Ancestry UK

Skipton Workhouse Casual Ward (1910).

In July 1910, the Craven Herald published an account by an unnamed peripatetic journalist of his stay at the Skipton workhouse casual ward.

Peripatetic Journalist's Experience at Skipton.

A peripatetic journalist called at the "Herald" Office on Monday morning with some "copy" that for a consideration he was prepared to surrender, and which, he urged, would be of interest to "Herald" readers. The consideration was given, and the "copy" became the property of the editor. The writer shows how easy it is to live on a half-penny a day for nine days, finishing up with a 33 miles' walk from Leeds to Skipton, and crowning it with a night in the Skipton tramp ward. The problem the journalist set himself was: could he live for a week on a threepenny loaf. It was practically living on nothing, but, the narrative avers, the deed was done.

Setting off last Sunday morning with no money and only a three-halfpenny loaf to go on with, the journey was commenced, the objective being Westmorland where some work awaited him. He intended staying at Keighley, to which point his bread had lasted out, but disappointed at not finding a friend at home, he decided to tramp the extra ten miles to Skipton. It is his experience at Skipton that may prove interesting reading. He says:⁠—

"To my surprise I got into Skipton quite fresh; I was capable of another twenty miles, and if it were not for the necessity of earning a few shillings by means of this article. I should have walked on through the night. But as it was, I sought the casual ward, and was directed by a young man in a voice out of all proportion to his size. I thought half Skipton could hear him. But I got there, and was told by the amateur officials in charge — inmates in the workhouse garb — that I was too late. I replied that I was much earlier than I expected to be, and that, after all, considering the stoppages I had to make, thirty-three miles in nine hours was not bad.

I was let in after giving my name, where I came from, and where I was going. Another inmate was in charge of the casual ward. I met him coming away after having locked up for the night; and he did not seem at all pleased to see me. Neither did be grumble much. He made me take a bath and gave me some dry bread and cold tea. My clothes I had to leave in a heap on the floor outside the door of the cell. One would think that the guardians would not be ruined by putting up a hook outside each door;

The bed is a wide meshed wire affair, about two feet in width; the bed clothes consist of three rugs, one for a pillow, another for an overlay, the third for a blanket. For a man who has done a long walk the best way way of resting is to lie on the side and draw up the knees. But the bed was not wide enough for this, and the only way I could get any comfort was by lying on my back, drawing up my legs, and letting my feet rest flat. But this was not the position my feet needed. They were blazing hot, and the touch of the rug made them worse.

But after a couple of hours I fell asleep, and did not wake till a very big woman, with a long nose and very thin lips, took me up in her arms and made me marry her against my wish. The ceremony over, she carried me to her home where I found nine young children bawling in chorus. It was the horror of this that wakened me, and then the children turned out to be railway engines, letting the people of Skipton know how industrious they were, and how very early they were up, I fell asleep again, and kept so until another woman began to creep up like a fly, along the twenty feet of whitewashed wall, to close the window. I was so mad at her for attempting to shut out the air that I hoped she might fall, and then I brought about a far-reaching, but much revived, reform by inventing a method by which the police could open at once all the bedroom windows in a street without entering the houses — and keep them open.

I got a big slice of bread and a mug of warm water for my breakfast. As it was the kind of fare I had been living on for nine days it did not come amiss, but I know what I would have thought of it a fortnight before; And I can guess what those who have to break 13cwt. of stones in return for such a sumptuous breakfast must think of it. But the official in charge is a very good-natured fellow, and looks it. As I had never been there before, I was favoured.

But the moral I wish to draw is this: We all eat three times as much as is good for us. I have never felt stronger than I do at this nine days."

(Transcription by Peter Higginbotham, 2023.)

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