Mangotsfiled Local History February 2020

January 29 2020

Falling on hard times in the 19th century Historian and Mangotsfield Residents Association member David Blackmore continues his history of the village's workhouses with a look at the end of the poor relief system

Falling on hard times in the 19th century

BY the early 19th century the system of poor relief, introduced in the reign of Elizabeth I, was breaking down completely as the number of hungry mouths to feed increased.
In the Mangotsfield parish, by 1801, there were 2,497 inhabitants; by 1831 the population had increased to 3,508.
Savings were made by cutting back or stopping some paupers' pay. Second-hand shoes were issued and dog owners were barred from relief.
In January 1801 a third of paupers' pay was replaced with a food ration, including peas and beef from Bristol market. The Napoleonic wars had seen the cost of grain rise by almost 400%, so a cheaper alternative to bread had to be found to feed poor children. Ann 'Nanny' Jones, then in charge of the Poorhouse children, was allowed a sack of potatoes for them.
The average annual poor-rate was 7s 0d per head of the population. It was paid for by local taxes on the middle and upper classes, and there was a suspicion among some of them that they were paying the poor to be lazy and avoid work.
With churchwardens legally responsible for residents who moved to another parish and having to take them back if they became unemployed, any poor family moving into Mangotsfield without a certificate from their own parish would be forced to move back. Vagrants were passed on to another parish, especially pregnant women, whose children would become a charge on the parish. A surprising number of unknown strangers died while passing through.
Always looking at saving money, the parish spared the cost of buying a new plot of land for burials by turning the poorhouse garden into a graveyard from 1802, for burying inmates whose families could or would not organise funerals for them. The burial would be in the cheapest possible coffin and usually in an unmarked grave,
into which several coffins might be placed. Pauper funerals were often without mourners as, despite repeated invitations, the inmates always declined to attend funerals.
In 1833 the parish vestry finally decided that Mangotsfield’s existing workhouse needed replacing. New trustees were approved the following year and the new Mangotsfield Workhouse was built in 1835, at a cost of £1,100, with the old building in Mangotsfield Street (St James Street) sold for £240.
The second Mangotsfield Workhouse was “on three acres of land alloted on Mangotsfield Common”, bounded by Windsor Place, Richmond Street and Mangotsfield Street (St James Street). The foundations of the building are likely to now be in the back gardens of houses in Richmond Road and Balmoral Court.
The daily routine for Poorhouse inmates, as prescribed by the Poor Law Commissioners in 1835, saw them rise at 6am, work from 7am until noon and then 1pm until 6pm in spring and summer, rising an hour later in autumn and winter. There were three meals a day and bedtime was 8pm.
On Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day no work was done, except the necessary household work and cooking.
A new Poor Law was introduced in 1834 to ensure that the poor were housed in workhouses, clothed and fed. Children who entered the workhouse would receive some schooling. In return, all workhouse paupers would have to work for several hours each day. People could now only get help if they were prepared to live in a workhouse.
In 1836 Mangotsfield became part of the Keynsham Union of amalgamated parishes under the new Poor Law. A new poorhouse was completed in Keynsham in 1837, leaving the second Mangotsfield Workhouse redundant by 1842, when it was put up for sale.
The building was let out as tenements but by 1885 the parish vestry was told that the building was falling to pieces and beyond economic repair. Demolition was suggested but the building was still standing when the vestries were disbanded in 1894.
Discussions continued among the parish council and occasional repairs were made over the next 20 years, until in 1915 it was finally decided to demolish the building.
Despite this, a family of three adults and six children was still living there as demolition took place, ignoring a notice to leave and eventually being prosecuted for child neglect. A police constable who visited said the premises “were not fit for pigs to live in”.
It would be another 12 years before anything was done with the site, with Mangotsfield Urban Council voting in May 1927 to build eight houses on the centre of the old poorhouse land, with more following over the rest of the 1920s and 1930s, changing the village forever.