Pages vii-xxiii

Richard Hutton's Complaints Book: The Notebook of the Steward of the Quaker Workhouse At Clerkenwell, 1711-1737. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1987.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by London Record Society. All rights reserved.


In this section


The Quaker Workhouse at Clerkenwell was one of the most radical experiments in co-operativism made in the eighteenth century. 'Richard Hutton's Complaints Book' is the personal notebook of this institution's fourth and most successful steward. Hutton was steward of the Quaker workhouse from 1711 to 1737, and used this notebook to record events in both his life and the life of the institution he managed. The complaints book was not a personal diary nor was it a letter book, it was rather Richard Hutton's general notebook, wherein he would complain and speculate, record compliments and note insults. Through it Hutton has given us a view into the internal workings and problems of an eighteenthcentury institution.

Richard Hutton

Very little is known about Hutton's life prior to his arrival at Clerkenwell. He was never an important individual, and would interest historians very little were it not for his association with the Quaker workhouse. But he was an exemplar of his type, of, that is, the eighteenth-century bureaucrat; he was one of the faceless men who managed the thousands of institutions established by both private charity and local government. (fn. 1) He was born in Lancaster to a Quaker family in 1662 and trained as a tailor. By 1702 he was living in Lombard Street in London and was married to Sarah Steed. In the next ten years he and Sarah moved first to Clements Lane, then Pudding Lane and finally to the workhouse at Clerkenwell. In all, they had nine children all of whom died in the first year and a half of life. Richard died in 1737 at the age of 65 of an apoplectic fit and was buried at Bunhill Fields. (fn. 2)

The complaints book shows Richard Hutton to have been an excellent administrator. He combined exactness and probity with charity and flexibility. He also, however, possessed a high regard for his own worth, was easily insulted by threats to his authority and was deeply concerned for his reputation. He appears in many ways to have been a rather difficult and cold man. Nowhere in this book does he mention the loss of his and Sarah's last child in 1717. (fn. 3) But there are a few items which show another side of his character. He had a deep concern for the poor and for children and was extremely careful to record any evidence of their gratitude to him (57, 58). There is no evidence that he possessed a sense of proportion about the problems he faced; he seems to have been incapable of seeing the humour that pervades many of the scenes he describes. But he certainly did possess a sense of charity, one which he was able to maintain despite receiving rough treatment at the hands of those to whom it was directed.

As steward of the workhouse, Hutton had a wide range of duties. Any problem arising was naturally his affair and responsibility. At the same time, however, he worked under immense constraint. He was answerable first to the workhouse committee, made up of elected representatives of the six monthly meetings supporting poor people in the house, (fn. 4) second, to the poor themselves, who when dissatisfied had frequent opportunities to make trouble both inside and outside the house, and third, to the broader community upon which the workhouse depended for legacies and work, and whose opinion Hutton was made aware of in letters and complaints (66, 143). Hutton's struggle to overcome these constraints is fully recorded in his complaints book and his qualified success in doing so is likewise apparent.

John Bellers and the history of the Corporations of the Poor

The workhouse Hutton managed was established in 1702 as the direct result of the writings and efforts of the early eighteenth century's most humanitarian and radical thinker, John Bellers. (fn. 5) Before going on to discuss Hutton's role in the house and its history under his stewardship, we must first look at Bellers' and the Quaker workhouse's place in a broader history of workhouse care for the poor and English radicalism.

John Bellers' writings had a profound influence on nineteenth-century co-operativism and communism. Karl Marx acknowledged his debt to him, describing Bellers as a 'veritable phenomenon in the history of political economy'. (fn. 6) Likewise, Francis Place and Robert Owen were deeply influenced by Bellers' ideas. (fn. 7) But, despite his later importance, Bellers has been largely ignored by historians. He is discussed in the Quaker historiography, (fn. 8) and the Institute for Workers Control did reprint his pamphlet, Proposals for Raising a Colledge of Industry, in 1980; (fn. 9) but writings on British radicalism have tended to ignore the particular forms the communist and co-operative traditions of this country took in the first half of the eighteenth century, and in the process have neglected to include Bellers in their hagiography and, more particularly, the Quaker workhouse in their list of co-operative experiments.

Bellers published his Proposals for Raising a Colledge of Industry in 1696. In it he suggested that 'It's in the interest of the rich to take care of the poor, and their education, by which they will take care of their own heirs . . .: For . . . is there any poor now, that some of their ancestors have not been rich? Or any rich now, that some of their ancestors have not been poor?' (fn. 10) He also baldly stated a labour theory of value, suggesting that his college '. . . will make labour and not money, the standard to value all necessaries by.' (fn. 11) Further, he pointed out the dependence of the rich on the poor; he asked, 'if one had a hundred thousand acres of land, and as many pounds in money, and as many cattle, without a labourer, what would the rich man be, but a labourer?' (fn. 12)

The college Bellers proposed was in fact a small economic commonwealth, a wholly independent co-operative community in which no money would be needed, all middlemen eliminated, and to which each member would contribute according to his ability; taking, in turn, according to his needs. The pamphlet describes the college as a mixed agricultural and manufacturing settlement wherein three hundred people, two hundred of them being labourers and craftsmen, would live. The organisation was to be highly paternalistic, only people contributing more than £100 to the foundation being allowed to vote in making by-laws and in choosing officers, and was expected to produce large profits from an early date. There were to be discipline and rules, but no corporal punishment.

