Front Page Titles (by Subject) General Effects Displayed in the Case of Non-Settled Parishioners - Poor Law Commissioners' Report of 1834
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General Effects Displayed in the Case of Non-Settled Parishioners - Nassau William Senior, Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834 
Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834. Copy of the Report made in 1834 by the Commissioners for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty (London: Printed for H.M. Stationery Off. by Darling and Son, 1905).
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General Effects Displayed in the Case of Non-Settled Parishioners
The general effects on the labouring population viewed collectively, as contrasted with their condition previous to their change, appear from the evidence to have been equally striking and important.
Mr. Whately describes in the following passage the antecedent condition of his flock:—
"While the weekly wages of an agricultural labourer were still kept so very low that an industrious man could not subsist himself upon his earnings, this allowance of bread-money adapted itself to the circumstances of each particular family, without any reference at all to their moral qualities. The consequence was, that all distinction between the frugal and the prodigal, the industrious and the idle, the prudent and the thoughtless, was destroyed at once. All were paupers alike. The most worthless were sure of something, while the prudent, the industrious, and the sober, with all their care and pains, obtained ONLY something; and even that scanty pittance was doled out to them by the overseer. Like the Israelites in the Wilderness, 'They gathered some more, some less; yet he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they only gathered every man according to his eating.'Wages were no longer a matter of contract between the master and the workmen, but a right in the one, and a tax on the other; and by removing the motives for exertion, the labourer was rendered by this mischievous system, as far as was possible, totally unworthy of his hire. The moral and intellectual character of the good old English labourer (who in former times had boasted with honest pride that he never was beholden to a parish officer) was destroyed altogether; all habits of prudence, of self-respect, and of self-restraint, vanished; and since a family was a sure passport to a parish allowance, it is not to be wondered at that the most improvident marriages were the consequence of this most pernicious and most demoralizing system. Indeed, we have seen three generations of paupers (the father, the son, and the grandson), with their respective families at their heels, trooping to the overseer every Saturday for their weekly allowances; boys and girls marrying without having provided a bed to sleep upon or a roof to cover them: the parish was to provide everything. The most wretched hovels were converted into houses, the rents of which were charged to the parish account. In this village a carpenter's workshed has been divided into four tenements, for which the parish was charged five pounds a year apiece26 ."
The following extracts from the examination of Mr. Whately, and from Mr. Chadwick's Report, show the subsequent condition of the parish.
"Is it observed that the personal condition of the labourers has in any respect changed since the change of system of administering the poor-rates?—Decidedly. A labourer, formerly a pauper, came to the vestry not long since, to make inquiries respecting a house, in order to rent; when he had retired, one of the farmers exclaimed how neatly he was dressed, and how good his coat was; to which I answered, 'I can explain the reason of the change; it is, that there is no longer a bonus offered by the vestry for rags and dirt. You all remember when ragged clothes were kept by the poor for the express purpose of coming to the vestry in them; whereas the articles of clothing which we sell to the poor at prime cost, have every year, since the establishment of a select vestry, been required to be of an improved quality.'
"Do you mean to state that they purchase more expensive articles? I do; the blankets I send for from Witney are required to be larger and of a better quality; and so of all other articles.
"Do the labourers care to acknowledge to you that they wish to have the articles they purchase of a better quality?—Yes; and I find them less jealous of acknowledging their real condition than formerly; they now rather value themselves upon their respectability, than, as formerly, attempt to impose and extort money by pretended destitution.
"Is their food better or worse than formerly?—I think better. The labourers have a meal of meat once a day, and there is hardly a cottage that has not a supply of bacon on the rack.
"Has their general moral conduct improved, so far as you, as a minister, have observed?—It decidedly has: and I state this as a magistrate as well as a minister27 ."
Mr. Chadwick mentions that
Mr. Russell, the magistrate of Swallowfield, stated—
"That in riding through Cookham, he was so much struck with the appearance of comfort observable in the persons and residences of some of the labouring classes of that village, that he was led to make inquiries into the cause. The answers he received determined him to exert his influence to procure a similar change of system in Swallowfield.
"I visited," says Mr. Chadwick, "a large proportion of the cottages in the village of Cookham and some in Cookham Dean. Their internal cleanliness and comfort certainly corresponded with the condition of the exteriors, which had attracted the attention of Mr. Russell. In company with Mr. Whately I visited several of the residences of the labourers at their dinner-time, and I observed that in every instance meat formed part of the meal, which appeared to be ample, and was set forth in a very cleanly manner. One cottage in the village of Cookham, and the wife and family of the cottager, were most repulsively filthy and wretched in their appearance; and it was somewhat singular that this family was a pauper family, the head of which received an allowance in aid of his wages from an adjacent parish.
"I noticed some very trim hedges and ornaments in the gardens of the labourers, and it was stated to me that nothing of that sort had been seen in those places before the parishes had been dispauperized. Mr. Knapp, the assistant overseer, stated that the labourers were no longer afraid of having a good garden with vegetables, and fruit in it; they were no longer 'afraid of having a pig,' and no longer 'afraid of being tidy.' Before the changes took place he had been in public-houses, and had seen paupers drunk there, and heard them declare in the presence of the rate-payers, that they (the paupers) had had more strong drink than the rate-payers had; and would have it, and that the rate-payers could not help themselves.
