Guest Contribution: Dore Workhouse in Victorian Times, by Nancy Elliot
1834 - 1920
A slim booklet written by Nancy Elliot and based on a study of Dore Workhouse made in order to give a talk as part of a course on The Golden Valley, held in 1983 and 1984 for Ewyas Harold and District Branch of the W.E.A was published by the Ewyas Harold WEA study group of local historians in 1986.
From it, one must conclude nothing of workhouses in general, or even in Herefordshire; detailed studies of all Poor Law Unions would be necessary for that. It is written in reply to several requests from local people, with the hope that it may interest others studying aspects of the Victorian Poor Law and above all for the present residents of Riverdale, on the site of the old workhouse, whose own concern with the social and historical background of their environment first aroused my own interest in it.
The late Nancy Elliot, one time teacher and resident of Ewyas Harold, was an enthusiastic local historian and a leading member of the Ewyas Harold WEA Study Group. She died as a result of a tragic road accident about 15 years ago. We are confident that she would have liked to see her work here
The isolated Dore Workhouse in the Golden Valley
An Act of Parliament of 1834 led to the building of workhouses such as that at Abbey Dore on the site that is now Riverdale. Instead of each parish being responsible for its own poor and needy, a system dating from the reign of Elizabeth I, parishes were to be grouped into Poor Law Unions, each run by a Board of Guardians and each bound to build a workhouse to serve the linked parishes. An expanding and more mobile population and revolutionary changes in agriculture and industries had, by the end of the eighteenth century, resulted in problems of poverty that proved an excessive burden to individual parishes. Rates rocketed. Flour, fuel, footwear, shirts, smocks and shrouds were frequently disbursed. Rents were paid or subsidised, and sometimes, when bread was dear and families large, weekly payments went to low-paid workers. There were parish cottages, and some parishes had a workhouse where neighbouring parishes might " farm out" their poor for a set sum, if they wished. Hereford City had five workhouses in the early nineteenth century; Abbey Dore in the 1820's was paying a sum to one at Vowchurch. By the time of the 1834 Poor Law Act, the parishes which were to form Dore Union had two functioning; one at Kentchurch and the other at Madley, but neither bigger than moderate sized farmhouses.
Although the problem of poverty differed in town and country and in different areas, the Act aimed at uniformity. To enforce this a Commission of three was set up in London with overall control. It sent out Assistant Commissioners to the regions, a Mr. Head coming to Herefordshire. Its aims were twofold - to see that there was no destitution and to cut the cost of helping the poor, ensuring that provision for able-bodied poor was in a workhouse, where conditions were to be less pleasant than would be obtainable outside. This could prove difficult in areas like South-West Herefordshire where labourers often lived in damp, earthen floored, one or two roomed cottages with almost no possessions.
As workhouses went, the Dore one was small, built for eighty to a hundred people. By 1836 the Act had been implemented in Hereford where a workhouse for three hundred had been built (now part of the County Hospital buildings). Building began, too, in Ross-on-Wye, Kington, Ledbury, Weobley, Bromyard and Leominster. But it was not until April 11th, 1837 that the first meeting of the Dore Union Guardians took place. They met at the Red Lion, Abbey Dore (the site now of Abbey Dore Court). The elected Guardians, each chosen by the ratepayers of his parish, joined ex-officio members from the local gentry and clergy. Those at the first meeting included Edward Bolton Clive, Esq., M.P. for Hereford City, the Dean of Hereford, E.G. Head, Esq., Colonel Clive, Thomas Delahay, Esq., W. Seward Wood Esq. and Henry Scudamore, Esq. Among the locally elected, tenant or freehold farmers, were George Powell from Dulas, William Bill from Kentchurch, Philip Lewis of the Keyo, Wormbridge, and William Matthews of Abbey Dore. The M.P. Edward Bolton Clive chaired the meeting but owing to his Parliamentary duties two deputies were chosen, Thomas Hughes from Grosmont and William Hamp, Esq., a local landowner. The Guardians elected a Clerk, Mr. Adams, who lived in Kentchurch parish who was to be paid £55 per annum. He was instructed to advertise in the Hereford Times and Hereford Journal for Relieving Officers, one for each of the three Districts into which the twenty-nine parishes were divided. Then the matter of building a workhouse was discussed and a committee of six appointed to consider a suitable site. Mr. Lewis from Traphouse, now The Poplars, Ewyas Harold, who farmed what was then known as Traphouse Estate, was one of the six. At the Red Lion there must have been a sizeable room and stabling, for the Board decided to meet weekly there, agreeing to pay Mrs. Mason 2/- weekly and 2/6 when heat was required (which was the maximum sum old and infirm paupers might be given weekly and a shilling more than the weekly allowance to anyone housing an illegitimate child). Mrs. Mason looked after the Board till the workhouse opened nearly two years later.
