To provide a broad perspective on the demographics of the children who entered workhouses in the 18th century, we provide for you statistics on the St. Marylebone Workhouse from 1769 to 1781.
Age and Gender
First we will view the ages of children who entered the workhouse.
As we can see from the above chart, the majority of people entering the workhouse were children. Among the children, the majority were 10 to 13 years of age. Although adult pauper women outnumbered men, the gender of children paupers was almost equally spread between boys and girls.
Accompanied or Alone
Secondly, we will look at how children entered the workhouse. Were they alone or accompanied, and if the latter, by whom?
Only 4% of the children entered workhouses with both parents. Usually these cases involved the father falling ill or being unable to work, so he brought his family to the workhouse. 39.5% of children entered with one parent – usually the mother. 33.7% entered completely alone, and 10.8% entered with a sibling. 10.6% were babies left at the workhouse, 1.4% were unspecified.
Why Children Entered
Thirdly, we will look at what reasons were documented for the entry of these children to the workhouse.
77.8% of children entered the workhouse due to poverty. 8.5% of children entered due to sickness. Sicknesses included smallpox, venereal disease, itch, and fever. 4.4% of children entered on return from parish wet nurses. 1.8% were returning from failed apprenticeships. Some of these children had run away from their masters. 1.5% had been abandoned by family. 1% had been orphaned.
Why Children Left
Lastly, we will examine the reasons that were documented by workhouse officials for the exit of children from the workhouse
The above chart is divided under age groups. As we can see, a disturbingly high number of children simply died. The age group of 1 and under sees nearly 1/3 of the infants “leaving” actually dying. Children from 5 to 13 were often apprenticed out, but as we know from the previous chart, many of these apprenticeships failed and the children returned. More than 10% of children older than 13 ran away. The majority of children were simply discharged.
Written by Danya Majeed
Alysa Levene (2008) Children, Childhood and the Workhouse: St Marylebone, 1769–1781, The London Journal, 33:1, 41-59.