"During the agricultural riots there was no fire, no riots, no threatening letters in the parish. In the midst of a district which was peculiarly disturbed, Cookham and White Waltham, where a similar system of poor-law administration was adopted, entirely escaped, although in Cookham there are several thrashing machines, and the only paper-mill had, at the time of the riots, been newly fitted with machinery.
"At the time of my visit the deposits in the savings' bank from the parishioners of Cookham amounted to about 7000l. A considerable number of the present contributors had been paupers chargeable to the parish at the time of the old system being discontinued. Mr. Sawyer, the treasurer and constant attendant of the savings' bank, told me that the deposits from Cookham were greater than from any other part of the district comprehended by that bank. The average annual deposits from Cookham had risen from 310l. to 682l., and 39l. 3s. 8d. was collected in eight months from the children of the village. Three new schools had been opened at the instance of Mr. Whately, and were maintained partly by the labourers themselves.28 "
Mr. Whately was asked—
"Do you believe that the reduction of the poor's-rates by the application of the new system would be as great throughout the country as it has been in your parish?—I have no reason to doubt it. I think one-half or two-thirds of the poor's-rates might be saved; but judging from my experience in my own parish, I should say, that even if no money were saved, the moral improvements and increased comforts of the community to be derived from such a system would more than compensate the trouble of the legislature. I have often declared, both in public and private, that if all the money we have saved (which was upwards of 15,000l. in the first eight years) had been thrown into the Thames, the parish at large would have been enriched by the acquisition of wealth by the improved nature of the labour of the late rate-receivers, independently of the moral improvement which has accompanied their improved frugality and industry29 ."
Although the change in Hatfield was not so general, similar effects were perceived.
"The Rev. F. J. Faithful, examined.
"I am decidedly of opinion that the moral benefits obtained are much greater, much more important than the pecuniary saving. Though as a minister I have every day much to lament, I am sure that I should have infinitely more to lament had the old system of mal-administration continued. The most important effect of the new system is, first, in calling forth domestic sympathies and filial and paternal affections; and next, in creating provident habits (which is shown in the increase of deposits in the savings' banks). Under the old system, when a child was left an orphan, it became, as of right, a pensioner to the parish, and owed gratitude to no one. I constantly see children left orphans; and now, under the influence of our law, that no one shall receive a pension out of the house, relations and friends come forward and support an orphan child, whom they would, without hesitation, throw upon the parish if they could do so. They do not like the idea of seeing in the workhouse a relation whom they would not mind having on the parish pension list, and they exert themselves to maintain the person. A child who owes its subsistence to relations, owes a moral debt of gratitude to particular individuals, and is under moral securities for good character; but there is little gratitude to an abstract entity, the parish. What is singular is, that we have scarcely any persons come to the workhouse now who are not persons of bad character.
"Have the personal habits of your parishioners improved since the new system of parochial management has been introduced?—There has certainly been a very general improvement, and the advance was very considerable, until that most mischievous measure of licensing beer-shops came into operation30 ."
Mr. Paul Borser, who settled in the parish of Southwell in 1812, and became assistant overseer in 1813, gave the following evidence to Mr. Cowell, with relation to the effects of the allowance system, and of its discontinuance:—
"At the time of his settling in the parish, the character of the labouring population was very bad, and it continued deteriorating till 1822; their habits grew more and more dissolute, and the average quality of their industry lower, while their demeanour got more and more turbulent and disorderly. Mr. Borser gave me a great number of instances in proof of these general assertions, but I do not think it necessary to detail them; I was completely satisfied of the fact. The parish weekly pay-room, Mr. Borser declares, was a constant scene of disorder and violence; he, as overseer, was constantly threatened, and, on three occasions, was personally assaulted, for which the offenders were committed to the house of correction. The women were equally violent with the men; remembers a woman seizing a sum of money (5s.) on the pay-table, saying she would have it, and getting clear off with it. In general, the day following the weekly pay there were from 8 to 12 cases before the petty sessions between paupers and himself; sometimes there might be only 3, but has known as many as 20. The behaviour of the paupers was frequently very violent in the justice-room. Has heard his predecessor say that he was constantly treated in a similar manner; and in general Mr. Borser declares, that the labouring population of the parish was a terror to the authorities, and that the burdens and troubles caused by them were annually increasing. Various plans and expedients were tried from 1813 to 1821, for remedying these evils, but nothing produced any benefit till the adoption of the new system. Since that time the character of the population, and their habits, have entirely changed, and their former state has graduly passed into one of order, happiness, and prudence.
"The prudence and economy, the desire of having comfortable homes, exhibits itself in great variety of ways; for instance, many now keep pigs who did not and would not have done so before, because the fact of their being known to possess them would have precluded them from any claim on the parish; they are more anxious now to hire bits of garden ground for cultivation at odd hours; their cottages are better furnished; the men keep more at home, and are less at alehouses; are more independent in their characters altogether. He knows that they bring up their children with a scorn of pauperism; does not believe that they would wish to change to their former state if they could; believes so because many of those who use to hate and revile him as overseer, are now quite changed, have saved money, and placed it in the savings' bank, of which they know he is secretary, and never show any jealousy of his being acquainted with the amount of their savings31 ."
