A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 4, the City of Oxford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1979.
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PARISH GOVERNMENT AND POOR-RELIEF
The city parishes as units of government were less self-sufficient than their rural equivalents, for some of the burden was shared with officers of the city council, the university, and the wards. The city magistrates, as in many other towns, interfered in parish affairs to an extent unusual in rural areas; it was not uncommon, for example, in poorrelief cases where no parochial responsibility could be established, for the mayor to allot a case to a particular parish. (fn. 1) From an early date there was some cooperation between the city parishes in the major task of poor-relief, culminating in 1771 with a statutory union of eleven parishes. The surviving records of Oxford's parochial administration are exceptionally full, including many early churchwardens' accounts, notably those of St. Michael at the North Gate (from 1404), St. Aldate's (1410), St. Mary Magdalen (1430), St. Peter-in-the-East (1444), and St. Peter-le-Bailey (1453). In many parishes those accounts are supplemented by large collections of bills and receipts, and the overseers' accounts by harmless bonds, settlement papers, and apprenticeship indentures. (fn. 2)
The parishes appointed the usual range of officers, except that for some purposes they relied on the ward constables elected by the city council. (fn. 3) St. Mary Magdalen and Holywell parishes, however, used their own constables, appointed presumably by the courts of Northgate hundred and Holywell manor respectively, and each parish appears to have had a petty constable in the later 17th century. (fn. 4)
In most parishes the vestry met two or three times a year, and appears to have comprised only a small section of the male population, 'the most respectable inhabitants'. (fn. 5) In St. Peter-le-Bailey parish, after a complaint in 1632 from the rector and others that vestry meetings were interrupted by 'persons of the meaner sort', the justices named 11 'better people', headed by the principal of New Inn Hall, to deal with poorrelief. (fn. 6) In St. Martin's 15 parishioners and the rector approved the churchwardens' accounts in 1638-9, and in St. Aldate's c. 20 attended the Easter meeting in the 1650s. (fn. 7) In St. Mary Magdalen parish the overseers' accounts were usually approved by about 10 persons in the 18th century, (fn. 8) and in 1818 'the parishioners forming the vestry' were allowed 1s. each for expenses whenever meetings were adjourned to an inn, suggesting that few were expected to attend. (fn. 9) Committees of the vestry were appointed in some parishes to deal with special tasks such as the parish workhouse, or the cholera epidemic of 1832. (fn. 10) In the 19th century, when much of the vestries' work had been taken over by statutory bodies such as the Paving Commissioners, attendances at some meetings were very large, as in 1827 when vestries were debating the proposed repeal of the Oxford Poor Law Act. (fn. 11) As well as focusing parochial grievances the vestries continued to play an important role in the work of the statutory bodies, dealing, for example, with apportionment of parochial rates, which brought them into conflict with the colleges. (fn. 12)
In the Middle Ages the churchwardens' incomes came mainly from parish property and church ales, and expenditure was almost entirely on the upkeep of the church and its services, although some of the residual income from parish property was supposed to be given to the poor. (fn. 13) As the churchwardens took on a wider range of duties, rates and special levies became the principal source of income, although parish property also became more profitable. The churchwardens of St. Martin's were receiving and spending between £2 and £14 a year in the 1540s and 1550s, and in the early 17th century nearer to £20; in 1638-9 receipts were £54 of which c. £20 came from property and c. £20 from hocktide, midsummer, and Whitsun ales. During and after the Civil War church ales were given up and thereafter rates were levied when necessary; sometimes rates were for small amounts, but in 1676, when new bells and extensive repairs were paid for, the rates yielded as much as £69, to add to the £44 from renewal fines on parish properties. (fn. 14)