Bellers describes the advantages of living in his college for the poor. They were to enjoy 'all things needful in health or sickness, single or married, wife and children; and if parents die, their children well educated and preserved from misery, and their marrying encouraged, which is now generally discouraged'. They were to be relieved from the constant competition of a capitalist economy - 'instead of every body endeavouring to get from him, every body is working for him . . .' And finally, 'as they grow in years in the college, they may be allowed to abate an hour in the day of their work, and when come to sixty years old (if merit prefer them not sooner) they may be made overseers; which for ease and pleasant life, will equal what the hoards of a private purse can give; and excel, in so much as it has less care and danger of losing.' (fn. 13)

Bellers did not develop his ideas in isolation. He was both the product of a long-standing tradition, and an active member of a group of social policy reformers. In terms of his intellectual antecedents the most obvious and direct lines of influence came from the Quaker community, which had been relieving its own poor since the 1650s. Quaker relief had always been generous and well thought out; each monthly meeting was responsible for its own paupers, and an emphasis was always placed on self-help. (fn. 14) But more than this, Quaker practice spawned several proposals and experiments in poor relief which were reflected in elements of Bellers' ideas. One early poor-relief proposal was that addressed to Parliament by Thomas Lawson in 1660. Lawson argued that each parish should employ an 'undertaker' to arrange with manufacturers for the employment of paupers and to relieve those unable to work. He also wanted to establish an employment exchange, and suggested that 'none be put to service until they be first taught to spin, knit, sew, [or] learn some trade or way of livelihood'. (fn. 15) Similarly, in 1669 George Fox advised Quakers to set up 'a house or houses wherein an hundred may have rooms to work in, and shops of all sorts of things to sell, and where widows and young women might work and live'. (fn. 16)

Neither of these proposals was ever put into practice, but Bellers himself was involved with at least one Quaker experiment which did reach fruition. In 1680 he became the financial adviser to a scheme based in London designed to employ the poor in spinning flax, which had been started in 1677 by the Six Weeks Meeting. One hundred pounds was raised and used to buy a stock of flax, which was then given to the Quaker poor to spin up at home or in prison. (fn. 17)

The elements in both George Fox's proposal and the London flaxspinning scheme suggesting that the poor should be provided with the means to work for their own benefit reflect a humanity towards and trust in the poor that must have been influential in Bellers' intellectual development. However, these sorts of ideas were in no way restricted to the Quaker community, nor was Bellers reluctant to involve himself in non-Quaker experiments.

Poor-relief proposals made a century before Bellers formulated his ideas display elements that are familiar from his writings. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, for instance, Rowland Vaughan in his Most Approved and Long Experienced Water-Works advocated the establishment of a huge, co-operative, agricultural and manufacturing colony. (fn. 18) However, the seventeenth-century tradition on which Bellers drew reached its highpoint in the writings of Samuel Hartlib and the foundation of the Corporation of the Poor of London in the Interregnum. Hartlib had advocated and established a workhouse for London's poor, which provided both training for the young and capital in the form of stock for the poor to work up at home. Hartlib's experiment incorporated both a large degree of humanity, and the expectation that the labour of the poor could be harnessed for their benefit. (fn. 19) The full force of Hartlib's influence would later be felt by the founders of the Corporations of the Poor, among whom Bellers must be counted.

Another influence on Bellers' work and ideas was Thomas Firmin, who holds the middle ground between the Interregnum and the 1690s. Firmin had established his scheme for employing the poor in the 1670s, and through it provided the poor with training and capital. (fn. 20) In its organisation and ends Firmin's scheme was precisely similar to the London flaxspinning establishment in which Bellers was involved, and later, in the 1690s, both men were closely associated with the London Corporation of the Poor, Bellers as an assistant and Firmin through his nephew, Jonathan James. (fn. 21)

None of the experiments and proposals described above was as consistently humanitarian and co-operative as Bellers' College of Industry, but in them can be seen fragments of Bellers' economic analysis and humanitarian impulse towards the poor. They all shared with Bellers a fundamental belief in the real value of the labour of the poor, and a commitment to their humane and kindly treatment. Similarly, in some of the proposals, particularly those by Rowland Vaughan and George Fox, one can see a belief in the desirability of a co-operative organisation of labour.

If Bellers had been alone in his advocacy of a co-operative and humanitarian provision for the poor, or if he and his contemporaries in the same tradition had failed to put their ideas into practice, he would deserve little more than a footnote. But he was not alone, he was part of a much wider intellectual movement in the 1690s and 1700s, and neither he, nor his contemporaries, failed to use their ideas as the basis for practical experiments.

The ideas of Vaughan, Hartlib and Firmin, described above, did not influence Bellers alone, but had an equally strong influence on a whole generation of writers on social policy, an influence which resulted in analyses of the problem of poor relief very similar to Bellers' own. In the writings of John Cary, Robert Clayton and even John Locke an emphasis on the value of the labour of the poor, humanity and co-operativism can be seen. It was these men, and their less literary fellows, who founded fourteen Corporations of the Poor between 1696 and 1711, (fn. 22) and who contributed to four failed attempts to reform the old Poor Law in line with their ideas. (fn. 23)

In the later 1690s two connected circles of men developed, one centred on the Board of Trade and the other on the Corporation of the Poor in London. In 1695 John Cary had written his Essay on the State of England in Relation to its Trade which incorporated a proposal for the establishment of Corporations of the Poor, large workhouse schemes wherein the labour of the poor would be harnessed to finance the venture, and wherein the poor would have the best treatment available - the old looked after and the young educated. (fn. 24) As a result of Cary's efforts the Bristol Corporation of the Poor was established in 1696 by Act of Parliament (fn. 25) and thirteen similar institutions set up in the following 15 years.

