Amongst the papers of the Fitzherbert family of Tissington, Derbyshire, there is a bundle of miscellaneous items including a description of Uttoxeter workhouse, its management and the activities of its inmates in the second half of the eighteenth century. From the document, it is not clear why the memorandum was written or to whom it was addressed, but it may have been prompted by planned changes to the way in which workhouses were established as a result of Gilbert’s Act of the same year.
Richard Hayne was the second of five children born to John Hayne (b. circa 1688) of Uttoxeter and his wife Lettice Leighton (bapt. 11 Jan 1690). Richard was baptised on 26 March 1723. He was apprenticed to a Derby attorney William Turner in 1742 and appointed as a Justice of the Peace for Derbyshire in 1755, the year after he married Mary Newton at St Oswald’s parish church, Ashbourne. He spent some years living in Uttoxeter, but his main residence was Ashbourne Green Hall. The Hayne family also owned a number of other properties in Ashbourne including the Green Man inn and the Old House in Church Street used as a dower house. Richard died at Bath in 1787 and was buried in the churchyard of All Saints’, Weston. After Richard’s death, his widow moved to the Old House, remaining there until her death in 1802.
The memorandum offers one person’s perspective of the state of the Uttoxeter workhouse and its management before the construction of the one designed by Thomas Gardener which opened in 1789. Hayne’s views emphasise its poor state before his appointment as an inspector, the improvements made whilst he was in post and its decline once again after he left.
He starts the memorandum by recalling events of more than thirty years previously when Uttoxeter’s numerous poor were ‘constantly erecting cottages and enclosing small [plots] of land which they considered as their own, making careful not to change their place of settlement’. The workhouse itself was ‘mostly filled with old persons and children perhaps from 40–60’. Many other poor people received outdoor relief ranging from one to three or four shillings a week. The overseers, chosen usually from ‘the lower sort of Trades People’, sent provisions to the workhouse where ‘some of the old men there distributed it’, not just to the inmates but to others who came for their dinners. The problem was exacerbated, according to Hayne, because those who went to the workhouse for their meal had a tendency to pocket the victuals and carry them away.
Hayne’s other main concern was that the ‘Poor of the workhouse had no employ and ran about the town at pleasure by which habit the children were ignorant, idle and impudent’. The problem of how to ‘amend this bad and expensive conduct’ was discussed frequently by the gentlemen of Uttoxeter who attended the parish vestry. Remonstrating with the overseers proved ineffectual. Consequently the vestry proposed that ‘two Gentlemen should be added to the official overseers who could spare time to inspect’ the workhouse. Hayne and a Major Gardener were thus appointed. ‘Our first step’, wrote Hayne, was to ‘advertise for a person as Manager of the Workhouse’. They got one from Wolverhampton at £24 a year ‘or thereabouts for himself, his wife and his daughter’.
Hayne’s and Gardener’s next step was to inspect the workhouse where they ‘found a room full of broken spinning wheels … We directed these implements to be thoroughly repaired’. The boys and girls were then taught to spin and knit linen and wool, and the ‘old people as were able had their allotment of such work as suited them best’. The House was ‘whitewashed and cleaned in a wholesome manner’. Rooms were inspected on a weekly basis. As the workhouse manager was ‘qualified to instruct the children … in reading, writing and accompting’, copy books and reading books were procured for their education. For the sake of their health the children were permitted to play in a large yard attached to the workhouse where a palisade and locked gate were fixed. A boy, seated in a box, was to unlock the gate and admit in or out ‘all proper persons’.
Gardener’s and Hayne’s role as inspectors lasted for a year, during which time they alternated their duties every two weeks. Hayne claimed that he scarcely missed a day, sometimes carrying out unannounced inspections twice a day. He visited the market to see the butcher’s meat (usually animal muscle tissue) being weighed and put his mark next to the entry in the general account book. He also did this for the flour, wool, hemp and other materials brought into the workhouse. Outdoor relief (except during sickness) was stopped as was the practice of feeding any other than workhouse inmates.
As a result of the inspectors’ endeavours the workhouse was transformed: ‘From a most filthy, dirty place the House became perfectly sweet, clean and wholesome’. The inmates became industrious and the children ‘attained an attention to Business & were (from Parental Homebread (sic) Brutality) Civilised and fited (sic) to be put out as Parish Apprentices into any decent families’. The spinning of linen yarn for shirts and worsted produced a sufficient amount to make stockings and ‘to be sent out to be woven into liney wolsey for coats and waistcoats for the Men and Boys and Gowns and Petticoats for the Women and Girls’.
After his term of office Hayne removed to Ashbourne, the major returned to his regiment and a contested county election ‘divided the friendship of the Gentlemen [of Uttoxeter and the] workhouse gradually sunk into its former state’.
How much of Hayne’s account we accept at face value is difficult to say. Frederick Eden’s State of the Poor certainly confirms many of the practices Hayne found on his arrival at Uttoxeter workhouse, but the extent to which the workhouse and its inmates were transformed within the space of a year is open to question.
Derbyshire Record Office, D239/Z/6, Fitzherbert of Tissington Papers, Memorandum Uttoxeter Workhouse 10 May 1782
Frederick Morton Eden, The State of the Poor, A History of the Labouring Classes in England, 3 vols (London: 1797)
Adrian Henstock (ed.), A Georgian Country Town: Ashbourne 1725–1825: Fashionable Society (Ashbourne: Ashbourne Local History Group, 1989)
Alannah Tomkins, The Experience of Urban Poverty, 1723–82 (Manchester: MUP, 2006)
www.archerfamily.org.uk/family/hayne.htm accessed 6 Mar 2018
www.batharchives.co.uk/sites/bath_record_office/filesWES%20Inscriptions accessed 6 Mar 2018
This is a work in progress, subject to change as new research is conducted.