From the mid 16th century the churchwardens' most important additional burdens were poor-relief and the administration of a growing number of parochial charities. Although overseers of the poor were appointed in all parishes from the late 16th century (fn. 15) it was often many decades before a clear division of labour was established between them and the churchwardens. (fn. 16) Many payments made by churchwardens for poor-relief no doubt represent the disposal of charitable funds, but in St. Martin's the churchwardens accounted for the poor-rate in the early 17th century, were paying regular weekly relief to a woman in 1619, and in 1631-2 raised a special tax to place the four children of a deceased parishioner. (fn. 17) Similar examples may be found in the churchwardens' accounts of All Saints, St. Mary Magdalen, and St. Peter-le-Bailey. By the mid 17th century, however, the churchwardens rarely dealt with regular relief, but still gave some occasional relief, paid the numerous travelling poor, and were involved sometimes with removal and settlement cases; there were special cases, too, such as the burial costs in St. Mary Magdalen of a servant who died 'in the cage' there in 1609. (fn. 18) During the Civil War the churchwardens of most parishes spent large sums on the burial of soldiers, or their removal when sick; some laid in stocks of corn for the poor in 1644-5, the churchwardens of St. Mary the Virgin claiming £20 for that purpose. (fn. 19)
The parishes were to some extent responsible for the repair, cleansing, and lighting of the streets, until the Paving Commissioners took over in 1771, and they played a leading role in fire-fighting and policing until the 19th century; in all those tasks the responsibility was shared with other institutions and with individual citizens. (fn. 20) From the mid 16th century churchwardens looked after modest stocks of parish armour, such as the headpiece, caliver, sword, and dagger owned by St. Aldate's in 1584. (fn. 21) Most parishes provided public pumps, St. Martin's maintaining one near the Cross inn and another near Penniless Bench, and St. Ebbe's keeping its pump as late as the 1820s. (fn. 22) All parishes were ordered to provide stocks in 1617. (fn. 23) St. Giles's parish, at least, maintained a privy in the early 19th century. (fn. 24)
Other regular burdens falling upon the churchwardens were the collection of the national taxes for maimed soldiers, and from 1602 Marshalsea money, and, during the Civil War plagues, local taxes for 'the visited'; in 1646-7 a churchwarden of St. Mary the Virgin was imprisoned for refusing to collect such a tax until arrears from the previous year were gathered. (fn. 25) The churchwardens organized and accounted for the various annual parish festivities such as the drinkings on the Easter election day or during the perambulation of the boundaries. The churchwardens of St. Martin's made regular appearances at the Northgate hundred court and its annual dinner (fn. 26) because of a parish property in that hundred. Many parishes provided dog-whippers, and parishes close to the fields paid for the capture of vermin. (fn. 27)
POOR-RELIEF TO 1771.
Schemes of 1546 to found a cloth factory at Oseney to employ 2,000 persons, (fn. 28) and of 1557 to set the poor on work at Rewley fulling-mill (fn. 29) suggest that poverty in Oxford was beginning to emerge as a problem beyond the scope of conventional charitable donations. Even so it was possible in 1562, when candidates for a new almshouse were being chosen, for only two men to round up all the poor, (fn. 30) and in 1579 the city council's attitude was sufficiently relaxed to discuss an individual poor child, sending him to 'the new well' for a cure. (fn. 31)
In 1579 the parishes were making weekly contributions for the poor to a city official, including 3s. 11d. from St. Peter-le-Bailey 'for three weeks' gathering since they relieved their poor'. (fn. 32) In what appears to be a rating assessment of 1582 for St. Aldate's parish, citizens and privileged persons were assessed on sums ranging from 4d. to 10s., and Christ Church was assessed at £3 6s. 8d. (fn. 33) In the later 16th century St. Mary Magdalen parish apparently housed some of its poor in the former Carmelite friary. (fn. 34) From at least 1599 the magistrates confirmed the appointment of overseers for each of the thirteen parishes; at first there were four and after 1601 two. (fn. 35) By 1600 the university was making a separate contribution towards poorrelief, sums from colleges varying between 3s. 8d. and 43s. 8d. (fn. 36) The corporation continued to play a part in poor-relief until the later 17th century; the council occasionally made special provision for individual paupers, usually freemen, granting weekly allowances of money, or of grain from Castle mills, (fn. 37) and it also organized the bulk purchase of wood and coal to be sold to the poor without profit; (fn. 38) but its chief contribution to poor-relief from the mid 16th century was the upkeep of an alms-house which was rapidly converted into a house of correction, and of a bridewell which, in the 17th century at least, was used as a general workhouse.
