions of the Legislature?
The moral character of George Hobson is altogether blameless. The only things that can be whispered against him are, that he is short of stature, and has a breeding woman for his wife, and she is young and has three children. To strangle the children could not be thought of by the most desperate perpetrators of the clearance system; but to refuse employment, to starve the whole family, and to shake it off by process of the Removal Act, is perfectly legal, will answer the purpose quite as well, and is vastly more safe. Scampton, George Hobson’s proper parish, is wealthy, the property of one owner. Sturton, his “residentiary” parish, is poor, and the property of many small proprietors. Scampton will not employ George Hobson, because it wants to be quit of him. Sturton will not employ him, because he has been surreptitiously thrown upon it. Between the two parishes, the poor fellow is like a frog under a harrow; or rather the two parishes are to him as the upper and the nether mill stone; they grind him to powder.
John Harford is 77 years of age "some old May-day eve;" his wife is the same age as himself. He won his settlement by service at Scampton, and was married there nearly 50 years ago. Some years since he was quartered by his parish officers in Sturton. He has been ill for some time past, and has had an allowance from his parish. Latterly he has worked a little at turnip-dragging and stone-breaking, which has eked out his allowance of 4s. a-week. He has to pay 5l. per annum for his cottage and garden of a quarter of a rood of land. Last week he was informed, under parochial authority, that his name had been struck from the books, that there was no more relief for him from Scampton, "by order of the board of guardians.” No more stone-breaking - no more turnip-dragging for him in his ancient parish. He need not come any more.
" By order of the board of guardians!” What a stalking-horse has this phrase become! - a stalking-horse from behind which the village tyrant too often strikes the cold iron into a poor man's soul.
John Harford is a man of irreproachable character; he does not, indeed, wear a Waterloo medal, nor did he serve on the banks of the Sutlej; but he is a true hero for all that, as many a field can testify, that he has won from the wildness of nature. He has dug, and delved, and drained in the lowlands of Lincolnshire, and made the wilderness to blossom like the rose. Nor is he wanting in honourable wounds that speak for the ardour and fidelity of his service. Once a ladder broke as he was ascending a stack, and his ribs were thrust in as he fell upon a stone wall. Twice was his leg broken in the legitimate service of his master. His reward is to be kicked out of his parish by order of the board of guardians; flung in his old age upon a new parish, where he never did a month’s work in all his long life, and very like, in the long run, separated from his wife, and incarcerated within the four cold walls of a union workhouse. Well may we tremble for our country when we remember that God is just. Poor old man!, he is in this cold weather pining on 4s. a-week, the union allowance, for himself and his wife, with a rent of 51, per annum staring him in the face. His “residentiary” parish is a crowded one, with many men out of work, so that he has no chance. The cold charities of his old, and proper; and, still legal parish, which, by the by, adjoins his bastard one; a little stone-breaking, or a few turnips to drag are cruelly denied him under the miserable plea of this Removal Act. The Legislature contemplated a boon for the poor, but the cupidity of individuals has turned the intended blessing into a bitter curse.
Scampton, which is casting off its non-resident poor with such a vengeance under this Poor Removal Act, does not now cut as good a figure in its modern statistics as it did when Doomsday Book was compiled. At the survey made by the Conqueror in 1085 Scampton exhibits – 1 great proprietor, 12 sockmen [stockmen?], 22 cottagers and villeins, a mill and a church. At the present time, 1846, Scampton exhibits – 1 great proprietor, 9 farmers, 22 cottagers and labourers, a mill, and a church, the latter considerably reduced in size in 1794.
The citizens of London may go on building workhouses, and prisons, and houses of refuge, and baths and washhouses, and model dwellings for the poor; till they have covered the whole county of Middlesex and half the county of Surrey, if the rural parishes are to remain so many sacred isles, in which no child is permitted to be born. There arc parishes in the country, and many of them, that have completely extirpated the poor. Bethnal-green and Whitechapel, and the dark alleys and crowded courts of Westminster and the Borough, have doubtless picked up many of the rural outcasts, and buried them. The metropolitan parishes have an interest in this matter – the expulsion of the rural poor from their parishes; and the sooner they find it out, the better it will be for the country, is the opinion of
A SMALL YEOMAN.
The Times, Dec 23, 1846
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, -Your paper of Tuesday, Dec. 8, contains a letter signed "A Small yeoman," referring to the operation of the Poor Removal Act, speaking rather unkindly of the owners and occupiers of Scampton, and reflecting upon myself, as guardian and overseer of the parish. The letter in question details certain hardships inflicted upon some of the poor, who, having been for many years resident in the adjoining parishes, have since the passing of the Poor Removal Bill ceased to be relieved by the parish of Scampton. Now, no fault can be justly found with the proprietors of Scampton parish, or with the tenants, or with myself as guardian and overseer of the poor. Our poor are as well cared for and are as happy as any labourers in the kingdom; many of them keep their cow, and all of them their pig, and distress is unknown amongst them. We none of us had anything to do with the passing of the act in question, which was the work of the political economists and free-traders. But the Legislature having enacted that a person resident for five years in a certain parish shall belong to and be relieved by such parish, and the board of guardians having passed an order for the enforcement of this law, the parochial authorities of Scampton had no option in the matter. Had I refused to obey the orders of the board, I should have had to pay out of my own pocket the money expended upon the poor resident in the parish of Sturton, for the union auditor would most certainly have struck all such payments out of my accounts. The assertion that we are grinding down the poor to diminish the amount of our rates is untrue, and the following statement will prove my assertion:-the amount of our poor rate in 1845 was 99l. 19s., in 1846 it had increased to 149l. 10s., and I have already paid for the three quarters of the current year no less a sum than 139l. Instead of grinding down the poor it is a fact that there is not a man employed by the parish to work upon the roads who is receiving at the present time less wages than 2s. 3d. per day. Under all these circumstances, I submit that not a shadow of blame can attach to the proprietors, to the tenants, or to the guardian and overseer of the poor of Scampton.
GEORGE LOBLEY, Overseer and Guardian
Scampton, Dec.16. 1846