poor law

The end of the 1830s was tough in Colne for working people and those in search of a job. I’ve already mentioned one account of the poverty in the town and this no doubt contributed to the troubles that hit at the end of the decade. This picture of economic hardship and of a volatile population reluctant to be ruled is born out by the problems experienced by those trying to introduce the terms of the Poor Law Amendment Act in the town. The “New Poor Law” aimed to put an end to outdoor relief, whereby those in need received financial assistance from the rates, and replace it with a system with the union workhouse at its cold heart. The only way for paupers to get help under the new rules was to enter the workhouse and live under a regime which was to be deliberately worse (or “less eligible”) than the standard of living of the worse-paid labourer on the outside.

The Act met with stiff resistance in some areas, particularly in the industrialised North. The people of Colne were certainly not keen. Here’s an excerpt from the minutes of one of the early meetings of the Poor Law Guardians of Burnley Union (of which Colne was a part):

“Adverting to the Resolution of the Board at their first meeting in which they expressed their approval of the new Poor Law Act, and pledged themselves to do their best endeavours to carry if into effect – the board now assembled are sorry to have to recommend that no attempt shall be made at present to put the act into operation – A material and unfavourable change in the circumstances of the labouring classes has been for some time taking place, and the Board is of opinion that very severe distress is at present existing without any prospect of early improvement, several of the mills in the district having limited their work to  four days in the week, and they regret to have to state their belief that unfair advantage has been taken of this depressed state of the neighbourhood to excite a hostile feeling among the poor to the introduction of the Act, and they have reason to know this conduct in the opponents of the Bill has been attended with great success insomuch that in some of the Townships of the Union no election of Guardians for the Union has been attempted, and in others such election has been opposed and prevented. The Board is particularly disappointed in having to state that this has been especially the case in the largest township of the union, namely, Colne, where owing principally to the violent proceedings of a stranger in the place, the Revd Mr Bull of Bradford, a very determined feeling has been manifested to take no part in the operations of the union. The present Guardians of that Township are under the necessity of discontinuing their services, and they report to the Board that they believe no other persons will dare to succeed them. These Guardians have produced to the board a placard issued by Mr Bull to the Rate payers of Colne and they think it their duty to transmit a copy of it to the Commissioners and to declare their strong disapproval of it…..”

 Sources: Burnley Poor Law Union Guardians’ minute book, 1837-1841, pages 12-13 (Lancashire Archives reference PUZ 1/1)

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