Christmas Day in the Workhouses

This article was published in The Morning Chronicle on Boxing Day, 1849, giving specific details of Christmas Day dinners given to the inmates of the various workhouses in London.

The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, December 26, 1849.


For several years it has been the custom of The Morning Chronicle to lay before its readers an account of the treatment of the parochial poor of this vast metropolis on Christmas-day, accompanying therewith a variety of statistics, showing the comparative increase or decrease of pauperism, as the case may be, in the various metropolitan districts—a course which it is presumed is calculated to afford the public a very fair criterion for judging as to the state of trade, and the amount of distress actually existing.

The following report will be found to contain not only a detail of the Christmas-day fare allowed by the guardians of the respective parishes to the poor inmates of the workhouses, but it shows the number in each, distinguishing the adults from the children, as well as the sexes of the inmates, and also the number in the various establishments last year; as also, where the returns could be obtained, the number of out-door poor, and the gross number summed up at the end of each report, with other interesting particulars.

St. Pancras Workhouse.—Number of inmates on Christmas-day, 1849, 1,360 (last Christmas-day, 1,462).—Number of out-door poor, 7,054 (last year, 7,283).—The inmates of the house are thus divided:—Adult males, 450; females, 540; boys, 170; girls, 200. The Christmas-day fare was 6 ounces of cooked beef, free from bone, 1 lb. of potatoes, 1 lb. of plum pudding, and 1 pint of porter, each adult, with an extra allowance of strong tea, tobacco, snuff, &c. The children fed at discretion, and were allowed fruit and sweetmeats. It is worthy of remark that in the parish of St. Pancras there has been a great change in the management of its affairs, a new party having come into power, who have abolished as far as possible the workhouse test, and applied more extensively than formerly the principle of out-door relief, which shows the following results:—1,462 in-door poor in 1848 cost in the Christmas week of that year 204l. 10s 3d. This year, 1,287 cost 169l. 14s. 2d., being 175 less in the house, and the cost of 34l. 16s. 1d. in the week less than the corresponding week last year; 7,283 out-door poor in the Christmas week, 1848, cost 246l. 14s. 7d.; and in 1849, the cost of 7,054 has been 259l.; being an increase in relief to 229 less than the corresponding week of last year, of 12l. 5s. 5d.; saving in the week as compared with last year, 22l. 10s. 8d.; saving of children in the house, instead of Tooting, 20l., making a total saving on the week’s account of 42l. 10s. 8d. The diminution in the cost of inmates is the decrease and cheapness of provisions. The increase in amount given to out-door poor, although much smaller in number than last year, is caused by a greater amount being given to the most deserving and necessitous. The affairs of this parish are now most flourishing, the directors of the poor having a rest of 8,000l. in their bankers’ hands, besides having paid a few days since 1,200l. on account of the Industrial Training Schools meeting at the workhouse. It will thus be seen that there is a decrease on the in-door poor of 102, and on the out-door of 229; thus making the total receiving relief amount to 8,414; and showing a decrease of pauperism as compared with last year of 331.

St. Marylebone.—The returns up to yesterday show the number of inmates of the workhouse and infirmary to be 1,989. (Last Christmas-day the numbers were 2,222 in the house). Number of out-door poor about 6,500. Christmas fare—Half-a-pound of roast beef, free from bone; 1 lb. of potatoes and bread, 1 pint of porter, and 1 lb. of plum pudding, with 1 oz. of tea and a ¼ lb. of sugar extra to each adult. The children were fed at the discretion of the master, and in the evening were allowed to partake in various amusements; and, at the expense of the guardians, had fruit and sweetmeats provided for them. Decrease of inmates in the workhouse, 233; number of out-door poor last year, 7,280; decrease of out-door poor, 780. Total number receiving relief, 8,489; total decrease, as compared with last year, 1,013.

