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Health in the workhouse

According to the workhouse regulations, the guardians of the Hereford Union were instructed by the Poor Law Commissioners to make contracts with licensed medical men to attend all paupers falling sick in the workhouse and to provide medicines where necessary (Sylvia A. Morrill, "Poor Law in Hereford 1836-1851", Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, Vol. XLI Part II, 1974, p. 249). In May 1836 three doctors were appointed at fees of £80 per year. However, complaints were made that they often did not attend a patient when requested and it was alleged that this non-attendance could have caused death. It is perhaps not surprising that the doctor would neglect to attend to a pauper, if at the same time his expertise was called for by a private patient.

If inmates of the workhouse fell ill, they were sent to the infirmary block or an infirm ward. In cases of epidemics this ward could soon be full to overflowing. In the winter of 1847, for example, so many children in the Hereford Union Workhouse were ill with measles that one of the female inmates was hired to nurse them for 2s. 6d. per week.

In 1839 so many women were found to be suffering from venereal disease that the women's ward of the Hereford workhouse was full. In fact, when a 14-year-old was found to have been infected, it was decided by the guardians to investigate a certain house in Bowsey Lane (Sylvia A. Morrill, p. 250).Prostitution was a common, if illegal, form of child labour in the slums of Victorian England.

[Original author: Toria Forsyth-Moser, 2004]