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HOW THE POOR LAW UNIONS OF DEVON EVOLVED

 

Extracted from the Devon County Council website:

The Poor Law Amendment Act, 1834:

"The harsh measures introduced by the Poor Law Amendment Act made confinement to the workhouse the central mechanism of poor relief. Furthermore, it directed administrators to discourage paupers from seeking relief by making workhouses as unpleasant as possible. From now on, married couples entering the workhouse were separated and children taken away from their parents.

The Act also completed the work of Gilbert’s Act in the formation of Poor Law Unions. All parishes were now made part of larger unions, each union supervising a workhouse. The unions themselves were administered by Board of Guardians, though parish vestries remained responsible for levying poor rates for the upkeep of workhouses.


Poor Relief in the 20th Century:

With the advent of the 20th century and the growth of trades unions and the socialist movement, attitudes towards the poor had begun to change. The National Insurance Act of 1911 brought about the first provisions of social security. Two years later, workhouses were officially renamed Poor Law Institutions. The Local Government Act of 1929 abolished Boards of Guardians as well as the term ‘pauper’; it also transferred the powers of the Guardians to local authorities such as County Councils and encouraged local boroughs to convert workhouses into infirmaries. By 1946 the modern framework of social security benefits was established."

 

As the 1870s came to an end,  most Workhouses began to acquire efficient Infirmaries. A  local doctor would be appointed as Medical Officer and the nursing staff would have some degree of training. Nationally. the standard of care could be quite variable but here in Devon, was often  far better than could be found in such local hospitals as existed at that time.

Caring for the terminally sick or for elderly people with dementia or those with highly contagious diseases like TB was virtually impossible in a village setting. Those dear little cottages which look so pretty today were often home to more than 20 people in the 19th century and dividing a room with a blanket could not hide the unpleasant realities of serious illness. Far from being something to dread, many sufferers must have been relieved to find themselves being taken away to a  Workhouse Infirmary with medical care on hand, and nursing, day and night.

 

The Staff of Tiverton Workhouse in 1890

The staff of Tiverton Union Workhouse in 1890

Back row:(left to right) The Head Porter Thomas Berry; The Assistant Matron Emma Huse; Nurse Cashin; The Master's Clerk; The Master Mr. William James Penney

Front Row: (left to right) The Industrial Officer; Nurse Leaworthy; The Medical Officer (Doctor); The Matron Mrs.Sarah Penney.

These men and women were held in high regard locally for their humanity and for their kindness in caring for the poor and the sick.

 

 
 
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