St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields.—Inmates of workhouse, 650 (last year 660), viz., 189 men; 376 women; 35 boys; 50 girls. Christmas fare to adults—1 lb. of roast beef, ¾ lb. plum pudding, as many potatoes as they require, a pint of porter (many of them receiving two pints for little services rendered); the majority have also tea and sugar, with leave of absence after dinner, and another day’s liberty in the course of the week. Number of out-door poor about 600; in-door poor, 575; decrease of inmates, 10; increase of out-door, 25; total increase, 15; and total receiving relief, 1,250.

City of London Union.—Number of inmates in the new workhouse of the city of London Union, Bow-road, this Christmas, 900 adults. Last year (including children at Peckham, Stepney, and Norwood), 1,132. The children of this union are in the Central London District School, Norwood, which comprises the following unions and parishes:—City of London Union: Boys, 126; girls, 111; total, 237. East London Union: Boys, 117; girls, 108; total, 225. St. Saviour’s, Southwark: Boys, 79; girls, 48; total, 127. St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields: Boys, 83; girls, 71; total, 154. Total number of children in the Central London District School: Boys, 405, girls, 338; total, 743. Christmas fare—Roast beef, roast pork, plum pudding, and one pint of beer each. The out-door poor to have one shilling extra given them. Number of out-door poor, about 3,000. The difference between this year and last in the house: Out-door poor last year, 3,378; total receiving relief, 4,131; total decrease, 384.

Strand Union.—Inmates of workhouse, Cleveland-street, 644, last year 611—males, 280; females, 364. 90 children, at the new establishment, Millfield-house, Edmonton. Christmas fare—Boiled pork, potatoes, peas pudding, with a pint of porter to each adult. Children, without porter, in proportion to age. Number of out-door poor, 1,529; last year, 1,768. Total receiving relief, 2,173. Total decrease, 355.

St. Mary, Islington.—Number in the workhouse, 420; last Christmas, 485. In addition to this there are 120 boys and girls at the Islington Infant Poor Establishment, at Hackney—Fare 6 oz. of roast beef (free from bone), bread and potatoes as required, 1 lb. boiled plum pudding, and one pint of London porter. Decrease in the number of poor as compared with corresponding period of last year, 65. No return as to out-door poor.

St. Luke, Chelsea.—The number of inmates of the workhouse are 515 (last Christmas there were 541), viz., able-bodied men, 43; able-bodied women, 43; men temporarily disabled, 9; women temporarily disabled, 38; old and infirm men, 99; old and infirm women, 185; boys from 7 to 15 years old, 28; girls from 7 to 15 years, 18; children and infants, 52; farmed out in the parish 75 children (last year farmed at Drouet’s, Tooting, 127); out-door poor, 2,723 (last year 3,196); thus showing a decrease as compared with last year on the in-door poor of 26; children farmed out, 52; and on the out-door poor, of 473; lunatics in the various asylums, 46 (last year, 40); total receiving relief, 3,359. The inmates of the workhouse of this parish are allowed by the guardians for Christmas-day each to adults ½ lb. of roast beef free from bone, with a liberal supply of potatoes and bread, ¾ lb. of plum pudding, and 1 pint of Barclay’s porter; children dieted at the discretion of the master; and for those farmed out 6d. per head is allowed for extra Christmas fare. Total decrease of pauperism in this parish, 551.

Stepney Union.—Number of inmates in the four workhouses of this union, 1,209 (last year, 1,314); viz., males, 281; females, 492; children, 436. The Christmas fare for the in-door poor is the good old English fare of roast beef and plum pudding, with a pint of porter for each adult, and apples and oranges for the children. Number of out-door poor 3,869; being a decrease of 105 in the numbers in the workhouse, and an increase of 219 in the out-door poor, as compared with the corresponding period last year. Total receiving relief in this union, 5,078; increase over last year, 114.

St. Leonard, Shoreditch.—Number of inmates, 787 (last year 870); viz. men, 231; women, 404; children, 152. The out-door poor is about 1,600 families, averaging 3½ to each family, amounting to about 5,000 persons in the aggregate. About 100 children at the establishment at Enfield. Christmas fare to adults, 6 oz. of roast beef, ½ lb. baked potatoes, ½ lb. plum pudding, and 1 pint of ale; to children, 5 oz. roast beef, ½ lb. baked potatoes, ½ lb. plum pudding, and 1 pint of ale between three. Holidays are allowed on Christmas-day as well as Boxing-day. Total receiving relief, about 5,800.

