Oral History

Mr Thomas vann life and times of a Hinckley Union Relieving Officer

Please Note The figures at the beginning of the line, correspond with the numbers at the foot of each report; and the figures at the end of the line, refers to the MS. Paging of the Volumes arranged for The House of Commons.

Interviewed: Mr Thomas Vann

4225. You are a relieving officer in the Hinckley Union? --- I am.

4226. In that capacity, are you well acquainted with the condition of the framework knitters of Hinckley and its neighbourhood? --- I am; I am very frequently among them; I visit all those able-bodied cases that apply for relief.

4227. Do you afford relief to any of the able-bodied whilst employed? --- Only in cases of illness, or accident, or infirmity, of part of the family.

4228. Are applications frequently made to you for relief by those who are employed? --- Very frequently, in consequence of the want of better remuneration for their labour. They are more than ever I experienced, and I have a parish officer for nearly 20 years previous to the formation Union.

4229. In what condition do you find the dwellings of the people? --- They are in a most deplorable state, the greater part of them, both with respect to their clothing and especially their bedding and furniture. They are very thinly supplied indeed with all those articles.

4230. Do you find the sexes much huddled together in their houses? --- There are only a few of them that have got more than one sleeping-room; a great many of them, with four or five children, have only one sleeping-room, in consequence of their being obliged to have houses at such low rents.

4231. Do you find an adequate number of beds generally? --- No; I should say that in half of the houses that I visit with families, one of the beds – the children’s – is on the floor without a bedstead. In some cases there is not a bedstead in the house.

4232. What is the condition of the houses as to repairs? --- The houses are in better condition than they were previous to the grants from the Relief Committee; they were all whitewashed then. The committee set two or three parties of men, and they went all through the poor people’s houses and bettered their condition; but a great many of them are filthy places now.

4233. Are they provided with sewerage? --- They are very bad indeed; there are many open cisterns, and they are so close to the houses, they are completely mixed with them in many parts of the town; in hot weather, it is very annoying.

4234. Have they privies to most of the dwellings? --- In the yards there is one perhaps to three, four, or five houses; that is generally the case; they mostly belong to different owners and they make one do for several.

4235. Have you found any infectious disorders produced from the un-healthiness of the dwellings? --- There have been fevers, but I could not speak to that being the case; I have relieved many cases of fever, and I have the medical officer complain about the nuisances.

4236. Do you consider the condition of the workpeople to have got worse than it was? --- Much worse.

4237. Are you able to attribute that to any particular causes? --- Their labour being so much reduced, I should think; it has been reduced from 20 to 25 percent, in the last few years.

4238. Have you heard of the truck system prevailing in the town and neighbourhood? --- Oh yes; I was one of the contributors to the committee to endeavour to put it down. Several were fined, and persons were employed on purpose to look after them.

4239. Has that system been generally complained of? --- Very much.

4240. Has it had any effect upon the trade of the town? --- I have no doubt of it. If we take into account the two masters, the money master, and the truck master, the money master has no chance with him, because the truck master has an interest in the goods he sells; but not only so, he can without capital, because his money finds its way back again even where he is paying. I had a son but a little while ago who lived with one, and was in fact apprenticed to one, so that I know. With 5/. a man can pay scores and scores of hands off, whereas the money master has to pay his men in cash; how then can he go to market with the truck master? – Then the money master reduces wages to meet him.

4341. Do you know anything of the quality of the goods that are supplied with from those shops? --- I have heard the men complain, and have seen them, when they are taking their goods in, go back with bread under their arms from the shop.

4242. Have you heard complaints made of the number of deductions made from the earnings of the men? --- I know that they pay 1s a-week rent, as I happen to own some frames myself; and they pay also, if they work for a second master, 3d, to that master for taking in. Then, again, if the frames stand in another man’s shop they pay 3d, more for the frame standing there, so that a great many of them pay 1s d, a-week out of their poor earnings besides other charges; a journeyman will have to earn 18d, before anything comes to himself.

4243. Are their children employed at a very early age? --- Yes, several children at six will seam; from that age 10, and from 10 to 11, will put them into the frames if they are pretty stout children.

4244. Do they work very long hours? --- The framework knitters work a great number of hours, and from necessary, if they are to get a living for their families in consequence of the low rate of wages.

4245. Do you know whether they give their children any education? --- There are schools in the town, and the little children go to little seaming-schools, some of them; and there I believe they learn them to read. There is also an infant-school in the town, where a great many go and a day-school, and a Roman Catholic School; a great number of small children in this town go to school; and there are considerable Sabbath-schools that all may go to; if not, it is the parents’ fault. Having been some few years ago connected with a Sabbath-school, I know that children have been obliged to stop away for want of shoes, clothing, and so on.

4246. Do you think the depressed condition of the people has affected their morals detrimentally? --- I do indeed. I think, that has been the cause of a great deal of the prostitution in the town; I think, on the average, if we were to examine the books, we should find that every seventh or eighth child is born a bastard; I am quite within bounds in saying that. It is a very common, almost a weekly, for young women to come into the workhouse to lie in. We have a great many bastard children, and I attribute it to that. We have had 60 bastards on the books; we have not so many on the books now, because they will not go into the workhouse if they can possibly avoid it. One young woman maintains herself, with three bastard children, without relief; we think she does so by prostitution. The morals of the young women in this town are dreadful.

