Here’s another horror story from Bristol’s past which serves as a warning of where we may be heading. The 1840s was a time of massive social upheaval across Europe, echoing the previous century’s ‘hungry forties’, but the problems were soaring in the 1830s. In Bristol, trade declines, so many workers were reduced to pauperism and those still in work were groaning under the financial costs inflicted on them. This is from Latimer’s Annals of Bristol:
In June 1832 .. a man with a wife and 5 children received 10s 1d per week as out-door relief, the only work exacted in return being .. stone-breaking, occupying 8 hours a day, 4 days a week.. Agricultural labourers in the region were earning 9s per week for more than double this work.
The charge on Bristol ratepayers alone had increased by £5,000 in 2 years. The guardians, in the hope of arresting the evil, gave orders that the able-bodied paupers should work 5 days a week and 10 1/2 hours a day; but although an additional sum of 4 pence weekly was offered to the labourers, they rose in revolt when the announcement was made, and for a time St Peter’s Hospital was in great peril. the may or and aldermen, however, acted with promptitude and firmness. The Riot Act was read, a body of troops was brought to the spot, and some of the ringleaders were sent to prison. The energy of the magistrates put an end to the disturbance, and the paupers submitted o the new scale.
The pressure upon St Peter’s Hospital, however, continued, and the building, gorged with 600 inmates, became in a most unhealthy condition, as well as a sink of moral contamination. According to an authentic contemporary statement, 58 girls slept in 10 beds, and between 70 and 80 boys in 17 beds. just at this time an epidemic of cholera reached the city, and it is not surprising to learn the malady nowhere worked more dreadful havoc than in the workhouse. … out of the first 261 cases reported in the city, 168 occurred in St. Peter’s Hospital. The guardians now found themselves compelled to set about the long-needed reforms, and in 1833 another disused building belonging to the government – the former “French Prison” a Stapleton – was hired from the Admiralty at a rent of £80 a year, put in repair, and fitted for the reception of a considerable number of paupers.