Document Two - Charlotte Guest's Statement

Catalogue Ref: MH12/14017/116, 10586/B/1840

Witness statement given during an investigation into the misconduct of John Stokes, Porter of the workhouse for punishing a six year old boy for wetting the bed. A summons was taken out against Stokes for assault on Perks, this resulted in a fine. The guardians resolved that Stokes immediately be dismissed. This course of action was strongly approved of by the Poor Law Commissioners.


Date of letter: 7 September 1840
Borough of Kidderminster
County of Worcester
At a Petty Sessions at the Guildhall
Present the Mayor
William Boycot Esquire
Charlotte Guest wife of John Guest an inmate of the Workhouse says in consequence of what I heard in the workhouse on Friday morning about ½ past Seven o’clock I went into a room called the Tool house which adjoins the Entrance Hall of the Workhouse, the Door was open- I went in I saw a Bag apparently with something in it hanging up on a pair of Steelyards the bottom of the bag baing about a yard from the ground – I said “Perks” and the little boy answered – I asked him
who put him there- he said the Porter- with that he began to cry- I observed that the bag was tied up at it’s mouth close down upon his head- it was a dirty Potato Bag and it was tied so low that there was not room for the Boy to stand upright. I went to Mr Stevens he was in the Kitchen- I told him about it- I said do you know where the Boy Perks is-and I told him where he was and the Governor went towards the place- the Porter was in his lodge next the Hall- I did not return with the Master-
12 September 1840

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All letter questions:

  1. What is the letter asking for or discussing?
  2. What area of the poster is it exploring?
  3. What do you notice about the language of the letter? Is it formal, informal, desperate, well-written or poorly-written? Does this issue get resolved? How does it differ to how we write letters of complaint in today’s society?
  4. What might the response be from the Poor Law Commission?
  5. How does this letter challenge the perception of the poor in the 1837 poster?

Letter specific questions:

  1. Who is James Perk and why is he being punished?​
  2. Who is Stokes and what was the punishment he gave? ​
  3. What was the outcome of the letter? ​
  4. Who wrote this letter? Why do you think it would make a difference to the response? ​