Eric Baldwin (1921-c.2010): oral history audio recording.
The Assistant Master and Assistant Matron looked after the inmates’ welfare, set them to their tasks and did general administration. Inmates had to work for their keep. Men worked in the garden, the field and kept pigs, supervised by EB’s father. Women worked in the laundry and kitchen and did cleaning, largely supervised by staff coming in from Newport Pagnell.
There were 60 to 80 able-bodied inmates. Men, women and children were kept separately. Husband and wife (but not their children) could fraternise at meal times, walk round town after work and take a day off together once per month. Inmates slept in dormitories of up to 20 or 30, with shared washrooms and toilets. The day started between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. and work lasted from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. with a break for lunch. Children were kept in the “Nursery” until the age of 14 or older and attended school in the town. Some of the inmates who were there when EB arrived, died there or were still inmates when he left.
The Workhouse also looked after tramps, known as “milestone inspectors”, who presented themselves. It provided an evening meal, a bath, delousing, a rudimentary bed in a separate block and food the following day in return for a full day’s work. In winter, tramps were known to do a circuit, taking approximately 3 weeks, travelling from Newport Pagnell to Northampton to Towcester to Buckingham and back to Newport Pagnell.
All those unable to work were kept in the hospital part of the Workhouse. There was a separate hut for TB cases and an isolation ward for communicable diseases. Inmates suffering from mental illness were kept separately and more closely supervised. In more serious cases a doctor and JP attended and committed them to St John’s near Aylsbury. There was also a mortuary, post mortem facility and chapel of rest. Religious services were held for those who wished to attend. A horse was kept, looked after by one of the inmates, and used to pull a goods wagon, an ambulance, a hearse or a wagonette. Motor vehicles replaced all save the goods wagon after 1930.
Until 1930, the Workhouse was governed by a Board of Guardians. They came from the “eminent people” in the town and 22 representatives from the villages in the catchment area. They administered the Means Test, recommended destitute people for admission and arranged parish funerals for inmates who died without a next of kin. When it was disbanded the administration was taken over by the Oxford Regional Health Board.