Sunday, January 28, 2007

BBC History Magazine articles

Those interested in Cromwell or the Interregnum will appreciate the article Putting the Protector Back Into the Protectorate in the BBC History Magazine. It asserts that, contrary to current prevailing opinion, Cromwell the Protector took a leading role in decision making and was more than a Parliamentary figurehead. Latest research shows that while there may be little to indicate that Cromwell asserted his opinion on most decisions, the conclusion usually went his way in the end.

The article is an advert for the book, The Cromwellian Protectorate by Patrick Little, £45.

(I hope readers don't mind me posting something not directly related to Stockport, but Stockport's famous son, John Bradshaw, was one of the politicians that Cromwell variously competed an cooperated with.)

Perhaps more relevant to current Stockpor heritage issues, is the article The Workhouse: Pauper Paradise or Hell?. Many of the article's examples relate to rural workhouses, which are rather different to Stockport's St Thomas workhouse. For example, the article notes that by 1840s rural employment had risen, making the previous decade's investment in facilities for the (fit) unemployed largely obsolete. Meanwhile, slumps in the cotton industry, meant high levels of unemployment in 1840's Stockport, leading to riots outside the Stockport Workhouse and elsewhere.

Workhouses did off education, to allow the children to avoid the errors of their parents, but there was concern over teaching too much. In Norfolk, for example, guardians objected to maps in the classroom as they might encourage emmigration and reduce the labour available at harvest time. So workhouses could be used to ensure the availability of cheap labour, at the expense of better opportunities for the workers elsewhere.

One area of success for many workhouses, including Stockport's workhouse, was as hospitals. Even today, the majority of surviving workhouse sites are still used by hospitals. Initially, nursing was largely done by the workhouse matron assisted by pauper nurses who had little or no training and who were often illiterate. Overtime conditions improved so that by the end of the 19th century, people would voluntarily enter the workhouse infirmary, sometimes in preference to the local private infirmary. In some workhouse infirmaries "ordinary infirm" cases had been driven out to make room for paying patients.

Like me, the article recommends for further reading. The following museums are open to the public: Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse, E Dereham; The Workhouse Museum, Ripon; The Workhouse, Southwell; & Workhouse Museum, Derry.

To see all the postings on Stockport's St Thomas Workhouse, click on the label 'Workhouse' below.