Ancestry UK

H.J. Tennant in the Eastbourne Workhouse Casual Ward

In 1887, a young journalist, named H.J. Tennant, went undercover for to experience the casual ward of the Eastbourne Union workhouse. An account of his experience was published in five weekly instalments in the Eastbourne Gazette between the 2nd and 30th November 1887. Each part is on a separate page as listed below:.

Tennant died in 1898, when he was only thirty-four years of age. Part of the Eastbourne Gazette's obituary is included below:

It is with unfeigned regret that we have to announce the death of Mr. H. J. Tennant, who will be remembered in Eastbourne and the neighbourhood as the Eastbourne Gazette Amateur Casual. Some ten years ago Mr. Tennant joined the staff of the Gazette. He was then about 24 years of age. He entered on his duties with great zeal and spirit. Endowed with talent of no mean order, he carried out his work with considerable energy and intrepidity. He performed some noteworthy exploits, all over which brought him deserved credit. After leaving The Gazette Mr. Tennant joined the staff of the Exeter and Devon Gazette. Subsequently he accepted the post of editor of the Hyogo News, published at Kobe Japan, a position which he filled with marked success. Three years ago he left Kobe for the sister port of Yokohama, where he remained as managing editor of the Japan Gazette up to the time of his death a few weeks ago. Mr. Tennant, who was 34 years of age, was unmarried. Besides his work as a keen, enterprising, and industrious member of his profession, Mr. Tennant was singularly popular by reason of his easy, frank, and open nature, and all who came into contact with him can testify to his estimable qualities.

It was after he had been on the staff of the Eastbourne Gazette for a short time that he undertook (at the suggestion of the proprietor) to investigate the reports which had obtained currency as to the trials and hardships to which casuals were then subjected in the Eastbourne Workhouse. And it was in the hope of bringing about the needed reforms that he entered upon this task, which involved a certain amount of suffering. Complaints from casuals had been loud and deep in regard to their treatment in the Eastbourne Workhouse. There was only one way of arriving at the truth of the matter and presenting to the public a reliable report on the subject. This was by undergoing, as one of themselves, the treatment that an ordinary casual had to undergo, from the time he applied for a ticket of admission to the time he left the establishment.

We are aware that many years ago, a great London journal sent its special commissioner to visit casual wards in the guise of an ordinary tramp. Mr. Greenwood's articles at that time caused a great sensation, and since then several improvements have been made in the arrangements of local Boards of Guardians, and what Mr. Tennant wanted to know was how things were managed here at Eastbourne.

The publication of his plain, unvarnished tale in the columns of The Gazette attracted general attention. The five articles printed week by week were read with avidity by all classes of towns people, and the London daily journals devoted some space to commenting on the matter. It was the first time that such a revelation had been made public here and it probably ran counter to many preconceived opinions.

After his articles appeared new Casual Wards were built; and gloves are now supplied to the men who have to break stones. Some of the Guardians did not all relish Mr. Tennantís outspoken articles, and we were threatened with legal proceedings.

(Transcription by Peter Higginbotham, 2023.)

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