Dore Union in 1837
The Site Committee recommended the Abbey Dore neighbourhood, which was, indeed, roughly in the middle of the Union parishes, and would have liked a spot somewhere in the Red Lion or Abbey area, selecting three, all belonging to Higford Esq. who had inherited land there from the Holme Lacy Scudamores. The Board chose a site "not more than an acre from a field known as 12 Acres" in occupation of a Mr. Philip Morgan. Mr. Adams, however, received no answer to the two letters he wrote to Higford's agent, so Mr. Hamp offered a piece of his own land (bought previously from the Morehampton Estate). His offer was accepted and he resigned from the Board. And so the piece " called Upper Drewe land, including the road through it" was bought, exclusive of timber, and the workhouse built on it. The Board was able to have a loan of £2,000 from the Government Exchequer. The architect was Plowman and the builders Johnson and Pearsons, whose tender was £1,498, although £30 was added when it was decided that a cellar under the Boardroom would have its uses. Water supply was safeguarded against future diversion and proper drains were to convey water to the workhouse, and more to take it away into the ditch below. The Poor Law Commission had to approve the plans and did so, observing, however, that they lacked special workrooms, a mill room or bake house, washing places and a dead house, and included only one receiving ward and one refractory one. But the Board was told not to alter plans unless it was thought necessary. This gives us some idea of the general plan of workhouses nationwide and that modified arrangements might be acceptable in a rural area such as the Golden Valley.
In May 1838, the Clerk was told to inform the contractors that work must be finished by August 1st, but they claimed that not enough workmen were employed. In June the Board asked for a good, quick hedge with a ditch, a yard wide and deep, in front of the workhouse; at the back a low wall with wooden rail and pale was to be built. The building, including chimneys, was of stone, stone raised and sold from the locality, again by Mr. Hamp. He offered to give a turret clock if the Board would agree to a cupola being erected for it. This was gratefully accepted and was built, gave trouble from time to time, and it is not known when it was demolished. Floors were of stone, at least two inches thick; walls were plastered and to be white washed annually. The first Master and Matron, Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, from Herefordshire, took up duty on February 18th, 1839. Three days before, the kitchen range had still not arrived, and the Clerk was told to buy one from anywhere he liked, if it was not quickly delivered - no easy task so far from a town, the only means of transport in the 1830's being by cart or wagon along rough roads. At last the Guardians began to meet at the workhouse, making use of the stabling which provided for twenty horses. Two resolutions were taken at the first meeting; one that female inmates should be used for cleaning the workhouse and another that two clergymen should draw up a form of prayer, from the Prayer Book, for two daily services, between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., that all fit inmates should be asked to attend.
Rules issued to the Master were the same as those used in Hereford Workhouse. Matters that were punishable included refusal to get up at the prescribed time, going into sleeping wards during work or meal times, going into yards or wards of another category of inmates, making a noise when silence was ordered, bad language, refusal to work or doing bad work, neglect of personal cleanliness, pretence of sickness, wilful wastage or spoiling of tools or provisions, damage to property, disobeying any legal order of the Master or Matron and insults to other paupers by word or deed. Punishment, which for children, could not include reduction of diet, could only be inflicted by the Master who had to keep careful records of it. Offenders were to be brought before the Board of Guardians. Punishment was often reduction of diet for up to 48 hours; if disorderliness continued, the offender might be put into the refractory ward with continued food reductions for another 24 hours, and, if still disorderly, could be taken before the magistrates. These met at Abbey Dore, often being the same men as the Guardians, under the same Chairman. To be caught smuggling in drink meant going straight to the magistrates.
The Rules, which had to be hung up and read quarterly to the inmates, seem not unreasonable. Very few inmates at Dore are recorded as going before the magistrates, those few mostly for stealing or absconding, and only two or three inmates went from workhouse to prison in its whole history. In the early days the " Dead Room" was part of the refractory ward, surely, at times, a possible deterrent.
The Guardians soon drew up a Dietary and sent it for seal of approval to the Poor Law Commissioners. The basic diet consisted of bread, seven and six ounces respectively for men and women and a pint and a half of gruel every day for breakfast. On Sundays and Thursdays dinner was five ounces of meat and a pound of potatoes; on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays it was a pint and a half of soup with a half-pound of potatoes. On Tuesdays and Fridays nothing but suet or rice pudding. Supper was broth, with potatoes, three times a week and bread, six or five ounces, and cheese, one and a half ounces, the other four evenings. Inmates over sixty might be allowed one ounce of tea, five of butter and seven of sugar, weekly, instead of gruel for breakfast. Children under nine were to be dieted at discretion; older children's diet was the same as that for women. The sick might be dieted as directed by the Medical Officer. Extra allowances permitted to certain inmates as reward for duties were obviously greatly sought after. No food or luxuries of any kind could be sent in to residents.
The weekly Dietary allowances
The Board of Guardians was the pivot of the organisation of the workhouse, meeting fortnightly there. Three or four chosen from among themselves formed a " visiting committee" , calling in at any time. Complaints, such as one that an aged inmate was " starved" with only a sheet over him in bed, usually led to justification and action. There were not enough blankets, according to the Master. The next Board meeting decided to buy more. The meetings dealt with correspondence, often to and from the Commissioners, matters concerning inmates and employees, upkeep of buildings and all financial matters. With the exception of five years when Philip Lewis of Keyo Farm, Wormbridge, acted as Chairman, the Board was chaired by local gentry, the Clives of Whitfield predominating. The Reverend Archer Clive long led the Board at Dore workhouse and in this Dore Union was lucky. He was a typical country gentleman of the day, very interested in agriculture and good works; a local magistrate and landowner he understood the life and problems of the area and as author of a pamphlet on the working of the Poor Law he was surely genuinely interested in the workhouse. After his death, from old age, his son Colonel Clive succeeded him and continued his interest and personal kindnesses such as paying for a Wormbridge lame boy to attend the famous Cheyne Hospital. Later in the century Mr. H.H. Wood of White House, Vowchurch was Chairman for many years. Ancestors of many local families, such as the Brislands, gave time as members of the Board.
