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The most powerful statements about the poor in Britain were written by people who had influence over them at the time. They reveal prevalent conditions and social attitudes better than any description we could write today.

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Some of the most powerful statements about the poor in Britain were written by people who had influence over them at the time. Their comments reveal more about the prevalent conditions and social attitudes than anything we could ever write today. Even through the 20/20 lens of history, these are often shocking.

“Sometimes twenty persons of both sexes, all ages and various degrees of nakedness, sleep indiscriminately huddled together upon the floor. These dwellings are so damp, filthy and ruinous that no one could wish to keep his horse in one of them.”
JC Symons

“An immense number of the houses of the poorer sorts are unprovided with drains of any kind. The inhabitants, therefore, are compelled to get rid of their fluid refuse, by throwing it on the garden, yards, or streets.”
Dr Hector Gavin

“The smells and exhalations from a dead body are quite as offensive, and deleterious, as those from a dead ox or horse, before attention shall be bestowed on the evil effects which arise from neglecting to provide appropriate places for the decomposition of the remains of the human species.”
Commission into the interment of cadavers

“If the seasons are favourable, and typhus does not bring death to almost every door, then influenza and scarlatina fill the workhouses with the families of the sick.”
Morning Post, London, Sept 24th 1849

“We saw a little child … lower a tin can with a rope to fill a large bucket that stood beside her. After it has rested for a day or two, she skims the fluid from the particles of filth, sewage, and disease and drinks it.”
Report on Jacob’s Island, London

“The Poor Laws are a check upon industry, a reward for improvident marriage, a stimulus to increased population, a national provision for discouraging the honest, and industrious; and protect the lazy, vicious and improvident.”
Review of the Poor Law, 1832

“None will enter [a workhouse] voluntarily; work, confinement and discipline will deter the indolent and vicious and nothing but extreme necessity will induce any to accept the comfort which must be obtained by the surrender of their free agency and the sacrifice of their accustomed habits and gratifications.”
New Poor Law 1834

“Nature must be allowed to take its course. The population of the poor will then naturally reduce due to their own vicious customs, unwholesome manufactures, pestilence and war.”
Thomas Malthus

“The poor is hated even by his neighbour; the rich have many friends.”
Proverbs 14:20

“Society commits social murder. It knows how injurious are conditions to the health of the poor yet does nothing. As such, it is not manslaughter, but murder.”
F Engels

“A workhouse must be made a House of Terror, and not an asylum for the poor where they may be plentifully fed, warmly and decently clothed and where they do but little work. In this House of Terror, the poor shall work 14 hours in a day.”

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Wordcatcher Publishing


Wordcatcher History


HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain / Victorian Era (1837-1901)




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