Long-Stay Mental Deficiency Hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales

May 21, 2016 by richard

G2 Information Sheet The Camden Society: Our history

March 20, 2016 by richard

Jack Harris, founder, with members. Jack was 40 years ahead of his time, telling members they could do what they liked and he would treat them like adults.

Jack Harris, founder, with members. Jack was 40 years ahead of his time, telling members they could do what they liked and he would treat them like adults.

Founded in the living rooms of a group of parents in the London Borough of Camden in 1966, the Camden Society began life as a campaigning organisation.

Initially coming together to offer one another emotional and practical support, the Camden parents soon began to campaign for a more inclusive society for people with learning disabilities.

In social context

“ There are 120,000 or 130,000 feeble minded persons at large in our midst. These unhappy beings deserve our care and assistance, and deserve all that could be done for them, now that they are in the world, by a Christian and scientific civilisation. But let it end there if possible. If we  were able to segregate these people under proper conditions, so that their curse died with them and was not transmitted to future generations, we should have taken up our shoulders in our own lifetime a work of which those who came after us would owe us a debt of gratitude”. Winston Churchill Reported in The Times 15th July 1910.

This thinking turned into the building of large mental deficiency colonies and hospitals in rural areas where male and female, ‘improvable’ and ‘unimprovable’ children and ‘improvable’ and ‘unimprovable’ adults were all kept segregated from each other.

In 1966 children with learning disabilities were often sent away from their families at an early age, to be ‘cared for’ in long-stay institutions, sometimes for life. Others were excluded from the education system and were isolated from their communities. A number of reports and books had highlighted the emotional and social impoverishment, and the denial of the civil liberties of children in institutions across Britain.

The 1970 Education Act strengthened the case for change as it enshrined the idea that all children had a right to an education. Previously, children with learning disabilities had been judged as ‘ineducable’.

Great Stoney special school Ongar                           Infant class at Great Stoney 1940’s

Bringing people home from long stay hospitals

Throughout the next two decades, the momentum towards care in the community gathered, and the Camden Society was one of the first organisations to bring people home from long-stay institutions.

The effect on people’s lives cannot be overestimated. As Carol who lived in St Lawrence’s Hospital for 30 years says:

“I’m telling you that place was like a prison. You could not do what you wanted… You were not allowed to choose what you wanted to eat. If you didn’t eat up you were given a sop like a baby, a milk sop. You had to work whether you wanted to or not. Because otherwise you’d lose everything, no pleasures, nothing. You had to keep your hair tidy or they’d cut it, into a fringe… That’s if you were ‘in disgrace’.”

By the mid-1980s, the Camden Society had become a registered charity, offering supported living, leisure and training for work and  services to people with learning disabilities

What is supported living?

A disabled person gets the support they need to live in their own home. If the person’s needs change the support they get can also be changed. The most important thing is that the support matches the person’s needs. This means the supports are designed for the person…they fit the person, the person does not have to fit the supports. This helps the person to live in their community.

Common elements of supported living include:

  • Separation of housing and support
  • Support is provided by a combination of informal (non-paid) and paid support with intentional strategies used to develop informal support
  • Paid support is individualised, flexible and under the control of the disabled person

Where a service provider is involved, it stands beside the disabled person with and their family to develop and implement the lifestyle the person wants.

Where we are today

Since then, we have expanded these services and widened our remit to include people with physical impairments, people with mental health needs, and people who need additional support to maintain their independence. We now work across London and Oxfordshire, running supported living, training, employment and leisure services.

Today, we support over 600 people every week and employ 200 permanent staff with around 50 volunteers and an annual income of £9 million.

What is left to be done

Whilst the lives of disabled people have been significantly improved over the last four decades, there is still much work to be done.

Today only 10% of people with learning difficulties are in paid employment due to negative discrimination from employers, low expectations from staff and a lack of opportunity to train for, and enter, jobs.

The health needs of many people are left unmet, while the choice to live independently in housing that meet people’s needs, culture and lifestyle is too often non-existent.

Most people with learning disabilities continue to spend their days in segregated, Government-funded day centres or attend colleges, enrolling onto the same courses year after year, with little support to progress.

The hospitals and segregation have largely gone but until all disabled people have the support and freedom to develop their lives in whatever ways they choose, the Camden Society’s work will continue.


Since the 1940s the lives of people with learning difficulties have changed enormously. From being unseen, locked away, forgotten, they have gradually become visible, gained rights and come back into society.

The last long stay hospital in England closed in May 2009. More people with learning disabilities are now able to live in a home of their own, in the way that they want. Changes to the law, including human rights and equality legislation and the Disability Discrimination Act, have given people a set of enforceable rights. It is now illegal to discriminate against a disabled person  and these same laws have started to protect people from abuse.

The days of children with learning difficulties being judged ‘ineducable’ have passed. All families now have a right to choose the school they send their children to, whether it is mainstream or specialist. Leisure opportunities include people competing on an international level in Paralympics- a far cry from the occasional trip to a hospital canteen. Although only 10% of people with a learning difficulty have paid work in the UK today, employers are becoming increasingly aware of a largely untapped pool of talents and skills. Most importantly, young people now have different expectations of how their lives should be, a sense of place they want in society and how to get it.

These changes have come about through the determination, collective effort and resolute campaigning of people who believe in human rights-people with learning difficulties, their families and the staff, volunteers and trustees of organisations like the Camden Society.

