All towns and parishes in the country had poor residents to deal with. Some did so more compassionately than others. The Poor Law of 1601 gave all parishes legal responsibility for the relief of the poor and made it compulsory for parishes to levy a 'poor rate' to fund financial support ('public assistance') for those who could not work.
There was a distinction between the 'impotent' poor (the lame, blind, etc) and the 'idle poor', who were likely to be placed in houses of correction (later workhouses).
In 1723, in order to allow more efficient and cheaper management of the 'idle poor', the Poor Relief Act provided for the establishment of workhouses where poor relief would be provided. By obliging anyone seeking poor relief to enter a workhouse and undertake a set amount of work, usually for no pay, the Act helped prevent 'irresponsible claims' on a parish's poor rate and to minimise the cost of supporting poor residents.
As a result of the new law, between 1723 and 1750, about 600 parish workhouses were established in England and Wales.
In 1730, Hornsey parish leased a house in Hornsey Lane to use as a temporary workhouse. Five years later, a site for a permanent one was acquired to the north of Priory Road, where Priory Avenue is now located.
The Hornsey Workhouse opened in 1743. By the second decade of the nineteenth century, it was part of a cluster of public buildings. On the 1815 Enclosure Map below, the workhouse is marked. The pair of buildings next to the road, to the south west of the workhouse was the national school. The small building to the south east was almost certainly the Old Cage, the old police building or old watch-house.
The Hornsey workhouse was directly administered by a master and a mistress. They oversaw the inmates' work and shared any proceeds.
The harshness of the system that we've all been vaguely aware of as part of our history is hinted at by the following order in the vestry minutes of 1st July, 1744.
Orderd that the overseers of the Poor do make a proper Fence about the Workhouse with Pails to Inclose it and after the fence so made the Governor of the Workhouse to take care that no Persons have leave to go out of the premises without consent of one of the overseers of the poor or one of the churchwardens
One assumes that the system, most particularly the master and mistress, wanted to keep the inmates within the building so as to extract the maximum amount of labour from them.
The inmates wore uniforms and, from quite early on, also badges so as to be readily identifiable as recipients of relief.
It was a mixed workhouse and, for example, on 25th March, 1823, it held 20 men, 30 women, and 10 boys and girls, giving a total of 60, which was the average number of its inmates taken through the year. The building had to be extended a number of times as Hornsey's population grew. By 1827, there were over 100 inmates.
Entries in the overseers' accounts, such as the following one from 1775, give some idea of the horrors endured by the children and other inmates of such a mixed workhouse.
Paid for bringing a Madman to the Workhouse and setting up all night, 4s.
On the other hand, a scrap of paper is preserved in the vestry records with a note to a local publican:
Please to send for the use of the people resident in the workhouse 32 Pots of Beer- New Years Day next.—Hornsey Workhouse. Dec. 25. 1816.
One hopes this is suggestive of a benevolent intention and not of some corrupt practice.
A newspaper advert for a contract to supply the workhouse with food, may give some idea of the diet inmates enjoyed. It apparently included the delicacy of mouse buttocks!
Morning Advertiser - Monday 16 June 1823
Similar adverts can be verified as having been placed in 1806, 1819, 1827 and 1831.
As tough a life as it may have been, some who lived there apparently thrived.
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 13 September 1819
In 1837, Hornsey and several other parishes formed the Edmonton Poor Law Union and the Hornsey workhouse was demolished and the site sold.
Advertisement following closure of the workhouse, Morning Advertiser, 2nd November 1837
I have not been able to locate any picture of the building.
Horney Past, Steven Densford
Two studies in the hornsey church books, F. W. M. Draper, Transactions;of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, New series volume X
The History, Topography, and Antiquities of Highgate, John H. Lloyd (of Highgate.), 1888
Janet Owen, Hornsey Historical Society
I was aware of the National School along Priory Road but hadn't realised there had been a workhouse. Fascinating.
BTW: On your map, to the right of the workhouse was where my Linzee Road appeared next century. I note that number 66 was already there. We were across the road in 63 :-)
You were no doubt a veritable North Star for the burghers of 1815. How could they not have noted your coming on the map?!
PS: In case you didn't spot the link in the main text I added a piece on the National School yesterday. (Of course the story ends up in Harringay!)
Ah, never spotted that! Very enlightening.
Brilliant reseach. This is so informative. Thank you
A few newspaper snippets added including hints of the inmates’ diet - mouse buttocks!
Had to look up how that was retrieved from said beasties and then cooked.
Ooooh, Hugh, you are cheeky ;-) ..........................................
The mouse buttock or second round of beef was smaller than the buttock or round and located lower down the rear end of the cow. It was most often boiled, stewed, or salted, but also braised and used in soups. When eaten fresh, the mouse buttock was best cut into steaks, beaten well and then either broiled, fried, or stewed. It was recommended that fat should be added to the leaner part of the second round when cooking it.
Recipe circa 1831
Take 11 pounds of the mouse buttock, or clod of beef, cut it into pieces of 3 or 4 ounces each; put 2 or 3 large onions, and 2 ounces of beef dripping into a large deep stew pan; as soon as it is quite hot, flour the meat, and put it into the stew pan; fill it sufficiently to cover the contents with water, and stir it continually with a wooden spoon; when it has been a quarter of an hour, dredge it with flour, and keep doing so till it has been stirred as much as will thicken it; then cover it with boiling water. Skim it when it boils, and put in 1 drachm of black ground pepper, 2 of allspice, and 4 bay leaves; set the pan by the side of the fire to stew slowly about four hours. This is at once a savoury and economical dish.
A word of warning from over two centuries back.
The London Adviser and Guide, John Trusler, 1786
....and lest you should still not be able to tell your mouse buttock from your elbow.....
The Complete Servant: Being a Practical Guide to the Peculiar Duties and Business of All Descriptions of Servants, Samuel & Sarah Adams, 1825
The Mr Prickett running the auction is of Prickett and Ellis, Estate agents. Started as auctioneers in Highgate I believe, now with outlets in and around Hornsey
Fascinating. Nice piece of work.
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