In early days the Commission went into detailed questioning about decisions of the Board, especially those involving out relief. Several letters might go, backwards and forwards, concerning the fate of an orphan baby, or a father left with a motherless family. But by 1850 the Board was sending a petition to the House of Commons " That the said Union has been formed and in operation for twelve years during which period the Guardians have scarcely ever required the aid of the Poor Law Commissioners in carrying on the business of the Union" and demanding a cut in salaries, pensions and jobs at Somerset House.
Appointments were made by the Board and books of relieving officers, Medical Officers and the Master regularly scrutinised. Employees often had to appear in person, such as the young schoolmistress who declared she was content not to have her salary raised as suggested to the Board by the Commissioners, and a Master threatened with dismissal if he again disobeyed the Guardians (he had admitted only some and not all of a pauper family). Sometimes inmates with a grievance were seen. Gruel, claimed by inmates to be of inferior quality, was even brought into the Boardroom on one occasion. Another incident concerned an inmate and a workman said to have helped themselves generously to beer while white washing the cellar. Although the inmate was reprimanded, it was the Master who was chiefly reproved for leaving the key in the tap of the barrel and for lack of supervision. All this went on in the Boardroom which is still intact at Riverdale
A great many children lived in the workhouse, some for short stays, others being brought up there. One's idea of a workhouse child may well be influenced by Oliver Twist or Arnold Bennett's Clayhanger. Who were the children of Dore workhouse and what was life like for them? Under the old Poor Law system, orphans often went the rounds of the ratepayers' homes in the parish; under the new system all orphans were to go to the workhouse. Some children came with parents, or, more often, with one parent, a deserted wife, an unmarried mother, or a disabled or unemployed widower. Some were born there, usually illegitimate. The New Act made it extremely difficult for relief to be given to a family outside the workhouse, but this was occasionally agreed to, provided that one, or two, of the children were sent into the workhouse. This happened sometimes in the Dore Union. A Madley man whose wife had died leaving him with a baby and six other children had to send in two of his children; an able-bodied Kingstone man, with a wife and six children under nine, was only to be allowed out relief by sending two children. Perhaps here lies the innate dread of the workhouse, prevalent throughout Victorian times.
By the 1834 Act, workhouse children had to have schooling. And so the Dore Guardians were appointing schoolteachers earlier than the coming of parish schools to some of the parishes forming the Union, although most parishes had dame schools. Dore had its problems with schooling and teachers. At first the children were taught by a young, local woman, but inspectors soon recommended that a resident teacher was needed. The Board appointed a married couple and put forward the idea of industrial training on several days a week. Mr. Hamp made more land, next to the workhouse, available for this. Many teachers seemed to come and go, some coping well with practical, industrial training, but not the three R's and vice-versa. Their problems were certainly many, girls and boys of all ages, many for only short stays. Even the school hours were not fixed until a schoolmistress tried to justify criticism by complaining about this. She was also bothered by mothers coming into the schoolroom, all of which arouses the suspicion that life at Dore was not as strictly organised as the national pattern demanded. Inspections were frequent and not always helpful. The ages of pupils are surprising, often well in their teens at a time when pauper families outside the workhouse were fully expected to send ten-year-olds to work. One Inspector told the Master he should find another occupation for sixteen-year Caroline who was disrupting the school; within a fortnight she and the schoolmaster were in disgrace for improper behaviour and the latter was dismissed. The workhouse chaplain was responsible for seeing that the school was efficiently run and, in 1849, an Inspector complained to him that it was not, on the grounds that not a single child could repeat the Fourth Commandment. Once the Board advertised in The Times and as a result appointed a young man from Chatham, Kent, as teacher, but it was not long before they were willing to pay his fare to go back home. There were times when the Master's wife doubled up as workhouse matron and schoolmistress (but once when they refused to pay her for two jobs, there being only a handful of children, she resigned as school teacher). Another time an appointment was made for joint schoolmaster and porter. Compulsory schooling at the workhouse obviously had its problems. In 1854 the Board agreed to the few boy inmates going, for 3d a week, to a school at Bacton, run by Mrs. Williams, which must have been a welcome outing for children not normally allowed off the workhouse premises. Not so popular, probably, was the decision in 1855 to send a group of boys as boarders to Hereford Workhouse, which was paid three shillings weekly for each boy. The Commissioners seemed unsure of approving of this, insisting on knowing the background of each boy and whether his parents, or guardians, knew and agreed. Hereford Workhouse was efficient and well disciplined, and perhaps stricter in dealing with children. One Dore boy complained to his grandmother of harsh treatment. Although the Dore Board went into this fully and decided that the evidence was not reliable, within a fortnight all the boys had been brought back to Dore.
