I know I’ve already posted about my new novel Magick today, but I have been looking back over the part where Thomas Radwinter, in a search for his family’s history comes across a possible ancestor in a workhouse. I have actually used a real record from the workhouse, but the characters in my story have been inserted and a purely fictional!
This is what Thomas finds:
I looked back at the record of Horatio in the workhouse; just as I had when searching my Radwinter family I went on a really good website all about workhouses:
The North Witchford Union workhouse was built in 1838, four years after the new Poor Law Act was brought in. it was designed as a cruciform two-story block and the photos which have been posted on the site make it look a most agreeable and attractive place… I am sure it was not thought of like that a hundred and seventy years ago! There was an entrance with a porter’s lodge and a room for the workhouse guardians, presumably to meet and discuss the inmates. The ‘residents’ were in buildings at the back, men separated from women, husbands from wives, sons from mothers and daughters from father’s. I wonder where Horatio’s parents were? There may also have been an infirmary at the Union workhouse… much needed I would guess.
What a dismal place… but maybe it was better than sleeping in ditches? I looked at the occupations of the ‘residents’; before they had fallen onto hard times many of them were craftsmen and had skills and must have once worked in a respected position. Yes, there were many agricultural labourers, here written out in full – on other censuses they were abbreviated to ‘ag lab’.
On the first page I looked at, there at the top were Isaac and Mary Kirkby, the master and matron of the Union Workhouse. Mr Kirkby’s mother, seventy year old Ann was also living on the premises. Below them were James and Ann Pope, the porter and the school mistress, and their four little Popes, Frederick, Robert, William and Jane, aged eight, six, four and a baby. George Smith was the school master, he was only twenty, and Jane Hillard from Ireland was the nurse.
Of the inmates, as I scanned down the pages, there were a fair number of ag labs, but there was the intriguingly named John Cammel who was a hawker, Lidia Cunnington a lace-maker, little thirteen year old William Jackson who seemed to be a shoe-maker or possibly shirt-maker. Another little shoe/shirt maker, another hawker, a dealer… and then, how heart-breaking, some child labourers. It actually said it, there on the census, ‘child labourer’. William Pitchers aged six, his little sister Ann who was nine, and little John Ablett aged eight. John had two brothers, mere boys who were tailors, Isaac and Robert. They were ten and thirteen… doing the work young men would do now, but without that work to do they were in the grim institution of the workhouse.
There were more child labourers, another lace-maker, another shoe maker, all children. I turned the page without expecting to see anything better; shoemaker, gardener, carpenter, a miller… where was his mill? What had happened that he was a miller without a mill? William Smart, aged seventy, maybe he was too old to work a mill any longer… it must be hard work, carrying in the sacks of grain, carrying out the sacks of flour, operating the machinery. Further down the page is sixty-eight year old Richard Smith, a mill-wright. To be nearly seventy in that era must have been unusual, there were no pensions, nothing to support an old person in their later years.
Two washer women, a butcher and here is Horatio, and I hadn’t noticed before but he is a carpenter… eleven years old and it says he is a carpenter… and so he was ten years later back on the Isle of Wight.