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period at which any public notice was taken of the subject.
The first such notice that I am aware of was from a lady who had thus visited those poor persons of her own village and neighbourhood who had been compelled to enter the dreary precincts of the union workhouse, and she wrote a pamphlet called " A Plan for rendering the Union Poorhouses National Houses of Mercy,” in 1850.* (Previously to this, however, the “ Diary of a Workhouse Chaplain” had been written in 1847.) In 1855 a volume of “ Practical Lectures to Ladies” was published, containing one by the Rev. J. S. Brewer on “Workhouse Visiting,” which proved that the matter was beginning to be recognized as a duty. In 1858 another lady was led to give her experience of visiting in a country workhouse, and Mrs. G. W. Sheppard, of Frome, wrote “Sunshine in the Workhouse," and in the following year "Christmas Eve in a Work
* See Appendix II.
house,” which showed that some of the sunshine pleaded for had been introduced ; and similar experiences of individual visitors led to similar results. Those who saw with their own eyes the evils and grievances endured by persons who were utterly helpless and unable to make them known, could not refrain from trying to obtain some redress; for, slow as are the English people to move in any matter of reform, and unwilling to be convinced that the old groove is not the safest and best, still the sense of justice is strong enough to prevail, when once the attention has been arrested, and the conscience aroused to the fact that abuses exist.
I cannot attempt to follow all the different
efforts which were made from this time, sometimes in the shape of small and apparently insignificant pamphlets or letters in newspapers, by which it was endeavoured to bring the subject before the notice of the public; but all were
seeds sown in the earth, each
destined some day to bring forth collective
In the year 1853, I was led, through interest in an aged, respectable old woman, to follow her into the workhouse, where she was compelled to spend her remaining days.* On leaving her little room, where she had worked and maintained herself till strength and eyesight failed her, she had begged that her friend and visitor would not forget or forsake her when shut
from the outer world. Nor did I; and from this circumstance may probably be dated the beginning of all systematic efforts for the organized visiting of workhouses, both in London and the country. The request was made by the poor woman that the visits should be continued, and, as she was one in a large ward of nearly bedridden and afflicted sufferers, it was evident that what was a comfort to her might be so to many others also. Per
* See Appendix I.
mission to visit was asked, and granted by the kind-hearted master and matron who ruled over this large household of about 500 persons of all classes and ages.
They did their work kindly and well as far as their opportunities and time allowed, and they were quite willing to admit that neither they nor the chaplain were able to do all that was required in that large population. It soon became evident that many more visitors would multiply the good that might be done; and so leave was asked of the guardians that other ladies might be admitted for the purpose of reading to the inmates, and giving comfort and instruction.
I was well known, by name at least, to most of those who composed that Board of Guardians, and leave was granted for the plan
to be tried for six months.
But whether subse
quent reflection induced them to think that their permission might not be legal, or whether their fears and suspicions were aroused by this
anticipated interference with their exclusive authority and privileges, the correspondence was forwarded to the Poor Law Board for their sanction and approval. I will give part of their reply in their own words, as it is important to the subsequent history :
“It is, as the guardians are aware, contrary to the general practice to admit strangers into the workhouse for the purpose of aiding the paid and responsible officers in the performance of their duties.
“I am further directed to point out that the nature of the instruction which it is proposed to impart to the female inmates is not stated in your letter, nor does it show how far such instruction is calculated to encroach on the proper office of the chaplain and the other officers, or to interfere with the discipline of the workhouse.-July, 1853."
The following is from a subsequent letter from the Central Board, in the month of