More information http://www.thecamdensociety.co.uk

G1 Information Sheet Closure of Long Stay Institutions

by richard

G1 Closure of Long Stay Institutions Information Sheet
The long stay hospitals had often taken over from workhouse hospitals and mental asylums. When the NHS was set up the Mental deficiency hospitals also became part of the long stay provision. The lack of support, adjustments in the outside world and lack of human rights meant that numbers grew in the post war period. These places were understaffed and patients were often not encouraged to develop.
In the 1950s, such hospitals and colonies were getting overcrowded as people lived longer. A number of psychologists established that IQ was not fixed,that people with learning difficulties could learn new skills and could work. A 1957 Royal Commission had concluded that mental handicap was not a medical condition, and that no resident should stay in hospital, if they could be supported in the outside world. Outside of the institution, they could be ‘normalised’ – a Swedish concept advocating life in small houses in open society – this philosophy being integral to the Community Care Movement. Drugs enabled patients to benefit from training to make their behaviour more socially acceptable. Despite this, progress to deinstitutionalise was very slow.
A number of scandals led to more public concern about long stay mental hospitals. ‘Silent Minority’ aired on British television June 1981. This documentary spotlights allegedly appalling conditions at Borocourt Hospital, Reading, Berks and St Lawrence’s Hospital Caterham, Surrey. St Lawrence’s Hospital opened in 1871 known as the South London Asylum. In 1974, the hospital came to public attention with the publication of the book ‘Tongue Tied’ by Joseph (‘Joey’) John Deacon who had been a patient at the hospital since the age of eight in 1928. Joey had cerebral palsy. This was followed by the TV documentary ‘Silent Minority’ in which the hospital featured in an unfavourable light. http://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/showthread.php?t=11524#.UiNqxDbrzkR
Another scandal was At Ely Hospital, Cardiff
In July, 1967, the News of the World forwarded to the Minister of Health (We refer to the Minister of Health throughout this report as “the Minister”) a statement by a man we shall call XY, containing allegations of various forms of misconduct on the part of members of the staff at the Ely Hospital, Cowbridge Road, Cardiff. (We refer to the hospital throughout this report as “Ely”). XY’s statement was subsequently published (without disclosure of the identity of the hospital or any of the staff concerned) in the News of the World for Sunday, 20th August, 1967.
2. XY had been employed as a Nursing Assistant at Ely from 26th September, 1966, until 24th September, 1967. The full text of his original statement is set out in the Appendix to this Report. The allegations made, which all referred to the male wards at Ely, fell under the following general headings:
 Cruel ill-treatment of four particular patients by six named members of the staff;
 Generally inhumane and threatening behaviour towards patients by one of the staff members already referred to;
 Pilfering of food, clothing and other items belonging to the hospital or the patients;
 Indifference on the part of the Chief Male Nurse to complaints that were made to him;
 Lack of care by the Physician Superintendent and one other member of the medical staff.
The Enquiry largely upheld the allegations and called for reform of supervision and staffing and for independent inspections but not for the hospitals closure.
A process of running down large institutions and their replacement by Community Care began. The NHS policy of care in the community, rather than in large institutions, came to be more fully implemented with the Community Care Act 1990. Within 17 years all the large institutions had been closed. Disabled people were supported, living in small community homes or independently, with support.

Organistions of parents and then self advocates like People First began to challenge the segregation of children and adults with learning difficulties
An example is the Camden Society founded in 1966. See Info Sheet on the Camden Society.

F3 Plans for Mental Deficiency Hospitals 1919

by richard

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 11.25.40Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 11.25.25

F2 KS3 Activity Mental Deficiency Meanwood Park

by richard

F2 KS3 Activity Mental Deficiency Meanwood Park
Ida Norman “ I was coming out of mill, Friday night, five o’clock we left, now I was excited cos I’d got my first wages you see. Then I was going down the hill through the tunnel and this man at the bottom , they called him Wormald… a lot of people.. He’s dead now. He said come on you’re going in my …I said look I’m not going in your car. I said you’ve been after me too much. He had a job to get me, but there was nobody you see”.
Geoffrey Kaye “ Going back home from school that’s how he got me. He had a car, Oh he said we’re going for a ride, where you taking me, your’ not taking me. He just didn’t say anything. He just took me to that place.”
The man they were talking about was Samuel Wormald, Mental Deficiency Officer, employed by Leeds City Council and he was taking them to Meanwood Park Colony for Mental Defectives. He was a man on a mission. ‘” By being allowed to repeat their type the feeble minded are increasing the ranks of the degenerate and wastrel classes with disastrous consequences to the entire country.”
In the i920s and 1930s Wormald rounded up more than 200 people in the Leeds area-school children, factory workers, mill girls all found themselves taken to Meanwood.
Following the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act where people classed as ‘idiot, imbeciles, feeble minded or moral defectives’ were rounded up, assessed and certified by two doctors and then kept in institutions. They were seen as a danger to society, mainly in term of having children and producing more ‘mentally defectives which would reduce the populations ability to work. Today we see these people as having the same human rights as everyone else and refer to them as disabled people with learning difficulties.
Meanwood Park was set on the outskirts of Leeds . Set in park and woodland it consisted of small houses around a central block with different classes of inmates cared for separately. All the work to run the establishment was carried out by the inmates. http://www.meanwoodpark.co.uk/
Watch slide show athttp://www.meanwoodpark.co.uk/insight/meanwood-park-hospital-1919-1996/
1. Describe the lay out and what Meanwood was like.
2. How did people often end up at Meanwood.
3. Write a letter home from Ida Norman soon after she was taken.
4. Describe how attitudes to people with learning difficulties have changed in the last 100 years
Sometimes people who had other impairments such as deafness or cerebral palsy who were disabled, but did not have a learning difficulty were also take in to the Colony. Watch the video clip
From the Channel Four Film Stolen Lives

5. Write about what happened to Geoffrey Abbot?
6. Why do you think such ‘mistakes’ were made?
Every County or large town set up mental deficiency hospitals and many people entered as children or young people and stayed the whole of their lives. They did not finally shut until 1990’s as many of the people who lived there just did not know how to look after themselves.