One of the Corporations established on Bristol's model was that at London, and it was with this institution that Bellers was associated. He was among the 52 assistants first elected to govern the Corporation, and in his capacity as an assistant we can assume he came into contact with men like Jonathan James and Robert Clayton, and through them with the ideas being formulated by the Board of Trade between 1698 and 1701. (fn. 26)

The Board of Trade spent years analysing the problem of poverty and formulating possible solutions. It took evidence from Thomas Firmin and John Cary, and three of its members, John Locke, John Pollexfen and Abraham Hill, each presented separate proposals for the reform of the Poor Law which incorporated the idea of setting up institutions wherein the poor would care for the less fortunate among their number according to their ability, and wherein the labour of the poor, which it was assumed would be highly remunerative, would be used to support the institutions created. (fn. 27) These proposals were then incorporated into Parliamentary bills. (fn. 28) Anthony Hammond, Rowland Gwynne and Humphrey Mackworth each in turn, armed with the Board's proposals, presented bills to Parliament, which were read and reread, passed to the Lords and brought back, but which never became law. Through these bills and reports, however, the ideas they incorporated were popularised, and local experiments, already set on foot by John Cary, were encouraged. (fn. 29)

The debt the Corporations of the Poor owed to Samuel Hartlib and Thomas Firmin was large. The very organisation of these institutions was modelled on the workhouse establishment by Hartlib and described in the 1662 Act of Settlement, (fn. 30) and Firmin was extremely active in influencing both the Board of Trade through the evidence he gave to it, and the Corporation of the Poor of London through his association with many of its elected assistants. Indeed, the London Corporation at first attempted simply to provide stock and training for the poor in the same way Firmin had done for the previous 20 years. (fn. 31)

Perhaps because both the founders of the Corporations of the Poor and Bellers shared many of the same intellectual antecedents, but also because they moved in the same circles, there is a great similarity between Bellers' ideas and those expressed in the organisation and running of the Corporations of the Poor. Bellers' ideas, which at first seem isolated in a period populated by repressive workhouse schemes, on closer examination come to appear merely the purest and most sophisticated representative of a whole series of workhouse proposals.

The Corporations of the Poor did contain houses of correction, and were empowered virtually to imprison paupers and to inflict brutal physical punishments on the recalcitrant, (fn. 32) but their design likewise incorporated two aspects of the tradition in English poor relief central to Bellers' own scheme. First, just as Bellers believed the labourers and handicraftsmen housed in his college would come to form a caring community, helping one another rather than competing, the advocates of the Corporations expected the inmates to form a 'workhouse family', wherein the healthy would take care of the sick and a separate workhouse identity would develop. (fn. 33) More than this, inherent in the idea of a workhouse family was that of a common purpose among the inmates, a belief that each inmate would work hard for the benefit of the whole workhouse community.

Second, the Corporations were designed to provide the best possible care for the poor. Good food, healthy conditions and a regular life were to be given the inmates as their desert either at the end of a long working life, or, as in the case of the young, as an insurance for the well-being of future generations. (fn. 34) This was not the age of 'less eligibility' or the workhouse test, rather it was a period of increasing sympathy towards the poor.

It would be wrong to see the foundation of the Corporations as a result of purely humanitarian impulses; they incorporated many repressive and cruel elements, but at the same time, with the Quaker Workhouse at Clerkenwell, they were a result of a long tradition of English humanitarian and co-operative poor relief, which was extreme in its belief in the necessity and virtue of treating the poor with kindness and humanity. Bellers' ideas and institution still stand out against this background, but not because they contained anything new, rather because they did not contain the repressive aspects of other proposals.

The Clerkenwell Workhouse

The institution Hutton managed was founded in 1702. It housed and cared for about a hundred poor elderly people and children, who were supported in the house by the Monthly Meeting to which they belonged, each meeting paying between 12d. and 3s. per week for each inmate. (fn. 35) The building the institution occupied had been built in 1662 as a workhouse for the Corporation of the Poor of the County of Middlesex, probably at the instigation of Sir Matthew Hale. (fn. 36) It remained a workhouse only until 1672, but continued to serve as the site of a poor relief establishment for most of the rest of the century. (fn. 37) The London Quakers took over its lease from Sir Thomas Rowe, who had used it for his College of Infants founded in 1686, and in doing so gained access to half the building, the other half being used throughout this period as a county house of correction. (fn. 38)

The building was situated at the corner of Corporation Lane and Bridewell Walk and is shown on John Rocque's 1747 map of London. It enclosed a large square, and was surrounded by relatively open countryside. That half of the structure leased by the Quakers included 46 rooms, 31 of which were fitted up as lodging rooms, ranging in size from 8 ft. by 10 ft. to 20 ft. by 85 ft. Of these rooms most were used to accommodate the elderly, with one, two or three people occupying each room, while three rooms were used as dormitories for the children. Besides these, there were also cellars, kitchens, a parlour, several storerooms and workrooms, a stable and a brewhouse. It was a commodious and airy building, ideally suited to the use to which it was put. (fn. 39)

Having published his Proposals for Raising a Colledge of Industry in 1696, Bellers presented it to the Quaker Yearly Meeting in London in 1697, which in turn recommended it to the Monthly and Quarterly Meetings around the country. (fn. 40) It was not immediately taken up, but in 1698 the Six Weeks Meeting in London commissioned a report on Quaker poverty, concluding that the Quaker communities of London and its neighbourhood contained '184 aged people most of them capable of some work and 47 children or more, most them fit to put to some kind of business', (fn. 41) and that the establishment of a college of industry was practical. Originally, the London Monthly Meetings, which made up the Six Weeks Meeting, believed they needed an Act of Parliament on the lines of those passed for the establishment of Corporations of the Poor in order to set up such an institution, but after petitioning Parliament and consulting legal counsel this was deemed unnecessary. (fn. 42) The sum of £1888 was raised, the lease taken and necessary repairs carried out on the building. (fn. 43)

