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The Grimsby Workhouse Inquiry, 1895

On April 19th 1895, a Board of Inquiry was held at the Grimsby Workhouse into the alleged ill-treatment of children there. Here is a summary of the proceedings kindly provided by Jennifer Dady, whose forebear Sarah Jane Dady was Assistant Matron at the workhouse.


Workhouse Staff
Mr. John Cawcutt — Master; Mrs. Cawcutt — Matron; Mr. Charles Feeney — Porter; Mrs. Cawcutt — Porteress; Miss Sarah Jane Dady — Assistant Matron; Miss Hardy — Superintendant of Schools (recently resigned).

Officials
Mr. H. Stevens — Local Government Board Inspector; Councillor Exton — Member of Board of Guardians; Mr. Wintringham — Solicitor acting on behalf of the Guardians.

Workhouse Boys
Archie Carpenter, James Naven, John Kenner, Walter Lowe, William Read, Thompson

The complaint was laid by Mr Exton. On February 25th 1895, Mr. Exton of the Board of Guardians paid a visit to the workhouse and found some children confined in cells. One boy had been there three weeks, another a fortnight and another a week. The cases of four boys were taken respectively — Carpenter, Naven, Kenner and Lowe.

Archie Carpenter (9) was confined in a cell and said to Mr. Exton that he had been confined for running away. He stated that Miss Dady, the assistant matron, had flogged him. The second finger on his left hand was frost-bitten and he had a long bruise as though he had been hit with a long cane. On the boy's hip was a bruise the size of a man's hand. It was quite evident that the boy had been flogged some time ago.

Carpenter when called told the Inquiry that Miss Dady had hit him with a taper stick. The other boys had told him to say that Miss Dady had thrashed him heavily with it. There were about 25 boys at the workhouse. He named bigger boys who had beaten him nearly every day. They were very cruel to him and he dare not tell on them. He had run away from the Grimsby Workhouse thirteen times. The day previous to running away a boy named Read had thrashed him with the buckle end of a belt. Miss Dady had not been unkind to him but had attended to his finger regularly. Read had made him undress in the closet and threw ten buckets of water over him while the other boys looked on. Carpenter had previously received eight strokes by the Master for running away. Thomas Earp and William Gresham, former inmates of the Workhouse, gave evidence as to the cruelty practised by Read on the younger boys.

John Kenner (13) was confined in a cell picking oakum. He told witnesses that he had been there for a fortnight. He was in the charge of a man named Slater, a pauper ,who had repeatedly been before the Borough Bench for drunkenness and assault. He had also been convicted of theft. John Kenner was called and stated he was put in the tramp ward in a morning after breakfast and kept there all day. The cell was very cold. He had run away and was brought back by a policeman. That night Slater put him to bed naked. The door was locked all the time he was in except when he was let out to clean the brasses. The tramps were put in the same room at night.

James Naven{15} stated that he had run away five times and been thrashed three times for it. The bandage round his head was because he had an abscess, not because he had been thrashed. It had not been dressed for a month, but the nurse had dressed it the day before (after the Lady Guardian had seen it).

Walter Lowe (11) another inmate said he was in the tramps ward when Mr. Exton saw him. He had been brought in that day by a policeman. He ran away because he had been struck on the head with a taper stick by Miss Dady. The day before he ran away Miss Dady struck him on the head with a book. He had been in the girl's bedrooms, and sometimes got into the pantry and took what he wanted. He had been put in the cells before. The boys had not been sent to school.

Mr. Wintringham, solicitor, then spoke on behalf of the Guardians. He said that it was a new union and to some extent the Guardians were new to their work. He thought it was a great mistake for two female attendants to be appointed , one for the girls and one for the boys. Miss Hardy had resigned, the porteress was ill for ten days and Miss Dady had to do the work of three persons. The taper stick was thin, and only weighed three ounces. As far as the statement of Lowe about the book was concerned he did not believe it. He believed that there was a conspiracy amongst the lads to try to do Miss Dady harm. . He thought that when the workhouse was built upon the block system, the person in charge of each block should have the power of administering corporal punishment. It was different under the old system where the Master was close at hand.

