Interior of an English Workhouse under the New Poor Law Act

The New Poor Law poster, 1837 (EXT 6/1)


Handpainted above the woodcut: The New Poor Law with a description of the new workhouses. Look at the picture – see.

Printed within the image:

(People at a spiked door talking to an overseer)

Pray, sir, have mercy on us and let us in, or give us some relief, for we are actually starving.

Then go and rob for your living for ye can’t enter here – be off ye varmint.


(Above three people hanging from hooks and ropes on the ceiling)

The mode of Punishment for the incorrigible, by order of the overseers.


(Four people beating hemp with mallets)

Beating this here hemp is worser than breaking stones. Lord ha’ mercy on us poor.

Our heads shaved and no shirt allowed us to wear; talk of Vest Ingy slaveys, indeed – vy they’re expectable mechanics to us.


(Sign on wall above a group of adults and children manacled to the wall with their hands above their heads)

By order of the Commissioners of the New Poor Laws, the period for all paupers to work is from 4 in the morning to 10 at night. 3 hours allowed for clearing away & sweeping the workhouse yard.


(Man being whipped in the centre of the image)

Oh, Sir, have mercy on me, I cannot work so hard, for I’m old, ill, and feeble, allow me but 10 minutes rest.

Rest, indeed! you lazy old thief, d’ye think ye came in here to be a gentleman. Old and young must labour here – what was the poor made for but to work? – go to the hemp you old rascal.


(Sign on wall)

Notice. For being longer than 10 minutes to each of the two meals per day, viz. breakfast and supper, 39 lashes. For going out of the workhouse yard without permission, a day without food. Being disobedient 39 lashes & 3 days confinement under ground. For being idle a month at the tread mill.


(Overseer talking to a man with a cart)

What have you got in the truck Joe? The infant poor wot’s died, I’m going to take one to the hospital to sell for the surgeons, ve generally have such a load as this here once a veek.


(Sign on the wall)

Notice is hereby given, all able-bodied paupers who conduct themselves in a mutinous or disorderly manner will be knocked on the head without trial and their bodies sold to the surgeons. By order of the government.


(Man carrying two large buckets labelled Pea soup for the paupers)


(Five children sat on the floor picking at a pile of rope labelled Oakum)


Caption: Interior of an English workhouse under the New Poor Law Act

« Return to Have we underestimated the Victorian Poor?

Look at the poster and think about the following:

  • Who do you think is in control?
  • How much control do you think the inmates of the workhouse had over their living conditions?
  • Who do you think produced this poster – supporters or critics of the workhouse?
  • How accurate do you think this poster is?

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Be prepared to discuss!