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THree Centuries of the Workhouse
The Workhouse On Saturday 5th March Peter Higginbotham gave a talk that took us through three hundred years from the The First Poor Law Act of 1601 to the formation of the NHS in 1948. Initially money was collected from the inhabitants of a parish in order to feed and house anyone out of work and in need. Later workhouses were built in local towns. Peter took the West Riding and in particular Wakefield as a basis for his talk using photos of workhouses in the West Riding, groups of inmates and plans showing the building layout. The 1834 Report made workhouses more self sufficient and ensured that when registered the inmates were put to work where possible. The 1834 New Poor Law ensured that workhouses were more regulated the high unemployment after the Napoleonic Wars coupled with the increasing price of corn caused a hard time for many people. Individual workhouses were grouped under a Poor Law Union. Wakefield’s workhouse was for many years situated on George Street however a new one was built on Park Lodge Lane which like others was built to a specific design. The main building was a T – shaped structure where work took place behind which were walled- off living areas where inmates were grouped into separate sections for men, women, children and the elderly. Entry was voluntary and inmates could leave whenever you wished. The regime was strict as the Guardians really wanted them to deter entry. People went there as a last resort for there was also the stigma of shame attached. An explanation of the rules for entry was given plus the type of work that was encouraged for the able bodied. The daily menu included a watery porridge known as gruel along with daily portions of bread and cheese though on several days of the week some soup, meat and vegetables would be on the menu often grown from the workhouse garden. Food did improve as the 19th century progressed and the work took the form of cleaning and laundry duties for women while men might be employed in gardening or breaking stones for construction work. The 1881 census for Wakefield showed 8 staff and over 340 inmates. One such was a lady who had been there for 34 years! A number had been there for10 years while others were more short term. Medical conditions also improved during the last quarter of the 19th century especially when trained nurses were employed. By the 1930s the Board of Guardians were abolished and the workhouses were taken over by the local council and by 1948 they fell into disuse as the NHS then became responsible for those in need. Many of the workhouses were then demolished, converted into apartments or turned into Old People’s Homes. Peter summed up an engrossing talk with advice on how records, where they survive, could be located at TNA at Kew or local archives. A useful website is Here is listed a number of books written by Peter on different aspects of life in a workhouse. The next meeting is April 2nd when Beryl Sanders will give a talk on ‘ Potions, Polishes and Poisons’ set in Georgian England. Enquiries to Ron Pullan:
Women in 19th Century Ossett
Women in 19th century Ossett. On Saturday 6th February David Scriven gave a talk on the roles that were allotted to women in Ossett, a textile town near Wakefield in the West Riding. His main sources were newspaper articles, census returns and parish records. He first made it clear that generally couples when married were usually about the same age, that divorce was infrequent due to legal difficulties, that families were often large and that infant mortality was high when compared with today. Diseases broke out periodically due in part to overcrowded living conditions, bad sanitation and maybe through neglect. This latter reason was thought to be because women had to go out to work and therefore leave their children in the hands of carers who were not always family members. However the middle classes did not always escape from high infant mortality. The image of the ideal family was provided by the royal family. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert produced nine children before he died at a relatively early age from typhoid aged 42. Yet violence to women by husbands was often reported in the local press when most incidents went unreported but were often known locally. Women were expected to continue work, mainly in the local mills, when they got married and often after they started to produce children. Sometimes they supplemented the family income by taking in lodgers or looking after children of neighbours or family. Opportunities for work other than that found in mills were few. Some worked in shops such as stitching for milliners or in dress making. Pay was always less than that earned by men. Lack of education held women back. It was noted that far more boys attended school than girls and when middle class girls were able to attend private schools they were taught subjects that were regarded as ‘ refined’ such as painting, music and maybe a foreign language. There are examples to be found of women with responsible roles when widowed such as in public houses, in high street shops, primary schools and Sunday schools. There were examples of strikes occurring for better pay but efforts were thwarted when factory owners would bring in cheap female labour from elsewhere. Generally women were held down like slaves. As the century progressed especially by the 1880’s and 90’s more women were found to be involved in fund raising especially for churches, the temperance movement and even in the Mechanics’ Institute. Women were even beginning to be more involved in sport such as tennis and even encouraged to cycle ‘ if done in moderation.’ Gradually greater emancipation was gained in more social aspects of society except in politics when they had to wait until 1928 before they gained political equality with men. David proved that he had researched his topic extremely well and judging from the number of people present who asked questions or made comments, many found his talk of great interest and value. The next meeting is March 5th when Peter Higginbotham will talk on ‘Three Centuries of the Workhouse.’ Enquiries to Ron Pullan : or 01924 373310.