St. James’s, Clerkenwell.—Total number of inmates 450 (last year 537); viz.—aged and infirm men above 60 years old, 92; women above 60 years, 125; able men under 60 years, 75; able-bodied women under 60 years, 110; boys and girls under 16 years of age, 18; boy and girls, including infants under 9 years of age, 30; besides the children at the schools at Kentish Town. Christmas allowances—Each adult, 1 lb. plum pudding, ½ lb. baked beef, 1 lb. baked potatoes, 1 pint of porter, 1 oz. of tea, and ¼ lb. of sugar. Children above 6 years of age ½ lb. of plum pudding each, and half a pint of porter. Number of persons now in receipt of out-door relief weekly, 2,036, making a total of 2,485. Increase in out-door poor, 670; decrease in in-door poor, 87; making a total increase of 583.

St. Olive’s Union Workhouse.—Inmates, 354 (last year no return); viz.—men 89, women 143, boys 73, girls 49. The Christmas-day fare to the males was roast beef, potatoes, plum pudding, and porter, without any defined allowance.

St. Mary, Lambeth.—Number in the workhouse, 1,028 (last year, 1,035). Adult males, 424; women, 526; boys, 39; girls, 39. Children in the parochial establishment at Norwood (not farmed), 494. There are 5,742 persons on the out relief list receiving weekly money and bread, the latter being baked in the house. Christmas fare—6 oz. of baked beef, free from bone, 1 lb. baked potatoes, 1 lb. boiled plum pudding, 1 pint of porter, with tea morning and evening to each adult. Total number receiving relief, 6,770. Total decrease in pauperism, as compared with last year, 1,421.

St. Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey.—In the workhouse, 630 (last year, 684), viz., men, 174; women, 246; boys, 100; girls, 110. The inmates were regaled with roast pork, potatoes, plum pudding, and a pint of Barclay’s porter, for dinner. The children fed at discretion, and to receive two oranges each instead of beer. All the adults are allowed to go out on Christmas-day. About 1,600 receiving out-door relief. Total, 2,230. Decrease, 54.

St. Mary, Rotherhithe.—Inmates of the workhouse, 255 (last year no return), viz., males, 72; females, 109; children, 74. The adults have each ½ lb. roast beef, ¾ lb. potatoes, with 1 pint of ale, and tobacco and snuff for the old people. The out-door poor have nothing extra provided by the guardians.

Poplar Union.—Number in workhouse, 574 (last Christmas, 651), viz., men, 171; women, 198; boys, 109; girls, 96. Number of out-door poor averages 2,300. Christmas fare—roast or baked beef, with potatoes and plum pudding. Decrease in in-door poor, 77.

Whitechapel Union.—Inmates of the workhouses, 1,013 (last Christmas, 647), viz., men, 228; women, 417; children, 368; out-door poor, 2,253 (last year, 2,613). Christmas fare, by order of the directors, roast beef, plum pudding, and beer. Increase in the in-door poor, 366; decrease in out-door poor, 360; total increase, 6.

Edmonton Union.—Inmates, 410 (last year 426), viz., males, 228; females, 182. The children at an establishment at Enfield. Christmas fare—6 oz. of cooked beef, with potatoes, 1 lb. of plum pudding and 1 pint of porter each. No return of the number of out-door poor. Decrease, as compared with last year, 16.

Saint Mary, Newington.—Number of inmates, 364 (last Christmas, 348), and 180 children at Drouet’s establishment, Grove House, Brixton-hill. Christmas fare—roast beef, baked potatoes, plum pudding, and 1 pint of Huggin and Co.’s best porter for dinner. In the afternoon each adult received 1 oz. of tea, 8 oz. of sugar, and 6 oz. butter. Such adults as smoke received 1 oz. of tobacco, and those who took snuff 1 oz. each. Holidays were permitted to such inmates as desired them. The children were fed at discretion. Number of out-door poor, 1,428 (last year, 1,576). Total number receiving relief, 1,792 (last year, 2,052). Total decrease in pauperism, 260.

