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The new Poor Union in Hereford

The chairman of the County Sessions in Hereford (a Mr. Powell) did not favour the Poor Law Amendment Act. Mr. Powell was angry that justices could no longer act as arbitrators between the poor relief officials and the paupers. He claimed that there was no longer any system by which a pauper could complain if he believed that he was receiving inadequate relief, but was forced to put himself upon the mercy of the the workhouse or starve.

The assistant Commissioner, Mr. Head, assigned to Hereford by the Poor Law Commission had several criticisms of Hereford's poor relief system. He said that the officials in the area were disillusioned, believing the poor to be less of a problem than they were. He also criticised the way in which Hereford gave poor relief. Up until this time Hereford had a practice of paying a labourer's rent and often landlords in the city would take advantage of this and charge higher rents than the properties were worth. Labourers were also often paid their wages in cider, which could lead to alcohol abuse and lack of proper money to buy provisions.

After the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, Hereford was forced to group itself into a Union of 47 parishes. The first meeting of the Board of Guardians of the Hereford Union took place on May 9th 1836 at the Shire Hall, when 14 ex-officio Guardians and 50 elected guardians were present. The ex-officio Guardians were all magistrates who by the holding of this position were eligible to become members of the Board.

The rest of the Board was made up of ratepayers whose property had been valued at a minimum of £30.

The first Chairman of the Hereford Union was Mr. J. Phillips (who later became Sheriff), and the Vice Chairman was Mr. J. Benbow. At the first meeting the positions of several paid officers were filled, including a Clerk and three Medical Officers, all of whom were to be paid £80 per annum. Adverts were later placed for five Relieving Officers to be paid salaries of £50 per annum for country areas and £60 for the city.

The Board continued to meet once a week to hear applications for relief in the workhouse and to consider costs and reports from the workhouse.

(For further information, see Sylvia A. Morrill, "Poor Law in Hereford 1836-1851", Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, Vol. XLI Part II, 1974, pp. 239-252.)

In 1907 the Hereford Union wrote to the Poor Law Commissioners with some queries.

1. The feeble-minded
"More power of detention of the feeble-minded should be given to the Guardians, doctors being loath to certify them as imbeciles, although they acknowledge them as not able to protect themselves. This especially applies to women who often come under the influence of unscrupulous men who induce them to leave the workhouse to cohabit immorally. Also to other women who return again and again for the purpose of using the workhouse as a free lying-in hospital. The Guardians wish to detain them with a view to checking illegitimacy and that women should be made to contribute to their maintenance and accommodation."

2. Out-door relief
"Power should be given to the Guardians and their officers to refuse out-door relief to persons if their surroundings are detrimental to themselves or to others. The officers of the Guardians should not be held responsible for the consequence should such persons refuse to receive indoor relief. Guardians also feel that the regulations on Out-door relief should be more stringent."

3. Vagrancy
"Guardians consider that the Local Government Boards should insist upon uniform treatment at every workhouse as regards diet, work and housing so that the tramp might meet with the same treatment wherever he went." (This was presumably so that tramps did not all head for the more comfortable and generous workhouses.)

4. Economy in Out-door Relief
"Only form of relief which should be given to many of those who seek the aid of the Poor Law so that establishments outside of the workhouse do not appear more attractive options."

(Hereford Record Office, T75/1)

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2003]