Life in England in WW1
WAKEFIELD & DISTRICT FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY On Saturday 5th December we had Ian Dewhirst to give a talk to an eagerly awaiting audience. Ian is no stranger to the Society and once again he delivered in his inimitable style which is both informative as well as very humorous. His topic was ‘ Life in England in WW1.’ Ian is from Keighley in West Yorkshire and much of what he had to say was based on archive material from that town. He was in praise of the excellent archives that can be accessed at the library. However he emphasised that much of his research for his topic was resourced from personal items such as the correspondence left by the Mayor of Keighley written by him as well as letters received. In them are is his thoughts about the Pals Regiments; advice to the Ministry of War of the need for protection against zeppelin raids; food shortages and the anti - German riots when any butcher’s shops with Germanic names were attacked. Other material accessed were newspapers, government leaflets, diaries and correspondence from ordinary people and school log books. We learned of the 13,000 war casualties being treated in local hospitals ; that there was a threat of strikes from women workers demanding equal pay with men in the munitions factories and transport services. However women were apparently felt to be’ temperamentally unsuited’ as drivers of trams! Belgian refugees who were provided with accommodation in Keighley from 1914 were reportedly of an ‘ almost superior’ type coming as many did from the Belgian Telegraph Office in Brussels. A particularly intriguing resource was that of an autograph album found in a skip that had been kept by a Miss Collett who collected entries from the war wounded in nearby hospitals. Many of the entries provide an intriguing insight of the human condition. Ian concluded another very enjoyable talk by emphasising the importance of what might seem the ordinary or mundane resources outlined above. He urged other potential researchers not to overlook the smaller, private material that can often be found in our archives. There will be no meeting in January. The next meeting is February6th when David Scriven will talk on ‘ Women in 19th century Ossett.’ Enquiries to:
The Two Esthers
The guest speakers on Saturday 7th November were Shirley Levon and Lesley Taylor. They had researched the lives of two 18th century ladies who shared the same name, Esther Milnes. The research, initially based on twelve letters written by one Esther to the other, led to the publication of a book, “The Two Esthers.” The letters were written between 1771-1773 and were written by the elder of the two who was the widow of a prosperous merchant Robert Milnes of Wakefield. Her maiden name was Shore and originally came from Sheffield while the younger Esther was from a branch of the Milnes family in Chesterfield. The 18th century had seen a growth in letter writing due to increased literacy and the postal service had developed correspondingly. Women’s roles in this period was on the whole very much subservient to that of the man. However in the case of the two Esthers they were born in an age of ‘ urban renaissance’ and one in which rational and scientific thinking was developing in an era known as ‘The Age of Enlightenment. They were also from wealthy but also dissenting backgrounds. The elder Esther entered into correspondence with Esther from Chesterfield and the latter would often stay at one of the four Milnes family houses on Westgate in Wakefield. The letters shed a light on the social, religious and leisurely activities for this period but also often stressed the constant worry about personal health. Comments were made on leisure activities such as visits to the theatre, race meetings and attending chapel. The Milnes family were at the centre of the chapel community in Wakefield as well as being the richest ‘ gentlemen merchants’ in a city that was gaining wealth from the wool trade. Anyone wanting to know more about the social life in Wakefield and other northern towns and in particular the part played by wealthy women would benefit by reading the excellent book researched by Shirley and Lesley. Next meeting is 5th December when Ian Dewhirst will talk on ‘ Life in England during WW1. Enquiries to Ron Pullan:
From Merchants to Mansions
                            From Merchants to Mansions                           
The talk on Saturday 3rd October was provided by Norma Thorpe a volunteer at Nostell Priory near Wakefield. She is a room steward, a guide and researcher at Nostell. It is the latter role that led Norma to  carry out research on the property that came into ownership of the Winn family in the 17th century. The Winns were originally woollen merchants in London and a George Winn had been Draper to Queen Elizabeth I.
With his accumulated wealth George bought land and property in Lincolnshire at Thornton Curtis in the early part of the 17th century.
Norma’s brief was to provide an account of the pedigree of the Winn family from the purchase of land at Nostell in 1654 by George Winn up to the current 6th Baron, Charles Winn.
It was George Winn who was given the title of baronet in 1660 and it was his grandson, Rowland Winn 4th baronet who on returning from the Grand Tour in 1729 set in motion the building of the house we can see today which was started in 1731.
With suitable marriages, and in one case one that was regarded as not so suitable [a reference to the marriage of the 3rd Baron, Rowland Winn to the showgirl Eve Carew], the family’s wealth grew and additions were made to the property.
The 1st Baron created was another Rowland who in 1885 was also given the title of Lord St Oswald. The priory that had once stood near to the present building had been dedicated by the religious order to St Oswald.
The property was presented to the National Trust in 1953 and the Winn family maintain an apartment in the main building. The current Lord St Oswald, Charles Winn , is also our Society’s patron.
The next meeting is 7th November when Shirley Levon and Lesley Taylor will give a talk based on a book they are jointly responsible for ‘ The Two Esthers.’. Enquiries to Ron Pullan at:

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