In 1562 Catherine, dowager countess of Huntingdon, and her son Henry, earl of Huntingdon, granted to the city the dissolved college of St. Mary as a hospital to house and educate 10 poor children, to set to work 10 poor adults, and to succour deserving poor and sick persons. (fn. 39) Its upkeep was at first paid for by a 'benevolence' or tax on councillors, graded according to their status, augumented from other sources, such as the rents from the new Butcher Row and occasional fines payable on city properties. (fn. 40) In 1572 the council began a register of the poor and purchased 40 badges, presumably for those in the alms-house; at that date the maintenance of the alms-house cost only 4s. a week. (fn. 41) In 1579 the council decided, at the request of the High Steward, to remove their poor so that the house could be used as a house of correction for both city and county; (fn. 42) it had been called a bridewell as early as 1575 and in 1578 a branding-iron was purchased for it, suggesting that it was already no ordinary alms-house. (fn. 43)
In 1580 the earl of Huntingdon resumed possession of the property, on the ground that the city no longer fulfilled the donor's intentions, and sold it to Brasenose College. (fn. 44) Poor folk in the bridewell were maintained by the city until 1587, perhaps in the same building. (fn. 45) In the years 1624-8, encouraged by Henry, earl of Huntingdon, the city attempted to recover St. Mary's college, and entered an elaborate agreement with the earl to re-found the alms-house; Brasenose retained possession, (fn. 46) and when the family again raised the issue in 1674 the mayor felt it was too late to act. (fn. 47)
There was mounting pressure in the late 16th century for the city to provide a house of correction or a workhouse. Vagrancy was recognized as a problem by 1563, when the council appointed four beadles of beggars charged with reporting all vagrants to the constables. (fn. 48) By-laws of 1582 show that the corporation was attempting to enforce the Elizabethan settlement legislation, and in 1600 parish officers were ordered to notify city officials of all new settlers within their boundaries. (fn. 49) Thereafter there was recurrent anxiety in both city and university over the building of cottages and 'squab' houses, the division of tenements, and the taking of inmates. (fn. 50) From 1597 the magistrates kept a note of passports issued to the travelling poor, many of whom were whipped out of town; some came from distant places, especially western England. In 1598 52 passports were recorded, including a licence to one man to place his children in the four villages where they were born, and then to return to Oxford. (fn. 51) In 1617 reference was made to the 'swarm and multitude of rogues, vagrants, and idle persons' in the city, and 1626 the university and city jointly petitioned the privy council over the problem of poor-relief in the city, which they attributed largely to the building of 'petty' cottages. (fn. 52) Then, as later, the city's special problem with vagrancy was probably connected less with cheap housing than with the presence of the university. Even after the settlement laws became more effective in the late 17th century the town seems to have had more than its share of travelling poor: in 1694, among those given relief in St. Mary Magdalen parish, were 3 families and 5 men from the West Indies, 22 wounded men from Flanders, 11 other wounded soldiers, and a family and 2 other men from France. (fn. 53)
In 1598 the council set up a bridewell in part of the town hall, until better accommodation could be found; teachers were appointed for the unemployed children there in 1600 and 1602, and in 1601 a stock of £50 was provided by the city until the money was forthcoming from parish contributions. The stock was given to two contractors, who were to provide work for the poor in carding and spinning woollen and linen; both were to accept 'the idle and loitering sort' sent by the magistrates. (fn. 54) Evidently the scheme had collapsed by 1604, but in 1609 one of the contractors, Richard Paynter, a city bailiff, was again lent £40 to provide spinning work for the poor. (fn. 55) The city and university agreed to share the costs of sending men to the Witney bridewell in 1617, and it may have been used earlier. (fn. 56)
Oxford acquired its own bridewell through William Tipping of Wheatfield (and later of Draycott), who owned a house in Oxford, (fn. 57) and in 1629 gave £200 for a poor-house; a number of citizens and university men made smaller gifts at that time. (fn. 58) Tipping appears to have supervised the project closely, and the bridewell was completed in 1631. (fn. 59) It stood outside the north gate, on the east side of the street, and was entered from Cornmarket by an arched doorway. It contained at least three upper rooms, (fn. 60) and a barred cellar, from which, according to the mayor's complaint in 1638, the inmates begged from passers-by and took in tools for breaking the bars; (fn. 61) prisoners were confined there during the Civil War in degrading conditions. (fn. 62)
The bridewell was in use until 1772, except during the Civil War and for a short period in the 1650s when the able-bodied unemployed were sent to a Witney contractor. (fn. 63) In the early stages its funds came partly from charitable donations and the city chest, but taxes were levied on the parishes from time to time. (fn. 64) In 1635 the university apparently offered £500 a year from the colleges to set the poor on work 'so that none should be suffered to beg about the streets or at the gates of the colleges and halls'; they were to make new stuffs and drapery 'after the fashion that the Dutch and Walloons use at Canterbury and Norwich'. The council agreed to levy a weekly tax of £10 on both citizens and privileged persons, but the scheme failed. (fn. 65) The proctors certainly continued to commit vagrants to the bridewell and in 1658 the university claimed the right to appoint the keeper on the grounds that it paid the greater part of his salary; after a dispute the university for a time ran its own house of correction, but by the early 18th century was sharing the city bridewell. (fn. 66)
