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District schools and the erosion of parental rights under the Poor Law: a case study from London (1889–1899)

  • Rachel Pimm-Smith (a1)

Abstract

This article investigates the empirical backing for the claim that poor law officials needed legal authority to refuse poor parents’ right to the custody of their children in order to stabilise children's welfare institutions during the nineteenth century. Although workhouses were capable of accommodating children, Victorian lawmakers feared children would model themselves on adult paupers to become permanent burdens on the state. To tackle this problem, a system of children's welfare institutions called ‘district schools’ was introduced to train children to become industrious adult labourers. Children were usually classified as orphans or deserted so they could be sent to district schools without fear of family intervention. However, children with ambiguous parental circumstances were labelled as ‘other’ and considered a problematic class because they were perceived to be at risk of having on-going contact with their birth families. Lawmakers feared parents of ‘other’ children would undermine reformation efforts by asserting their custody rights, and passed the first laws in English history to allow the state to restrict parental rights on this basis. This article explores the claim of unwanted parental involvement, and in doing so, seeks to contextualise the origins of public law interference in the family sphere within a narrative of imposed citizenship rather than protection.

On a prétendu que les responsables de la Loi des pauvres avaient besoin, au XIXe siècle, d'une autorité légale pour refuser à des parents pauvres leur droit à la garde de leurs enfants afin de stabiliser les institutions de protection de l'enfance. L'auteur recherche sur quels fondements réels repose cette affirmation. Même si les workhouses étaient capables d'accueillir des enfants, les législateurs de l’époque victorienne craignaient que les enfants ne s'inspirent des adultes pauvres pour devenir un fardeau permanent à la charge de l’État. Pour remédier au problème, un système d'institutions de protection de l'enfance appelées ‘écoles de district’ fut mis en place afin de former les enfants à devenir de bons travailleurs une fois adultes. Les enfants étaient généralement classés comme orphelins ou abandonnés pour pouvoir être envoyés dans ces écoles sans risque d'intervention de leur famille. Cependant, les enfants dont la situation familiale n’était pas claire furent classés ‘autres’ et considérés comme appartenant à une catégorie problématique parce qu'ils étaient perçus comme risquant d'avoir un contact permanent avec leur famille biologique. Craignant que les parents de ces enfants ne sapent les efforts de réforme en affirmant leur droit de garde, les législateurs adoptèrent des lois, toutes premières dans l'histoire de l'Angleterre, qui autorisèrent l’État à restreindre les droits des parents sur cette base. L'auteur analyse l'argument qu'ils avancèrent alors, à savoir que les parents ne voulaient pas être impliqués et, ce faisant, cherche à contextualiser les origines de cette ingérence du droit public dans la sphère familiale, dans une perspective de citoyenneté imposée plutôt que de protection.

Dieser Beitrag untersucht den empirischen Hintergrund für die Behauptung, dass Armenrechtsbeamte rechtliche Autorität benötigten, um armen Eltern das Sorgerecht für ihre Kinder zu entziehen, um während des 19. Jahrhunderts Kinderwohlfahrtseinrichtungen zu stabilisieren. Obwohl Arbeitshäuser in der Lage waren, Kinder unterzubringen, fürchteten viktorianische Gesetzgeber, dass die Kinder sich erwachsene Insassen zum Vorbild nehmen und so zu einer dauerhaften Bürde für den Staat werden würden. Um dieses Problem anzugehen, wurde ein System von Kinderwohlfahrtseinrichtungen unter dem Namen der ‚Bezirksschulen‘ eingerichtet, um Kindern beizubringen, fleißige erwachsene Arbeiter zu werden. Die Kinder wurden normalerweise als verwaiste oder verlassene Kinder eingestuft, so dass man sie in die Bezirksschulen schicken konnte, ohne eine Einmischung von Seiten der Familien befürchten zu müssen. Dagegen wurden Kinder von Eltern in zweifelhaften Umständen als ‚andere‘ Kinder bezeichnet und als problematische Gruppe angesehen, weil man annahm, bei ihnen bestünde das Risiko, dass sie weiterhin in Kontakt zu ihren Geburtsfamilien stünden. Der Gesetzgeber befürchtete, die Eltern dieser ‚anderen‘ Kinder würden durch die Inanspruchnahme ihres Sorgerechts die staatlichen Umerziehungsanstrengungen unterminieren, und erließen zum ersten Mal in der englischen Geschichte Gesetze, die es dem Staat erlaubten, die Elternrechte auf dieser Grundlage einzuschränken. Der Beitrag erörtert die Forderung nach unerwünschter elterlicher Beteiligung und versucht auf diese Weise, die Ursprünge öffentlichrechtlicher Einmischung in die Familiensphäre im Zusammenhang eines Narrativs aufzuzeigen, das aufgezwungene Staatsbürgerschaft statt staatlichen Schutz ins Zentrum stellte.