F1 Information Sheet the Mental Deficiency Act and Eugenicist Thinking

by richard

F1 Information Sheet the Mental Deficiency Act and Eugenicist Thinking
Eugenics is defined as ‘the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics’ and was a false science largely based on wrong ideas and statistics and prejudice and scapegoating.

In the C19th after Darwin published his theories on Evolution an increasing number of people thought these might apply to human beings and help get rid of those with criminal, immoral or drunken behaviour as well as those incapable of fully intellectually functioning-people with learning difficulties. All were described as being mentally deficient.
The introduction of compulsory education for all children in 1870 had shown that by 1880 47% of the elementary school population failed to reach Standard 4-the expected outcome. As teachers were paid by the results of their pupils pressure built up to address this mental deficiency in the lower classes.
The mentally deficient were classed as idiots, imbeciles, feeble minded and morally defectives. Long term unemployed, tramps, petty criminals, alcoholics and unmarried women who became pregnant were all seen morally defective.

The major concern was for the ‘stock’ or ‘gene pool’ and that if these groups were allowed to go on having children the British labour force would be not be able to compete with German or French workers and Britain and the British Empire would suffer decline.
Following a lot of campaigning particularly by the National Association of the Feeble Minded and the British Eugenics Society, a Royal Commission (1904)was set up to investigate the situation and make recommendations. In 1909 the Royal Commission identified 149,628 mentally deficient people in England and Wales, 65,509 were in proper provision with 6,990 in the workhouse and 4,700 on out relief, but large numbers not catered for who were seen as a threat.

Their dislike of the poor and lower orders was shown in believing they were inferior. The solutions put forward were ranged from extermination (Nazi Germany 1930’s and 1940’s) banning marriage between the mentally deficient ( USA and UK in 1920s) and others, compulsory sterilisation(USA in 37 states) and segregation in separate institutions or colonies away from the rest of the population with strict separation of the sexes. The ‘solution’ adopted in the UK.
1. Listen and Lee Humber talking about the origins of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913.
2. Now write down the main reasons for this Act of Parliament coming forward.

3. Now read the quotes below by a number of advocates of the segregation of the mentally deficient.

Mary Dendy, an active eugenicist campaigner in the 1890’s, in ‘Feeble Mindedness of Children of School Age’, asserted that children classified as mentally handicapped should be “detained for the whole of their lives” as the only way to “stem the great evil of feeble-mindedness in our country.”
“This is one of the most difficult of the many social problems confronting us today.It is however satisfactory to find that earnest efforts are being made to grapple with it and realise the elimination of degenerate stock is the way to provide high standards of racial vigour” W. Moorhouse, Chair Wakefield Board of Guardians, 1911

“Feeble minded women are almost invariably immoral, and if at large usually become carriers of venereal disease or give birth to children twice as defective as themselves. A feeble-minded woman who marries is twice as prolific as a normal woman… Every feeble-minded person, especially the high-grade imbecile, is a potential criminal needing only the proper environment and opportunity for the development and expression of his criminal tendencies. The unrecognised imbecile is the most dangerous element in society.” (Fenald, 1912)

“There was much debate about the loss of liberty for those with mental handicap in Parliament during the passage of the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act, but the liberty from which they required most protection was, in the view of society, the liberty to ‘repeat their type’ and thus increase the numbers of the degenerate and wasteral classes, with disastrous consequences for the entire community.” (Wormald and Wormald, 1914, ‘A Guide to the Mental Deficiency Act 1913’)

“The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feebleminded classes, coupled with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks constitutes a race danger. I feel that the source from which the stream of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before another year has passed.” Winston Churchill MP, Home Secretary at the time the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 became law.
4. What are the main arguments that these campaigners are using. Make a list of these arguments.
5. For each of the arguments above say why you think they may be false.

The legal definition of Mental Deficiency in the 1913 Act was as follows.
IDIOTS – persons in whose case there exists mental defectiveness of such a degree that they are unable to guard themselves against common physical dangers.
IMBECILES – persons in whose case there exists mental defectiveness which, though not amounting to IDIOCY, is yet so pronounced that they are incapable of managing themselves and their affairs. Or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.
FEEBLE-MINDED – persons in whose case there exists mental defectiveness which, though not amounting to IMBECILITY, is yet so pronounced that they require care, supervision and control for their own protection or for the protection of others. Or in the case of children, that they appear to be permanently incapable by reason of such defectiveness of receiving proper benefit from the instruction in ordinary school.
MORAL DEFECTIVENESS – persons in whose case there exists mental defectiveness coupled with strong vicious or criminal propensities and who require care, supervision and control for the protection of others.

6.What problems do you think administrators might have implementing this definition?