It is noticed by Mr. Faithful, that scarcely any persons but those of bad character came into the workhouse. A similar result was also very strikingly exhibited at Cookham. Mr. Baker, of Uley states,—
"It has been said that many respectable poor persons are now starving in Uley from a dread of the workhouse.—I know no such persons, but I have very lately heard of one woman who is in distress, and who said that if she took her family to it, they should all live much better than they now do, but the character of the inmates was so exceedingly bad, that she did not choose to be among them with her family32 ."
These general statements are supported by many detailed examples.
Mr. Cowell states, that when the relief, though adequate, has been rendered ineligible—
"New life, new energy is infused into the constitution of the pauper; he is aroused like one from sleep, his relation with all his neighbours, high and low, is changed; he surveys his former employers with new eyes. He begs a job—he will not take a denial—he discovers that every one wants something to be done. He desires to make up this man's hedges, to clear out another man's ditches, to grub stumps out of hedgerows for a third; nothing can escape his eye, and he is ready to turn his hand to anything33 .
In fact, the speed with which this method produces its ameliorating effects, is one of its most remarkable characteristics. Mr. Baker told me, that one man, after having been in Uley workhouse but a few hours, was so disgusted that he begged permission to leave it instantly; and upon being told that the rules did not permit any one to quit the workhouse who did not make application before twelve o'clock in the day, displayed the greatest anxiety at the prospect of being kept in till that hour the next day, and pestered the governor with repeated requests to be permitted to depart in the interval. Yet this was a man pretending that he was starving for want of employment; and though he knew that he was secure of enjoying in the workhouse excellent food, lodging, and clothing, yet the prospect of restraint spurred him instantly to quit it, and seek to maintain himself. But still more remarkable is the fact, that the instant the system was put in action at Uley, the workhouse changed the whole of its inmates three times in one week34 ."
In Southwell, the workhouse-keeper
"Only had occasion to try two with the bone plan. One said immediately, with sulky violence, that he would never break bones for the parish when he could go out and get something for breaking stones for others, and he went out next day. The other said it hurt his back to bend so much, and he would start the next day, which he did. A third had a hole to dig, which he liked so little, that he went off the third day. He had been, for nine or ten years before, one of the most troublesome men in the parish, but he went off very quietly, saying, that he did not complain of the victuals or accommodation, but if he was to work, would work for himself; he has never troubled the parish since, and now he gets his own living in a brick-yard, and by thrashing and other jobs, and has done so ever since35 ."
In the report from Cookham, the following instance is given in respect to the change of system in discontinuing out-door relief by money payments:—
"The following case will serve as an example of the effects of the change of system, in respect to out-door relief by money payments: A man, who went by the name of Webb, was hanged for horse-stealing. He left a widow and several small children. The widow applied to the select vestry for relief the week after his execution. It was suspected they possessed resources which would enable them to provide for their own wants without parochial relief; and, in consequence of this suspicion, the vestry ordered them to come to the workhouse three times a week for such relief in kind as was deemed necessary. The woman begged to be allowed the money, or less money than the value of the bread, which was refused. The result was that she never applied, and she never received any relief whatever. In this case, as in almost all others, it would have been utterly impossible for the parish officers to have ascertained whether the pauper did or did not possess the suspected resources. Had relief, such as was requested, been readily granted, as it generally would, under the influence of the feelings of pity, and from the impulse of blind benevolence, or from the love of popularity in appearing to yield to the demand for assistance in a case so deeply affecting the sympathies, or from a dread of unpopularity from the imputation of hard-heartedness 'towards poor children who could not be supposed to participate in their father's crime,' or from the love of ease and the want of firmness to refuse, a WHOLE FAMILY would have been placed as paupers or consumers of the labour of the industrious; the children of the woman would have been further demoralised, and rendered as miserable themselves as they were worthless and mischievous to others. The course of blind benevolence, but real cruelty, would have been productive of pain to this family, and the extra indulgence applied for would moreover have been injustice towards the children of the meritorious, to whom the rule was applied without relaxation. All the members of the family are well known to Mr. Whately, in whose parish they reside, and they are in a satisfactory and thriving condition. So that in this case, which will apply to all others, the pauper would have had the relief of the exact kind and suitable (i.e., bread, not gin), had it been absolutely necessary, but would be driven to her own resources, if she possessed any36 ."
In a communication, dated in January last, Mr. Whately states—
"Nothing can be more prosperous than we are here. I am this moment returned from the vestry, which meets every fortnight, and where we talk of the state of Portugal, having nothing else to do there. I carried 15l. to the savings' bank at Maidenhead a fortnight ago, for a poor man who earns 12s. a week, and yesterday delivered 93 tons of coals to the poor, for the purchase of which they had subscribed last summer; I am to have for the use of the poor 14 tons more. But that which gives me the greatest satisfaction is, that the wife of a poor man (who was insane, and was about to be sent to St. Luke's) told the overseer, that if he would advance the money for her husband's expenses of admission, carriage to London, 8c., she would repay him, for that she did not wish to trouble the parish. Pleased with this account, I went to the woman and gave her a guinea: it happened that before the man could be admitted at St. Luke's he partially recovered the use of his reason, upon which his wife, with her duty, returned to me my guinea."