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*Corresponding author. Email: pencraft@gmail.com

References

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Notes

1 See Swain, Shurlee, ‘Child rescue: the emigration of an idea’, in Lawrence, Jon and Starkey, Pat eds., Child welfare and social action in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Liverpool, 2001) and Murdoch, Lydia, Imagined orphans: poor families, child welfare, and contested citizenship in London, 1870–1914 (Brunswick, NJ, 2006).

2 Rachel Pimm-Smith, ‘Juvenile de-pauperisation: the journey from public childcare to English citizenship 1884–1900’ (DPhil thesis, University of Warwick, 2019).

3 Ibid., 108–60.

4 Thane, Pat, Old age in English history: past experiences, present issues (Oxford, 2000), 270–2.

5 Goose, Nigel, ‘Poverty, old age and gender in nineteenth-century England: the case of Hertfordshire’, Continuity and Change 20, 3 (2005), 351.

6 Royal Commission, Inquiry into the administration and practical operation of the poor laws, 1834, C (1st series), 127.

7 Harley, Joseph, ‘Material lives of the poor and their strategic use of the workhouse during the final decades of the English Old Poor Law’, Continuity and Change 30, 1 (2015), 71.

8 Williams, Karel, From pauperism to poverty (London, 1981), 102.

9 The Local Government Board, Third annual report, 1873–74, C (2nd series), 204–05.

10 Williams, From pauperism to poverty, 102; Kim Price, ‘The crusade against out-relief: a nudge from history’, The Lancet, 377 (2011), 988.

11 Hurren, Elizabeth, ‘“World without welfare”: pauper perspectives on medical care under the late-Victorian poor law, 1879–1900’, in Jones, Peter and King, Steven eds., Obligations, entitlement and dispute under the English poor laws (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2015); Hurren, Elizabeth, ‘Migration, settlement and the New Poor Law in England and Wales 1870s–1900’, in King, Steven and Winter, Anne eds., Migration, settlement and belonging in Europe, 1500–1930s: comparative perspectives (New York, 2013).

12 Shave, Samantha, ‘“Great inhumanity”: scandal, child punishment and policymaking in the early years of the New Poor Law workhouse system’, Continuity and Change 33, 3 (2018), 339.

13 Barlee, Ellen, Friendless and helpless (London, 1863), 210.

14 Hill, Florence Davenport, Children of the state (London, 1889), 7.

15 Heywood, Jean S., Children in care: the developments of the service for the deprived child (London, 1965), 67.

16 Hendrick, Harry, Child welfare: England, 1872–1989 (London, 1994), 75.

17 Elementary Education Act 1870, s.74 (Vict. 33 & 34 c.75).

18 Elementary Education Act 1876, s.4 (Vict. 39 & 40 c.79); Elementary Education Act 1880, s.2–4 (Vict. 43 & 44 c.23).

19 Elementary Education Act 1891, s.8 (Vict. 54 & 55 c.56).

20 Elementary Education Act 1876, s.10.

21 The Local Government Board, Seventh annual report, 1877–78, C (2nd series).

22 Fawcett, Henry MP, Pauperism: its causes and remedies (London, 1871).

23 The Poor Law Board, Twenty-third annual report, 1870–71, C (1st series), 207.

24 Tufnell, Carleton, ‘Education of pauper children’, in Smedley, Menella Bute ed., Boarding-out and pauper schools especially for girls being a reprint of the principal reports on pauper education in the Blue Book for 1873–4 (London, 1875).