Eventually the children from the workhouse attended Abbey Dore Board School and from that time education problems seemed to disappear. Frequently the schoolmaster at Dore commented on the good progress and behaviour of the workhouse pupils.
Great trouble was taken with disabled children, fares being paid for relatives to take them for medical consultation and treatment; even to London. Consideration of the children's wishes were shown when the time came for apprenticeships and the Board continued an interest in their welfare. The Guardians would not accept an offer of a ride on the Golden Valley Railway, from Bacton to Peterchurch, as a treat for the children to celebrate the Queen's 1887 Jubilee, but they had planned celebrations for them in the workhouse. In 1897 they shared parish celebrations at Bacton. Nor would they agree to the boys joining Bacton Church choir when asked, but only on the grounds that there was a new Master who had yet to get to know the boys. At the end of Victoria's reign, when it was national policy to move children from workhouses to large children's homes, the Dore Guardians were opposed to this, convinced that they were better off in the workhouse. There was no Children's Home in the Dore Union, or anywhere near, and the Board does seem to have looked after the children well.
A chaplain was appointed to every workhouse, by its Board of Guardians, with approval of the Bishop of the Diocese. Sometimes he was a curate; sometimes a rector or vicar who might then farm the job to a curate. The first chaplain at Dore was a curate, the Reverend Trumper, a not unfamiliar name in Church Orders in the area. He took a service each Sunday in the workhouse, alternately at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and had to oversee the school arrangements. This chaplain soon declined to bury inmates in Abbey Dore Churchyard unless they were natives of that parish; inmates were to be returned to their own parish for burial. The Reverend Trumper resigned after ten years and was followed by the Reverend Jenkins
The Board's minute books give the impression that there developed a rather touchy relationship between Guardians and Chaplain, the Clerk often being asked to write letters of complaint. Twice he wrote saying " the Board are of the opinion that the Sacrament should be offered to the male inmates as well as the female inmates on Easter Sunday or some day near that time" . A reply to the second letter stated that the Reverend Jenkins " was not aware it was his duty to administer the Sacrament on any particular day" . But why were the men excluded? Probably they were bed-ridden. Certainly at one time in the 1850's, the Master asked for extra male help as all the men were aged and infirm. In the mid-1850's the Board instigated an investigation into the manner in which the duties of the chaplain were performed and as a result it was resolved that he should be asked to attend and visit and read to the sick and infirm at least one day in every week besides Sunday, and not fix upon the Dinner Hour on a Sunday for the performance of Divine Service. As he wrote back asking what time this Dinner Hour was, one can conclude that he had not been taking much interest in the general welfare of the inmates. He was paid only £30 per annum.
Matters improved with the coming of the Reverend Collinson, who was curate at Newton, but lived in Bacton Rectory. He stayed for many years during a long, stable period in the history of the workhouse. In 1860 he persuaded the Board to spend £1 on a small library for inmates; years later he was still running this and more money was allocated. When he retired in 1887, the Board recorded their thanks to him for " the uniform assiduity and kindness with which he discharged the important duties in performing services of the Church of England and administrating spiritual consolation to the inmates of the workhouse."
Dore was lucky with its chaplain for twenty-three years. A new chaplain was sought by contacting local clergy to see if any were interested. The salary was still only £30 per annum. Only four answered the letter, two of whom expressed interest, the Reverend Sellon of Kentchurch and the Reverend Bevan of Vowchurch. Sellon was elderly and would probably have appointed a curate; the Reverend Bevan was given the job. On the whole, the lady who once wrote to Dore Guardians, from Cheltenham, saying she was anxious about the spiritual welfare of their vagrants, need not have worried too much.
Very important, and the best paid of the employees of the Board, were the doctors. Each district had a Medical Officer and one of these was also doctor to the workhouse. The first was Doctor Jenkins from London, preferred to Dr. Terry of Hereford who also applied for the post. The salary was £60 per annum. If special services were required, the doctor had to apply for extra payment; this was allowed for births and only if a doctor attended. How many non-workhouse mothers could afford medical attendance in the parishes of Dore Union in the Nineteenth Century? Dr. Jenkins asked for an extra allowance as he intended to remove a growth from an elderly man's penis, but he was told that the Board would only consider payment after the operation and according to the extent of its success. He was successful. All inmates had to be seen by the doctor on admission and had to stay in the receiving ward until this was done. The doctor had to agree to certain punishments. When Dore Board planned to confine some paupers who had refused to work, separately, in the Refractory Ward for twenty-four hours with only eight ounces of bread, the doctor was asked to certify in writing that no injury to health would accrue. He was often consulted and appeared concerned about diet. In 1851 he recommended an extra ounce of tea and one pound of sugar weekly, for some aged and infirm male inmates. Soon after, he persuaded the Board to give milk broth (up to three-quarters of a pint per child) to children between two and nine years instead of tea and gruel.
