Joseph Rowntree at The Dundee Parish Poorhouse, 1861

Between about 1859 and 1868, Joseph Rowntree, a Quaker from Leeds (not to be confused with his illustrious, chocolate-making namesake, Joseph Rowntree of York), conducted a vigorous one-man crusade to improve the running of workhouses and the conditions they provided for their inmates.

Below is an extract from a much longer letter by Rowntree, published by the Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser in February 1861, describing his impressions of the Dundee 'New' Parish Poorhouse, which had been opened in 1856.

DUNDEE NEW POOR-HOUSE.

I have visited the new poor-house, which is well situated. With a portion of garden ground adjoining, this affords remunerative employment for a few hands. The industrial department, I think, is capable of considerable improvement, by the introduction of matt and matting manufacturing, joinering work, with extension of some employments to supersede the rope untwining, which does not furnish any inmates with the knowledge of a remunerating occupation on leaving, or profitably employ those who, from infirmity, may be fixtures for life. The general cleanliness of this house is apparent. Whilst considerable provision is made for ventilation, I found, on going through the house with the governor, a great neglect of using the means provided both in the men and women's hospital, day-rooms, and workshops. The latter are very small for the number of men I found in some of them. I was informed that the doctor regulated all the hospital rooms — whilst my observations on this and other matters were not satisfactory to the governor. This was a marked difference from the free exchange of opinion I had with the several governors in the Edinburgh and Glasgow Poor-houses. In each of them I spent more than double the time.

Since my visit, I have been courteously shown over the Dundee Infirmary. Here I found every care taken to have all the wards well ventilated, and due attention to sanitary measures, &c. Therefore, if the Infirmary doctor and myself agree, I am content to be at issue with the poor-house governor. A Ladies' Visiting Committee is much wanted here, and some of the enlightened guardians are favourable to their weekly services being solicited, although the governor is evidently adverse to their visiting and reading the Bible to the inmates of all ages. The office of schoolmaster and chaplain is combined, hence a few gentlemen and lady visitors would be very acceptable to the poor people. I believe the above officer pays considerable attention to his various duties. The Bibles are, in most houses, of far too small type. More of large type Testaments and Psalms would be a valuable addition. The number of children in the school is small and their continuance uncertain. There are some that have been sometime, who are very backward in the tables and the simplest question in mental arithmetic. These branches, and the knowledge of things of every-day life and also of the leading texts from Christ's sermon on the Mount, &., are lamentably neglected by many teachers in this country.

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