The new Intelligence measuring system developed by Binet, which tried to classify all the variety and richness of human thinking in one measure the Intelligence Quotient, was promoted as a way of classifying the various grades of mental deficiency.
Mild Mental Retardation
IQ = 50 to 70

Moderate mental retardation
IQ = 35 to 49
synonyms: imbecile; moderate mental subnormality
Severe mental retardation
IQ = 20 to 34
synonym: severe mental subnormality
Profound mental retardation
IQ under 20
synonyms: idiocy; profound mental subnormality

7. Listen to Lee Humber IQ http://www.pulse-project.org/node/495

8. What are the difficulties with trying to measure general intelligence?

In practice it was after the 1914-1918 War that Local Authorities started to really implement the mental deficiency Act by building many long stay colonies and hospitals and rounding up the mentally deficient and placing them there for life. Between 1920 when 10,000 people with learning difficulty were in institutions and 1946 when 60,000 were in institutions

9.Meanwood Park was built on the outskirts of Leeds in 1919 eventually housing 2000 inmates. Go to the website and read accounts http://www.meanwoodpark.co.uk/ and watch 7 minute film http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYcQMpDQeng&feature=player_embedded

10. Often people who were deaf or had cerebral palsy were incarcerated. Imagine you are one such person. Now write a letter to the Prime Minister as a person who was forcibly taken to Meanwood Park asking to be released and your reasons.

i. http://www.meanwoodpark.co.uk/a-resource/the-care-and-control-of-the-feeble-minded/
ii. The above classification can be compared to the following analysis of mental retardation in the International Classification of Diseases (9th revision – 1975): (Mental retardation is defined as intellectual impairment starting in early childhood.)

E4 Numbers per 1000 and Expenditure New Poor Law 1834 TO 1930

by richard

E4 Numbers and the New Poor Law

E3 Activities KS4 & KS5 on the Poor Laws and disabled people using internet based resources.

by richard

E3 Activities KS4 & KS5 on the Poor Laws and disabled people using internet based resources.
A. Elizabethan Poor Law

Look at http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/elizpl.html
1. What were the religious duties considered necessary in the feudal system, before the ending of the monasteries and the charity they provided?
2. What were the three categories of the poor and which one would cover disabled people?
3. How were the old/sick or infirm (disabled people) to be cared for?
4. In 1601, various Laws were brought together into a framework for supporting the poor in each parish (smallest unit-15,000 in England and Wales). What were the main features of the 1601 Poor Law?
5. What is the difference between outdoor and indoor relief?

B. Challenges to the Old Poor Law Look at E4 Numbers to help you answer.

Look at http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/changes.html
6. By how much was the cost of poor relief increasing?
7. What were the reasons for this increase in costs?
8. Who paid this relief and why did they want a change?
Look at http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/royalcom.html
9. Do you think the Royal Commission got things wrong? If so how?
Look at http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/implemen.html
10. Given children, aged and infirm (disabled) people were the main beneficiaries of the poor law, how did the Workhouse negatively affect them?
Look at http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/vismatov.html
11. Describe what the new workhouse was physically like?
Look at http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Aylesbury/index.shtml#rules
And http://www.workhouses.org.uk/life/routine.shtml
12. Describe what a day in the workhouse would be like?
Look at http://www.workhouses.org.uk/memories and read several accounts
13. Write a diary of a week living in a Workhouse as a disabled young woman with a physical impairment which prevents you from standing for long and means you need two walking sticks to walk.
There were more than 2000 Union workhouses built. Find out about a workhouse in your local area http://www.workhouses.org.uk/map/ click down to your area.
14. i Where was it located?
14. ii Describe the physical appearance and lay out.
14. iii Is anything still left of it and what is it used for now?
14. iv Who lived there? (check-out the 1881 census data)
14. v Does the census identify disabled people who lived there?
14.vi How many and with which impairments?

E2 Activity KS3 & KS4. Did the Treatment of Poor People Improve after 1834 Poor Law ?

by richard

E2 Activity KS3 & KS4. Did the Treatment of Poor People Improve after 1834 Poor Law ?
More than 6,000,000 people visited the Great Exhibition in 1851. But what about the people who did not come? Among those who did not visit would have been poor people without means to support themselves. Had life improved for them since the introduction of the Poor law of 1834?

Before 1834 there was no one way of providing help for the poor. The local parish could build a workhouse if it wanted to and make the poor work for their keep. The parish could decide to give the poor money when they needed it.

Some used the Speenhamland System; this linked the amount of money handed out to the price of bread and the number of people in the family. But in 1834 all the different methods of helping the poor were abolished and replaced by the New Poor Law.

The New Poor Law was introduced by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which was based upon a report published in 1832. This report had been written by Edwin Chadwick. He wanted the poor to be helped to support themselves. He wanted children to be educated and taught a trade, but many of his ideas were forgotten when the Act was put into force.

The Poor Law Amendment Act set up the Poor Law Commission in London, which was responsible for the organisation of Poor Relief throughout England and Wales. Parishes were grouped into ‘Unions’ and each Union had to build a workhouse.

Plans for the construction of Workhouses were provided by the Commission, which also sent out rules and regulations. Unions were told how Workhouses were to be run and how paupers, the term used for people who entered the Workhouse, were to be treated.

After 1834, anybody who wanted help had to go into the Workhouse. Outdoor relief, giving money to people living in their own homes, was banned, unless the people were old or sick. In the Workhouse, the conditions were to be worse than anything that people might find outside; this was the idea of ‘less eligibility’.

To make sure that Unions kept to the regulations, the Commission sent inspectors to every Workhouse at least once a year. These inspectors were called Assistant Commissioners. They wrote reports on all the Workhouses and sent them to the Commission in London.