As was common in workhouses, and all institutions in Victorian times, various epidemics occurred, typhus in 1847 and again in 1852 when so many were smitten, including the matron, that the schoolmistress, Mrs. Griffiths, had to wash the linen. The Board appointed two women from outside to help temporarily and even gave Mrs. Griffiths a £3 gratuity and thanks for her " energetic exertions during the recent outbreak" . No doubt it was the 1847 outbreak of fever that led to criticism of the construction of hospital accommodation. As a result, the roof of the hospital rooms was raised to provide two new rooms over the existing ones, with a fireplace in each, raised chimneys and even upstairs plumbing. In the late 1870's another staircase was built from another room to make a separate ward for infectious illness. But in the 1890's a separate isolation hospital was built to comply with more advanced health regulations. This has now gone but its site in a field behind the workhouse is still visible. Inmates at Dore were cared for and deaths in times of epidemics were unusual. This was so, also, much later, when diphtheria broke out. The doctor vaccinated against smallpox and this kept Dore workhouse clear even when there were serious outbreaks in Hereford and Ross. The Guardians were some times concerned at Dr. Jenkins' readiness to give medical extras, especially at the quantity of ale and gin ordered for inmates.
Occasionally one of the Medical Officers was summoned to appear before the Board, to explain or answer complaints, mostly from out-relief paupers. More often the Clerk would write to the doctor on behalf of the Board. The doctor's books were scrutinised and not always said to be kept efficiently. In 1855 the Clerk was asked to write to " the Medical Gentlemen" requesting them to " enter in their weekly returns the complaints of paupers in plain terms and not in professional technical language, as far as they can" , The doctor of one district was accused of dishonesty in his accounts. Paupers cross-examined at Board Meetings declared visits and medicines recorded had not been received. The doctor, ordered to come before the Board, declared he was too unwell to do so. Steps were initiated to secure his dismissal, but the doctor died. The Board paid salary owing, to his widow, and we cannot tell if he was caught out or hounded. What we do know is that the Board watched every penny of expenditure at Dore. Bones, presumably from broth, were sold by the Master and the money handed to the Board; two shillings and seven pence found on a dead inmate was paid over; an inmate receiving a small legacy from a daughter in Australia had to forfeit it to cover past keep and when, late in the century, a Master asked for a small payment for playing the harmonium at services for several years, it was refused on the grounds that one of his children sometimes visited and had a meal in the workhouse. Yet the Board could be generous. In 1859 a hot water bed was ordered from London, costing eight guineas.
In the mid-century blue serge suits were ordered for the boys and men from London, but on the whole goods needed were bought locally, In the early days groceries came from Hall's (later Griffiths) in Widemarsh Street, Hereford, flour from Berrows, Hereford, meat from Constables in Hereford, clothing from Oakleys, Hereford, coffins from a carpenter in Ewyas Harold. In 1853, coal, at eighteen shillings and sixpence a ton, was collected from the wharf of the Tramway at Monmouth Cap by Mr. Morgan of Kerry's Gate, who had five shillings for transporting it. Goods from Hereford would come by van, there being from Hereford, two horse vans weekly to Ewyas Harold, two to Peterchurch and daily carriers to Abergavenny. However, when nearly ten pounds worth of furniture was bought, in 1850, in Hereford, for rooms for a new Master and Matron, a horse and cart was hired to fetch it, The coming of the railway in the mid-1850's made transport to the workhouse easier and the opening of the Golden Valley line in the 1880's even more so, A new cooking range, replacing that original one of 1839, came from Birmingham to Pontrilas, By 1890, nearly all contracts were going to Ewyas Harold where trade had developed with the help of these railways. Groceries and drapery, and even beds and cots went to the workhouse from Sydney Farr's (now G. and S. Salt's) while its meat was supplied by John Mailes, grandfather of the present owner of the butcher's shop in Ewyas Harold. Pigs were kept at the workhouse throughout the century, which was then a regular thing in most rural gardens in the district. From the accounts they seem to have been a source of income, to the Union, rather than of food, and they would have helped to see that there was no wastage in the institution. Some clothing still came from Hereford, from Higley's, and milk was bought from a neighbouring farm. It is not surprising that the Guardians recorded their protest at a proposal to close Bacton Station. Local masons and builders, along the route, were in constant demand for maintenance at the Dore workhouse.
The money to run workhouses came from the ratepayers of the parishes, each paying according to the number sent. Although it cost more to keep someone in the workhouse than to give out relief, so hard was it to qualify for either that rates were greatly reduced after the 1834 Poor Law Act, Churchwardens and overseers were still involved with the poor and local men were appointed as collectors to secure money due. These had to have someone to stand surety and this was usually a farmer in the parish. One collector did disappear with a considerable sum and the surety had to pay. In the early days of the Act a list was supposed. to be displayed every quarter, for three successive Sundays, on the parish Church door, naming all in the parish who had received help, either in or out of the workhouse, and stating the kind and amount. No reference to this being done is made in Vestry Books of Ewyas Harold or Abbey Dore, but it was certainly done at Ross. Some Dore Union parishes used the workhouse hardly at all. Interestingly, the parish that seemed to use it most was Abbey Dore itself. One can only speculate why. Villages in Victorian times were still literally very parochial, and the workhouse was part of Abbey Dore village; arranging for paupers to be brought from the more distant parishes could not have been easy and should they die, it was difficult to take them back to their own churchyard.