The government of the house was strongly paternalistic and highly organised. A committee was established, made up of three members from each of the six Monthly Meetings in London, which met regularly and had control over all aspects of the administration of the house. John Bellers proposed a bill of fare and a system of rates was decided upon (150). Once the house was established a steward was chosen. George Barr was given the post in 1702 and paid a salary of £20 a year, 'he to be supplied with all necessaries except the furniture of one room and his own apparel'. (fn. 44) While the workhouse committee determined questions of policy and sat in judgement over disputes arising in the house, it was the steward who made sure the institution worked. Although his role and powers were never precisely defined it fell to him to see that orders were obeyed, that food was bought and served, the inmates properly clothed, that the accounts were kept accurately, and perhaps most importantly that the goods produced by the inmates were made economically and sold at a profit. In most respects the role of the steward was determined by the personality of the man holding the post. Whether he was independent or insecure seems to have determined the number of times he felt obliged to appeal to the workhouse committee on questions arising from the day-today administration of the workhouse. Hutton, for example, seems to have been quite timorous in his dealings with the workhouse committee for at least the first few years of his administration. He appealed to it over matters of internal discipline of a kind that do not seem to have arisen or at least were not reported during the tenure of his predecessors.

At its first foundation 32 elderly friends entered the house, and gradually, after that, the house's population was expanded, the 'ancient friends' being followed by children and finally in 1707 by paying residents and 'scholars'. (fn. 45) At first both the elderly and children were encouraged to work, the elderly being provided with materials to practise their own trades, which included winding silk, picking oakum, spinning thread and cotton, sewing, carding and shoemaking, while the children were either employed about the house or set to spinning mop yarn. (fn. 46) But the amount of work done was gradually restricted, and by the 1710s only the children were required to contribute to their own support, the elderly being enjoined merely to 'lend a helping hand to each other'. (fn. 47)

The first ten years of the house's existence were characterised by bad management and confusion. Three stewards came and went between 1702 and 1711, and at least one of them left bad debts to the house when he resigned. (fn. 48) Likewise, the manufactures of the workhouse were found to be unremunerative. In 1710 it was reported that the inmates earned less than 1d. per week per person. (fn. 49) Nevertheless, the commitment to the house on the part of the Monthly Meetings continued, and its role gradually changed in order to fit most easily within the affordable needs of the Quaker community. The education of children gradually came to take up more of the resources of the house, and in 1706 children began to be accepted into the house from all over the country. (fn. 50)

By the beginning of the 1710s the house was obviously in decline. It received fewer legacies than it had at first, and while the Monthly Meetings willingly took care of the day-to-day expenses, capital investment remained unprovided for. In 1711 Richard Hutton took up the post of steward, (fn. 51) and it was Hutton who turned the house around, striving to create an efficient and inexpensive management and ensuring that money came in both from the sale of goods produced and from legacies. The gradual change of emphasis from housing and employing the poor to the education of children was partially a result of Hutton's endeavours. But, as Hutton's notes demonstrate, he did not manage his part in this transformation without difficulty. The house was always in the public eye, and that public did not hesitate to pass judgement on it and Hutton's management (66, 143). In the complaints book, Hutton records how Quakers and non-Quakers alike confronted him with what he deemed to be spurious complaints based on the garbled reports of those opposed to the house (99, 105, 106, 141, 145, 148). At one point he received an anonymous letter from a non-Quaker complaining that, 'This day I was informed that the children under your care have not a sufficient allowance of food to fill their bellies . . . I am sorry that such a report should be raised among your people for I did think you always took the best of care amongst your poor. Children are hungry and growing and require more food, but hungry bellies and cold water betwixt meals do not agree, and raising them at five a clock in the morning and making them work without their clothes is very hard for children to bear' (66). This complaint was unfounded, but caused Hutton great concern nonetheless. In several places Hutton also suggests that there was a large body of Quakers who were actively opposed to the very idea of a Quaker workhouse, and who worked for its demise (99, 141, 145).

But Hutton's most serious problems arose not from external sources, but from the residents themselves. The workhouse population was made up of an extremely varied group of individuals. Besides the problems naturally associated with housing and educating children and adolescents (8, 42, 67, 113, 130, 145, 147), Hutton faced the difficulty of moderating between and satisfying the house's two types of adult residents, the poor and the fee-paying inmates. The pauper inmates of the house, who were supported by the Monthly Meetings, expected to be and for the most part seem to have been treated with a large degree of sympathy and forbearance. But as Hutton suggests in 1717, the pauper residents also expected all the money available for the house to be expended upon them. Complaints about the diet of the house, in particular, were extremely common. The poor believed they should receive the immediate benefit of any legacies left to the house. Hutton recorded these complaints thus: 'when our family heard . . . [that several bequests had been left to the house] I was told by some of them and in a very untoward and reflecting manner, saying, we hear that the house begins to save money by the poor, also said, that friends gave not their money to the house with that intent but it was in order that it might be laid out upon the poor to comfort them, and not to be hoard up' (141). This sort of expectation naturally led to conflict between those most interested in the long-term future of the institution and those seeking immediate gratification in the form of better conditions or diet. These complaints from the poor were a reflection of how they saw their relationship to the house, and likewise, of the extent to which the house represented a pure humanitarian and co-operative tradition. Hutton could not see the house's money as other than a trust for the future. He was faced with a problem posed by the success of any co-operative venture: to what extent can the profits of the work of temporary members of the organisation be kept aside for the benefit of future generations? In any co-operative with a high turnover there is always a temptation for those in control during a period of prosperity to view extraordinary profits as a windfall, and to use them for their own benefit exclusively. Because the Quaker workhouse was paternalistic in its management this view could be ignored, but the arguments of the poor reflect an expectation that they as individuals had a strong claim on any funds available, and in turn a degree of control over the management of the house. Hutton overcame this problem primarily by appealing to higher authorities - the workhouse committee and the Monthly Meetings who supported the inmates (99, 141, 148). It was more difficult for him to do this when confronted by the complaints of feepaying residents.

