Philanthropic Interest in Child Paupers

Children at Crumpsall Workhouse, ca. 1897. Manchester Archives.

The upper classes took an interest in workhouses as an occasional charitable involvement.  The National Association for the Promotion of Social Science established The Workhouse Visiting Society in 1840.  This was an avenue for wealthy individuals with a taste for social work to provide workhouse children with periodic enjoyment opportunities, without having to change the problematic structural violence inherent in the workhouse “solution” to paupers.

The Workhouse Visiting Society published articles in their journal after each such publicizes event.  Events included ‘Christmas Day in the Workhouse’ published in 1859 and ‘A Railway Trip for the Workhouse Children’ published in 1863.

Upper class members of society who visited the workhouse petitioned for an overall improvement of moral character in the child inmates.  In particular, it was greatly feared that young girls would be attracted towards prostitution as a steady income.  The Rt. Hon. Mrs. Emmeline Way, founding member of The Workhouse Visiting Society, petitioned the Select Committee on Poor Relief in 1861 to keep girls away from “women of bad character” lest they fall into the same licentious ways. (Crompton, 44)


Children, Crumpsall Workhhouse, ca. 1897. Manchester Archives.

However, while these philanthropists were ever ready to suggest ways to improve moral behavior, they were expressly forbidden from interfering in the workhouse regulations which contributed to the physical and mental deterioration of the inmates.  They were allowed to converse with the children but “not to listen to, or mention, complaints from any of the inmates, or to interfere in any manner with the management of the workhouse.” (Crompton, 45)  In certain institutions, such as Bromsgrove in 1861, such visitors were not even allowed to speak with the children at all.

The Medical Officers of Health whose duty was to promote the well being of workhouse inmates and those of similar stature realized that certain conditions inherent to the workhouse structure perpetuated disease.  In the London MOH Report of 1852, the officers advocate “begging them (the visitors) to communicate with your officers on every occasion when any local uncleanliness or nuisance may come to their knowledge.”

Written by Danya Majeed


Crompton, Frank. Workhouse Children. Sutton Publishing, 1997.

Medical Officer of Health Report: City of London 1852 Wellcome Library. Accessed April 12, 2016.