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

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 Clifton area. Below is their report on the Clifton Union workhouse, published in November 1867.


The Clifton Union is composed of the parish of Clifton, some of the other suburban parishes of Bristol, and a few agricultural ones. The Workhouse, situated on an open space of rising ground, contained when we visited it 730 inmates. It consists of four parallel blocks of buildings, connected by a passage, which passes through the centre of each, and serves to separate the male from the female departments. The first block we came to contained aged and infirm people; we noticed nothing particular about this, except that there was no water-supply on the upper floor of the female side: The second block is intended for the use of able-bodied paupers; but when we visited it, two of the wards were occupied by the sick. They had neither bath-rooms, lavatories, nor sculleries attached to them, and were badly ventilated. The third block constituted the Infirmary, the male part of which consists of three regularly occupied sick-wards, a lock-ward, an itch-ward, and a day-room, for the use of convalescent patients. This day-room seemed to us rather cheerless, and, together with the itch- and lock-wards, is situated on the ground-floor; These itch and lock wards, we were informed, are locked-up from nine o'clock at night till seven o'clock in the morning; the patients during that time having no means of communicating with any one. There is no bath-room on this floor, the patients with itch having to use one of the baths upstairs, attached to the other sick-wards. These sick wards, three in number, opening one into the other, are ventilated by means of gratings in the ceilings, and by windows on each side of them, which, however, do not open to the top of the ward; they contained in all twenty-seven beds; with an average of about 700 cubic feet for each bed. There are water-closets attached to each, and two bath-rooms for the use of the three wards; but no lavatories, or sculleries, the plates, cups, etc., being washed in one of the bath-rooms, which, when we saw it, was in an extremely dirty condition. The female part of the Infirmary, in its general construction, is very similar to the male side, above described, there being in addition two lying-in wards, one containing three, the other seven beds; they were clean and well-ventilated. There are two bath-rooms for the use of all the patients in this wing of the building, but no lavatories or sculleries, the plates and cups being washed in the wards or in the passages outside them.

The arrangements for washing the patients, in both the male and female parts of the Infirmary, we found to be peculiar. In the male department, the use of one basin and one towel a week was allowed for each ward; in the female department, similar arrangements existed, except that we found only one basin for the use of the patients in both lying-in wards. And we were informed in one of the sick-wards, that the only basin in the wards was retained to make poultices in; a bucket serving not only for the purpose of washing the wards, and the patients' hands and faces, but also any bad legs, or wounds, requiring such treatment; lastly, the plates and cups. Again, we were informed in another ward, that, if the patients wanted to any sores, etc., they had to do so in their chamber-utensils. All the towels that came under our notice were in an extremely dirty condition. There are macintosh. sheets, but no water-pillows supplied to cases requiring them, and one extremely bad case of bed-sore came under our notice;, the patient lying on the common hard ward-bed. Under such conditions, we should consider his recovery impossible. The sheets and linen of the patients are changed once a week, and washed in the common laundry of the Workhouse. The nursing is performed by pauper nurses, one for the male, the other for the female departments. The fourth block is for the use of imbeciles. It has lately been enlarged by the building of four new wards, with good bath-rooms, lavatories, and sculleries attached to them. When these are occupied, the department in its sanitary arrangements will be, we should think, by far the best part of the workhouse, at present it is crowded. The great point that struck us in our inspection of the Clifton Workhouse, was the total absence of any proper washing arrangements for the inmates. That a single basin, and only one clean towel a week, should be supplied for the use of a dozen patients, seemed to us incredible, till, by constant inquiry, we assured ourselves that such was actually the case.

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