William Townsend came into the house in 1716 with his wife and a maid. He was a man of means, paid slightly more for his accommodation than did the Monthly Meetings for the pauper residents, and valued himself extremely highly. He was to cause more trouble for Hutton than any other single individual. Because he thought himself better than the other residents he demanded special treatment. On one occasion the man who brewed the beer for the house asked Townsend 'why he found fault with the beer, it being very good. William told him, he loved to find fault when he saw faults for he had been cruelly used since he came here. The young man asked him wherein he had been so cruelly used, and if he had not his allowance? Aye, William said, but I pay more than the rest. The young man said, but if thou should have a different diet from the rest it would breed contention in the family. Then William said, but if they had been prudent managers they might have given us different from the rest and none of them have known it' (84). Hutton adamantly refused to give him better treatment, though he did what he could to keep the man quiet, and by doing so began a 'war' that stretched over a year and exercised Hutton's diplomatic skills to their limit. In this instance it was Hutton who strove to maintain equality within the house in the face of the objections of an inmate. He strove to ensure that all residents, including himself and his wife, had the same diet and treatment. William Townsend, and some others in a similar position, sought constant reinforcement for their own conceits, attempting to convert a largely egalitarian system to one which would have allowed them to play a dominant role in the management of the house (80-88, 97). Eventually, after many hard words and emotional scenes, which Hutton dutifully recorded, the workhouse committee forced Townsend out of the house, and gradually attempted to separate the children from the ancient friends. (fn. 52)

The Decline of the Co-operative Ideal

The house Hutton had entered in 1711 was losing money every year, failing to establish resources for its future security, and generally falling into disarray. When Hutton died in 1737, the house was regularly making a profit and had established its worth as a school. Moreover, it had amassed a large foundation which both cushioned it against temporary setbacks, and produced profits which could be used to subsidise the care of the inmates.

By 1737, it was also, however, far along the road from productive co operative to school, from John Bellers' idea of a self-supporting institution to an entirely paternalistic private school for the training up of Quaker children. The foundation which remained retained its kindness and humanity; there are letters from pauper children and inmates thanking Hutton and the committee for their extreme benevolence (57, 58), and likewise, there continued to be a strong emphasis on the cooperative aspect of the endeavour. Encouragement was continually given to the elderly to help one another and to form a 'workhouse family'. But once the elderly were relieved of the responsibility to work at their own trades, the labour done in the house became merely a means of encouraging a habit of industry among the young. The belief at the heart of Bellers' proposal, that the labour of the poor was the only 'standard to value all necessaries by . . .' and should be used for their benefit, became superfluous. (fn. 53)

This retreat from Bellers' pure statement of an humanitarian and cooperative tradition in poor relief was not acted out merely in the context of the Quaker workhouse. The broader tradition which had spawned the Corporations of the Poor was likewise first diluted and then subverted. It was not that the co-operative and humanitarian elements of the Corporations were ever completely eliminated, but that their repressive aspects loomed ever larger, while the faith in the value of the labour of the poor, upon which they were founded, was gradually undermined. In London the Corporation's first experiment in providing capital in the form of stock for the poor to work up was sabotaged by Sir Francis Child. (fn. 54) In Bristol, while an excellent example of the shrewdness and economic sophistication of the Corporation's founders can be seen in its first few years of operation, the Corporation was not allowed to remain successful for long. John Cary described the success of the Corporation in 1700: 'after about eight months time, our children could not get half so much as we expended in their provisions. The manufacturers who employed us, were always complaining . . . but would not advance above eight pence per pound for spinning . . . The committee voted that they would give employment to all the poor of the city . . . at the rates we offered to work, and pay them ready money for their labour. We soon found we had taken the right course, for in a few weeks we had sale for our fine yarn as fast as we could make it, and they gave us from eight pence, and were very well pleased with it.' (fn. 55) What the Corporation had done was to force up the price of pauper labour to something close to its real value by giving employment to all comers at a higher rate. The policy necessarily put other manufacturers at a disadvantage, and though extremely successful was not allowed to continue for long, spinning being replaced by the less remunerative and unskilled pauper manufacture of pin making, (fn. 56) an activity less central to the economy of Bristol and therefore less likely to affect the prosperity of the urban elite.

The Corporations struggled on in the 1700s and 1710s, the objects of intense political strife in the cities they served, (fn. 57) but their role as manufacturing centres was steadily restricted and with that restriction went much of the justification for their existence. Even in their emasculated form the Corporations did retain elements of a co-operative and humanitarian tradition. There continued, in their management, to be an emphasis on the idea of a workhouse family, and they were still expected to provide the best possible care for the poor. But never, after their first few years, did they live up to the ideals inherent in the writings of their founders.