In 1632 the justices noted that since the opening of the bridewell there had been fewer rogues and vagabonds in the city, and that there was spinning work available for unemployed adults and children. (fn. 67) The provision of such work was an essential part of various schemes for the bridewell in the 17th century. Thomas Hickman, appointed as a salaried keeper in 1632, agreed to take, in addition to those sent by the magistrates, 12 children double apparelled, whom he would maintain and educate, replacing the original clothes when necessary with others of the same cloth and colour; by 1638 Hickman and his wife were poverty-stricken as a result of their contract. (fn. 68) A woman was given free accommodation in 1638 in return for teaching the 12 children to work bonelace, each child being allowed 6d. a week by the corporation. (fn. 69) In 1648 a hempdresser was appointed keeper and given £100 stock, borrowed by the corporation, to set the poor on work; he was to employ a female servant expert in knitting, and was to teach 20 persons to spin worsted yarn, providing them with work in their own homes once they were trained, and 12 others (probably children) to knit worsted stockings, placing them out in the same way. (fn. 70) The scheme was shortlived, and was followed by other fruitless negotiations with 'foreign' clothiers, besides a plan in 1649 to ease the burden of poor-relief permanently by inclosing and leasing Port Meadow. (fn. 71)
When stability was finally achieved in 1658, however, the council's contract with the keeper was not very different from earlier ones: William Huntley, salaried keeper until at least 1687, (fn. 72) was initially given free lodging and a loan of £50, and was to teach 12 paupers to spin and card wool for rug-making, moving them out, when proficient, to work in their own homes and replacing them at the bridewell 'if it be to the number of 100'; he was also to receive men from the magistrates, providing them with stock cards and paying them what they earned, at rates set down in the contract. (fn. 73) For a time in the early 18th century the keeper of Bocardo was also keeper of the bridewell, but in 1724 the bridewell was leased to a separate keeper for 7 years at a small rent. A later keeper was excused the rent because of the cost of repairs carried out by him in 1733. (fn. 74) As parish workhouses were set up in the 18th century the bridewell evidently became purely a house of correction. When Bocardo was closed in 1771 the corporation considered extending the bridewell into a gaol but it was found to be impracticable. (fn. 75) In 1772 the bridewell was moved to George Street. (fn. 76) The new prison in Gloucester Green, begun in 1786, included a house of correction, and the George Street bridewell was sold in 1789. (fn. 77)
Parochial expenditure on poor-relief varied widely in accordance with the parish's population and social character, but there was great similarity in the general trend. In all parishes for which figures are available the cost of poor-relief in the early 17th century was small; in St. Peter-le-Bailey parish, regarded by the justices as especially burdened with poor, only £4 was spent by the overseers in 1634 and the total did not rise above £20 until 1656, or above £100 until the 1690s. (fn. 78) In all parishes expenditure rose steadily in the later 17th century and sharply in the years around 1715. There was a fall thereafter, partly as a result of the opening of parochial workhouses, followed by an upward trend, so that by 1771 expenditure was approaching that of the crisis years c. 1715. Thus in St. Mary the Virgin parish £35 was spent in 1675, £187 in 1716-17, and between £120 and £160 c. 1770; (fn. 79) the cost of poorrelief at similar dates in St. Peter-le-Bailey parish was £55, c. £175, and c. £150, (fn. 80) and in St. Mary Magdalen £97, £323, and £342. (fn. 81) Other parishes with expenditure similar to that of St. Mary Magdalen c. 1770 were St. Michael's (£328) and St. Thomas's (£383). (fn. 82) By contrast St. Martin's, St. Ebbe's, and no doubt All Saints' and St. Cross were spending comparatively little. Because of its poverty St. Peter-le-Bailey parish was aided from at least 1616 by annual subventions from its wealthier neighbours amounting in 1664 to £50 from eleven parishes, and in 1770 to only £16. (fn. 83) From the late 17th century St. Mary Magdalen received similar aid, amounting in 1711-12 to £20 from five parishes. (fn. 84)
A rise in expenditure in the century after the Restoration was common-place, but the sharp peak in the period 1710-20 was not; it represented an increase in the number of paupers rather than higher rates of relief. Between 1710 and 1716 St. Peter-le-Bailey parish was paying weekly doles to an average of 30 paupers a year, (fn. 85) nearly three times as many as in 1761. The increase was perhaps caused by a combination of very high food prices and disease. There was a serious smallpox outbreak in 1710, when the number of recorded burials in St. Mary Magdalen parish, for example, rose well above the average; (fn. 86) there was also a particularly severe winter in 1715. (fn. 87)
The recipients of relief, even in the period 1710-20, were almost always children, widows, and the aged or infirm. In St. Thomas's parish in the mid 18th century a few odd payments were made to men with 'no work', but otherwise in the whole period 1670-1770 doles were not given to the unemployed. (fn. 88) Outdoor relief was usually given in the form of weekly doles, varying from 6d. to 2s. 6d., or in payments of rent. By the 18th century clothing was frequently provided, but rarely food or fuel. Many parishes found it difficult to enforce the badging of the poor. (fn. 89) Few people except those really unable to look after themselves were placed in parochial workhouses.
