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This is part of a letter written by an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner to the Poor Law Commissioners.
(Catalogue ref: MH 32/62)

Mr Pigott
2

London,
22nd December 1855

My Lords and Gentlemen,
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 20th instant, in which you inform me that having had under consideration the expediency of some further provision than now exists for the Dietary of Young Children Workhouses between the ages of two and nine years, you ask my opinion as to the expediency of dividing this class for the purposes of diet into two and as to what measures may be advisable to secure to the children in workhouses the kind and quality of food to their respective ages.

In reply, I have no hesitation in stating my opinion that the present system by no means secures this important object; that the discretion as regards the younger children, is very imperfectly exercised to the great prejudice of their health and to unnecessary waste of food, and that the modification of the existing practice proposed in the letter of the poor Law Board is highly desirable. I venture however to suggest that in place of leaving the preparation of the Dietaries for Children between two and nine years of age to the Guardians conjointly with the Workhouse Medical Officer, the later should be required to submit such Dietary as he thinks proper to the Board of Guardians and that they should transmit the same to the Poor Law Board, with such observations as they may desire to make thereon.

I take the opportunity of adding my opinion of the desirableness (whilst establishing this classification) of insisting in every workhouse on the formation of a district Nursery Class, under the charge of a competent female for the custody and the care throughout the day of all of the children under six years of age, in a wood floored room, well warmed and ventilated, where they may have their meals under the new regulation. This practice prevails in some workhouses with most beneficial result to health of the children and to the discipline and order of the workhouse. Mothers having children at the breast are allowed to resort to them at all times and have them with them also in their dormitories at night. The children are thus kept clean and out of harm’s way during the day, and have their meals as regulated by the medical officer.

In the workhouses where nurseries are not provided (which composes by far the greater number), the children are constantly with their mothers, often young single mothers, who makes them a pretext for evading their due share of the labours of the house; preventing due cleanliness and especially at mealtime, having them upon their laps, and supplying them with portions of their own food, unsuited to the digestive functions of infants, whereby the mortality amongst this class becomes often very formidable, this mortality being increased also in many instances by the cold brick or stone floors of the Able Women’s day wards. A further evil consequence of the absence of regular nurseries is the practice of putting young infant bastards in the charge of young girls of fifteen and sixteen years old, whilst the mothers are at work, who having continual resort to the children are thus brought into the closest contact and most continual communication with those from whom they ought to be most carefully separated.

Lastly for want of these Nurseries children of 4 or 5 years are often placed in the female school, to the prejudice of the older children, by undue diversion of the attention of the teacher and often to the permanent injury of their own health by a premature exertion of their nervous system.

I have the honour to be,
My Lords and Gentlemen
Your very obedient servant,

Grenville Pigott
Poor Law Inspector
Place with the other answers
26 Dec