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BMJ Reports on the Provincial Workhouses and Infirmaries, 1867 - Bedminster.

In 1867, in the wake of the damning reports by the Lancet on London's Workhouse Infirmaries, the British Medical Journal inspected a number of provincial establishments in Gloucestershire and the Bedminster area. Below is their report on the Bedminster Union workhouse, published in November 1867.


The Bedminster Union includes a portion of the suburbs of Bristol, inhabited chiefly by tanners, coalminers, etc., and several of the neighbouring agricultural parishes, containing in all a population of nearly 45,000. The Workhouse is situated four miles front Bristol, and generally contains about three hundred inmates. On entering the building, we first noticed the receiving-wards, which are small; but we were informed that they never contained many people at the same time. Passing on, we came to the kitchen, in which the cooking for the whole of establishment is done. It was also small, but kept clean, and the soup that was being made seemed good. The Infirmary is a detached building, and, in describing it, we shall give a detailed account some of the wards. The first we visited was the lying-in ward, containing four beds in a space of 2400 cubic feet. The medical officer informed us that the patients here had always been healthy. Proceeding onwards, we came to a female sick ward, twenty feet four inches long, sixteen feet six inches broad, and ten feet high, ventilated by means of two windows each, only three feet square, both on the same side, and not opening to the top of the ward, which contained nine beds, thus allowing less than 380 cubic feet for each. The next ward we visited contained six beds, with an allowance of 450 cubic feet per bed. One small scullery, and two water-closets were attached to these two rooms; both were dirty. On going upstairs, we first entered a small and badly ventilated convalescent room. On the same floor was another female sick-ward, twenty-nine feet six inches long, seventeen feet two inches broad, and nine feet five inches high, ventilated by four windows, each three feet square. It contained, when we paid our visit, thirteen patients, thus reducing the cubical space to less than three hundred and seventy feet for each. It is hardly necessary to remark that, under such conditions, the atmosphere of the ward smelt anything but pleasant. Opening out of this was a ward lately built, but not at present occupied; it is twenty-nine feet two inches long, sixteen feet three inches broad, and about ten feet high. There are two small windows on each side, and also some small ventilators in the walls. There is no water-closet or scullery attached to it, so that all slops would have to be carried through the ward previously described, to be emptied into an extremely foul water-closet beyond, which would be for the use of twenty-six patients. We were informed that in this next ward there would be twelve beds, thus allowing less than four hundred cubic feet per bed. Can it be possible that such an arrangement has been, or ever will be, sanctioned by the Poor-Law Board? There were also two small rooms on this floor, eight feet four inches long, six feet three inches broad, and ten feet high, intended for the reception of special cases. The male wards we found to be in nearly every respect similar to the female one, except that here one of the wards was set apart for the use of imbeciles, whilst in the female wards, sick patients and imbeciles were mixed indiscriminately together. Cases of a contagious nature are not admitted; but if any such arise in the house, the medical officer endeavours, as far as possible, to isolate them. Sometimes, from want of rooms to remove them to, they are obliged to be left in the wards with the other patients. There is no bath-room in the Infirmary, neither is there any supply of hot water, except from one small boiler, and we were informed that there was, as a rule, only one basin in a ward, and that in some cases four, in other cases only towels a week, were supplied for each. There were no water-beds or pillows, nor any macintosh sheets. The sheets and linen of the patients are changed only once a fortnight, and the washing for both the sick and the healthy is done in the same building, consisting of three rows, each sixteen feet long, by fourteen feet broad, which, when we visited them, were extremely dirty. The nursing of the whole of the sick, over sixty in number, is superintended by a paid female nurse assisted by one pauper nurse in the female wards, and by three pauper nurses in the male wards. Medicines are given in proper medicine-glasses. The diets for the sick are under the charge of two medical officers, who, as a rule, employ a similar form to that used at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, ordering what extras they may consider necessary for special cases. Some of the pints of beer ordered for the patients, came under our notice, and, on measuring them, we found them to be a quarter of a pint short. To sum up: the wards were crowded and badly ventilated. The water-closets were extremely foul. The lavatories were small dirty; and there was no bath-room attached to the infirmary.

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