In 1727 it was reported that the 'good design of raising parochial workhouses' was 'at last promoting in the city', and that the fear of 'these confinements' was persuading some people formerly on relief to discover means of their own; the poor-rates had sunk markedly. (fn. 90) Most parishes established small workhouses in the 1720s. In 1726 St. Mary the Virgin, All Saints, and St. Martin's parishes united to lease the Flying Horse as a workhouse, an arrangement that lasted no more than ten years. (fn. 91) It was intended that the workhouses should pay for themselves, but although spinning wheels, cards, flax, hemp, and yarn were purchased hardly any profits were recorded. By the mid 18th century such small workhouses as were kept on were probably used only as free housing for paupers. Instead most parishes farmed out their workhouse poor, and sometimes all their regular relief, to contractors.
There were contractors' workhouses at Holywell manor and in part of the Whitefriars building on Gloucester Green. (fn. 92) References to the Holywell workhouse occur chiefly between 1740 and 1753, when it was run by the Tryman (or Train) family and was used by at least five parishes. It was still in use in 1767-9 when the poor of St. Giles's parish were sent there. (fn. 93) The Gloucester Green workhouse, sometimes called Gloucester Hall, was owned by St. John's College and was sub-let to contractors by the tenants. (fn. 94) In 1722 Robert Horlock, weaver, was under contract to St. Peter-le-Bailey parish to employ the poor in return for £37 10s., a quarter of the year's rates, and in 1724-5 he held a similar contract for £13 a year as well as contracts with St. Michael's and St. Martin's parishes. Between 1726 and 1741 James Piggot, threadmaker, employed the poor of at least seven parishes at Gloucester Green, his contracts in 1739 yielding £388 from six parishes. Under a contract of 1740 with St. Ebbe's he was to provide for all regular relief, lodging and fuel, food three times a day, clothing and washing, and all normal care of the sick; children were to be taught to read and say the catechism; prayers were to be said daily and the paupers were to be brought to church once a month to be viewed by the parish. (fn. 95) When Piggot gave up there was difficulty in finding a successor to operate on the same scale and individual parishes tried out various expedients, St. Martin's eventually using the Holywell contractor, and St. Michael's running its own workhouse. In 1750 the mayor asked the vestries to discuss proposals for farming all the Oxford poor and for a general workhouse. (fn. 96) Those discussions came to nothing but within the next three years eight parishes at least arranged to send their poor to Solomon Cross, weaver, at Gloucester Green. All Saints and St. Mary the Virgin at first farmed out all their regular relief to him and St. Thomas's short-lived contract with him provided for the employment of the poor in their own homes; later all the parishes seem to have paid a weekly capitation rate of 2s. 6d. In the 1760s it appears that only the aged and sick were sent to Gloucester Green. When Cross gave up c. 1767 the parishes again were obliged to make individual arrangements, but, as in the middle of the century, the difficulties arising from the disappearance of a major contractor and the expense and trouble of running small parish workhouses stimulated proposals for a union.
THE UNITED PARISHES.
Eleven central parishes were united for poor-law purposes under a Board of Guardians in 1771. (fn. 97) Recurrent quarrels over rating and the constitution of the board were caused partly by the mounting cost of poor-relief from the late 18th century onwards: the expenditure of c. £2,200 in 1776 had more than doubled by 1803, and amounted to 6s. 7d. a head of the population. Ten years later the cost a head was 10s. 4d., and it fell only slowly until after the 1834 Poor Law Act. (fn. 98) By the 1840s expenditure was rising again, and in 1871 the guardians spent £10,245 (9s. 8d. a head); costs then fell but rose again in the early 20th century. (fn. 99) Throughout the period large funds continued to be available to the poor from endowed charities, (fn. 100) and the fall in expenditure in the late 19th century was partly attributable to the increased activity of the charitable societies.