The Corporations had been an attempt to reflect the English tradition of poor relief in all its facets. They were superseded by a more successful attempt to subvert that tradition entirely. In the 1710s parochial workhouses began to be founded, small institutions serving small communities. The parochial workhouse movement was given support and central direction by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and sought justification for its existence in an entirely different analysis of the social and economic role of workhouses. First, the SPCK and the founders of parochial houses were determined to use them as a means of strict control over the lives of the poor. Anyone sinful enough to end in a workhouse had first to be inured to labour, then brought to God, and through religion given a criterion for his behaviour, and finally through workhouse discipline forced to adopt an habitual and virtuous way of living. (fn. 58)

The second difference between the Corporation and parochial workhouses lay in the idea of a workhouse test. The Workhouse Test Act (fn. 59) was passed in 1722 as a result of the lobbying of the SPCK, (fn. 60) and in it was embodied the idea that a workhouse should form a deterrent, forcing the poor to seek any avenue for existence before resorting to the parish.

The later justifications for the existence of workhouses - that they should both mould the views and behaviour of inmates, and at the same time discourage the poor from exercising their right to poor reliefreplaced the idea that, brought together in a co-operative environment, the poor could form a self-sufficient community. Indeed, in parochial workhouses, the labour of the poor was demanded not because it was profitable, but because it encouraged self-discipline. In an introduction to a SPCK pamphlet of 1725, the author asked, 'What great gains can be hoped for from old, infirm people who are past labour, or young unexperienced children who have everything to learn?', and answered his own question by suggesting that it would introduce 'among the poor, habits of sobriety, obedience and industry'. (fn. 61)

The parochial workhouse movement was largely successful. By 1777 over one per cent of the population was housed in deterrent work houses. (fn. 62) But the success of these institutions could not entirely destroy the humanitarian and co-operative traditions they sought to overlay. Even among the founders of these institutions there was an extreme reticence to put the idea of deterrence into practice. At Maidstone, for example, the parish could not bring itself to enforce a severe workhouse test and it continued to give weekly pensions after their house was opened though it was quite large enough to house all the parish poor, because, as Samuel Weller explained, 'we have many here who would choose to starve rather than be maintained in plenty and cleanliness in the Bridewell or house of correction as they call it.' (fn. 63) Similarly, there remained an expectation that somehow the inmates would form a workhouse family, that they would coalesce into a co-operative community. (fn. 64)

Moreover, among some writers on poor relief there remained the presumptions and aspirations of the writers and projectors of the 1690s and 1700s. In 1731 a series of broadsides was published by the ChristianLove Poor entitled The Workhouse Cruelty; Workhouses turned Gaols and Gaolers turned Executioners. Although these broadsides described specific scandals said to have taken place in the house belonging to St Giles in the Fields, their title indicates a belief that the function of workhouses had changed; that from being places of refuge for the poor, they had become places of confinement and punishment. Also, in the writings of Thomas Gilbert we can see all the aspects of the workhouse schemes of the 1690s. In these later writings there was still a degree of repression and paternalism, as there had been in the Corporations of the Poor, but likewise there was a belief that the poor should be brought together in a comfortable environment in which they could set about helping themselves. (fn. 65)

The mainstream of the English institutional poor-relief tradition was taken over by individuals advocating the use of workhouses as a deterrent, but there remained intact, as a subtext, a radical tradition of communal co-operativism, which was still there and ready to be drawn upon by nineteenth-century radicals and co-operators like Francis Place and Robert Owen.

The Quaker workhouse survived as well. In 1786, the institution moved to Croydon, Surrey, and the ancient friends were entirely separated from the children. Later, at the end of the nineteenth century, it moved again and became Friends' School at Saffron Walden, Essex, in which form it now survives. (fn. 66)

Note on Editorial Method

The original of 'Richard Hutton's Complaints Book' is currently (1986) held in the safe at Friends' School at Saffron Walden, the lineal descendant of the Quaker Workhouse at Clerkenwell, though as this volume goes to press arrangements are being made to have it and the school's other material transferred to the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford. It is a leather bound volume of 187 pages, written almost entirely in Hutton's own flowing hand. The volume is inaccurately paginated and shows the effects of Hutton's growing blindness; the handwriting grows larger towards the end of the 1720s and the number of entries per year declines significantly in the 1730s.

The manuscript is part of the school's very complete archive, which, for the first half of the eighteenth century, includes six volumes of workhouse committee minutes, rough drafts of the same minutes, a standing minute book with a separate index, eight volumes of general accounts, eleven volumes of ledgers, six bill books, a volume of material relating to legacies, and a complete admissions register. Some of the material contained in the complaints book, in particular the accounts and committee minutes, can also be found in other volumes in the archive.

For this edition, I have striven to eliminate as little relevant material as possible, and approximately nine-tenths of the book is reproduced here. There were in the original some items the inclusion of which would have served little purpose. The items excluded have been marked and briefly described in the text, and include first drafts of letters available in a more polished form elsewhere in the volume, and several pages of accounts. None of the accounts Hutton originally copied into the complaints book formed complete series, and as they are all available in the school's account and ledger books in a much more useful form it was not felt necessary to include more than a representative sample of them here. Bills of fare, house rules and questions asked of prospective inmates taken from the minute books are included as an appendix (150-5).

Spelling, punctuation and place names have been modernised, and personal names corrected to the individual's signature when available, and in accordance with the commonest available spelling where it is not. Sums of money have been translated into a standardised form. This edition is essentially a transcription, but occasionally additions and elisions of not more than one or two words have been made in order to clarify Hutton's prose. These have been indicated by the use of square brackets for additions and ellipses for elisions.