Probable layout of the workhouse during its last years
Who then were the inmates and how did they get sent to the workhouse? There was a very big turnover of inmates at Dore; several thousand must have sampled the place during Victoria's reign. Built originally for up to a hundred inmates at a time, Dore experienced very considerable alterations and repairs during the nineteenth century, the most extensive being in the early 1870's following a decision in the 1860's by the Commissioners that only sixty-eight inmates might be housed. Almost £3,000 was spent on extra building and improvements, in the course of which the present blue-brick chimneys replaced stone ones. Chick of Hereford, who in 1871 also rebuilt Kenderchurch in the area, was the architect, but the contractor for the actual buildings was James Bowers of Peterchurch, so the Board did help to create work locally. Inmates could leave at their own request and did frequently. Some went in and out, probably depending on health and availability of seasonal work. The all important Union employee who recommended entry was the relieving officer. Each Union district had one and Dore Union appointed local men who were bound to live in the area and do no other job. Some served many years. Mr. Price of Clodock served his District for over thirty years and his son was chosen by a large majority of the Board, from nine applicants from places such as Ludlow and Usk, to follow him. Relieving officers had to ask most searching questions concerning income of the whole family, possessions, rent, and to satisfy themselves that there was no adult child, even living away, to give support. Most who went into the workhouse at Dore, apart from tramps, were labourers or servants; many were aged and infirm. Some were described as imbecile (although mentally ill paupers were paid for by the Board at asylums) some were blind. Deserted wives went, but every effort was made to track down the husbands. Unmarried mothers, who in the 1840's were forced to have their hair cut short, were also there. Very few able-bodied men were admitted
Children often formed a big proportion of the inmates. There were many times when there could have been few able to work, and people from outside had to be employed to help. Inmates were recognised as belonging to one of several different categories admitted to workhouses, and these were not supposed to mingle. The separation of husbands and wives in workhouses caused considerable national outcry, especially by non-liberals at election times. As far as Dore was concerned, not many married couples seem to have been admitted. For example, the 1881 Census shows only one married couple, elderly, one blind, the other blind and deaf. There were then ninety inmates, including thirty-five children. Ten of the inmates were listed as imbeciles, three being children and one a woman of ninety-one. A few scandals reported in the minutes show that even some of the non-married were not entirely kept apart, so one wonders whether married couples at Dore suffered greatly in practice.
There is little documentary evidence concerning the work done by inmates. Traditionally this was oakum picking and stone breaking. There is one reference to tin work and one complaint from an inspector, of tins and fibre littering the privies. Apart from the vagrants, men seem to have worked out of doors, but on the site, and women to have been occupied with workhouse chores, though at times there were not enough inmates to do all the work required. The Board once suggested men should work nearby on the roads, but the Commissioners would not allow this. Another inspector criticised the drying of clothes on land where the men were working as this led to contact between men and the women doing the washing; he recommended the building of a laundry and drying room but the Board, sensibly, merely provided posts and a clothes line in the Girl's Yard.
The fact that a few habitual drunkards and very dirty people were admitted to the workhouse, especially in its early days, would have made it an object of dread to many, for the majority going into Dore Workhouse were listed as clean, or very clean. Another deterrent was having to exchange their own, for workhouse, clothes. Each inmate at Dore had a number sewn on their clothes so at least clothes were not communal. Unfortunately, no description of the clothes has come to light; they may at first have been the same as at Hereford, blue-print dresses and pinafores, nightwear of calico, striped cotton shirts, suits of army cloth, stays and spencers, black stockings, plaid caps or hats for males and caps and bonnets for females. In the 1840's, the Dore Board ordered frills, which had been put on the girls dresses, to be removed immediately. Somewhere in the building the inmates personal possessions must have been bundled up as they were returned when leaving the workhouse. This was a problem if clothes had had to be burnt. The Board did not think it should let people without clothes of their own depart in workhouse clothes, but over this question the Commissioners sided with the inmates. The most unpopular rule must surely have been that inmates might not leave the premises. Even the Master and Matron were not allowed away from the workhouse site for longer than two hours, a rule still in force at the end of Victoria's reign. This, at Dore, meant a very isolated life for employees.