A workhouse was built in 1772 on a five-acre site at Rats and Mice Hill (later Wellington Square); John Gwynn designed a 'very neat stone building' of two storeys to house 200 paupers. The building included a board room, chapel, and school, and provided separate accommodation for male and female paupers, (fn. 101) although 'inadequate classification' became a regular complaint from the late 18th century onwards. After criticism in the 1790s a nursery was provided, and wards for the aged and infirm. (fn. 102) In 1843 arrangements for the sick and the children were considered unsatisfactory, and a decision of 1833 to separate women from young girls had not been put into effect, although prostitutes were separately housed. In 1849 overcrowding was so bad that paupers were sleeping three to a bed and the board room was used as a dormitory. (fn. 103) In 1795 the average occupancy of the workhouse was 160 in summer and 200 in winter. Between 1800 and 1834 there were always well over 200 paupers there, and as many as 291 in 1818; in the period 1834-64 there were between 200 and 250 inmates each year. (fn. 104)
The paid workhouse officials named in the Act of 1771 were a master and mistress, a surgeon, an apothecary, a chaplain, a schoolmaster, a beadle, and a porter; their appointments were treated as annual until in 1844 the Poor Law Commissioners insisted on permanency. (fn. 105) By 1870 the Board of Guardians employed in all 19 poor-law offficials, and by 1910 29, the additions being entirely workhouse staff. (fn. 106) In the late 18th century the workhouse day was from 5.30 a.m. until 6.00 p.m. in summer, and all the daylight hours in winter. (fn. 107) The official diet fluctuated widely, but in 1795 and 1843 included a meat dish three times a week, and in 1833 was considered better than the inmates might expect in their own homes. The meat allowance for the able-bodied had been reduced by the 1870s but in the early 20th century all were allowed meat four times a week. (fn. 108) The clothes allowance included a change of clothing, and in 1808 was sufficiently generous for some paupers to try at times to sell their garments. Only 'decayed' householders were allowed to wear their own clothes. In 1833 bastards were dressed in yellow, other children in brown. (fn. 109) The annual cost of keeping an inmate was £10 16s. in 1833, more than the cost of outdoor relief. (fn. 110)
Employing the workhouse poor was always difficult. The staple task was the upkeep of the house itself, the women cleaning, cooking, and making most of the clothes, while some male inmates cultivated the workhouse grounds, which was set largely to potatoes. For many years the Board of Guardians ran a small mixed farm, probably at Pepper Hills in St. Giles's parish until 1865. (fn. 111) In the late 18th century sacking and mops were made, and some spinning and weaving was done, but by 1830 the looms were sold and by 1843 the extensive work-rooms at the rear of the house were used for such purposes as storage. (fn. 112) Oakum-picking was carried on intermittently by both men and women in the 1830s, but was considered fit only for the idle in 1840. (fn. 113) The guardians held a contract with the Paving Commissioners for street sweeping, and, from the 1830s, for stone breaking and road repair. In 1832, however, the street sweeping was described as 'occasional employment for a few old men, often those on out-relief'. (fn. 114) Stone-breaking was being used in 1862 as a labour test for out-relief, as an alternative to going into the workhouse. (fn. 115) Except in the first few years employment of paupers yielded no profit, and rarely balanced the outlay on materials; in 1795 earnings of the manufactory were c. £300, and in 1807-8 sacking and mops to the value of £1,036 were sold, but activity was halved the following year and never again reached anything like the same level. Sales of farm produce and harvest work once brought in considerable sums, but by 1870 receipts for labour were no more than £30. (fn. 116)
The condition and management of the workhouse was often criticized, notably in 1795 by Sir Frederick Eden, who found it dirty and in disrepair, the work unsupervised, the inmates disorderly. His investigation resulted in only temporary reform, including an abortive attempt to revise the Act of 1771. (fn. 117) Although there were later scandals over management, (fn. 118) it was the accommodation problem that was most persistent. Schemes for a new building were discussed in 1837, 1840, and 1847; (fn. 119) from the first it was assumed, mistakenly in the event, that the sale of the central workhouse site would finance the construction of a new workhouse on the city's outskirts. (fn. 120) In 1850 a piece of land (later Park Town) was bought for the workhouse, but was resold for middle-class housing in order to pay for the industrial school in Cowley, the building and operation of which proved unexpectedly expensive. (fn. 121) The financial indebtedness of the board delayed the workhouse project, (fn. 122) but there was also much indecision over the choice of site and architect. (fn. 123) After continuous pressure from the Poor Law Board an 11-acre site at Cowley was purchased, and William Fisher designed a large brick and stone building in the Renaissance style to house 330 paupers; it comprised three parallel blocks facing the Cowley Road and included rooms for the preparation of oakum and gypsum. (fn. 124) It was opened in 1864 and a detached infirmary was added in 1865, a chapel in 1866. (fn. 125) Between 1864 and 1910 the average occupancy was 280, the highest figure being 326 in 1870. (fn. 126) During the First World War the workhouse was temporarily handed over to the War Office and the inmates transferred to other workhouses in the neighbourhood. (fn. 127) A nurses home (Avenue House, Cowley Road) was acquired in 1923. After the dissolution of the Board of Guardians in 1930 the workhouse continued in use as a hospital, and was transferred, as Cowley Road hospital, to the Ministry of Health in 1946. (fn. 128)
It was intended in 1771 that poor-relief should be given almost entirely within the workhouse, and the Act empowered the guardians to compel not only the 'idle and dissolute', but all paupers, to enter it. That power was rescinded by Acts of 1814 and 1816. (fn. 129) Although the guardians from time to time attempted to interpret the 1771 Act strictly they never fully operated the provisions relating to out-relief, which were considered 'impossibly rigorous' even by an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner. (fn. 130) In 1794 the cost of out-relief was c. £350, and although the guardians shortly afterwards restricted such relief to emergency cases, by 1802 there were 56 adults receiving regular, and 185 occasional, relief. (fn. 131) In 1818-19, years of general economic distress, 268 were given regular relief, presumably because the workhouse, 'overgrown' though it was, could not cope. (fn. 132) In 1833 it was reported, with dismay, that 980 families or 'distinct cupboards' were on out-relief, 400 of them receiving regular doles, often in supplementation of inadequate wages. (fn. 133) No other references to wage supplements have been found.