The following letter from Mr. Russell, of Swallowfield, in answer to one requesting from him a detailed account of the subsequent fortunes of those who in that parish had been refused outdoor relief, is so curious and instructive, that we venture to insert it notwithstanding its great length:—
"Swallowfield, November 5th, 1833.
"A LIST of those men who, before we had a select vestry, were dependent principally upon parochial relief, and who, since the establishment of the vestry, have supported themselves, would comprehend almost every labourer in the parish, except those who were in constant employment as carters, gardeners, or any other permanent capacity, and who consist, of course, of the men of the best character and steadiest habits. On examining the books, I have detected the following fifteen persons as instances of the improvement that has taken place under our new system, in the conduct and condition of the labourers. The whole population of the parish, according to the last return, is only 390; and of that number 68 are agricultural labourers above the age of 14. The persons here mentioned, therefore, are nearly one-fourth of the whole; and, taking into account only the married men, to whom the inquiry principally relates, the proportion is still larger. It is necessary, however, to premise, that in considering all statements upon this subject having reference to the county of Berks, it must be remembered that the system called 'make up,' or 'bread money,'prevails I believe universally, and that a man is not regarded as being 'upon the parish,' if he only has his weekly earnings made up to the price of two gallon loaves for himself, and one for every other member of his family.
"It is several years since Elijah Wheeler had any relief from the parish. I meet him frequently with his cart, and have reason to believe that his habits and condition are perfectly respectable. The house occupied by John King, and now used as a beer-house, with an acre and a half of ground adjoining it, belong to himself for a term, of which 38 years are still unexpired; and he is, perhaps, on that account, the strongest instance in the parish how much the facility of procuring relief has the effect of making men dependent upon it. But for the pernicious practice under the old system, of giving relief to almost everybody that asked for it, there is no reason why this man should have been more in want of assistance formerly than he is now. Until some sort of control was introduced into the parish by the select vestry, William Oakley was in the lowest possible state of idleness and misery. He never did any work at all; he was covered with rags and vermin; he had no fixed home, but slept under a hedge, or in any out-house to which he could get access. The clothes with which the parish occasionally supplied him were made away with for food or liquor; and, for some time, every attempt of the vestry to reclaim him was unavailing; by degrees, however, an amendment was wrought; and, although it would be too much to say that his reformation is complete, it is still greater than, under such circumstances, I could have expected. He now works steadily; he has no money but what he earns; he buys his own clothes, and keeps them; he sleeps at least with a roof over his head, and he has lost those reckless habits, and that squalid appearance which before distinguished him from every other man in the parish. And for this change there is no other reason than the necessity of the case; he shifts for himself, because he is obliged to do so.
"Joseph and John Oakley are the brothers of William, and though not so abject in their personal habits, they were hardly more respectable in character or conduct. Joseph is the only one of the three that is married. He has three children under eight years old. Formerly he lived upon the parish, and was always in want and idleness. John was, some years ago, in constant employ in my garden, but he absconded to avoid a warrant which was issued against him for theft, and was absent for some time. On his return he threw himself on the parish, and lived chiefly on the relief he obtained. Since the establishment of our vestry, a great improvement has taken place in both these brothers. Joseph has, for the last three years, been almost in constant employ with the same farmer. John works with different employers, and occasionally for the surveyor; and neither of them receive any relief out of the rates.
"James Cordery is an instance of the dissolute habits into which ingenuity too often betrays persons in low life. By trade he is a hurdle-maker; he is also a carpenter, chair-mender, and tinker, and used to play the violoncello in church, and to teach the parish children to sing. But the more money he was able to earn, the more he was given to squander; he wasted his time at the alehouse and among prostitutes, and was never off the parish. Since the vestry refused to maintain him, he has had no difficulty in maintaining himself. He provided himself with a set of implements, and now lives in Reading, and earns an ample livelihood in grinding knives, and mending pots and pans. With the exception of a fortnight last summer, when he was taken into the poor-house, in consequence of an attack of rheumatic gout, he has had no relief for the last four years; and instead of bringing up his children in their former idle habits, he is now endeavouring to apprentice one of his sons to a shoemaker.
"Charles Cordery, no relation of the foregoing, is a married man with four children, of whom the eldest is under fifteen. He is so skilful and diligent a workman, that it must be his own fault if he is ever out of employ. Yet, under the former system, he was almost always dependent upon the parish; his wife and children were as idle and ragged as himself; and so bad was their character for pilfering and depredation, that they were successively turned out of every cottage that was occupied by them. At last they were absolutely without a roof to shelter them, and the vestry refused to support them any longer out of the rates. I was always disposed to think the man better than he appeared to be; and on his promise of amendment, I consented to place his family in a cottage belonging to my father, not-withstanding the remonstrance of the farmer on whose land it stood. Except in one instance, just after they had taken possession, I have had no complaint from their neighbours. The man is in constant work; his family seems to be in comfort; his rent is regularly paid; and his garden has been so well cultivated, that I am now enlarging it to such an extent as, I hope, will enable him to grow vegetables enough for his consumption.
"James Deane is married, and has three infant children. He has never borne a good character, and was, some time ago, imprisoned for robbing his master's garden. He was formerly always idle, and a constant burden on the parish; but since the change of system introduced by the select vestry compelled him to depend on his own exertions, he has found work and supported his family. He occupies a cottage under the same roof as Charles Cordery; he is employed by the farmer, on whose land it is situated; and at his request I have consented to make an addition to his garden, similar to that described in the case of his neighbour.
