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Author Topic: Christmas Day in the Workhouse  (Read 4071 times)

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Offline sheppey_bottles

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Re: Christmas Day in the Workhouse
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2014, 16:43:17 »
Thanks for that grandarog a very interesting read.... it certainly makes you think doesn't it. My God how lucky we are today with our welfare systems.

Offline grandarog

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Re: Christmas Day in the Workhouse
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2014, 19:00:38 »
I think this poem paints a more realistic picture of Christmas in the Workhouse.

Christmas day in the Workhouse (1903) (A Poem by George R. Sims, 1847-1922)

It is Christmas Day in the workhouse,
And the cold, bare walls are bright
With garlands of green and holly,
Ad the place is a pleasant sight;
For with clean-washed hands and faces,
In a long and hungry line
The paupers sit at the table,
For this is the hour they dine.

And the guardians and their ladies,
Although the wind is east,
Have come in their furs and wrappers,
To watch their charges feast;
To smile and be condescending,
Put pudding on pauper plates.
To be hosts at the workhouse banquet
They've paid for — with the rates.

Oh, the paupers are meek and lowly
With their "Thank'ee kindly, mum's!'"
So long as they fill their stomachs,
What matter it whence it comes!
But one of the old men mutters,
And pushes his plate aside:
"Great God!" he cries, "but it chokes me!
For this is the day she died!"

The guardians gazed in horror,
The master's face went white;
"Did a pauper refuse the pudding?"
"Could their ears believe aright?"
Then the ladies clutched their husbands,
Thinking the man would die,
Struck by a bolt, or something,
By the outraged One on high.

But the pauper sat for a moment,
Then rose 'mid silence grim,
For the others had ceased to chatter
And trembled in every limb.
He looked at the guardians' ladies,
Then, eyeing their lords, he said,
"I eat not the food of villains
Whose hands are foul and red:

"Whose victims cry for vengeance
From their dark, unhallowed graves."
"He's drunk!" said the workhouse master,
"Or else he's mad and raves."
"Not drunk or mad," cried the pauper,
"But only a haunted beast,
Who, torn by the hounds and mangled,
Declines the vulture's feast.

"I care not a curse for the guardians,
And I won't be dragged away;
Just let me have the fit out,
It's only on Christmas Day
That the black past comes to goad me,
And prey on my burning brain;
I'll tell you the rest in a whisper —
I swear I won't shout again.

"Keep your hands off me, curse you!
Hear me right out to the end.
You come here to see how paupers
The season of Christmas spend;.
You come here to watch us feeding,
As they watched the captured beast.
Here's why a penniless pauper
Spits on your paltry feast.

"Do you think I will take your bounty,
And let you smile and think
You're doing a noble action
With the parish's meat and drink?
Where is my wife, you traitors —
The poor old wife you slew?
Yes, by the God above me,
My Nance was killed by you!

'Last winter my wife lay dying,
Starved in a filthy den;
I had never been to the parish —
I came to the parish then.
I swallowed my pride in coming,
For ere the ruin came,
I held up my head as a trader,
And I bore a spotless name.

"I came to the parish, craving
Bread for a starving wife,
Bread for the woman who'd loved me
Through fifty years of life;
And what do you think they told me,
Mocking my awful grief,
That 'the House' was open to us,
But they wouldn't give 'out relief'.

"I slunk to the filthy alley —
'Twas a cold, raw Christmas Eve —
And the bakers' shops were open,
Tempting a man to thieve;
But I clenched my fists together,
Holding my head awry,
So I came to her empty-handed
And mournfully told her why.

"Then I told her the house was open;
She had heard of the ways of that,
For her bloodless cheeks went crimson,
and up in her rags she sat,
Crying, 'Bide the Christmas here, John,
We've never had one apart;
I think I can bear the hunger —
The other would break my heart.'

"All through that eve I watched her,
Holding her hand in mine,
Praying the Lord and weeping,
Till my lips were salt as brine;
I asked her once if she hungered,
And as she answered 'No' ,
T'he moon shone in at the window,
Set in a wreath of snow.

"Then the room was bathed in glory,
And I saw in my darling's eyes
The faraway look of wonder
That comes when the spirit flies;
And her lips were parched and parted,
And her reason came and went.
For she raved of our home in Devon,
Where our happiest years were spent.

"And the accents, long forgotten,
Came back to the tongue once more.
For she talked like the country lassie
I woo'd by the Devon shore;
Then she rose to her feet and trembled,
And fell on the rags and moaned,
And, 'Give me a crust — I'm famished —
For the love of God!' she groaned.

"I rushed from the room like a madman
And flew to the workhouse gate,
Crying, 'Food for a dying woman!'
And the answer came, 'Too late.'
They drove me away with curses;
Then I fought with a dog in the street
And tore from the mongrel's clutches
A crust he was trying to eat.