25 The Poor Law Board, Twenty-third annual report, 1870–71, 206.

26 The Local Government Board, Second annual report, 1872–73, C (2nd series), 90.

27 Note that classification status allowed the authorities to identify the children at risk of having a parent discharge them into his/her care (parental discharge) once this became a critical issue.

28 The Poor Law Board, Twenty-third annual report, 1870–71, 207.

29 Dr Bridges, ‘Table showing influx and efflux of casuals’, in Bute Smedley ed., Boarding-out and pauper schools especially for girls …, 30–9.

30 Jane Nassau Senior, ‘Education of girls in pauper schools’, in Bute Smedley ed., Boarding-out and pauper schools especially for girls …, 59–66.

31 Nassau Senior, ‘Education of girls in pauper schools’, 60.

32 Davenport Hill, Children of the state, 315–24; Bridges, ‘Table showing influx and efflux of casuals’, 30.

33 The Poor Law Board, Twenty-third Annual Report, 1870–71, 207.

34 Bridges, ‘Table showing influx and efflux of casuals’, 30.

35 Ibid., 31.

36 Ibid.

37 The Local Government Board, Fourth Annual Report, 1874–1875, C (2nd series), 195.

38 Davenport Hill, Children of the state, 311.

39 John Mundella MP, Report of the departmental committee appointed by the local government board to inquire into the existing systems for the maintenance and education of children under the charge of the Board of Guardians, C (2nd series 1897), 72–80

40 Bridges, ‘Table showing influx and efflux of casuals’, 30.

41 Poor Law Act 1889, Vict. 52 & 53 c.56 (hereafter PLA 1889).

42 PLA 1889, s.1

43 PLA 1889, s.1(3).

44 The Local Government Board, Nineteenth annual report, 1889–1890, C (2nd series), 53.

45 Custody of Children Act 1891, s.3(b) (Vict. 54 c.3)

46 Poor Law Act 1899, s.1(1) (Vict. 61 & 62 c.60).

47 ‘Yorkshire Poor Law Unions conference at Harrogate’, in The York Herald, British Library newspapers, part II: 1800–1900, 11999 (1889), 6.

48 Ibid.

49 London Metropolitan Archives, Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, 1430–1930, London, Board of Guardians, Register of children sent to South Metropolitan school district, 1884–1889, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002 (hereafter PLBG, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002).

50 Mundella, Report of the departmental committee, 74.

51 Ibid., 4.

52 Ibid., 10.

53 PLBG, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid.

56 See data about the triggers for poor law intervention for a sample of 150 children admitted to the SMSD between 1884–1889 in Pimm-Smith, ‘Juvenile de-pauperisation’, 236.

57 PLB, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002.

58 The Poor Law Board, Twenty-third annual report, 1870–71, 35.

59 PLBG, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002.

60 Ibid.

61 The Local Government Board, Nineteenth annual report, 1889–90, 15.

62 PLBG, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002.

63 London Metropolitan Archives, Ref. SMSD/159, film no. X100/073.

64 PLBG, Ref. CABG/202/001, 32.

65 UK Census Collection for England and Wales 1881, class RG11, piece 690, fo. 9, GSU roll 1341160, 11.

66 PLBG, Ref. CABG/202/002, 10.

67 Ibid.

68 Ibid., 11.

69 The family was traced to later census record using a method called genealogical triangulation. This method allows poor law sources to be connected to non-poor law sources by matching identification information between multiple sources (for example, SMSD logbook next of kin information, a baptismal record and a census record). UK Census Collection for England and Wales, 1891, class RG12, piece 806, fo. 6, GSU roll 6095916, 7; UK Census Collection for England and Wales, 1911, class RG14, piece 5147, schedule no. 227; England and Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837–1915, vol. 2b, 541.

