Although Workhouses had been in existence long before the Victorian era, it is a very important time in their history as in 1834 The Poor Law Amendment Act was brought in to make sure that all able bodied people were required to work in workhouses to get their “poor relief”. Previous to this the poor people in the Victorian period had to rely on hand outs and money collected from wealthy people and land owners without having to be part of a proper workplace. This was based on an outdated Elizabethan Poor Law from 1601, which was now being phased out in an effort to push the poor people into indoor relief. The government made the workhouse a feared place, in an effort to stop lazy citizens thinking that it was an easy option.
A Place for the Poor to Work
These workhouses were a place for poor people with no jobs to come and work in exchange for food and a bed. It was a way of getting the poor to work for their money, although it was often seen more as a form of slavery and was feared by many. The workhouse also took workers on in the form of orphans, abandoned children, mentally ill and the disabled, unmarried mothers and even the elderly. All of these people would be required to work long and gruelling hours, living in the workhouses in exchange for food, clothes, money, medical care and education for both children and adults. The workhouse had everything someone would need within the walls of the building.
Unpleasant and Unfair Environment
Upon joining a workhouse you were stripped and bathed under supervision before given starting. The people who worked and lived in the workhouses were made to wear uniforms which would distinguish them from the normal and higher classes. Whenever they were seen out and about in the streets people would know they were poor and from a workhouse. The jobs were very unpleasant and you were required to work hard no matter if you are an adult or child. Many of the children were “hired out” and sold to wealthy business men and owners to work in even more unpleasant places such as the mines.
Families were split up in the workhouses as the children, men and women worked in separate areas segregated from each other. If you tried to speak or search for your family members you were very likely to be punished so contact was rarely made. The education promised to the people working there did not include reading and writing which were what most people expected in order to get a better job. It was almost as if the owners wished to keep you there working long and gruelling hours. The food provided was nearly always the same and was simply fuel to keep you working, rather than a meal that could be enjoyed.
Although the workhouses were set up in an effort to help the poor, many see them as a way of taking advantage of the poorer Victorians and unfortunately many people worked and died in the workhouses due to the conditions and lack of proper medical care.