"George Cooper, though he had advantages superior to most other men in the parish, was always as much in want of relief as any of them. Until 1830 he had a cottage, with an acre of land, rent-free; he kept bees; he had an allowance from a gentleman in the parish, which produced him about 5l. a year, for clearing and trimming a range of young hedges, which he did at unemployed intervals; and he was capable of draining, ditching, planting, and all the most profitable kinds of work; yet he seemed to be always in need, and was constantly applying to the parish for assistance. Since relief has been refused to him by the vestry, his cottage has been sold to a new landlord, and he has no facilities in procuring work that he had not before; yet he now not only supports himself, but pays his rent without complaint, and his children seem as much improved in their industry as he is himself.
"James Davis has three children under ten years old. He is a good labourer, and understands draining, ditching, and all the better sorts of agricultural work; but before the affairs of the parish were under the management of a select vestry, he was constantly dependent upon relief. He is of a sullen, discontented temper, owing to which he lost a good place in a gentleman's garden; but he now supports himself and his family, and appears to have his full share of ordinary work.
"James David is an elderly man with a grown-up family. By trade he is a thatcher; but he is also a carpenter, sawyer, and shoe-maker, and can turn his hand to various jobs requiring dexterity. In his own trade alone he might always have found ample employment. There is but one other thatcher in the parish, and the work is more than he can get through; but David's dishonesty keeps pace with his skill, and nobody will trust him out of sight with their straw. He was always in want, and always on the parish; but since the vestry have peremptorily refused him relief, he has contrived to do without it. His condition is apparently better that it was, and, for nearly four years, we have had neither complaint nor application from him.
"Richard and David Read are father and son. Richard is about 56 years old, and has seven children, of whom the youngest four still live with him. David's age is about 34, and he has five children, of whom the oldest is under 12. The loose character and habits of the whole of this family, of both sexes, have always been such as to exclude them from permanent, and therefore from the most advantageous and respectable, employment. But both the father and the son are remarkable for their skill and diligence as workmen, and the son is the strongest man in the parish. I happened to be one of the visiting justices of the gaol when he was committed for deserting his family; and, on the occasion of a disturbance among the prisoners, I found that he had been chosen, by common consent, as the most powerful man within the walls. They both understand draining, ditching, planting, making roads and walks, levelling and laying out grounds, and every sort of agricultural and ornamental work requiring dexterity and neatness. They have both worked a good deal, and still are working for me, to my entire satisfaction in every respect; Richard as superintendent, and David in the same capacity, when his father has found an advantageous job elsewhere. Under the old system they both lived in habitual reliance on the parish, though Richard has a cottage rent-free for his life. David, by his own loose habits, actually reduced himself and his family to take shelter under a hedge, when he was put into a cottage taken for him by the parish, the overseers becoming responsible for the rent, which, however, he now pays regularly; and both the father and the son, though no essential amendment can be said to have taken place, either in their own propensities or those of their families, now support themselves and their children; and no application for relief has been made by either of them for a considerable time past. Richard Read's wife was the first person from whom I had a complaint of the distress occasioned to herself and her children by her husband's frequenting the new beer-houses. With him, and with most others in his condition, this evil is and must continue to be unabated, in spite of all that the local authorities can do to prevent it. The more I see of the effect of these houses, the more I am convinced that they have done and still are doing more to impoverish and corrupt the English labourer, than all the mal-administration of the Poor Laws for the last 50 years put together.
"Richard Dance is a widower, with four children, of whom the eldest is about 16. He was a soldier, and has a pension of ls. a week. Neither his habits, nor his skill as an agricultural labourer, were improved by his being in the army, and notwithstanding his pension, and the advantage of occupying a cottage belonging to the parish, for which he pays no rent, he used to be in constant want and the constant receipt of relief. Since the establishment of the vestry, he has been independent of the parish and is now free from those indications of distress which his appearance used to exhibit.
"Thomas Davis is one of the most active young men and best labourers in the parish. He is able to perform every sort of agricultural work; but he has never borne a good character. He is a loose, blustering fellow, a loud and specious talker, and acts, upon occasion, as the spokesman for his brethren. At the time of the riots, in the winter of 1830, he was the only man in the parish who offered any objection to being sworn in as a special constable. He endeavoured to make terms for the compliance of the labourers, and was beginning to advocate the alleged grievances, but he was soon put down by the spirited interposition of a gentleman who was present. If his courage kept pace with his wishes, he might be a dangerous man; as it is, he is rather the instigator than the perpetrator of mischief. He has seven children, of whom the eldest is under 14, and, until the establishment of the vestry, was constantly dependent upon parochial relief. Since the change of the system, I have heard no complaint from him of his being in want, though he does not apply so much of his earnings as he ought to the support of his family. This is the man to whom I referred in one of my answers to the circular queries, as having, in November last year, been earning 15s. a week at thrashing. Some years ago he was allowed by the parish officers to build a cottage upon a piece of parish land, for which he was to pay a yearly rent of 1l.; but he seldom has paid it. He is as well able to do so as any other man in the parish; but having the parish for his landlord, he reckons upon their forbearance.