St. George the Martyr, Southwark.—No return given, and all the information obtained is, that the usual Christmas fare will be provided for the inmates of this parish.

Holborn Union.—Inmates of workhouse, 708 (last year 918), viz., 206 men, 288 women, and 214 children. The number of out-door poor is 2,112 (last year no return of out-door poor). The Christmas fare is beef, plum pudding, and one pint of porter each. Liberty to go out is granted to all who make application. Decrease this year, as compared with last, 210.

Wandsworth and Clapham Union.—Inmates of workhouse, 487 (last Christmas, 551), viz., 85 men under 60 years of age; 124 above 60; boys from 9 to 16 years, 42; girls from 2 to 9 years, 31; women under 60 years, 70; above 60 years, 82; girls from 9 to 16 years, 28; from 2 to 9 years, 20; infants, 10. The Christmas fare was, ½ lb. of roast beef, 1 lb. potatoes, 1 lb. plum pudding, and 1 pint of porter. Aged, 1 pint of tea, and tobacco, snuff, &c.; oranges, nuts, &c. to the children. Decrease, 64.

Kensington.—Inmates, 313 (last year 267); women, 115; men, 87; boys, 63; girls, 48; out-door poor, 1,481 persons, or about 500 families (last year, out-door poor 900). Fare, to adult males and females, ½ lb. roast beef of the best quality, 1 lb. of baked potatoes, ¾ lb. plum pudding, and 1 pint of Barclay’s porter. The whole of the children above nine years of age the same as adults, with the exception of porter; younger children in proportion. Old women above 60, who take it, ½ oz. of snuff each, and old men ½ oz. of tobacco, with leave of absence to-morrow to all whose conduct entitle them to it. After dinner the children were regaled with oranges, apples, &c. Increase in in-door poor, 46, and in out-door poor 581; total increase, 627.

West London Union.—Inmates, 495 (last year 450) males, 163; females, 244; children, 88. Fare—roast beef, plum pudding, potatoes, and porter for dinner. No return of out-door poor. Increase of inmates over last year, 45.

St. Matthew, Bethnal-green.—No return of numbers given on account of hurry of business and limit of time of the master. Christmas fare to inmates, a liberal supply of roast beef, plum pudding, and ale.

St. James’s, Westminster.—Inmates 700 (last year 713), viz., men, 230; women, 390; children, 80; with about 100 children at the parochial establishment at Brentford. Christmas fare:—Half a pound of roast beef with potatoes, and plum pudding ad libitum, 1 pint of table ale, and 1 pint of porter. The children, fruit, cakes, &c. Out-door poor, about 700 (last year 724); decrease, 37.

St. George’s in the East.—Inmates, 900 (last year 947), viz. men, 220; women, 467; children, 207. Christmas fare—Roast beef and plum pudding, &c., ad libitum. Decrease in inmates, 47.

Industrial Schools, Norwood (Aubin’s).—1,000 children belonging to various metropolitan parishes. The children, a plentiful supply of roast beef and plum pudding, with coffee and bread and butter in the evening. Sermons were preached and addresses made to the children by the chaplain to the establishment.

Industrial Schools, Brixton.—About 700 children belonging to various parishes. Similar fare to those at Mr. Aubin’s Asylum.

In consequence of the want of courtesy on the part of the officials, some of the parishes have been omitted, but the foregoing proves the satisfactory circumstance that there is a vast decrease in pauperism, with about two exceptions, in every parish in the metropolis, amounting in the aggregate, to about 5,000. It also appears that there are from 80,000 to 100,000 in the metropolis, who are dependent on parochial bounty for their Christmas-day dinner. It must be remarked, that the number of persons in the workhouses on Christmas-day must not be taken as a criterion of the number usually therein—the inclemency of the weather and the certainty of a Christmas dinner being a strong incentive to persons to claim parochial relief.

The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, December 26, 1849.