In earlier years the guardians themselves issued the out-relief in their respective parishes, not without partiality, but under by-laws of 1825 the greater part was administered by the master of the workhouse as 'ticket relief'; only the first grant of casual relief might be made without the approval of the board. After an adverse report on their activities in 1832, (fn. 134) and consultation with an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, the guardians changed the administration of out-relief greatly in and after 1836. The practice of appointing a guardian as relieving officer for the week was stopped, and guardians ceased almost entirely to issue relief personally in their own parishes. There was a great increase in relief given in the form of food rather than money. Under rules of 1839 all out-relief except in absolute emergency was issued at weekly courts held by the board; emergency relief was given by the master of the workhouse. Often more than a dozen guardians attended the weekly courts, and the attention they gave to individual cases was seen in 1843 as the greatest difference between the Oxford Incorporation and the poor law unions, where paid relieving officers did most of the work. (fn. 135)
In 1848 the Poor Law Commissioners ordered all regular relief to be given in the workhouse, (fn. 136) whereas the guardians had been giving outdoor relief to aged couples and had avoided sending to the workhouse some of the seasonally unemployed, for example, during the long vacation. (fn. 137) Until the building of the new workhouse in 1864 there was a real difficulty over space, although this was partly obviated by the removal of most children to the industrial school in 1855. (fn. 138) In 1857 doles were being given to 252 adults, of whom only 15 were able-bodied men. Although the board decided in 1862 that able-bodied men without children might no longer have out-relief, over 65 per cent of the relief given by the guardians in 1872 was given outside the workhouse. (fn. 139) Out-relief, included the maintenance of the city's pauper lunatics, who were housed at Littlemore Hospital. The cost to the guardians in 1872 represented 17 per cent of their total expenditure.
W. A. Spooner, later warden of New College, elected to the board in 1870, wrote that in his early years as a guardian the 'harsh and austere' but not 'ignoble or thoughtless' philosophy of the 1834 Act was still dominant: public relief should be as restricted as possible, and should never place its recipients in a better position than the independent poor. Early in the 1870s, through Spooner and Col. Sackville West, bursar of Keble College and an orginal member of the London Charity Organization Society, the ideas of the society began to influence the Board of Guardians. (fn. 140) In 1873 the Oxford Anti-Mendicity Society and Charity Organization Association (fn. 141) started to concern itself seriously with the local poor, aiming to reduce pauperization and to help those who needed relief to retain or recover their independence by granting pensions, finding employment, or arranging medical relief. Cooperation between the board and the society was particularly successful between 1876 and 1885. (fn. 142) At the instance of Arnold Toynbee in 1884 a formal arrangement was made between the two bodies whereby the board gave out-relief to any applicant for a fortnight while the society carefully investigated the needs of the case; thereafter the 'deserving' were given help by the society, often at a more generous rate than was permitted by the board, and the idle and improvident were offered the workhouse. (fn. 143) The policy, occasionally harshly applied, at first aroused hostility; in 1888 A. W. Hall, Conservative M.P. for the city, declared himself in favour of public relief rather than the private relief given after such investigation, and he attacked the part played by university men among the guardians in determining policy. The short-lived Poor Law Reform Association was founded to persuade the guardians to give more out-relief, but with little effect. (fn. 144)
Instead by 1898 the guardians gave out-relief to only 17 per cent of the paupers with whom they dealt (compared with 65 per cent in 1872), for the Charity Organization Society had largely taken over such work, dealing with 86 per cent of the 357 cases that year. (fn. 145) It may be noted that some of the persons relieved by the society would not have come within the sphere of public relief. Even if such persons are counted with the paupers dealt with by the guardians the proportion of the population receiving any kind of poor-relief appears to have fallen from 4 per cent in 1872 to between 2 and 3 per cent in the period 1876-1908. (fn. 146) The decline may be attributable as much to the more discriminating policy of the society and the board as to economic causes.