"I referred the foregoing list to our assistant overseer, and this is the note with which he returned it to me: 'These men were working principally on the parish from April 1829, (the date of the assistant overseer's appointment,) to December of the same year, when they were employed by———; and from that time till the present we have never had any one on the parish for more than a month at a time, except in case of illness.'
"The sum of this is, that the labourers generally have the means of independent support within their reach, but that, except in a few instances of rare sobriety and providence, they will not of their own accord make the efforts necessary to command them. Of most of the men here described, I have said that they are good and diligent workmen. A want of ability and willingness to work, when work is given to them, is not among the faults of English labourers; and it cannot be expected that they will be at the trouble of finding work, if they can find support without it. They will not go in search of the meat of industry, if they can sit down and eat the bread of idleness. If you maintain them in doing nothing, and put the key of the beer-house into their hand, what right have you to complain that they are idle and dissolute? A gentleman who has for many years farmed largely in this parish, told me that before the select vestry was established, he frequently saw the labourers, in parties of 12 or 14, sauntering along the streams, in pursuit of moorhens, and, of course, poaching fish, when it was not the season to poach game. Their time, and the money they obtained from the overseer, were necessarily spent in drunkenness, dissipation, and pilfering.
"The effect of the system to which this statement refers has been materially to reduce the amount of the poor's rate. In the year in which we established a select vestry (1829-30) our expenses were increased by various charges arising out of the change of system. In that year the rate was 6s. 8d. in the pound on the rack rent. The average rate of the three years preceding the change was 6s. 1d., but that of the three years subsequent to it has been only 4s. 5d.; nor has the benefit been confined to the payers. The condition of the poor has undergone a visible amendment. They are better fed and better clothed; they bear an appearance of greater ease and comfort, and they are more healthy than they were. When some exceptions were taken to our new regulations in 1829, I referred to the gentleman who contracts for the medical treatment of our poor, to know what effect the change had had upon their health. He told me that, under the old system, disease had become so prevalent in the parish, that he had made up his mind to relinquish the contract as no longer worth his holding; but that so great an improvement had taken place under the new system, that he abandoned his intention, and he has continued to attend the parish ever since. I repeated the same question to him yesterday, and his reply was, that although the parish had partaken of such disorders as had at various times been prevalent in the country, the improvement in the general health of the poor still continued relatively to what it had been before our change of system.
"Even among the labourers themselves the change was productive of little discontent. What alarm they did show was when the select vestry was first talked of, and when they had an indistinct apprehension of unknown and indefinite changes, rather than when the new system had been actually put in force. One man only, James David, who is mentioned in the foregoing list, attempted any resistance. We proceeded against him, by complaint before the Bench, and he was sent to the tread-mill. Before the expiration of his sentence the parish officers solicited a remission of the remainder, and we have never since had occasion to resort to coercive measures. Our vestry was established in 1829. The agricultural disturbances took place in the following year. We were in the midst of the disorder, surrounded by the devastation committed by machine-breakers and incendiaries, yet there was neither a riot nor a fire in the parish, nor any single instance of malicious injury to property."
The important changes produced in the habits of the able-bodied paupers by means such as those displayed in the preceding extracts, were in some instances aided by a measure which at first sight might appear calculated to become an obstacle and a means of producing permanent discontent and opposition amongst the whole of the labouring classes. It was determined to rate the whole of the cottages, and make the occupiers (or ultimately the owners) contribute towards the payment of the poor's rates.
"The measure which excited the most tumult was the rating of the cottages, and the refusal to contribute to the payment of rents; finding many of this class most tumultuous, it was thought by the vestry prudent to take a few from each division of the parish as examples. One of the ringleaders (William Sexton), who had never paid rent or rates, and who had behaved very insolently in consequence of his son (a lad of sixteen, who was out of work) being refused relief, was selected to be made an example of; and the demand for rates was enforced upon him. He has since constantly paid his rates and rent, and though his family has much increased since that time, he has never received any parochial relief. He has become an orderly and respectable person, and shows great attachment to Mr. Whately, to whom formerly he behaved in a dogged and ungracious manner. I saw the account of this person in the savings' bank, and for his station the money was considerable. The lad above alluded to is now a respectable shopman in London. He came to see Mr. Whately, and thank him for all past favours, the greatest of which was the refusing him relief. Had the old system of relief been continued, this boy and his brothers would probably have been paupers for life37 ."
"The parish paid as much as 184l. per annum for rents of cottages. After Captain Nicholls had succeeded in abolishing this custom, his next step was to assess all the cottages to the rates. When he had succeeded in carrying this measure, he directed the permanent overseer to give formal receipts to all the payers, though for sums no greater than 2½d. or 3d.
The poor looked upon these receipts in the light of testimonials of their independence, and proud of showing that they, as well as their richer neighbours, contributed to the parish burdens, they hung them up in the windows of their cottages. Captain Nicholls had ordered the overseer to treat them, when he was receiving their contributions, with respect, but he was surprised at this unexpected result, and at finding that they were loth to be in arrear, and generally brought their money without solicitation on the day it was due38 ."