70 The Poor Law Board, Twenty-third annual report, 1870–71, 207.

71 The Local Government Board, Nineteenth annual report, 1889–90, 349.

72 Ibid., 161.

73 Hansard, vol. 339, cols. 161–169, 2 August 1894.

74 PLBG, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002.

75 The Local Government Board, First annual report, 1871–1872, C (2nd series), xxxiv–v.

76 PLBG, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002.

77 Nassau Senior, ‘Education of girls in pauper schools’, 60.

78 PLBG, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002.

79 PLBG, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002; CABG/202/003.

80 Murdoch, Imagined orphans, 137–84.

81 Charles Booth, Life and labour in London: maps of London poverty districts and streets (Macmillan 1902), descriptive map of London poverty, 1889: south-eastern sheet comprising the registration districts of St Saviour's and St Olave's, Southwark, and parts of Lambeth, Camberwell, and Greenwich, coordinates G 10.

82 London Metropolitan Archives, Gordon Road Workhouse Admissions, 1880–1881, Refs. CABG/176 and LEBG/1891/1; UK Census Collection for England and Wales 1881, class RG11, piece 1788, fo. 26, GSU roll 1341432, 29.

83 London Metropolitan Archives, Ref. SMSD/160, film no. X100/082; London Metropolitan Archives, Ref. SMSD/159, film no. X100/073; PLBG Ref. CABG/202/002, 18.

84 UK Census Collection for England and Wales, 1881, class RG11, piece 694, fo. 88, GSU roll 1341161, 28.

85 London Metropolitan Archives, Church of England Parish Registers, 1754–1931, Ref. page 73/emm/020.

86 PLBG, Ref. CABG/202/002, 18.

87 UK Census Collection for England and Wales 1891, class RG11, piece 694, fo. 88, GSU roll 1341161, 28; class RG12, piece 1407, fo. 22, GSU roll 6096517, 14.

88 Nassau Senior, ‘Education of girls in pauper schools’, 60.

89 Ibid.; PLBG, Refs. CABG/202/001; CABG/202/002; CABG/202/003.

90 London Metropolitan Archives, Ref. SMSD/160, film no. X100/082.

91 London Metropolitan Archives, Ref. SMSD/161, film no. X100/082.

92 Ibid.; London Metropolitan Archives, Ref. SMSD/162, film no. X100/083.

93 Ibid.; London Metropolitan Archives, Ref. SMSD/186, film no. X100/086.

94 London Metropolitan Archives, Ref. SMSD/187, film no. X100/087; London Metropolitan Archives, Ref. SMSD/162, film no. X100/083.

95 UK Census Collection for England and Wales 1901, class RG13, 651, fol. 113, 52.

96 Jersey Heritage, St Helier, Jersey Parish Registers, Ref. G/C/03/A2/18; UK Census Collection for England and Wales, 1881–1901, class RG11, piece 688, fol. 54, GSU roll 1341160, 13; The National Archives of the UK (TNA) Kew, Surrey, Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891, class RG12, piece 484, fol. 64, GSU roll 6095594, 7; class RG13, piece 651, fo. 113, 52.

97 London Metropolitan Archives, School Admission and Discharge Registers, Ref. LCC/EO/DIV07/SUM/AD/001.

98 London Metropolitan Archives, School Admission and Discharge Registers, Ref. LCC/EO/DIV07/COM/AD/009.

99 London Metropolitan Archives, London, TS Exmouth Training Ship Records, 1876–1918, 20 September 1893.

100 London Metropolitan Archives, School Admission and Discharge Registers, Ref. LCC/EO/DIV07/CHO/AD/010.

101 UK Census Collection for England and Wales, 1901, class RG13, piece 651, fo. 113, 52.

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District schools and the erosion of parental rights under the Poor Law: a case study from London (1889–1899)

  • Rachel Pimm-Smith (a1)

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