Sunday, 5 June 2016

George Hodson and the Loughborough Union Workhouse

Last week I shared some information about the Loughborough Union Workhouse with you, that was prompted by a visit to Southwell Workhouse. This week's post (which was where last week's was headed but didn't quite make it!) is about the workhouse, George Hodson, a tramp and the Zeppelin raid of 31 January 1916.

The Loughborough Union Workhouse was built to a design by George Gilbert Scott and W. Bonython Moffatt in 1838. Whether the building wasn't big enough, or whether there was an increase or change in "inmate", George Hodson designed an extension to the workhouse, in about 1874. This was built specifically to accommodate vagrants. If I've understood this correctly, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 did not cater for vagrants, because this was regarded as a matter for the police. However, in around 1837, under a new regulation, workhouses could offer help to vagrants if their need was urgent, and after this, accommodation for vagrants became an integral part of the design of newer workhouses.

The Union Workhouse in Loughborough, having been built in 1838, then needed a wing especially for vagrants, and this is what George Hodson designed around 1874. Hodson was a surveyor of the local Board of Health, and in 1906 was responsible for designing the gravity dam at the Blackbrook Reservoir.

Sorry, back to vagrants! This purpose-built vagrant extension block would have been very basic, even more so than the rest of the workhouse. In the early days of such accommodation, loose straw may have been provided as a bed, or there may have been low hammocks, and people coming to the workhouse for such help would have had to queue from late afternoon onwards, and even then might not have got a place for the night. However, around 1870 a new design was taking hold, which was based on a single vagrant using a sleeping cell (perhaps with a fold-up bed) and this would have possibly led through to a work room. Given that Loughborough's vagrant accommodation was constructed in about 1874, then it seems likely that this built to the new cellular design.

Possessions of things like alcohol, tobacco and money would have been confiscated if found on the vagrant, although sometimes ways were found around this! 

Like other people in the workhouse, the vagrant would be expected to wear workhouse clothing, and would be given a nightshirt after having bathed, and whilst their own clothes were being fumigated. A meal was provided, and the vagrant would not be allowed out of the workhouse until the following morning. After about 1882, when the Casual Poor Act was passed, workhouses could keep vagrants in for two nights, and they would be expected to do a day's work (for example, stone crushing or oakum picking) before being let out. If the work being done was stone crushing, the stones would have to be crushed small enough to pass through the grilles in the door to the work room used by the vagrant.
At Loughborough workhouse on the evening of 31 January 1916, a vagrant was admitted who had somehow been caught up in the Zeppelin bombings earlier that evening. Although a register of the inhabitants of the workhouse was kept, and "inmates" were listed, for example, in the census returns, it appears that records of vagrants coming to the workhouse are sparse, so it is almost impossible to know who was in the vagrant part of the workhouse, and when or how often they were there. 

According to Mr G. Walsh*:

"There is a want of uniformity as regards detention and the task of work in the various casual wards, and it is worthy of notice that at Loughborough, where the guardians after a short trial of two nights' detention, decided to revert to a one night's detention only, the number of vagrants has increased from 10,751 in 1906 to 12,058 in 1907."

So, who the vagrant who was admitted to the workhouse was I don't know, and given the numbers admitted, it would be almost impossible to find out. Nonetheless, it would be very interesting to find out, and learn what he actually experienced on that dreadful night. So, if you have any more information, I'd love to hear from you!

Below are some pictures of Southwell Workhouse. This was built some time before Loughborough's but it gives you an idea of what such places were like. I haven't been able to track down any online pictures of the workhouse, but there is a picture of the Boardroom, and of the Loughborough Board of Guardians: I think the doorway of Southwell Workhouse is very similar to the Loughborough one. 
The entrance to Southwell Workhouse

Drying racks, possibly for vagrant's clothes?

Stone crushing yard at Southwell Workhouse

Down below stairs at Southwell Workhouse

Down below stairs at Southwell Workhouse

The separate yards at Southwell Workhouse
* Mr G. Walsh reporting on the situation in Leicestershire, Lincolnshire etc., in 1907. In: Dawson, William Harbutt (1910). The vagrancy problem: the case for measures of restraint for tramps, loafers, and unemployables. Westminster: P.S. King & Son.



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If you have found this post interesting or have any questions about any of the information in it do please leave a comment below. I might not be able to answer immediately, but I will reply as soon as possible. Thanks for reading the blog.