Miss Sarah Jane Dady said that she had been matron's Assistant at the workhouse for nearly a month before which she was the boy's attendant. The boys were from the Caistor workhouse and they were very unruly. Naven was the worst boy and he used to make the little boys do all his work. He cleared out her pantry several times and one day he cut down the backs of the coats of six or seven boys. He had also cut the tables and the mouldings with a pen knife. On the Monday after Mr. Exton saw him he scrubbed the floor and then threw the dirty water over it. She told him he was not to do it but he simply looked her straight in the face and kept on doing it. She took the brush from him and gave him a knock with the back of it. She always gave them extra food when they did extra work. Lowe was always very disobedient and on one occasion when she found him in the girl's dormitory she hit him with the taper stick and the back of her hand. But she had certainly not knocked his head. The boys had kicked the lead pipes a lot and done a lot of mischief to the buildings. She had played with them at snowballs, football and cricket and read to them. At no time had she been cruel to them, but on the contrary she had tried to make the place as happy as she could but had been compelled to frequently complain to the Master about their disorderly conduct.

The proceedings then closed.

On May 31st 1895, the Borad of Inquiry's conclusions and recommendations were published:

  • James Naven — the Board do not take exception to his treatment.
  • John Kenner — it appears to have been the practice to place boys in the vagrant wards as a punishment for absconding. The Board pointed out that under no circumstances should boys be sent to the vagrant quarters and that the man Slater was not a proper person to take charge of the boys.
  • Lowe and Carpenter — stated to be the most serious cases. These boys after being brought back by the police were placed in the vagrant cells by the porter, Mr. Feeney, who did not inform the master of what he had done. The Board pointed out that these children were at an age at which confinement is forbidden without a medical certificate, and in this case the porter is not empowered to inflict such punishment. The Board considered that leaving these boys in the un-warmed cells in such inclement weather the porter was guilty of the most reprehensible conduct. With regard to the treatment of Carpenter there is no doubt that he was found to be severely bruised on the back and other parts of his body.
  • The inquiry acquitted Miss Dady, whom Carpenter had at first accused of having caused the bruises. The evidence pointed rather at their having been partly due to a caning administered by the master but principally to the cruel treatment from Read and the bigger boys.
  • The officers should have paid closer attention to the indications of bullying. A periodical examination of the children by the medical officer would have discovered the bruises on Carpenter earlier. Directions for such an examination should at once be given to the medical officer.
  • The appointment of an Industrial Trainer for the children was recommended.

The inquiry was then finally closed.


On 18th November 1895, some of the boys involved in the case featured in a meeting of the Union's Children's Committee. The recently appointed Industrial Trainer Mr. Simkin reported on cases of bad conduct on the part of boys in the workhouse:

  • Walter Lowe bored three holes with a gimlet through the bedroom door. Lowe was called in and admitted to boring one hole. He said the other holes were bored by a boy named Read who was in the workhouse some time back. The Master also reported the boy for stone throwing on the way to and from school and said that his general character was very bad.
  • James Naven was charged with cutting up his shirts and particularly in the case of one shirt produced. Naven was called and said that the shirt produced was cut by accident but admitted that it was true that he tore his shirts nearly every week and that he had done so on purpose. Naven and a lad named Thompson were charged with stealing celery. They were called and Naven admitted the thefts. He said he pulled the celery and Thompson shared it with him which Thompson admitted. The Master reported that Thompson was a fairly good boy.

It was resolved that the Clerk be instructed to take proceedings against the boys Lowe and Naven, but that Thompson be given another chance.


In December 1895, at the local magistrates' court, Naven and Lowe were charged with disobeying orders and being unmanageable by the workhouse authorities. Mr. Wintringham on behalf of the Guardians said that they wished the boys be sent to a reformatory and that these were the two boys whom the Local Government Board Inquiry had been about and in the Inspector's view were unmanageable. Mr. Simkins, the Industrial Trainer, said that he could not do anything with the two lads. They were the ringleaders of a gang and had made up a conspiracy against him.

The magistrates made an order for the boys to be sent to the training ship Southampton.


Jennifer Dady, who researched the above events from newspaper reports of the time, notes that the volume of Guardians' minutes for 1895 has mysteriously disappeared. Interestingly, in 1900, Sarah Jane Dady married a solicitor's clerk who worked for the solicitor who had defended her at the inquiry. Her husband subsequently became Chairman of the Grimsby the Board of Guardians...

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