On this day in 1860 the newspapers reported the case of an elderly lady who went to ask the advice of the Lambeth Police magistrate, Mr. Elliot. Her behaviour puzzled the justice but reveals an often hidden aspect of the Victorian Poor Law.
Mrs Till (who was probably widowed and alone) told Mr. Elliot that on 4th April she had pledged 8s with a pawnbroker for sixpence. The magistrate was baffled; why would she handover 8 shillings only to take 6 pennies in return?
Mrs Till explained:
‘The fact was, your Worship, that I was going into the workhouse, and knowing that the money would be taken from me I adopted that manner of securing it’.
In effect then, rather than pawning her money she had deposited it – much like we might do in a savings account, but one that could not be touched by the authorities and used to pay for her care.
The court usher backed up what the ‘aged’ woman was saying. He told the court that when paupers entered the workhouse they were stripped and their clothes washed. Any money found on them was ‘appropriated to their support’. The sixpence that Mrs Till had she could hide in her mouth so the inspectors didn’t find it.
This struck me as rather like the dilemma that the elderly and their families have today when they are in need of full-time care in a home or with social care visits. Someone who has the means the pay will be expected to do so; thus all their savings (that they may have earmarked for their children and grandchildren) is used up in supporting them and their care. I’m not suggesting this is necessarily wrong, but the person who makes provision for old age and its unforeseen eventualities can be seemingly treated ‘unfairly’ by comparison to those who don’t.
In this case Mrs Till had come out of the workhouse and was now having trouble getting her money back. She explained that the pawnbroker was denying her the money because she could not state exactly which coins constituted the eight shillings she had pledged.
Mr Dixon, the usher, thought he could resolve this. He was familiar with the pawnbroker who was a ‘respectable’ man and, with his Worship’s leave, he said he would speak to him and get the money back. Mr Elliot agreed.
Also on this day a Joseph Grout reappeared at Guildhall Police Court on a charge of burglary. A trimming-maker from Slater Street in Bethnal Green was fully committed for trial at the Old Bailey, and bail was refused on the grounds that he had previous convictions for receiving stolen goods.
In the week that Peter Vaughan died I was reminded of his character Harry Grout (better known as ‘Grouty’) in Porridge.
[from The Morning Post, Saturday, December 10, 1864]