The New Poor Law was supposed to be more efficient, but did the care of the poor really improve after the Poor Law Amendment Act?
Visit the National Archives for original documents and activities. Each document has a series of Tasks suitable for KS 3 & 4
1.Huddersfield Report 1847 Response to negative report from Medical Officer of Health.
2.Report by Thomas Tatham , Medical Officer.
3.Week’s Dietary Input Huddersfield 1848.
4.Report of Overseer June 1948 Huddersfield.
5.This is the ‘dietary’ for the Reigate Workhouse in Surrey.
6.This is part of a letter sent from the Reigate Union to an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner. His job was to inspect the Unions in his area and make sure that they were obeying the rules laid down by the 1834 Act.
The letter explains why the Union paid outdoor relief to people living outside the workhouse which was not encouraged. Wages are given in pounds and shillings. Some are disabled people.
7.This is an extract from a report by the Assistant Poor Law Commissioner
on the Reigate Workhouse on 12th February 1851.
8.This is part of a letter written by an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner
to the Poor Law Commissioners.
All can be downloaded to be printed in more legible copies from

E1 Teachers Notes The Poor Laws and Disabled People.

by richard

E1 Teachers Notes The Poor Laws and Disabled People.
The history of the poor laws is conveniently divided into the Early Poor Law, Old Poor Law — crystallised in the 1601 Act for the Relief of the Poor, and the New Poor Law — heralded by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.
The Old Poor Law can be broadly characterised as being parish-centred, haphazardly implemented, locally enforced, and with some of its most significant developments (e.g. the operation of workhouses) being completely voluntary. The New Poor Law, based on the new administrative unit of the Poor Law Union, aimed to introduce a rigorously implemented, centrally enforced, standard system that was to be imposed on all and which centred on the workhouse.
In fact, there was very little that was actually new in the system introduced in 1834. Its key elements — the grouping of parishes into unions, the deterrent workhouse, and the workhouse test — had all existed under the Old Poor Law. Essentially, it was the manner in which poor relief was administered that changed under the New Poor Law
At a more profound level, however, the New Poor Law saw a fundamental change in the way that the poor were viewed by many of their “betters”. The traditional attitude had been one of poverty being inevitable (exemplified by the oft-quoted biblical text “For the poor always ye have with you”), the poor essentially victims of their situation, and their relief a Christian duty. The 1834 Act was guided by a growing view that the poor were largely responsible for their own situation, which they could change if they chose to do so.

Early Poor Law

Under the feudal system most ordinary people were tied to the land. They were born in the manor, expected to work and fight for their Lord of the Manor and in return were granted shelter, grazing, cultivation and other rights. The family were expected to provide for the needy old, young and disabled with occasional help from the church or Lord of the Manor. Some who were sick or infirmed sought support in monasteries.

The earliest English laws dealing with the poor were largely concerned with suppressing beggars and travelling beggars. The Black Death (1348 -49) led to up to one third of the population dying. This led to a severe labour shortage. So groups of workers travelled the country to get the highest wages they could secure and begged for food and shelter as they travelled. In 1349, in reaction, Edward III passed an Ordinance of Labour. This kept wages at their former level and prohibited private individuals from giving relief to non-disabled beggars.
In 1388 the Statute of Cambridge (Richard II), introduced restrictions on the movement of all labourers and beggars. The growth of the Towns was beginning to act as a magnet to draw labourers off the land in search of a better livelihood. Each county became responsible for relieving its own ‘impotent poor’ –those who because of age or infirmity(disability and sickness) were incapable of work.

There remained considerable concern about vagabonds or tramps begging and further draconian laws were passed. There was often a concern that disabled beggars were pretending or faking it to get sympathy and hand-outs. The 1494 Vagabonds’ Act (Henry VIII) determined that ‘Vagabonds, idle and suspected persons shall be set in the stocks for three days and three nights and have none other sustenance but bread and water and shall be put out of Town’. Those capable of work were returned to the County Hundred they came from. Further, the Beggars and Vagabonds’ Act 1531(Henry VII) required vagabonds to be whipped and returned to their birthplace for three years, but also allowed the impotent poor to beg after obtaining a licence from a Justice of the Peace (Magistrate).

The seeds of the future direction of the poor law were sown in the short lived 1536 Vagabonds’ Act (Henry VIII) .This was the year of the dissolution of the monasteries and significantly increased the numbers of sick and disabled people begging. The Act required church wardens in each parish to collect voluntary alms in a ‘common box’ to provide hand-outs for those who could not work, while at the same time the idle and able bodied poor were obliged to perform labour with punishment for those who refused. The Act also prohibited begging and unofficial alms giving. A further Act of 1547(Edward VI) included provision for the ‘ impotent poor’ including the erection of cottages for them to live in-‘poorhouses’.

This Act was followed by a series of laws tightening the voluntary contribution to each household and then a series of local poor-taxes in London, Cambridge, Colchester, Ipswich, Norwich and York and became adopted nationally in the Vagabonds Act 1572 (Elizabeth I). The money raised was used to relieve ‘aged, poor, impotent and decaying persons’ and administered by an unpaid parish overseer-this was the first national pension and disability benefit scheme. Every town, city, market and market town was to lay in a store of wool, hemp, flax, iron and other materials to provide work for the poor able to work. In 1597, the Act for Relief of the Poor (Elizabeth I) required every parish to appoint Overseers of the Poor whose job it was to collect and distribute the poor rate, find work for the able bodied and set up parish houses for those incapable of supporting themselves. Impairment was common due to war, disease and rudimentary medical practice. Many amongst the poor judged as able to work would still have impairments and be classed today as disabled people. Classification was subjective and continued to be so under the Poor Law.

Old Poor Law or Elizabethan Poor Law 1601
These Acts were consolidated in 1601 Poor Relief Act (Elizabeth I) and also made ‘necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old , blind and such other among them being poor and not able to work’ the responsibility of the parish. The needy poor were also made the legal responsibility of their parents, grandparents or children, if such relatives were themselves able to provide support-an early means test. Implementation of this range of measures which became known as the ‘Old Poor Law’, was often patchy and non-sustained, but it continued with some amendment up until 1834 and elements can still be traced in social provision today .

