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Milton Ernest Parish Workhouse

The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 created union workhouses, the large institutions one thinks of when the word workhouse is mentioned. These dealt with poor people from the town in which it was based and from a number of satellite rural parishes. In fact workhouses were in existence long before 1834. Their history can be traced back to The Poor Law Act of 1388 but most workhouses in Bedfordshire will have been created in the 18th century. They were places where a parish could send those of its inhabitants which were poor and homeless and give them shelter in return for work for the common good, though by the early 19th century the work element was not always insisted on, as will be seen below. They were usually converted cottages.

The workhouse in Milton Ernest, long since demolished, stood in Radwell Road, a few yards west the junction with River Lane and on the other side of the road, as shown by the Inclosure Award of 1803 [Award Book E and MA16/2]. It appears in accounts of the parish overseers of the poor [P80/12/1-2] between 1783 and 1796. It almost certainly pre-dated 1783. An inventory taken on 21st April 1794 [P80/12/2] revealed the following contents, please note the original spellings!

  • 3 Tables
  • 2 forms
  • 1 Chair 2 Dor Irons
  • 1 Chest, 2 Boxes
  • 7 Dishes, 11 plates &c.
  • 1 Grete shovel, poker, pothooks
  • 1 fier shovel & Tonges
  • 1 pail, 2 Kettles, poridg pott
  • 1 Coldorn Lock Iorn, 2 pads
  • 1 Bobin, Wool, Gersey Woll
  • 1 Tubb,
  • Salting pott
  • 5 Bedsteds, 2 Matts
  • 6 Blanketts, 3 Cover Lids, 3 Bolsters
  • 9 Sheets, 5 Beds, 4 pillows
  • 1 Looking Glass, 1 Candle Stock

Belonging to Elizabeth [name unreadable]: 1 Bedsted, 1 Bed Bolster and pillow, 2 Sheets, 2 Blankets, fring pan and Cover lid, 4 Chairs, Jersey wool. Sett of Drores, 1 Box, 1 Table, Tea kettle, fier Shovell, Tongues, Bellos, 1 Tubb, 1 Looking Glass.

On 4th April 1812 a report on the state of the poor house, as it was also known, was undertaken. Many of the things present in 1794 seem to have gone by then and life in the place must have been truly unpleasant. The report, with modern punctuation added, reads as follows [W1/770]:

"The poor house at Milton in its present state is not by any means fit for a human being to live in, it might however with some fair alterations be made to accommodate the people at present there tolerably well. The first floor consists of four apartments having very damp dirt floors".

"The first is occupied by three women, viz. Eliz Geary aged 74, who is allowed 3/6 a week by the Parish, Eliz Benyon, a cripple having a lame hand who has the same allowance as the above & Ann White a young woman who is suffered to live here but who maintains herself. These people live & sleep in this apartment which has no chimney or fire place in it & only two small windows which seem scarcely ever to have been opened. The floor is exceedingly damp & the room for want of being properly ventilated & from three people constantly living in it is amasingly offensive. Two of the beds, if they can be so called, are on the ground; the other, which is rather better, in on a bedstead a little elevated from the floor".

"The second is a small room occupied as a bed room by Robt Peat, 80 years of age, who is allowed 4s. a week having a Daughter who lives contiguous to the house. He boards with her & only sleeps in this place. He has a tolerable bed but the room itself is a very indifferent one & by no means fit for a man at his very advanced age to sleep in".

"The third is an apartment having a single very wretched bed occupied by John Fosson, a Wife & three Children who have no relief from the Parish but, not having been able to procure a house, have been put in here. This family, the mother of which being in a bad state of health, seems to want almost every necessary of life, having very little (& that little very miserable) wearing apparel & only a single rug & sheet to cover themselves by Night".

"There are two rooms on the upper story [sic] one of which is unoccupied & is the most filthy place I was ever in".

"The other has one bed only in it & that a bad one which is occupied by Sarah Lilley, a Widow with 4 Children. She is allowed 5/0 a week one of which however the overseer keeps back for fuel with which he provides her. Her eldest daughter, who is about nineteen or twenty years of age, is unable to do much towards her own maintenance, being afflicted with Epileptic Spasms to a virulent degree".

"The remaining room on the ground floor is used as a sort of common room where each family cooks &c. for itself separately. There are very few cooking utensils or indeed any kind necessaries of in the house, neither plates nor trenchers, knives or forks & indeed the diet of these poor creatures is of such nature as hardly to require the use of them as it consists of a little barley bread, sometimes peas boiled in water & thickened with a little barley flour, water gruel & Tea & altho' the health of some of them does not seem impaired by their habits of indolence or mode of living yet the appearance of others sufficiently denotes the miserable state of their existence".

With the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 parish workhouses became surplus to requirements. Most were sold and some were pulled down.