Having spent time with my family recently, has made me reflect a little on families in the past and how hard their lives must have been . Here is a post I wrote about my husband’s family, the Days of Lidgate Suffolk, and later Bletchingley, Surrey:
Poor Robert Day. I do not know but I have no doubt that what drove him and his family from the pretty little Suffolk village of Lidgate to London was the agricultural depression of the 1830’s. After the death of his wife he took his children to Bletchingley in Surrey, and in the 1870’s the great agricultural depression hit that area as badly as everywhere else. In 1871 the census records that Robert and his second wife Eliza were living with their children James, Alice, Emily and baby Robert in Middle Barn Cottage, Titsey, Godstone.
By 1874, Robert was applying for Poor Law Relief – the way parishes supported those who fell on hard times. Robert and his family had indeed fallen on hard times.He applied for Poor Relief for him and his family five times between September 1874 and June 1875… and some time during that period his wife Eliza dies. In the transcriptions of the records she is named Ellen and she only appears in the September and October 1874 applications… so she must have died in the winter of 1874-5… Poor Robert, widowed for a second time.
The family of his future son-in-law John Colgate, suffered too… in 1871 they also had applied for Relief… The problems caused by imported goods, by poor harvests and mechanisation taking over labouring jobs from workers, hit most rural families. The recession which affects us today is merely an echo of what happened 140 years ago.
My father used stories of being on relief or worse yet going to the workhouse to scare me into being more diligent with my studies and my chores even though I hardly knew what he was talking about. Nowadays there doesn’t seem to be as much stigma attached to collecting welfare. I don’t think that’s right buy fortunately I didn’t have to find out.
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So right… a friend of my mum’s had her children in a private hospital even though it was expensive because the town hospital (NHS) was in the old workhouse, and she didn’t want her children born in the workhouse – even though it had ceased to be one twenty years before.