When prison is a better option than the Poor law

 

CityOfLondon1

The City of London workhouse

Ann Weeks and Sarah Hart were poor and they were starving.

They were so desperate  that they queued up to get into the London Union workhouse. Having not eaten for days they were admitted and given a bed for the night. But instead of the hot meal they had hoped for all they were given was ‘a small bit of dry bread’.

Their reaction was extreme and landed them in the Guildhall Police Court on the following day. Having decided that they would be better fed in prison the women started breaking the windows of the workhouse and pulling out the fittings in the hope that they would get convicted of wilful damage and sentenced to gaol.

The women admitted their crime and justified it on the grounds of desperation. The alderman magistrate had some sympathy for their plight and bemoaned the fact that ‘a gaol should be sought after as a superior refuge to the workhouse’.

The overseer admitted conditions were bad in his institution but said they were overwhelmed with paupers seeking shelter at night, since over 50 came to his door every evening.  The alderman said he had no choice but to give the women what they wanted and sent them to the Bridewell house of correction for two months.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, March 8, 1841]

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