"Back through the filthy byways!
Back through the trampled slush!
Up to the crazy garret,
Wrapped in an awful hush;
My heart sank down at the threshold,
And I paused with a sudden thrill.
For there, in the silv'ry moonlight,
My Nance lay, cold and still.

"Up to the blackened ceiling,
The sunken eyes were cast —
I knew on those lips, all bloodless,
My name had been the last;
She called for her absent husband —
O God! had I but known! —
Had called in vain, and, in anguish,
Had died in that den — alone.

"Yes, there, in a land of plenty,
Lay a loving woman dead,
Cruelly starved and murdered
for a loaf of the parish bread;
At yonder gate, last Christmas,
I craved for a human life,
You, who would feed us paupers,
What of my murdered wife!"

'There, get ye gone to your dinners,
Don't mind me in the least,
Think of the happy paupers
Eating your Christmas feast;
And when you recount their blessings
In your smug parochial way,
Say what you did for me, too,
Only last Christmas Day.

Offline CDP

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Re: Christmas Day in the Workhouse
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2014, 12:53:41 »

We are very pleased to inform you that  during the present Festive Season ,our poor friends ;the inmates of the Sheppey Union ,the Workhouse, have not been forgotten , for on Christmas Day they were provided with meat, plum pudding, etc. etc in great abundance.
The following articles were supplied for the dinner on Christmas day , 160 lbs of beef,  24 lbs of suet, 50lbs of flour , 250 lbs of potatoes, 224 lbs of carrots , 90 lbs of currants and raisins, 12lbs of sugar , 8lbs of peel, 50 eggs, 40lbs of bread, and 20 pints of milk. One pint of ale was  provided  for each adult with snuff and tobacco
The children were bounteously supplied with nuts, apples and  oranges .
There are about 130 inmates in the workhouse and we are glad to enjoyed the good things provided and chronicle that all of them , were  thoroughly  loud in praising the untiring exertions of Mr.L Knight the highly respected and excellent Master of the House.
We  think it would have softened many a hard heart to have witnessed the pleasing spectacle which these poor people presented on Christmas Day.
The whole building was most elaborately decorated by the inmates under the personal supervision of the Master.
On entering the house at the front door was the word  “Welcome “ in white wool on pink ground and passing through into the Chapel which had lately been nicely painted and coloured with new hangings, and on the left is the text “ Glory to God in the highest “ whilst on the right “ Peace on earth and goodwill to all men”. There were several ornamental crosses etc on the walls
On entering the Infirmary on the female side was the text “ I was sick and ye visited me “ and on the wall of the male side “ Blessed is he that considereth  the poor “
In the old man s day room over the fireplace was the words “ Welcome “  and on  each side “ Merry  Christmas “ and a Happy New Year “ 
The old womens sick ward was decorated in  first class style .It was a pitiful sight to see so many in the room but it must be very gratifying to the ratepayers to know that they are so well cared for. Over the mantelpiece was the text “ Speak not evil one of another “ with a plume of feathers  underneath with the words “ Ich Dien “ on it over which was the motto “ God  bless our officers “ with a beautiful cross under them.
In the young men s sick room were the texts “ Love one another “ “ The gift of God is eternal life “    and “ The wages of sin are death “ with a plume of white feathers over the mantelpiece and various Scripture mottoes  on the beautiful white walls.
The young womens sick room in which there were several young people ,the text “ I am the Good Shepherd “could be seen over the door and on the walls were texts
The old mens ward  also presented a most beautiful appearance  and although many of the poor old folks were  suffering with intense pain we were favoured by a violin solo. On the mantelpiece were artificial flowers  under glass shades ,nice vases etc. The girls day room which contained about 30 children whose ages ranged from five to fourteen . . Over the mantelpiece was the motto “ A Merry  Christmas and a Happy New Year.” with two pink flags underneath , and round the room  various texts were displayed
There were chains extending from corner to corner and several texts over the fireplace .The room presented a most handsome appearance and reflects the greatest credit on Mrs. Elvin the schoolmistress under whose supervision the decorations were carried out.
In the boys day room were chains from corner to corner with a Chinese Lantern hanging from the centre
The  mottoes and the dark crimson flags were very neatly made and presented a pleasing spectacle.
At midnight the officers placed on the pillow of each inmate a letter containing am illuminated card with texts also pictorial tracts and other instructive writings , These were the gifts of the House Chaplain .Great pleasure was manifested , more especially  among the children at finding missives in the morning .
The order prohibiting smoking in the hospital wards was with the sanction of the Medical Officer  removed and gave “ great satisfaction “  In fact everything passed off most pleasantly ,  the whole of the inmates thoroughly enjoyed themselves . Great praise is due to the Master ,Matron and other officers  for their kind attention and earnest desire to promote the comfort and enjoyment of those under their charges. Although the workhouse was so nicely decorated it must be gratifying to know that Mr. Knight , the Master carried out the whole of his work without any expense to the ratepayer.

