Regular readers of my blog know that I often draw inspiration from the British Newspaper Archives. This does involve a small subscription, however, you can search and view a permitted three articles for free here.
As it is the season of goodwill, I decided to share with you part of a report published on Christmas Day 1840 showing the festive food the poor of London were offered.
In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act set up new union workhouses. The Poor Law Commissioners dictated that no extra festive fare was to be offered to the inmates of the workhouses. However, by 1840 the rules were relaxed somewhat, as long as the union did not foot the bill and the funds to accommodate treats were donated privately.
‘Celebration of Christmas Day Amongst the Poor Inmates of the Metropolitan and Suburban Workhouses’
‘For the last two years the readers of the Standard have had laid before them an accurate account of the treatment of the pauper poor, who are inmates of the various workhouses in and around the metropolis, and notwithstanding the mandate of the Poor-law Commissioners, prohibiting a continuance of the extra allowance of food on that day usually given to them, it is a gratifying to state, with one or two exceptions, that through the kindness of the guardians and the liberality of the inhabitants of those parishes under the domination of the New Poor-law, and in defiance of such mandate, the poor will not go without a Christmas dinner.
‘The following report will be found to detail succinctly the treatment of the poor, both old and young, the nature and quantity of the food they will receive on this day of universal festivity, and any extra luxuries they may be indulged with, in the metropolitan and suburban workhouses. The number of paupers in each workhouse is specified and compared at the end of the report.
‘St Marylebone Workhouse – Paupers therein this day, 1661 (last Christmas Day there were but 1558, making an increase this year of 103, of whom there are – adult males, 394; adult females, 735; boys, 224; girls, 146; infants, 162. Christmas Day fare – adults, 6 ounces of roast beef, 1lb of potatoes, 1lb of plum-pudding, one pint of porter, 1oz of tea, 1/4 lb of sugar, with tobacco, snuff etc. each at the option of the adults. Children similar food without limitation, and in the evening oranges, apples and sweetmeats. The out-door poor, amounting to 3279, an additional allowance of bread.
The report in the Standard lists multiple other London workhouses and the inmates within, including:
‘St Pancras Workhouse 1194 (last year but 1116, showing an increase this year of 78). They were allowed ‘8 ounces of roast beef free from bone, potatoes and greens, 1lb of plum-pudding, 1 pint of porter, tea, sugar, butter, tobacco, and snuff for the adults in the evening. Sweetmeats and 2d. [2 pence] each to the children, subscribed for by the board of directors.
‘St Giles’s-in-the-Fields and St George, Bloomsbury – Poor therein 673 (last year showing a decrease of 27).’ The inmates at St Giles’s were allowed a similar amount of beef and vegetables to the inmates at St Pancras, but only 8 ounces of plum-pudding; the adults were permitted 1 pint of porter and the children half a pint each.’
St Mary, Lambeth – total including 457 children at Norwood, 1270. It was noted that ‘nearly all of the adults were elderly and infirm whose ages averaged between 60 – 90 years old. Their fare, supplied at the expense of the board of guardians and respectable inhabitants, the order of the Poor-law Commissioners prohibiting it out of the parish funds, is 6oz of dressed baked beef, 1lb baked potatoes, 1lb of plum-pudding, and 1 pint of porter each; tea, sugar, and other refreshments. The increase since last year is 13 adults and 57 children.
‘St Luke’s, Old Street – Inmates, 744 (last year 820, showing a decrease of 76). Adult males, 182; females, 333; boys, 145; girls, 84. Fare 6oz of roast beef, 12oz of potatoes, 1lb of plum-pudding, and 1 pint of ale each adult; children, at discretion. In addition to the above number, there are 40 infants at Southgate.
‘St James’s, Westminster – Inmates, 503 (last year 500, increase 3). Adult males, 178; females, 292; children, 33. There are also 100 infant poor at Chiswick. Upwards of 300 of the adults are from 60 to 95 years of age. Fare 8oz of baked beef, without bone, 1lb of plum-pudding, 13oz of bread, 10oz of potatoes, 1 pint of porter, and 1 pint of table ale. Holidays allowed on the Saturday and Monday following.’
Around 30 other workhouses were reported in the Standard, the newspaper noting the Christmas menus of each institution and those that had failed to reply, including Brentford and Uxbridge Unions, to the request for information. It revealed that ‘upwards of 30,000 of our fellow-creatures will be furnished with the staple fare of Old England this day.’
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