By the early twentieth century funds available from charitable sources considerably exceeded those of the guardians. (fn. 147) With the advent of old-age pensions and other forms of state relief, however, the work of the Charity Organization Society in Oxford dwindled. In the 1920s there was little unemployment in Oxford and out-relief was given mostly to widows, the old, and the sick; in January 1925 107 persons were given relief, none on account of unemployment. (fn. 148)
Oxford, along with Cambridge, Bristol, and some watering-places, was recognized as specially attractive to vagrants. (fn. 149) The long-standing problem became more acute in the late 18th century. The 1771 Act empowered the guardians to deal with vagrants, and to build a combined workhouse and house of correction, but they did not do so. In 1790 the constables and beadle were paid 1s. by the city for each vagrant apprehended, and in that year the mayor over-spent his usual allowance for that purpose by £9. (fn. 150) Tramps and beggars were much more numerous during the university term, (fn. 151) and there was strong university support for the foundation in 1814 of the AntiMendicity Society, (fn. 152) with its doles for the deserving traveller, its propaganda against indiscriminate almsgiving, and its own constables to enforce the Vagrancy Acts. The society's office for the relief of distressed travellers was united in 1816 with a smaller one established by the mayor and in 1832 it opened a small hostel for women and children. (fn. 153) In 1833 the society was reported to have checked but not overcome vagrancy; 50 Irish tramps visited their office daily on the way to and from harvest work, vagrancy being 'their trade and their delight', and it was impossible to fix a rate of relief so low that it would not attract them to Oxford. (fn. 154)
In 1837 the Poor Law Commissioners instructed unions to deal with vagrants, but the Oxford guardians, because they represented only 11 parishes, felt that the burden should continue to be borne by the borough fund; (fn. 155) and although the Poor Law Board continued to issue general instructions about the provision of workhouse accommodation for tramps the Oxford workhouse had very few beds for them in 1859, and the workhouse of 1864 at first contained only two small rooms for male tramps and two for females. (fn. 156)
A hostel in Castle Street, opened by the AntiMendicity Society in 1844, (fn. 157) therefore met a real need. In 1847, because of the Irish famine, nearly 8,500 vagrants were given relief there, (fn. 158) mostly lodging, and a special borough rate was proposed to cover the cost of the influx. (fn. 159) The guardians provided an extra outhouse but some vagrants had to be boarded out. In 1848 the hostel was sometimes forced to close its doors, and police help was called upon both there and at the workhouse. (fn. 160) There was another crisis in 1862-3 when the society gave relief to over 10,000 tramps, and there was a similar increase in casual relief at the workhouse. When the workhouse was moved to Cowley Road more tramps of a professional kind applied at the hostel and were sometimes violent when excluded. By the early 1870s it was felt that the hostel, 'a hotel for tramps', was attracting vagrants to the city and it was closed. (fn. 161) The society thereafter only issued bread or tickets. New casual wards at the workhouse, added in 1882, (fn. 162) were used by between 4,000 and 5,000 tramps a year in the late 19th century, except in the late 1880s when the total fell as low as 1,270. There was a sharp rise in the early 20th century and during 1908 12,450 tramps spent a night in Oxford, making their presence felt mostly in the centre of the city. (fn. 163) Oxford continued to be a popular resort of tramps and beggars, although on a much reduced scale.
POOR-RELIEF IN ST. GILES'S AND ST. JOHN'S.
Both parishes remained independent for poor-relief until becoming part of Headington Union in 1835. (fn. 164) St. John's was so small and had so few poor that the vestry did not always appoint overseers; (fn. 165) in 1802-3 there were only 8 adults on out-relief and total expenditure was only £46. (fn. 166) By 1832 the overseers simply handed over the rates to the Oxford Board of Guardians who dealt with the poor of the parish. (fn. 167) By 1832 St. Giles's was divided into two districts, St. Giles's and Summertown, (fn. 168) demarcated by the city boundary. The division caused rating and administrative difficulties; it was said that the city justices were hostile to the overseers and undiscriminating in their orders for relief, while the county justices were more painstaking. Since 1803 the cost of relief per head of population had been higher than in the united parishes. In the 1770s fewer than 20 adults were on regular relief but by 1803 the number had more than doubled; most were widows, children, and the aged or infirm, but from at least 1783 the parish had relieved a few unemployed, (fn. 169) and by 1834 was supplementing insufficient wages in several cases. The churchwardens blamed the introduction of threshing machines for unemployment, and tried to avoid relieving the ablebodied; it proved difficult to find sufficient work, and when stone-breaking was provided in the 1820s the experiment failed.
Having used the contractors' workhouses at Gloucester Green and Holywell as long as they lasted, St. Giles's parish in 1776 leased a 'parish house' from St. John's College for use by the poor whose rents would otherwise have to be paid; (fn. 170) no food, fuel, or furniture was provided. From 1821 a workhouse was being planned, (fn. 171) and was completed in 1825 on land in Summertown purchased with £800 raised on the security of the rates. That and a further sum of £300 raised for the building were never fully repaid, because Headington Union was encouraged by the Poor Law Commissioners to make difficulties over repayment. (fn. 172) In 1827 the parish appointed an assistant overseer to collect rates, to find work for the poor, and to keep order in the workhouse. Even so it was reported in 1832 that the workhouse was merely a 'pauper barracks' without master or mistress; there were prostitutes living there with their 'bullies'.