Mr. Borser states, with relation to the improved condition of the labouring classes in that parish, that,—
"They have themselves told him they are better off, and it is notoriously the fact. Though he collects money for the poor-rates, and all their cottages are now assessed, none of the labouring class now are ever uncivil to him. Has observed, since cottages were rated, that the tenants become very jealous of those who receive relief; they give him such information as they think will prevent his granting relief where it is not merited; will often come to his house and tell him when they think he has been imposed upon by any one pretending to be ill. Since cottages were rated, such as apply for relief without real necessity are looked upon very shily by others; they call it 'attempting to impose on one another.' They are very jealons of those who receive relief, thinking and saying it is given out of their earnings.39 "
In Bingham it is stated—
"Great good resulted from refusing to pay rents for cottages and from rating all cottages, and strictly enforcing payment; thinks more good came from this than almost from anything else; it made all those who paid rates jealous of any one receiving relief. Only last week a woman, to whom he went for her rate, said, 'I say, I sha'n't pay any more rates if my money is thrown away. I hear that idle fellow, Jack———, had 5s. from the parish some weeks ago, because he said his child was ill; I sha'n't pay my money to such like.' He has seen many instances of the jealousy of the poor in this respect; if they pay rates, they say, they don't like to be giving their earnings to their neighbours, who are only idle; and now they abuse those who want to get help from the parish40 ."
It might be conceived, à priori, that the standard of comparison, i.e., the condition of the lowest class of independent labourers, is indefinite; but when examined, it is found sufficiently definite for the purpose: their hours of labour in any neighbourhood are sufficiently uniform: the average of piecework which able-bodied labourers will perform may be correctly ascertained, and so may the diet on which they actually sustain health.
In several instances opposition to the enforcement of labour, on the ground that it was too severe, was defeated by a direct comparison between the work exacted from the paupers and that cheerfully performed by the independent labourers.
"Mr. Knapp, the assistant-overseer, stated, that when the able-bodied paupers were first set to work at trenching, they pretended that they could not do so much work as would enable them to get a living at the prices fixed. Knowing this to be false, I paid an independent labourer, an old man of seventy, to work, and as he did a great deal more than two of the stoutest young men amongst the paupers pretended they were incapable of doing, they declared 'We must cut this; this work won't suit us;' and they took their departure to search out regular employment41 ."
Mr. Barnett, the permanent overseer of the parish of St. Mary, Nottingham,—
"Began by offering piece-work to every applicant for relief, and employed an intelligent labourer to fix the price. Forthwith sixty or seventy paupers would appeal to the magistrates every week, complaining that they were not strong enough to perform the quantity of work which, at his rate of pay, would entitle them to receive a sum adequate to the maintenance of their families. Anticipating this manœuvre, he had provided himself with men of less than the average physical strength, whom he produced before the mayor, and who deposed to their ability to perform a greater quantity of work than that allotted by Mr. Barnett. By expedients of this nature he baffled the complaints of the paupers, their opposition grew gradually weaker and weaker, and now there are, speaking generally, no applications to the magistrates42 ."
The circumstance of a rural parish being, to a considerable degree, an independent community, separated by the barriers of the law of settlement from other parochial communities, and the general knowledge possessed by the witnesses of the principal circumstances of all or most of the individuals of its labouring population, give a very high value to the results of the experiment made in each of the rural parishes which we have mentioned. The uniform success of the principle, and the remarkable similarity of its incidents, in different parishes, in different parts of the country, and under different circumstances, appear to us to prove its correctness, and to leave no doubt that it would be productive of similar effects throughout the country.
Further evidence of the beneficial operation of the principle on which the improvements described in the preceding statements were founded, is afforded in almost every pauperized district: first, by the comparative character of those resident labourers who, having a distant settlement, can only claim temporary relief, and that subject to an order of removal to their own parishes; and, secondly, by the condition of that part of the labouring population which still remains independent of parochial aid. We have already stated, that in every district the condition of this class is found to be strikingly distinguishable from that of the pauper, and superior to it, though the independent labourers are commonly maintained upon less money.
"I found," says Mr. Chadwick, "the witnesses in all the parishes, town or country, agreed as to the superior value of non-parishioners as labourers. Mr. J. W. Cockerell, the assistant-overseer of Putney, stated, that many of the paupers who had applied for relief from his parish had withdrawn their claims when they were told that they would be removed to their parishes in the country; and in answer to further questions as to what became of these persons who so refused, he stated (in common with all the other witnesses with similar opportunities of observation) that these persons remained, and afterwards attained a much better condition than they had ever before attained while they considered that parochial resources were available to them on the failure of their own. He cited the cases of nine persons who had applied for relief, but had refused it when they were told that they would be removed. Six of these families had not only been saved from pauperism, but they were now in a better situation than any in which he had ever before known them. In two instances particularly, the withdrawal of dependence on parochial relief had been the means of withdrawing the fathers from the public-houses and beer-shops, and making them steady and good workmen. 'Indeed,' said he, 'it is a common remark amongst the employers of labourers in our parish, that the non-parishioners are worth three or four shillings a week more than the parishioners. This is because they have not the poor's rate to fly to. The employers also remark, that the non-parishioners are more civil and obliging than the others.' In this parish the usual wages of the single labourer are about 12s. per week; and the deterioration of the labourer by the influence of the present system of administering the Poor-Laws, may therefore, according to the witness's statement, be set down as from five-and-twenty to more than thirty per cent. Other witnesses declare that the deterioration is much more considerable43 ."