Between 1697 to 1810 anyone receiving poor relief should wear a badge on their right shoulder. The badge , in red or blue cloth was to consist of the letter P together with the initial letter of the parish for example Ampthill parish would be AP. Initially this was to identify recipients of parish charity, but by 1697 it had acquired stigma and was to act as a further deterrent to claiming relief .
Parish poor relief was dispensed mostly through “out-relief” — grants of money, clothing, food, or fuel, to those living in their own homes. However, the workhouse gradually began to evolve in the seventeenth century as an alternative form of “indoor relief”, both to save the parish money, and also as a deterrent to the able-bodied who were required to work, usually without pay, in return for their board and lodging.

Various reforms were introduced throughout C18th giving more power to the representatives of rate payers rather than the church and vestry. The Knatchbull Act 1723 introduced a legal framework for workhouses, which could be contracted or farmed out to private providers and a workhouse test that should act as a deterrent and relief could be limited to those desperate enough to accept the regime of ‘indoor relief’, in the workhouse. The Gilbert Act 1782 aimed to organise poor relief on a larger scale, which to this point had only been done by a few places such as Bristol using separate acts of Parliament. Parishes could form ‘unions’ roughly the size of County Hundreds. The Unions could set up a common workhouse for a number of parishes, although this was for the benefit only of the ‘old, the sick and infirm and orphan children’. Able bodied paupers were not to be admitted, but were found employment near their homes with land-owners, farmers and other employers who received allowances from the poor rates to bring their wages to subsistence levels.

No statistics were published until 1777 for England and Wales which covered the year- Easter 1775 to Easter 1776.These recorded a total of 1978 workhouses with a capacity of 90,000 places (excluding a few Local Act parishes). Total expenditure was £1.55million with 5% spent on workhouse accommodation and 94% spent on out relief i.e. employment for able-bodied poor and handouts to the impotent poor in their homes. The population in this year was 8 million and around 306,000 people received some form of relief or 3.8% of the population .

An analysis over time shows a slow upward trend until the Napoleonic wars and the negative impact on employment at the end of this period, when dramatic increases occur leading to popular concern and the Royal Commission on the Poor Law in 1832 and the New Poor Law in 1834 following which the numbers claiming relief are reduced, only to slowly rise in line with population increase. Expenditure only rose dramatically again in 1930s and 1930s as the Great Depression hit.
Year Estimated Population Total Expenditure £ Expenditure per head
s d Estimate Nos receiving relief % of Pop. Receiving relief
1688 5,500,000 700,000 2/6 140,000 2.5
1714 5,750,000 950,000 3/3 190,000 3.3
1760 7,000,000 1,250,000 3/6 250,000 3.5
1784 8,250,000 2,004,238 5/0 400,000 4.8
1801 9,172,980 3,750,000 8/3 750,000 8.1
1813 10,505,800 6,656,106 12/8 1,331,000 12.7
1818 11,876,000 7,870,801 13/3 1,547,000 13.2
1821 11,876,000 6,959,251 11/7 1,444,000 11.7
1832 14,105,600 7,036,969 10/0 1,400,000 9.9
1835 14,564,000 5,526,418 7/7 1,105,000 7.6
1837 14,955,000 4,044,741 5/5 809,000 5.4
1847 17,076,000 4,760,929 5/8 3/4 952,000 6.2

If the two graphs in [Numbers and the New Poor Law] are examined it can be seen that the numbers on outdoor relief decrease with some variation for cyclical unemployment until in the early 1920’s it is 8 per 1000 of the population and indoor relief is 6 per 1000 of the population. However, this took 80 years with outdoor relief 7 to 4 times indoor relief throughout the Victorian period. By contrast the harsh regime on offer in the Workhouse succeeded in limiting numbers throughout the period.

Less eligibility’ was defined as follows: that the situation of the able-bodied recipient of poor relief “on the whole shall not be made really or apparently as eligible as the independent labourer of the lowest class.” The New Poor Law created the workhouse structure, under the philosophy of the less eligibility test that only those willing to enter the unpleasant and liberty-reducing workhouses were poor enough to deserve aid. Those who entered the workhouse system were confined for twenty-four hours a day, separated from their children, parents, and spouses, and subject to rigorous discipline and arduous labour. The workhouse life was designed to be less desirable than the life of the lowest paid independent worker, so that their resources would not be too greatly taxed. Because of this, very few able bodied people chose to enter the workhouse system; the large majority of inmates were aged, infirm, or children.

The impact on the large numbers of disabled people who had no choice but to seek welfare in the Workhouse was to treat them very harshly and to depersonalise them. The views of disabled people that this engendered amongst those who administered the first comprehensive state provision has had a lasting impact in terms of attitudes to disabled people and the idea that it is OK for them to be financially penalised because they are disabled people.

Given the long-term implications of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act(PLAA), it was most unfortunate that the investigation of the Royal Commission was wildly inaccurate and unstatistical. The Commissioners sent out questionnaires to 15,000 parishes and received 1,500 responses: only 10%. The Commissioners did not seem to realise (or ignored the fact) that most relief went to the ‘deserving poor’ and not to able-bodied males. Only 20% of those claiming relief were able-bodied adult men. Those receiving relief comprised 13% of the total population, increasing to perhaps 20% between 1817 and 1821 (of a total population of 12 million). Of those,
• 50% were children under 15 years old
• 9% to 20% were sick, aged or infirm
Able-bodied male (pauper) labourers comprised about 2% of the entire population
The pressure to reduce the rates falling on land owners, new utilitarian ideas, the false idea that outdoor relief was artificially effecting wages, Malthus’s views of over-population being supported by poor relief and the need to force people to move to work to the new industrial areas all played a part in the framing of the PLAA .

