Christmas In The Workhouse (31 January 1975)
How far we have travelled in the past 50 years! Some of the items that appeared in the now-defunct North Bucks times during the month of January 1925, would stagger you if they appeared in the Gazette today. Yet they probably did not raise much more than an eyebrow then (and I was already in newspaper work at the time).
Take, for instance, this item from a report of a meeting of the Winslow Board of Guardians:
“The Chippping Sodbury Guardians asked for support to a resolution expressing alarm at the steady flow of undesirable aliens into this country from Europe, and protesting against the granting of unemployment pay to aliens after only a short residence in this country and at the expense of the taxpayer.
“The Chairman (Mr J.M. Missenden) remarked that our hospitals and lunatic asylums were full of foreigners, who came here with filthy diseases and were half maniacs. He hoped the government would take strong action.
“Mr J. Dickens said this country had been the dumping ground for the scum of the earth long enough.”
Just that! The report does not say whether Winslow supported Chipping Sodbury or not. Perhaps it was too obvious. Yet is shows that the “foreigners problem” is nothing new, doesn’t it?
But what about people who were not foreigners and yet were out of work? The Guardians’ attitude to them is revealed in an item lower down in the same report. It says:
“A resolution from the Derby Union on unemployment pay was considered.
“The chairman said they would never get any work done while the unemployment pay was continued.
“He knew of one man who rode about on his bicycle with leggings on drawing the dole.”
Presumably the man should have walked, not cycled the may-be miles to the dole office. But to sport leggings while doing it was the very limit!
Again the report does not say whether the resolution was supported. We can assume, however, that it was supported nemine contradicente – and maybe with an addendum about the impertinence of wearing leggings at the dole office.
But to be fair, not all boards of guardians were alike. The Newport Pagnell Guardians stuck to their far-famed job – Christmas Day at the workhouse. For the following week’s paper reports a meeting of the Newport Guardians at which the inmates, through the master, expressed thanks for their Christmas treat.
As it happened, there was a £5 surplus on the treat and the guardians decided to add it to the £27 15s already collected from themselves and friends for a four-valve wireless set for the workhouse hospital.
Estimates for a set and installing it had already been received. They varied from £27 18s 6d to £60 15s 6d. It was decided not necessarily to go for the cheapest – which might have proved the dearest in the long run – and a committee was appointed to investigate and report back.
What is interesting is that the cheapest would have cost well over £100 in today’s money and the dearest £350 or more. Broadcasting was already three years old, but, of course, prices of wireless sets plunged dramatically in the following decade.
Used cars were not cheap either. “Bargains” advertised were: a six-year-old 9.5 Standard two seater, repainted to customer’s choice of colour, £100; a two-year-old 13.9 Morris Oxford, repainted to customer’s choice, £250; a three-year-old 14 hp Rover drophead coupe, £300; a four-year-old 25 hp Vauxhall tourer, £200. List price of a 1924 Vauxhall Princetown tourer, with extras, was £618. Translated into today’s money values each comes to a pretty hefty figure. So do after-Christmas turkeys at Bletchley Market at up to £1 14s each. Obviously, youngsters who airily believe that everything was dirt cheap in the old days had better change their minds.
A lot of social activities are reported, but what does arouse my curiosity is a note that in the Middle Ages the weather on St. Paul’s Day (January 25) was reckoned as of more account than that on St. Swithin’s, or St. Swithun’s as its influence extended over the whole of the ensuing twelve months.
Fair weather meant a prosperous year to follow. High winds meant war. Snow or rain were sure signs of dearer living. Cloudy weather presaged great mortality among livestock.
I confess I have never heard of this tradition and would dearly like to know whether others have.
Incidentally, the local weather on St. Paul’s Day, 1925, was cloudy, but I have not had time to search and see whether an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease followed.