This superiority, indeed, is so notorious as to be the argument most frequently employed against facilitating the acquisition of settlements. The Rev. Henry Pepys, a magistrate and clergyman of extensive experience, in a letter deprecating the facilitation of settlement, states—
"That the objections to the operation of a poor's-rate do not apply to the unsettled labourer, as the latter knows full well, that should he neglect to provide against sickness, should he be unable to support his family upon the wages of his labour, or should he fail to get employment, his only resource would be, an application to the overseer, who, as a matter of course, would immediately take him before the nearest magistrate for the purpose of having him removed to his place of legal settlement, where he is perhaps a stranger, with all the inconvenience of having to quit the house in which he may have been born, to remove with him at a considerable expense, or sell at a probable loss, his house-hold furniture, and separate from the companions with whom he has associated from infancy. That a poor man should be subject to such a distressing alternative, may perhaps appear harsh; but the consequences are most beneficial, even to himself, for from it he derives that inducement (which we have been all seeking as the only remedy for the present evils of the Poor-Laws) to depend upon his own industrious exertions and not upon parish relief, to belong to a savings' bank or benefit-society, that he may not become chargeable, and thereby removable in the event of sickness, to abstain from wasting his wages at a public-house, and thus, by frugality and industry, to render himself capable of maintaining his family, however large, upon his own resources; in short, with regard to him the Poor-Laws are perfectly harmless, he still remains a sample of the industrious, sober, honest, and independent labourer, such as we are taught to believe constituted the peasantry of England before the statute of Elizabeth was passed.
"Should we not pause then before, by facilitating the acquisition of settlements, we reduce all to the same level of idleness and intemperance? It is true that when the unsettled inhabitants of a parish are residing in the neighbourhood of their own parishes, they will sometimes apply for assistance to their own overseer, who is occasionally disposed to accord it without requiring them to be previously removed home by an order of removal. But the relief which under such circumstances is administered, will be administered with a much more sparing hand than in the case of settled inhabitants, and only because the overseer is himself satisfied that it is really required. The unsettled poor are well aware they have no legal claim upon their overseer; the magistrates have no right to interfere between them, and hence the relief which is given, though probably much more scanty than in the case of settled inhabitants, is thankfully received as a boon instead of being claimed as a right."
If, while the general administration of the Poor-Laws were allowed to remain on its present footing, such occasional or partial relief as that which is available to the settled labourers of a parish were rendered equally available to the unsettled labourers, we cannot doubt that such a proceeding would demoralize and depress this respectable and valuable class to the level of the settled and pauperized labourers. This is ample reason against assimilating the condition of the unsettled to that of the settled labourers, but none against placing the settled on the same footing as the unsettled. The present practice, as to unsettled labourers, is almost exactly that which we propose to make the rule for all classes, both settled and unsettled.
The non-parishioner has no right to partial relief; to occasional relief; to relief in aid of wages, or to any out-door relief whatever from the parish in which he resides; and yet the assurance which we propose to preserve to every one, that he shall not perish on the failure of his ability to procure subsistence, is preserved to him. If that ability actually fail him, he is assured that he can immediately obtain food until he can be passed home to his own parish, where he will be saved from perishing, and be maintained at the public charge. By this course, however, he would be taken wholly out of employment, and reduced to the condition of a permanent pauper; and that condition being less eligible to him than the condition of an independent labourer, he struggles with all the occasional difficulties from which, if he were a parishioner and improvident, the usual administration of the Poor-Laws would relieve him. Relief is accessible to him whenever a case of necessity occurs; it is indeed accessible to him whenever he chooses to avail himself of it; it is simply ineligible to him so long as he can subsist by his own industry. The ordinary workhouse of his own distant parish, with the inconveniences of removal superadded, produces on him effects of the same description as those which we find produced on parishioners by a well-regulated workhouse.
We attach much importance to the general superiority of the conduct and condition of the non-parishioners, the unsettled labourers. Although the evidence afforded from the dispauperized parishes oppears to us to be conclusive as to the effects which may be anticipated from a similar change of system throughout the country, it is still liable to the objection, however unreasonable, that these parishes are individual and scattered instances, too few to establish a general conclusion; but the evidence afforded by the character and condition of the unsettled labourers pervades the whole country. Every body of labourers resident and labouring within a parish of which they are not parishioners, and where the distance of their own parishes, and the administration of the poor's rates does not render partial relief available, may be referred to in proof of the general effects which would follow an improved system of administering relief. These labourers make no complaints of their having no right to partial relief, and we have not met with an instance of their having suffered from the want of it. The fact of the non-settled labourers maintaining an independent condition, whilst they have a right by law to return at the public expense to their own parishes, and claim parochial aid, proves that they themselves consider their present condition more advantageous than that of paupers, and that so considering it they are anxious to retain it.
From the above evidence it appears, that wherever the principle which we have thus stated has been carried into effect, either wholly or partially, its introduction has been beneficial to the class for whose benefit Poor-Laws exist. We have seen that in every instance in which the able-bodied labourers have been rendered independent of partial relief, or of relief otherwise than in a well-regulated workhouse—
[Part II, Section 2]