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Education in the Barwick Workhouse

Barwicker No 2
June 1986

An account1 has been written, by the author, of the history of the Barwick workhouse, from, its construction in 1781 as the Barwick town workhouse, through the years from 1822 to 1869 as the workhouse of the Barwick Gilbert Incorporation and from 1869 to 1672 as the Tadcaster Poor Law Union Workhouse. The account contains little information about the education of the children in the workhouse.

The census returns2 for the workhouse show that in June 184l there were 9 children of school age (5-10 years old) and in March 1851 there were 12 children referred to as scholars. In a parliamentary report of 18453, the Rector of Barwick and Visitor of the workhouse, the Rev. W.H. Bathurst, reported that the children were instructed by one of the paupers, "the only schoolteachers we have, and a very good one".

Recently studied sources have provided more evidence concerning the education of the workhouse children in the mid-nineteenth century. There is no relevant information in the Account Book4, which begins in 1822, until the following item:

"December 1844. Thos.Poulter for teaching the children in the house £0.10.0."

Whether Thomas Poulter was the pauper referred to above is not known. There was no-one of that name in the 1841 or 1851 census. The next entry is not until a year later.

"December 1845. Schoolmaster. 4 weeks wages £0.14.0."

Such payments of 3/6d. a week occur in the Account Book until the end of the book in April 1848. The sum does not vary, although the number of children taught must have varied in this period. 3/6d. a week cannot have bought much education. It seems likely that the children were taught for some short period each week, either in the workhouse or in Barwick.

On 19th. May 1848, the Board of Guardians of the workhouse accepted a set of workhouse rules5 issued by the Poor Law Board in London. This allowed the 1ocal Inspector of Schools to visit the workhouse and examine the children. An item in the Resolutions of the Board of Guardians shows that he made an offer which the Guardians refused.

"l3th.April 1849. A representation from Mr.Browne, Inspector of Schools, having been brought before the Guardians intimating that the salary of a schoolmaster would be paid by the government if a proper school room were provided together with the accommodation for the teacher. Resolved that the mode of instruction be continued as before without alteration."

It is a pity that they did not give us more details of this mode of instruction. Whatever it was, it did not impress Mr. Browne.

"31st Jan.1850.
I have examined the children, but regret to say that they are in a low state as respects their education. It is of the utmost importance that they should be wholly separated from adult paupers. There is abundant evidence to prove the evil effects of such association in workhouses, especially to young girls.

T. B. Browne.
H.M.Inspector of Schools.
I beg to recommend that half a dozen copies of the ~rd. and 4th. Irish reading books and one copy of Tate's Arithmetic be provided for the use of the children."

It was the practice in the workhouse of the new poor law unions, set up after the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, to separate husbands from wives, and children from parents. This was one of the devices used to make life in these new workhouses hard, monotonous and degrading, in order to deter all but the most desperate from seeking relief there. Mr.Browne was attempting to justify what we would consider a cruel practice. The Board of Guardians felt obliged to make some moves in the direction indicated by the Inspector.

"lst. February 1850. The recommendation of Mr.Browne having been taken into consideration. it was resolved that the Boys be placed in the first room on the women's side of the house with a respectable old man or two, and the Girls in the next room with a steady woman to overlook them, the remainder of the women occupying the third room."

These changes required the moving of a staircase, the blocking up of one doorway and the opening of a new one. The books recommended by Mr.Browne were purchased at the expense of the union.

Mr.Browne's next report gives some details of the curriculum but records little progress.

"21st. January 1852. I am sorry to say that the children here did not pass a satisfactory examination this day. I cannot speak favourably either of their reading, writing, spelling, religious knowledge or arithmetic. It is very desirable that the boys should be employed in fieldwork if practicable. I fear that the complete separation of t h e children from the adult paupers is not possible in this workhouse."

The Guardians took action.

"6th. February 1852. Ordered that such children as are able to go to Barwick attend daily at the parish school there for instruction."

The results did not satisfy Mr.Browne. His views on interest and understanding must have seemed very progressive in the mid-nineteenth century.

"9th. February 1853. I have examined the children and regret to say that. they are excessively ignorant and thoughtless. No practical results can be expected unless children's minds are interested in their work, and they are led to understand what they read. I find that the girls and the female inmates sleep in the same room. This arrangement is very objectionable and must lead to the corruption of the girls."

Two months later, the Guardians decided to make additions to the workhouse to provide separate sleeping accommodation for the boys and girls. Plans were drawn up, tenders were sought and accepted, and the additions made. The cost was met by trebling the rate paid by the townships.

In 1852. the Rector of Barwick and Visitor of the workhouse, the Rev. W.H. Bathurst, resigned and was replaced in both situations by the Rev. C.A. Hope. The change had an effect on the education of the children.

"3rd.February 1854. It was this day agreed between the Guardians and the Rev. Mr. Hope that the pauper children in the workhouse shall in future be educated at his school at Barwick at the rate of 3d. per week exclusive of writing materials."

Mr.Browne's reports seemed a little more optimistic.

"12th. October 1854. The children were still in a low state and their attainments are very limited, but they appear to have improved since my last visit. I was glad to find that arrangements are in progress for the better classification of inmates."
"l0th. May 1855. I have again examined the children who appear to be making fair progress, although they are by no means as yet in an advanced state. I think that they have improved since my last visit."

It is a pity that they did not give us more details of this code of instruction. Whatever it was, it did not impress Mr. Browne.

"29th. April l856(?) The attainments of the children who go out of school were but moderate. One boy answered some simple questions and also a girl who recently left, school. The others showed very little intelligence "

These extracts show a firm and increasing commitment of resources to the education of the children in the workhouse. Mr. Browne's reports show that success was limited, but in nineteenth century England many children had no schooling at all. It was not unti1 1872 that the law required that a school boards should be set up in all districts to provide elementary education, and not until 1880 that education for all 5-10 year olds was made compulsory.

Arthur Bantoft

(1) The Relief of the Poor in the Tadcaster Area in the Eighteenth and nineteenth Centuries . Parts 1 and 2. Author: Arthur Bantoft.
(Available from the Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society).

(2) Barwick Census Returns. Leeds City Library.

(3) Report of the Select Committee on the Gilbert Unions.
British Parliamentary Papers. 1845. X111
(4) Barwick Gilbert Union. Workhouse Accounts and Resolutions or Guardians. M.S.892. Yorkshire Archaeological Society.
(5) Issue of Workhouse Rules to Barwick-in-Elmet Incorporation. 19th.May 1848. Q.E.5. 56. West Riding Archive Service Headquarters, Registry of Deeds, Newstead Rd., Wakefield Back to the top
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