The 1834 Act followed from the Royal Commission, which was based on extensive research and the wish to reduce costs, particularly for out-relief. One model followed the practice clergyman John T Belcher who had developed a harsh regime at Southwell Workhouse, Nottinghamshire. This system was characterised by a strict workhouse regime-separation of the sexes, strict diet, the requirement of labour from the able-bodied, together with stringent control of out-relief. Although aimed at able-bodied paupers, this change of approach also had a negative affect on disabled people residing in workhouses. Admission to the workhouse was on a voluntary basis and the aim was to make the daily regime extremely uncomfortable and denying individuality.

“The main Classes are subdivided and distributed into distinct Wards, according to the Character and Conduct of the Paupers. This ensures subordination, and enables us to discriminate between the innocent and the culpable Poor…. But the Idle, the Improvident, the Profligate and the Sturdy Poor, are subjected to a System of secluded restraint and salutary discipline , which, together with our simple yet sufficient Dietary, prove so repugnant to dissolute habits, that they very soon apply for their discharge and devise means of self-support, which nothing short of compulsion could urge them to explore”.
“…It must be recollected, that out object is not to provide a permanent receptacle for able-bodied Adults, but a refuge for those who are rendered incapable of labour by mental imbecility, or by bodily infirmity; by the helplessness of Infancy, of by the decrepitude of Old Age. These are treated with all that tenderness to which they are entitled by their Misfortunes.” (Belcher p.83).
The differences for old and disabled people were not that great from other inmates as Belcher goes on to explain.

“ The aged, infirm and guiltless Poor, are not strictly subject to ordinary Diet, but are allowed Tea, a small quantity of Butter,, and other indulgences of this description. The Sick and the Infirm are sustained in such a manner as the Surgeon directs”.
The distinction between the worthy and unworthy poor was strongly enforced by law. Anyone found to be faking their impairment was severely punished. These rules (which were common) from St Andrews Workhouse in Holborn London demonstrate.

“THAT all Persons, who through Idleness may pretend themselves sick, lame, or infirm, so as to be excused their working, such Impostors so discovered, either by their Stomachs, or by the Physician, shall be carried before a Magistrate, in order to be punish’d severely as the Law directs”
The New Poor Law, as it was known, aimed to create a national, uniform and compulsory system of poor relief administered under a central authority, the Poor Law Commissioners (PLC). New administrative areas were to be created as Poor Law Unions, each managed by a Board of Guardians elected by local ratepayers.Depending on the value of the property they had between 1 and 6 votes. It built on the existing structures of the Old Poor Law. The PLC was given discretion to determine the type, amount and manner of relief. The Act allowed the Justice of the Peace to issue an order for the giving of medical relief or for out relief to the elderly or infirm.

There were major weaknesses in that the old Gilbert Unions and Local Act Incorporations did not come under the PLC and the PLC could not compel Local Unions to build workhouses. This resulted in six further amendment Acts between 1842 and 1851.

What was the impact of these changes on the lives of disabled people?
The idea of cutting outdoor relief and deterrence for able bodied labourers meant that the Workhouse was set up in a way that had a dreadful impact on disabled and aged people who for were together with children were the main inmates.
Many stayed away from the workhouse if they could acquire an occupation, employment or their families could support them. Others were not in this position, particularly those who acquired their impairment in later life. The exact numbers were not collected regularly, though many statistics were collected and require further research. In 1862 a detailed analysis was made of women resident in the country’s workhouses. Out of 39,073, 5,160 are classified as ‘Imbecile, Idiots or weak minded’, 5,300 are ‘respectable women and girls incapable of getting their living on account of illness or other bodily defect or infirmity’ and 470 are ‘Idiotic or weak-minded single women with one or more bastard children’. These account for 28% of women inmates who might count as disabled by today’s standards.

In 1861 a parliamentary survey examined the reasons why people were staying long periods or never leaving the workhouse and found that 21% or 14,216 inmates had been in residence 5 or more years and 6,445 more than 10 years. The reasons recorded for long-term residence were:
Old age and infirmity -42%
Mental disease- 35%
Bodily defects- 11%
Bodily disease- 6%
Moral defects- 1%
Other 7%

Over half (53%) and probably a considerable number classified as old or infirmed had ‘physical or mental impairments which have a substantial impact on their ability to carry out day to day activities’ . In addition many would have become institutionalised-dependent psychologically on the support they received in the workhouse and not feel able to manage in the outside world.
The largest group identified as disabled above consisted of those classified with a mental disease. In the C19th and early C20th this group would have been broken down as follows.:

‘Lunatics’, which covered all manner of mental disturbance from those who ‘acted out’ with manias and delusions some of who could be violent, to those who ‘acted in’ with ‘melancholia’ or depression.

Although a public system of asylums had begun in 1810 under the Lunatic Paupers or Criminals Act, allowing the setting up of county asylums, these were expensive and few. This became a legal obligation under the Lunatics Act of 1845. This and the 1834 Act had required the removal of dangerous lunatics-people with mental health issues, because of the additional expense to the Guardians of placing them in the asylum; the large majority of the ‘insane’ or those with mental health issues remained in the workhouse. Often this led to the most inhumane treatment:-

Assistant Poor Law Commissioner W.J. Gilbert reports on a female ‘lunatic’ in Tiverton ,Devon parish workhouse. “She was confined in a small room, having neither furniture, fire place nor bed; there was not anything in the room butt a bundle of straw. She was without a single piece of clothing, perfectly naked, and had been confined in that state during winter and summer for the last 28 years.”