Most of the volume is written in Quaker 'plain language' and this usage has been retained. There is, however, one aspect of early eighteenthcentury Quaker usage which it was felt necessary to modernise. Hutton normally wrote out his dates numerically as day, month, year, beginning his year from March, so that 7:12:1716 actually means 7 February 1717 in modern reckoning. In this edition Hutton's and all other dates in this form have been translated without comment into modern form.


I am grateful to the Governors of the Friends' School, Saffron Walden, for permission to publish this edition of Hutton's book.

The work of producing this volume has been greatly aided by a number of people. Chief among them is the archivist at Friends' School, Saffron Walden, Richard Wright. I would also like to thank the school's head, John C. Woods, and the staff at the Society of Friends' Library in London. I am also grateful for the comments and encouragement of Paul Slack, Penelope Corfield, Joanna Innes and John Styles. My original work on the Quaker Workhouse at Clerkenwell was made possible by the financial support of the Overseas Research Students Award Scheme. And finally, I would like to thank Sonia Constantinou, Nigel Quinney and Sheila Macdonald for their extreme tolerance. All of the mistakes in this volume are inevitably my own.


  • 1. By 1777 there were 1,916 parochial and borough workhouses alone in England: HLRO, 'Poor Rate Returns, 1777', Parchment Collection, Box 162.
  • 2. SFL: 'London & Middlesex Marriages 1657-1719'; i; 'L. & Mdx. Births, 1644-1719', i; 'L & Mdx. Burials, 1700-1749', i.
  • 3. Richard Hutton's son, Richard, died at the age of 18 days in November 1717. The existence of a child is mentioned by William Townsend (85), but the death of this, the Hutton's ninth and last child, is not mentioned by Richard himself. SFL, 'L. & Mdx. Births, 1644-1719', i; 'L. & Mdx. Burials, 1700-1749', i.
  • 4. Quaker administration in London was performed by a series of meetings. At the top of the organisation was the Yearly Meeting, and below that the regional Quarterly and Six Weeks Meeting, and finally the six local Monthly Meetings. There were also, however, several special organisations with specific responsibilities for poor relief. First, there was the Meeting of Twelve, made up of two representatives from each of the Monthly Meetings, which had established a flax-spinning scheme in 1677. Second, there was the Women's Meetings, which were considered to have special responsibility for the poor, though their role was never defined. Third, there was the workhouse committee, composed of three representatives from each of the Monthly Meetings, which had direct responsibility for the institution at Clerkenwell. These were the main meetings concerned with administration in London, though there was a plethora of others which were primarily devotional. See William C. Braithwaite, The Second Period of Quakerism (2nd edn., York, 1979), 251-8, 272, 275-8; Arnold Lloyd, Quaker Social History, 1669-1738 (London, 1950), 33.
  • 5. Lloyd, 47n.; A. Ruth Fry, John Bellers, 1654-1725. Quaker, Economist and Social Reformer (London, 1935), 7-8.
  • 6. Quoted in Braithwaite, Second Period, 571.
  • 7. For information on Bellers' influence on later radicals see The First Worker Cooperators, Proposals for Raising a Colledge of Industry, by John Bellers (Nottingham, Institute for Workers Control pamphlet no. 68, n.d., c. 1980), 3-4.
  • 8. See for example, Lloyd, 40; Fry, Bellers; Braithwaite, Second Period, 571-94.
  • 9. First Worker Co-operators.
  • 10. Ibid. 12.
  • 11. Ibid. 13.
  • 12. Ibid. 12-13.
  • 13. Ibid. 20-1.
  • 14. William C. Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism to 1660 (2nd edn., York, 1981), 143; Lloyd, 32.
  • 15. Quoted in Braithwaite, Second Period, 559.
  • 16. Ibid. 571.
  • 17. Stephen Macfarlane, 'Social Policy and the Poor in the Later Seventeenth Century' in A. L. Beier and Roger Finlay, eds., The Making of the Metropolis, London 1500-1700 (London, 1986), 259; Lloyd, 40.
  • 18. Rowland Vaughan, Most Approved and Long Experienced Water-Works (London, 1610).
  • 19. See S[amuel] H[artlib], London's Charity Inlarged, Stilling the Orphans Cry (London, 1650); [Samuel Hartlib], A Designe for Plentie, by an Universal Planting of Fruit-Trees (London, 1653); Samuel Hartlib, Considerations Tending to the Happy Accomplishment of England's Reformation in Church and State (London, 1647); Samuel Hartlib, A Further Discoverie of the Office of Publick Address for Accommodations (London, 1648); Valerie Pearl, 'Puritans and Poor Relief: The London Workhouse, 1649-1660' in D. Pennington and Keith Thomas, eds., Puritans and Revolutionaries (Oxford, 1978), 206-232.
  • 20. For material on Thomas Firmin and his relief project see H. W. Stephenson, 'Thomas Firmin, 1632-1697' (Oxford Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1966); Macfarlane, 'Social Policy', 259-60; A. G. Craig, 'The Movement for the Reformation of Manners, 16881715' (Edinburgh Univ. Ph. D. thesis, 1980), 98-9; Thomas Firmin, Some Proposals for the Imployment of the Poor (London, 1681).
