Printed rules for Meriden workhouse from the early 19th century survive in the care of Warwickshire County Record Office.1 The rules describe the role of the governor and mistress who were both to live in and never to be absent together, which must have been tiresome for a married couple. The governor was in overall charge and was to provide flax, hemp and wool together with spinning wheels and looms to employ the poor. The goods made were sold for the benefit of the workhouse; the inmates received a small payment in recognition of their work and the governor took 5% of the profits ‘as encouragement’. The mistress was in charge of the domestic arrangements; she was to make sure the place was clean, windows opened every morning and all fires and candles extinguished at night. Women and girls in the workhouse were to be employed in washing, cooking, cleaning and mending clothes as well as their work of spinning for profit.
The children were taught to read, but not to write unless the visitors and guardians wanted this. The intention was presumably that they should be able to read the bible, but not get ideas above their station. They were to learn the catechism, religious principles and ‘general decency and good behaviour’. However, they were only to have two hours of schooling, so they could work most of the day.
The surgeon or apothecary
He was to examine paupers on admission, to ensure that no-one with an infectious disease was taken in, and visit the workhouse at least once a week. His role was to administer medicines, advise on diet and make a monthly report to the guardians of the poor.
Those who could no longer maintain themselves and any children were to be admitted. They had to apply to the Guardian of their parish, or the Visitor or a Justice of the Peace. The paupers had to be clean and decently clothed, with a change of clothes provided by their parish of origin. The casual poor were to be admitted, with expenses paid by their parish of origin, or the county if no parish could be identified.
No child under the age of seven was to be accepted without the permission of their parents and the Guardians of the poor. Children in the workhouse could be placed with a respectable person in their parish to care for them, who was paid a weekly allowance; the Visitor was to check that they were being well treated. When old enough they were to be apprenticed or placed as servants.
The Meriden union originally included 18 parishes. The workhouse was built on Maxstoke Lane in 1793 and enlarged in 1836 following the new Poor Law Act of 1834. Plans to turn it into an isolation hospital in 1930 were cancelled; it became a Public Assistance Institution then a County Welfare Institution and finally ‘The Firs’ old people’s home and hospital. The building has now been demolished but a 1900s photo can be seen on this website. A collection of records including minutes and accounts can be consulted at the Warwickshire County Record Office, together with plans of the alterations that have been made over a period of around a hundred years.2 If you have memories or photographs of the building we would love to hear from you.
1 Meriden workhouse rules. Warwickshire County Record Office reference DR613/198/1, 1810.
2 See: Meriden Union records (Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR51/187-257); plans of the workhouse and successors (Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR1535, 1868-1960).