Asylum, Prison, and Poorhouse

A Month in an English Poorhouse.
by Max Bennett Thrasher

THE first impression which might naturally be received by one reading the title of this article would be that some unfortunate American tourist in England had found himself stranded and been obliged to take refuge in the poorhouse until he could hear from home, —in which case the experience might reasonably be expected to be dismal. Such, happily, was not the case. In the early summer, two years ago, an English friend who was going home to visit his relatives invited me to accompany him; and in the course of the stay in England we spent a month as the guests of a delightful woman who, having been for half a century connected with the administration of a parish workhouse, the last twenty-five years as matron, has come to be more closely identified with the management of such an institution than it is the lot of many persons ever to be. My visit under these circumstances was most pleasant, and the opportunity which I enjoyed for the study of the poorhouse life was so unusual that I have never failed to find people in this country interested in it.

The usual name in England for what we term a poorhouse is “The Union”; and certain parishes combine for the support of a common refuge for their poor, just as in this country the towns of a county unite to support a common county house or farm. I think that, as a general thing, the Union serves a much smaller territory than the county house; and is not used as a place for the confinement of minor criminals, but merely as a retreat for the helpless and homeless. Modern methods for the treatment of the pauper element have wrought many reforms in the management of the Unions since Dickens turned the electric light of his scorching descriptions upon them, and every year sees new efforts made by earnest philanthropists to improve their condition. In size and management the Unions vary greatly in different parts of the kingdom, ranging from the huge establishment which accommodates a thousand inmates to the smallest, which shelters but a very few.

The Union which I visited is situated just outside a small town in Northamptonshire, surrounded by fields and lanes and roads, beautiful as only the English country can be the low, rambling old house, built


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