Dore Union always appointed a married couple as Master and Matron. The first and almost the last were Herefordians but the others came from either the Midlands or the North. When Mr. and Mrs. Hughes resigned in 1850, the Brunskills, the Eatons, the Howells and the Grices all followed in quick succession during the next decade, going to bigger workhouses and less rural areas, the Brunskills to Cheltenham and the Eatons to Ledbury. Vacancies were advertised in Midland as well as Hereford papers. Although so close to the Welsh border and serving Grosmont and Llangua, Dore was very much a Herefordshire workhouse. Around 1860 the workhouse began a long settled and stable existence with a Mr. and Mrs. Johnson remaining for over thirty years, and eventually dying there. On the whole the wives seemed to be the stronger and more efficient characters, one or two masters being reprimanded at times whereas the matrons invariably had glowing testimonials. The last couple staying a length of time were very local, Mr. and Mrs. Wall. The Wall family had been farmer-millers at Rowlestone and Mrs. Wall was a daughter of Mr. Thomas Price, farmer of Elm Farm, a man greatly involved in local affairs. The Walls were thought highly of and descendants from the United States have crossed the Atlantic eager to visit the old workhouse in the Golden Valley
One category of inmates different from other Dore inmates were the vagrants. These were kept away from others, the stables at first being used. During the first fifty or so years of its existence Dore had a mere handful at a time, men and women, usually young, and probably on the road to the South Wales valleys. The census returns show miners, iron workers, bricklayers on the move, coming mostly from the Midlands. But by the 1880's, there was a pressing need for more room for vagrants and a new Tramp Ward was planned. Other workhouses were having to make such provision and D ore was influenced by Worcester Union which already had a cellular system and by Kington where the Dore Master had seen a circulating heating system. A stove and drying apparatus was planned for the coach house and stables, the brick floors were to be boarded and the draughty doors replaced and curtained. In 1889 plans were approved for ten cells for male tramps, leaving room at the lower end to extend if necessary, with a yard between cells and stables, a dayroom, bathroom and drying chamber, and communication with existing water-closets. In his cell the tramp had to break stones small enough to go through holes provided, in return for his night's lodging. One cell and its stone-breaking apparatus can still be seen at Dore. The vagrant fraternity soon became aware of the advantage of concentrating on one particular hole. Nevertheless, by 1889, stone-breaking tramps were producing a larger quantity than the District Council wanted. Making gravel, instead, from limestone, was discussed to save the Council from getting it from Clee Hills, but this was probably not done. The increased number of tramps was thought to be partly due to the hazards of seasonal work which attracted many from Wales and to the introduction of short-time service in the army.
Outside of the cells where
Inside of vagrants cell with holes
As the time drew near when the Guardians would stand, with bowed heads, expressing " heartfelt grief at the loss to the British Empire of our late Queen" what then was the general state of Dore workhouse and the attitude to the Poor Law of its Board? Apart from the vagrants, its inmates in the 1890's were not many, usually around fifty. In spite of this, following new trends, more were employed, an assistant matron, for example, coming all the way from Ormskirk. Inspectors were pressing for a trained nurse. Towards the end of the Crimea War the Board had merely read and noted a circular recommending the training of nurses. Always isolated, Dore would have been very different from urban workhouses, and unique as a Herefordshire one, as the others were in small towns or large nucleated villages.
However, in 1898, the Dore Union did join the Poor Law Unions Association. The next year, one representative was elected, Mr. H.E. Jones, who was to have his expenses to go to meetings in London.
More law-abiding than some of its neighbouring counterparts across the border (at least one Hay relieving officer being noted for hunting foxes rather than the destitute) it showed the common sense and quiet independence characteristic of the area. When higher and more central powers began to recommend more humane treatment for the aged and deserving poor, the Dore Guardians were able to claim " they have for a long time given adequate out relief and do not insist that Aged Deserving Persons shall be brought into the workhouse if they can be decently accommodated outside" . As for different classes of aged poor, all were of the same class, they argued, and they already gave the best rooms to the best cases. Isolation had had its advantages.
Pressed from outside to cut off Grosmont and Llangua from the Union and transfer them to a Monmouthshire Union the Guardians decided the matter ought to be put to Parish Council meetings. They stayed with Dore, this in spite of earlier grumblings from Grosmont about not having a medical officer resident in the village.
Asked in 1889 by a Parliamentary Commission if they approved of the idea of old-age pensions for poor of over sixty-five, provided they had insured against sickness and funeral expenses, and whether they approved of a new classification for paupers of that age who were reduced to destitution, without immoral or unworthy conduct on their part, the Board gave unanimous approval to both suggestions. When a newly formed Dietary Committee of the Local Government Board wanted to impose alterations in diet, the Board and the workhouse doctor were not afraid to have their say, regarding Dore. Dr. Thain lived at Island House, Ewyas Harold and there on January 5th, 1901, he sat down and penned a letter which the Board recorded in their Minutes.
January 5th, 1901
To the Chairman of the Dore Board of Guardians
I beg to state that I have carefully gone over the old and the new and suggested Dietary forms and beg to make comments thereon.
The proposed one appears to be very suitable, but several things require explanation. How are the children to get their hot dinners seeing they attend Abbeydore School? One thing I consider requires to be protested against. The food is excellent but I see no drink at dinners. Cold water is a sickly thing to have to drink, especially for agricultural people used to cider. They are apt to drink too little and thus digestion is not carried out, and as the old people's teeth are very bad, I think for children " tea-water" , and for adults some cider should be given to assist digestion. I also consider minced meat better if used more often. I pointed out to the Inspector that the tongues of all the inmates were fouler than the tongues of the same class outside. Roast beef and roast pork with no grinders, need better drink than water.
Again between dinner and breakfast there is only one meal to break the long fast. I believe the men would be much more contented to have a jug of toast and cider before going to bed.