Workhouses had two main strategies for dealing with those with mental health issues they chose not to pass on for treatment elsewhere- they either were placed in dedicated lunatic wards or more usually dispersed amongst other workhouse inmates.
An article in the Lancet in 1865 highlighted how cruel such strategies could be at Clerkenwell workhouse:-
“The women’s ward, in particular, offers an instance of thoughtless cruelty which nothing can excuse the guardians for permitting. Twenty-one patients live entirely in the ward…and the mixture of heterogeneous cases which ought never to be mingled is really frightful. There is no seclusion ward for acute maniacs, and accordingly we saw a wretch who for five days had been confined to her bed by means of strait-waistcoat, during the whole of which time she had been raving and talking nonsense, having had only two hours’ sleep and there was the prospect of her remaining several days longer in the same condition. There were several epileptics in the ward and one had a fit while we were present. And there were imbeciles and demented watching all this with frightened , half curious looks.”
A similar report on Shoreditch Workhouse where imbeciles and lunatics were found:
“ Moping about in herds, without any occupation whatever, neither classified, nor amused, nor employed; congregated in a miserable day-room, where they sit and stare at each other or at the bare walls, and where the monotony is only broken by the occasional excitement due to an epileptic or gibbering and fitful laughter of some excitable lunatic, they pass a life uncheered by any of the brightening influences which in well-managed asylums are employed to develop the remnants of intelligence and to preserve them from total degradation. They have here neither fresh air, nor exercise, no out-door occupation of any kind. The exercise-ground is a wretched yard with bare walls, confined in space, and utterly miserable and unfit for its purposes”.
Not until the 1890s was there a requirement for medical examination and the workhouse had to have suitable facilities. Some inhabitants of the workhouse with mental health issues just stayed where they were and transferred to the National Health Service in 1949, to long stay hospitals in the same buildings, just with a change of name.
‘Idiots and Imbeciles’- People with Learning Difficulty
During the C19th and first part C20th those with various forms of intellectual impairment were usually referred to as ‘mental defectives’. ‘Idiocy’ was considered more severe than ‘imbecility’ and was generally viewed as a congenital impairment. Another group with milder degree of impairment were known as ‘feeble minded’, ‘weak minded’ or ‘simple’. These would correspond to the labels Severe Learning Difficulty, Moderate Learning Difficulty and Mild Learning Difficulty used in schools today. Those with these conditions often ended up in the workhouse and were recorded in the census as such from 1871 to 1911.

The Parliamentary Survey of 1861 quoted above broke down the category of long stay inhabitants in workhouses of mental disease (35%) into the following categories
Idiot – 1,565
Weak minded -1,026
Imbecile -997
Paralysis- 465 ( c.f usually just a physical impairment)
Insane – 325
Lunatic- 210
Fits -205
Epilepsy- 175
Palsy -21( usually a physical impairment)

This group of disabled people, as time went on, were increasingly hospitalised under the influence of eugenics and the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, when they were seen as a threat to the gene-pool of the whole population. But already by 1870 the London Metropolitan Asylums’ Board had set up two large 2000 bed asylums for imbecile paupers in Leavesden in Hertfordshire and in (St Lawrence) Caterham, Surrey . Initially these included children and adults, but from1878 the Board opened a Children’s Asylum in Darenth in Kent and later a school for improvable patients. This was an early example of a special school for learning difficulty. Increasingly educable children were taken out of the workhouse to workhouse schools usually set in the country for those from urban areas, but those deamed ineducable were often left in adult institutions.
Epileptics- People with epilepsy were generally treated in similar ways to others with mental health or learning difficulties. They were usually mixed with other inmates. In the early C20th Poor Law Unions jointly established specialist facilities such as Moneywell colony, Staffordshire (1908) for ‘sane epileptics’ and Langho colony, Lancashire opened in 1906 by Chorlton and Manchester Joint Committee.

Langho Epilepsy Colony, Lancashire. The Langho Colony was founded by the Joint Asylum Committee of the Chorlton and Manchester Board of Guardians in the Ribble Valley in 1906 as a hospital for epileptics. In 1929 its control passed to Manchester City Council. It closed in 1984.

Hospitals. Due to agitation by Doctors and Medical Officers First in London and later throughout the country the sick were separated and sent to infirmaries with proper medical provision. These eventually became the first hospitals to cater for ordinary working class people. Many of these buildings were transferred to the NHS when it was set up in 1949.

i. Drawing largely o.n Peter Higgenbotham (2012b) The Workhouse Encyclopaedia’ Stroud,The History Press p208-211
ii. Workhouse Encyclopaedia p 35.
iii. Webb,s and Webb,B (1929) English Poor Law Policy Part Ii: The Last Hundred Years p1038-1040 quoted in Higginbotham (2012b) p255.
iv. http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/royalcom.html
v. Belcher JT(1834)’The Anti-Pauper System’ p 8-19;quoted Higgenbotham P.(2012a) ‘Voices from the Workhouse’ Stroud,The History Press p.82.
vi. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/CityOfLondon/parishes.shtml 1727
vii Female Adult Paupers Parliamentary Papers 1862 and divided them up in 22 categories.
Paliamentary Papers(1861) Paupers in the Workhouse pii, quoted in Higgenbotham (2012b) p172.
viii Definition of disability in 2010 Equalities Act.
ix. Parliamentary Papers (1836) Second Annual Report of PLC p 326 reported in Higginbotham (2012b) p171
x. The Lancet 1865 Reported in Higgenbotham (2012b) p171-172
xi. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/MAB-Caterham/ See also story of Mabel Cooper and Camden Society for links about deinstitutionalising this hospital.
xii Higgenbotham (29012b) p173.
xiii Jean Barclay, Langho Colony/Langho Centre. 1906-1984: A Contextual Study of Manchester’s Public Institution for people with Epilepsy which is held in the Manchester Room@City Library (q 362.196853Ba(850)).