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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Suffolk

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Blything map
Blything Union workhouse site

© Peter Higginbotham
Work and Suffolk Workhouses

In the days before unemployment benefit, job seeker allowance, disability benefit, homes for the elderly and sheltered housing, what happened to the unemployed, the injured, the disabled, the elderly and the poor?

The answer was either to beg in the streets and risk being arrested and imprisoned, or to ask for help. The local authorities of a village, or a district, would then send the person into the workhouse.

In England, between 1601 and 1929, the workhouse provided food, accommodation, medical care and schooling for children after 1834, in exchange for the inmates working for several hours each day.

Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist described the conditions in a Victorian workhouse. Everyone can remember the scene in the dining room, when Oliver says, ‘Please sir, I want some more?’ But was this a true picture, or was Dickens exaggerating for dramatic effect?

If there had been no workhouses, what would the poor and needy have done?

What was work like in the parish and district workhouses of Suffolk from 1601 until 1834, and under the New Poor Law from 1834 until 1929? More...

Words: Clive Paine

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Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890)
Consequences of the New Poor Law
Further information on workhouses
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