The chief plan is that a dining room is imperative, a larger kitchen, a large range and a much larger scullery are required. The cooking and serving staff is too small. The dinner hour will be terribly prolonged and the meat has to be returned to the oven in winter. Something should be done to lessen Sunday cooking by having a boil in place of a roast and allow the weary cooks to have some rest, the same as the other workers. I cannot see the propriety of issuing impracticable orders. New arrangements should first be made and then the new dietary used. City workhouses can effect the change. I am sure Dore Workhouse could not do so at present.
I am, Sir,
Your Obedient Servant,
M.O. of the Workhouse.
Regarding the cider, the Guardians replied that they had " no power to order anything of the kind" but pointed out that the doctor could order alcoholic beverage for the health of any inmate. Dr. Thain would probably not be displeased to see his horse croft today, in Ewyas Harold. The once pleasant meadow, across the Dulas Brook, from his house, where grazed the horses that took him on his rounds, including many visits to the workhouse, now houses the elderly in neat bungalows in sheltered accommodation run by South Herefordshire District Council.
The workhouse system as set up in 1834, and modified from time to time, was ended in 1929. After then, there was no such thing, officially, as a workhouse. In actual fact many of the buildings continued to care for the aged and poor as Public Assistance Institutions run by the County Councils. This happened at Dore, but it is clear from recollections of local people that it was still thought of as " the Workhouse" . In 1935 the County Council informed the Dore and Bredwardine District Council that it intended to dispose of the buildings and asked for suggestions concerning their use. Conversion into workmen's cottages, a Holiday Home for Children run by the London County Council, an Isolation Hospital and use as a sanatorium for advanced T .B. cases were all seriously discussed, but by the time war broke out, in 1939, nothing had yet been decided. Some of the furniture, however, had been removed, by agreement, to the District Council Office at Urishay House, Peterchurch. During the Second World War part of the workhouse building was used as a tractor factory, by the firm of Chalmers, after the war the buildings and site were bought by Mr. Woodhouse, who turned them into a number of cottage dwellings, opening up the far yard and dividing up the large rooms of the former workhouse. Since then, his grandson, Mr. R. Tong, has converted these cottages into " Riverdale" , as it is today, an attractive group of modem residences set in the heart of the Golden Valley.
The story of Dore Workhouse is well recorded in the Minutes of its Guardians, which also give many glimpses of social conditions, in general in South West Herefordshire, in Victorian times. The Minutes reflect changing attitudes regarding hygiene and health standards of buildings and safety. No mention of fire precautions is made until the lack of them was mentioned by an Inspector in the 1880's. Then the Board of Guardians reacted by buying a ladder. Before the present conversion, Bell Cottage (see plan) was indeed destroyed by fire and this year, 1984, the old Coach House was entirely burnt, and, probably only the promptness and skill of today's fire brigade saved the fire from spreading, though, sadly, many plans and documents relating to the recent rebuilding have been lost. The Guardians, by the end of the Century were looked on as a reliable source of information about all kinds of local matters. In 1889 a letter came from the Ordnance Survey Department asking them to name a competent, local gentleman who could be referred to for correct spelling of Welsh names in the district. They answered, four months later naming Mr. Morgan, the schoolmaster at Newton. This, surely, even shows a changed attitude of the Board to the status of a school teacher. Referring to the agricultural depression of the late nineteenth century, the Dore Guardians claimed that their area had suffered as much, if not more, than any Union in the County. It was certainly a district of considerable poverty at the end of Queen Victoria's reign. Of this, the local doctors were well aware. When, in 1900, a Report on the Workhouse recommended improvements and the appointment of a resident, fully-trained nurse, Dr. Thain, although promising to go into various matters claimed " there could be no doubt that so far as food, warmth and general comfort went, an inmate of Dore Workhouse is immeasurably better situated than nine-tenths of the outdoor poor" . Nevertheless elderly local people today remember the old workhouse as a place to be dreaded, and a disgrace. To be institutionalised was no more popular then, than it is today. Throughout its history, there is no record of cruelty or excessive harshness at Dore. Mr. and Mrs. T. Richardson, of the Gables at Riverdale, found an old-fashioned child's shoe in their attic. Whoever the unknown wearer was, certainly it was not Oliver Twist.
Acknowledgements are due to the following:-
The Staff of Hereford and Worcester Record Office
The Residents of Riverdale, especially Mr. & Mrs. Tong and Mr. & Mrs. J. Strickland
Members of Ewyas Harold Study Group, especially Mr. T. Brown and Mr. E. Reece, and
our ex-Tutor Organiser, Jean O'Donnell, Mr. & Mrs. J. Miller, Mrs. M. Evans and
Mr. W. Herbert.
Minute Books of Dore Union Guardians 1837 – 1929
Admission Books 1839 – 1901
Census Returns for 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1881
Minute Books of Hereford Union 1836 – 1840
Instructions for Poor Law Relieving Officers
Minute Books of Herefordshire County Council 1920's and 1930's
All the above are in Herefordshire Record Office.
Poor Law in Hereford 1836 - 1851 by Sylvia Morrill
in Transactions of The Woolhope Naturalists Field Club - Volume XLI 1974
E. Pitts Fenton: Model Rules, Regulations and Duties for Officers and Servants of Workhouses. Infirmaries, Schools, Cottage Homes and Receiving Homes