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August, referring to another communication
“The Board consider it probable that in her particular case nothing but advantage would ensue from a compliance with her request; as, however, the Board are bound on requests of this description to act upon general rules applicable to all workhouses, they feel that they cannot sanction the proposal without establishing an embarrassing and inconvenient precedent, and they are, therefore, reluctantly obliged to decline to assent to it."
The power of "red-tape" could hardly have been more strikingly exemplified than in these apparently simple and innocent proceedings. I am sometimes tempted to think that a prophetic foresight must have possessed all who were concerned in them, enabling them to perceive that in these small beginnings lay the subsequent opening out of workhouses to the investigations which have since resulted in such
vast reforms. Those who have had experience
of dealings with any public department or body of men, will not be surprised to find that the request of a private individual, and that a lady, to introduce a new element into one of a vast branch of public institutions, did not meet with acceptance—at least, twenty-five years ago : the progress of public opinion has been great since those days, and the “interference" of women is not now feared as it was then.
The plan was thus stopped—for a time—but not relinquished, and the individual visits were continued, by which much knowledge was acquired of the internal arrangements of the workhouse, and of the many cruel and unknown
miseries which were inflicted on the inmates.
For what could the best of matrons effect for
good or comfort, when she was the sole woman in authority over that vast household, with literally no helper or assistant but pauper women ?
In the following year, 1854, it was resolved to make another effort by endeavouring to obtain a personal interview with the authorities at Whitehall, at the time when the Right Hon. Matthew Talbot Baines and Lord Courtenay were President and Secretary of the Board. As much favour to the request as could be expected was obtained from them, and a kind permission granted, that if the plan were quietly carried on, no objection would be made in this particular instance. It was, however, thought to be wiser not now to press the matter officially with the guardians, but to work quietly on, taking a friend now and then to help with the reading and visiting in other wards.*
* This plan of working quietly on so far answered, that it gradually grew to the full extent desired. Up to the time when the Strand Union quitted its old quarters, and left them to be used as a “ Sick Asylum” for several unions, there had been for many years a complete staff of visitors, ladies and gentlemen, one for each ward, who attended with praiseworthy regularity every Sunday afternoon (with the sanction of the chaplain), to read to all those who were unable to attend the chapel service. At Christmas, tea-parties were given in all the wards, by the
During this period the facts noticed and observed gave rise to two small pamphlets, by which it was endeavoured to give publicity to the many sad facts which were witnessed.* The second of these consisted of letters written to the Guardian, which from the first warmly espoused the cause.
In 1857 the attention of Lord Raynham had, by means of the disclosures that had been made, been drawn to the subject, and in the House of Commons he gave notice that he should bring forward a motion “that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the condition and administration of metropolitan workhouses, and into the arrangements made and carried out by the parochial authorities of the metropolis for giving relief to the poor. He said he had
visitors, the remembrance of which gives true pleasure to all who took part in them; an excellent master and matron doing all in their power to co-operate with the visitors.
“A Few Words about the Inmates of our Workhouses,” 1855: Longmans. “Metropolitan Workhouses and their Inmates," 1857: Longmans.
been led to consider the condition of these
by circumstances which were
well known to most members of that House as
to himself. He thought the mismanagement of the metropolitan workhouses a subject deserving the consideration of the House."
He then went on to refer to the recent in
vestigation of the state of St. Pancras Workhouse
by Dr. Bence Jones, which resulted in a verdict of “horrible," and, in a short speech, really touched upon all the chief evils of the then
state of things, and which have since been
admitted to be true. The motion was supported by Mr. Martin, Mr. Drummond, Mr. Briscoe, Mr. Alderman Copeland, and Sir J. Pakington, who all agreed that a case for inquiry had certainly been made out; but, as might have been expected, a truly “official” reply followed, by the President of the Poor Law Board, Mr. Bouverie, and the motion was lost. He denied that any case was made out for the appoint