‘the workhouse dress’

An enquiry about the wearing of the workhouse uniform, 2 March 1853, Catalogue ref: MH 12/6991

Poor Law Union: Chelsea

Union counties: Middlesex


No. 5 Russel Street, Kings Road, Chelsea

March 2nd 1853

To the chairman of the Poor Law Commissioners


I have been a ratepayer in the parish of Saint Luke’s Chelsea for nearly 20 years. I have no wish to create ill feeling or to commence agitation. I have taken the liberty to ask one or two questions respecting the treatment of some poor persons who have been forced to take their residence in the workhouse. Their treatment appears to me to be unnecessary…I therefore wish to learn if it is by your orders that the Guardians treat the deserving poor in this manner [whilst] placed as I should suppose under their care and is it by your order?  I shall understand that in your wisdom you have found what I conceive this treatment necessary for their subordination.

A poor woman who has been in her former life respectable and in earlier days filled the situation of a monthly nurse while her ability enabled her to perform the duties of that important situation with credit. But [with] growing age and adverse circumstances, she was obliged to take refuge in the workhouse. Here, she informs my wife, she was deprived of all her small [stock] of decent clothing so that when she went to see any of her former friends or those by whom she had been employed, she was obliged to wear that badge of indifference, the workhouse dress. She was also deprived of her nightdress and obliged to sleep without.

A poor man whom I have known for years as a sober steady industrious person informs me that while other parishes are paying labourers’ wages to those working on the roads, St. Luke’s only pay 1/2 per day. A pittance for hard labour outside and not sufficient to live in any way. If Sir, you will have the kindness to inform me of this mode of treatment is as you direct I shall esteem it a particular favour.

I am Sir your very obedient servant

Thomas Corley

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