4247. Do the working classes marry early generally? --- Very early.

4248. Do you think that provision is generally made for maintaining a family, or that they marry without reference to circumstances? --- It is a rare case where any provision is made. Several go to lodge at ready-furnished lodgings, or with their parents, or something of that sort; and by the time they have two or three children they may be sickness. “ We have only got one bed, “ they say. I have seen several families in this town, with three or four children, with only one bed and bedding for one bed, and they never have any more; they do not provide in the first place, and they never have any more; and then there have been in some instances non-payment of rent, and they have sold up and had to begin afresh.

4249. Are you acquainted with the allotment system? --- No, only that I know that there is a great deal of land set out. There is no doubt that the allotment system has worked well, so far as this, that instances have occurred where men have not applied to us for relief in consequence, therefore it is working well for the short time they have had it; they have had only one crop. Many of the parities were in the habit of coming on the rates in summer; now they maintain themselves. It takes up a man’s leisure time too, particularly men in incidental employment; a little work in the gardens is very useful to them, it keeps them out of bad company and other things.

4250. Do you believe the system to be one deserving of being carried out? --- I do indeed; I have no doubt it is doing a great deal of good in this town.

4251. Do you know any individual instances of persons who, before they had an allotment, were chargeable to the Union, who were nor so since? --- I know some few cases. I could cite one instance in particular in which the parities told me they should not want relief next week, because the produce of their ground would be coming in; they actually withdrew themselves on that account.

4252. Do you think that the poor of this town evince prudence by subscribing to sick clubs or provident institution of any kind? --- I know several instances in which, owing to their depressed state and low earnings, they have recently excluded from the clubs to which they had subscribed. I frequently, indeed invariably, say to persons “ Are you in a club “ “ No “ “ Why have you not avail yourselves of such things, because the poor-rates are intended for people who cannot provide for themselves. Now you have had the means probably in your own hands. “ The answer is “ My earnings have been low, I really could not pay; “ or they would say, “ I have been in one formerly, but have been excluded for non-payment. “ There is another way in which they hold back in some of the clubs; they have articles whereby they make dead members; when a man gets three months in arrear they will not exclude him, but they are not to have relief afforded them until they have paid up.

4253. It has been stated here that there are no benevolent societies of any kind in the town for the relief of the poor, is that so? --- There is the Doreas Society, only nothing worthy of notice further than what is connected to a very small extent with the chapels, the congregational benevolent societies, but nothing of a public character. The most useful thing for the poor is the large charity, called Doctor Cheshire’s Charity; clothing and blankets are given away annually to the extent of 12 suits of men’s clothes, 12 of women’s, and somewhere about 80 blankets.

4254. Is that distributed to the most necessitous? --- There is a committee, and the churchwardens form part of the distributors, and they always send for me to give what information I can. They do not give them to those that are chargeable. The women’s clothing is confined to widows not chargeable to the poor-rents.

4255. Is the relief afforded without any sectarian distinction? --- Yes, they have recommendations are put into the hands of the committee, and the system they go upon is this; they read the recommendations over, and then the committee, as they sit round, to the number of seven or eight, one proposes one, and then it goes round, and another proposes another, and they have the account of who had received it and when; an exact account is kept of who received the benefit of the clothing, and they are not in the habit of giving anything if they have received the charity within the last three years; we see them, particularly the women in this town, wearing the things.

4256. It has been stated here in evidence that staple manufacture of the town has been in a very brisk state for the last 18 months; has that to any sensible extent affected the poor-rents in the last year as compared with any former year? --- The rates have not been materially lessened.

4257. Do you believe it to be true, as it has been stated, that at the period when one-half of the working population were employed at the stone-yard in the workhouse, the tradesmen were receiving more money over their counters, than they are at present when all are employed? --- I cannot speak to that.

4258. Do you think that the poor were better off when unemployed, and dependent upon parochial relief, than they are now when fully employed at their present rate of wages? --- I believe that at the time there was no work for a man, and there was a little for his wife, and sometimes a little for his child, in the frame, while the man was receiving relief in return for his labour in breaking stones, that the aggregate of the whole was greater than their present earnings. We had inspector who went round frequently and found their wives and families at work; then we found that out to any extent we refused the man relief. But when there was some money obtained from the Manufacturers’ Relief Committee, they gave them a little less than we did, and without visiting them at all allowed anything to be done in the families that they could obtain; but that was not parish money. We hunted them up as well as we could, and the rates were very high, very high indeed. We paid the men every night what their work came to as nearly as we could. We have had the workhouse quite full, it is calculated to hold 450, and we have been obliged to have 470 in it.

4259. What is the present number? --- 134. The families did not feel inclined, with very few exceptions, to stop in the workhouse; very few will stop in. What we have got in the workhouse now are principally old people, and orphans and bastard children, and single women with bastard children, a great many of them. We do not relieve any of them out; they go out with the children if they please, or stop in.

The Witness Mr Thomas Vann withdrew.