It was also of note the same week that John Church  and James Pearce had been punished  with one meal of bread and water  for creating a disturbance  in the House
A person named Stone applied for permission to have her deceased sisters child with her at Christmas as she thought the child would be better in the House  .This was refused.
A  letter was read from the engineer  stating he had caught 28 rats in the House  since June and asked for the usual remuneration of 2d per tail
A labourer from Halfway attended the Board and asked for relief .He was 46  years of age and had a wife and three children .He had been out of work for five weeks. He was granted 2 &1/2  gallons of bread and 1/- worth of groceries by way of a loan.
The solution to every problem is a.) time , or  b.) another problem.

Offline CDP

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Christmas Day in the Workhouse
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2014, 12:50:20 »

( By the Rev.G.Goodenough Chaplain of H.M.Dockyard ,Sheerness )

Whatever may be the case ashore, the seamen and marines of the Royal Navy know how to make Christmas when it comes around, a time of good cheer. And in this they are only keeping up a jolly tradition of long standing in our ships of war.

The Rev. Henry Teongue, chaplain of H.M. ships Royal Oak and Assistance in the reign of Charles II gives us, in his interesting diary, a charming account a Christmas aboard his ship. “At early dawn the great day was ushered in with the sound of trumpets". In due course the ship`s company assembled for prayers and sermon, which was followed by a mighty dinner and, said the chaplain, “we ended the day with much civil myrthe”.

Nowadays we don’t wake our men in the Navy with the sounding of trumpets but we still keep up the custom of a right Merry Christmas. Let me describe such a Christmas as I once experienced in the flagship of the Channel Squadron.
The coming great event cast its shadow before in the laying in stocks of hams - dear to the heart of the blue jacket – turkeys, geese and fresh beef, vegetables, fruit, nuts and biscuits, etc.  Then, on Christmas Eve, all but the absolutely necessary work of the ship was suspended, the hands were “piped down“ and everybody was free to prepare the birds and joints for the galley, stone the raisins and  mix the duff and, last but not least, to decorate the mess deck with chains and chandeliers of coloured paper and trophies of photographs and curios.
I had a couple of cardboard alphabets, which were in great request for cutting out mottoes and had to work away with the scissors till my fingers ached. Hard as we all worked – and never were there more cheerful workers – we had to ask for “extra lights“ to enable us to finish our preparations, and it was past midnight before we turned in, tired, but happy in anticipation of the forthcoming festival.
On Christmas morning the Church Pennant was duly hoisted as early as possible and we went to church on the upper deck, dispensing with the usual arrangements of chairs for the Officers and capstan bars or buckets for the men, for it would have been a shame to disturb the festive arrangements of the men's messes.
The Christmas morning service is not a long one. The Chaplain’s sermon did not occupy many minutes, so nobody minded standing for this. Of course we had the proper Christmas hymns  ”Hark the herald angels sing“, “While shepherds watched“ and “ Oh, come all ye faithful ! “ and splendid it was to hear the dear old words rolling forth from hundreds of lusty voices.
Church over, then came a pause, and then the ceremony of the day begins with the appearance of the Master-at-arms to announce  that the mess deck is ready for the visit of the Admiral, Captain and Officers. Up strikes the band with “The Roast Beef of Old England“ and off we start, headed by the Admiral and the Captain to make the round of the messes, partake of the mens hospitality, and exchange hearty greetings with them.
As we come to each mess, there stands to receive us two of its members, one with a plate of Christmas pudding – or plum duff – to give it its naval title, and the other with cake, nuts and biscuits . It is usual for each officer to take toll in this way from every mess, so that as we get on with our journey we become loaded with sticky treasures. I did not, however, bargain for having my pockets turned into receptacles for pudding and cake by a mischievous messmate.
“A Merry Christmas to you sir“ greets us all as we pass, and we are equally ready with the cheerful and friendly “The same to you and many of them“,  No sooner had the last officer quitted the mess-deck then all hands fall to with a will and the feast goes merrily on. In the Ward room and the Gun room there are healths to be drunk and Christmas good cheer to be enjoyed too, though not perhaps of the same gargantuan order as prevails on the lower deck. Then out comes pipes and cigarettes and yarns are spun and jokes cracked until one by one we drift off to quiet spots for a “stretch off the land“ or “shut eye“ and by-and-by no sound is heard save, perchance, the murmurous breathing of some comfortable sleeper.
At six o’clock the word is passed “Carol service on the upper deck“. Some of my messmates had prophesied  that this would be a failure but, I replied “after such a feast and a sleep, the fellows will wake up a bit cross – you cannot expect their digestions to stand such a strain without a mild protest – and then they will want something to interest them. I am sure they will come, and I was right. The men flocked up and we had a charming little lantern service. The service over, everybody settled down pleasantly throughout the ship, the Officers to their dinner the men to snacks of supper, accompanied by the twanging of mandolines and “all kinds of music“. Later on we had a capital sing-song and thus brought to a close our happy day “with much civil myrthe“.
The solution to every problem is a.) time , or  b.) another problem.


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