Sunday, 11 May 2014

1834 Workhouse Diet Begins

Here's a picture of some chocolate cake I won't be eating this week- because tomorrow I embark on Phase Two of this project, the 1834 diet.  

In 1834 we leave Georgian frumenty and pottage behind to enter into the realm of Oliver Twist- the Victorian literary creation of Charles Dickens, embedded forever in the popular imagination with the plaintive cry, "please Sir, I want some more'.

Of course, we all know, possibly via Lionel Bart's musical version, that food-wise, all they ever got was gru-el.
Bart, and even Dickens, got a few of the workhouse details wrong, but they were right about the gruel.

Here's my menu for this week.

For a transcript, you can click to the 1834 diet page of this blog. It's pretty repetitive. 

  • ALL suppers are bread and cheese. 
  • For dinner, once a week, I get meat pudding and veg, and once a week, suet pudding and veg. 
  • For women, two dinners are bread with 1oz cheese, two dinners are bread with 3/4 oz butter, and one is bread with broth. 
  • Men get larger dinner and supper portions than women but ALL the breakfasts are a pint and half of of gruel- with a side order of more bread. 
  • I'll be chomping through a total of 18oz of heavy rye bread a day.

That's about a small loaf per day. The amount of cheese pictured will last me the week (not sure if the workhouse cooks got theirs from Waitrose)!  

Drinks, again, are not specified, but at least it's not beer this time! I may have to pretend to be elderly or infirm to get a cup of tea...

Interestingly, at this time in the workhouses food (and beer and tobacco) was sometimes used to reward good behaviour and hard work. Inmates were also put on a bread-and-water diet for punishment. 

Here's a bit of history about why it all changed for the poor in 1834.

During the first two decades of the 19th Century the workhouses became full to bursting. A report by the Royal Commission reviewed existing workhouses and found that- 
"poverty was essentially caused by the indigence of individuals rather than economic and social conditions. Thus, the pauper claimed relief regardless of his merits: large families got most, which encouraged improvident marriages; women claimed relief for bastards, which encouraged immorality; labourers had no incentive to work; employers kept wages artificially low as workers subsidized from the poor rate."*

In answer to this report, the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was introduced to toughen up conditions inside workhouses, actively discouraging new entrants. 

After 1834, families, previously able to stay together, were now separated; men from women, adults from children. All inmates were judged and segregated: the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor were treated differently. For example, the undeserving, such as single mothers and tramps, were given isolated accommodation and distinguishing uniforms. On the other hand, the virtuous widows, children, orphans, and sick or disabled paupers received much more consideration, including education and medical care.

Classification continued into the diet of the inmates. In other words, different people got different food, according to which category they fell into. Below is a list of categories from the website. As a general rule, children, the elderly and the infirm got more meat, and were given tea and sugar too. Tramps and single mothers were given their food last. Cold gruel- yum yum!
Class 1Men not employed in work
Class 1AMen employed in work (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 2Infirm men not employed in work
Class 2AInfirm men employed in work (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 2BFeeble infirm men (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 3Women not employed in work
Class 3AWomen employed in work (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 4Infirm women not employed in work
Class 4AInfirm men employed in work (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 4BFeeble infirm men (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 5Children aged from 3 to 8
Class 6Children aged from 8 to 15
Class 7Children under 3
Class 8Sick diets

You can click on the links below to follow my progress on FB or Twitter. Wish me luck!

*I guess the same opinion these days is summed up by the media in two words: "Benefit Scroungers"

1 comment:

  1. Diets and healthy meals is most important way to live good and healthy life , when I use diet I feel so strong and healthy