  • 21. Macfarlane, 'Social Policy', 262.
  • 22. For a list of these institutions see T. V. Hitchcock, 'The English Workhouse, a Study in Institutional Poor Relief in Selected Counties, 1696-1750' (Oxford Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1985; cited hereafter as Hitchcock), 14n.
  • 23. Hitchcock, 22-39.
  • 24. John Cary, An Essay on the State of England in Relation to its Trade (Bristol, 1695), 150-9.
  • 25. E. E. Butcher (ed.), Bristol Corporation of the Poor, Selected Records, 1696-1834 (Bristol Record Society, iii, 1932), 1.
  • 26. Macfarlane, 'Social Policy', 262.
  • 27. See Hitchcock, 25-8.
  • 28. Hitchcock, 28-39.
  • 29. Rowland Gwynne's bill, though it did not become law, did result in the publication of several pamphlets, including John Cary, Reasons For Passing the Bill for Relieving and Employing the Poor of the Kingdom Humbly Offered (London, 1700); John Cary, Proposal Offered to the Committee of the Honourable House of Commons (London, 1700) and M.D., A Present Remedy for the Poor: or the Most Probable Means to Provide Well for the Poor (London, 1700).
  • 30. 13 & 14 Chas. II c. 12.
  • 31. Macfarlane, 'Social Policy', 262.
  • 32. For a detailed description of the powers of the Corporations of the Poor, see Hitchcock, 17-22.
  • 33. For example see M.D., A Present Remedy for the Poor, 11-12.
  • 34. See John Cary, An Account of the Proceedings of the Corporation of Bristol (London, 1700), 9-17.
  • 35. There are three items entirely devoted to the Quaker Workhouse at Clerkenwell available in published form: David W. Bolam, Unbroken Community: The Story of the Friends' School, Saffron Walden, 1702-1952 (Cambridge, 1952); Memoir of John Sharp, Late Superintendent of Croydon School (London, 1857), and [Timothy Bevan], An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the School and Work-house Maintain'd by the People called Quakers, at Clerkenwell, London (London, 1746).
  • 36. See E. G. Dowdell, 'The Economic Administration of Middlesex from the Accession of Charles II to the Death of George II' (bound typescript deposited at the Greater London Council History Library), 46-66.
  • 37. For a number of years in the 1670s the building was used as a prison, and in 1686 it was taken over by Sir Thomas Rowe as the site of his College of Infants, in which use it continued until Rowe's death in 1696. See Dowdell, op. cit., 66-9, 84-95; Braithwaite, Second Period, 585.
  • 38. Dowdell, 'Economic Administration of Middlesex', 50, 64n.; David W. Bolam, Unbroken Community, 19.
  • 39. R. Hyde (ed.), The A to Z of Georgian London (London Topographical Society publication no. 126, 1982), 4. For a list of all the rooms, their dimensions and the uses to which they were put see FSSWA, 'Standing Minute Book of the Committee of the Quaker Workhouse at Clerkenwell, 1701-1792', pp. 25-6.
  • 40. Fry, Bellers, 7.
  • 41. Quoted in Memoir of John Sharp, 4.
  • 42. Lloyd, 47n.; Fry, Bellers, 8.
  • 43. Memoir of John Sharp, 5.
  • 44. FSSWA, 'Best Minutes, 1701-1708', ff. 24, 25.
  • 45. FSSWA, 'Best Minutes, 1701-1708', f. 125.
  • 46. For a list of trades being practised by inmates in 1704 see ibid., f. 1.
  • 47. FSSWA, 'Standing Minute Book of the Committee of the Quaker Workhouse at Clerkenwell, 1701-1792', p. 95.
  • 48. Samuel Trafford, Hutton's immediate predecessor, was discharged in 1711 for having 'very misapplied the cash put into his hands for the necessary use of the house', and Trafford's predecessor, John Powell, left the house owing four shillings, which debt was 'thought something dubious': FSSWA, 'Best Minutes, 1708-1714', ff. 79-80, 99. Hutton's predecessors were George Barr, 1702-4, John Powell, 1704-9, and Samuel Trafford, 1709-11. See FSSWA, 'Best Minutes, 1701-1708', ff. 25, 62; FSSWA, 'Best Minutes, 1708-1714', ff. 44, 97, 99.
  • 49. FSSWA, 'Best Minutes, 1708-1714', ff. 79-80.
  • 50. FSSWA, 'Best Minutes, 1701-1708', f. 92.
  • 51. FSSWA, 'Best Minutes, 1708-1714', f. 97.
  • 52. See FSSWA, 'Best Minutes, 1714-1724', p. 179; Bolam, Unbroken Community, 51, 55.
  • 53. First Worker Co-operators, 13.
  • 54. Macfarlane, 'Social Policy', 262.
  • 55. Cary, An Account of the Proceedings of the Corporation of Bristol, 13-15.
  • 56. Butcher, Bristol Corporation of the Poor, 7.
  • 57. For examples see Macfarlane, 'Social Policy', 267-9; Hitchcock, 47, 49-52, 60-4, 83-5.
  • 58. For a discussion of the role of the SPCK in the parochial workhouse movement see Hitchcock, 114-18, 224-34.
  • 59. 9 Geo. I, c. 7.
  • 60. Hitchcock, 127-8.
  • 61. [Anon.], An Account of Several Workhouses for Employing and Maintaining the Poor (London, 1725), pp. iv, vi.
  • 62. Over 90,000 people were housed in workhouses by 1777 according to a Parliamentary inquiry of that year. See HLRO, 'Poor Rate Returns, 1777', Parchment Collection, Box 162.
  • 63. [Anon.], Account of Several Workhouses (1725), 35.
  • 64. Ibid., pp. v-vi.
  • 65. For example see Thomas Gilbert, A Scheme for the Better Relief and Employment of the Poor; Humbly Submitted to the Consideration of His Majesty and the two Houses of Parliament (London, 1764).
  • 66. Bolam, Unbroken Community, 55, 116.