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[Up to 1834] [After 1834] [Staff] [Inmates] [Records] [Bibliography] [Links] In December 1624, Reading received a bequest of £8,400 in the will of wealthy London draper John Kendrick.
The money was designated for several causes but the bulk, £7,500, was to establish a workhouse.
They are chiefly employed in spinning hemp, but 2 looms for weaving sail cloth were lately erected. Dinner—Sunday, Thursday—Meat, pudding, vegetables and bread; Monday, Saturday Bread and cheese; Tuesday—Bread and broth; Wednesday, Friday—Cold meat. Old people are allowed tea, bread and butter for breakfast. The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1832-35 had been £8,179 or 10s.2d. For the first 30 years of its life, Reading Union made use of two of the pre-1834 parish workhouses which were adapted and enlarged: St Mary's (160 inmates) was for the aged, the infirm, the sick, mothers with children, and children without parents; St Laurence's (190 inmates) was used for able-bodied paupers and vagrants. In 1846, the Poor Law Commissioners expressed concern about sanitary conditions at St Laurence's. This suggestion dismissed by the guardians, although in April of the following year an additional workhouse was opened specifically to accommodate the 'wayfaring and vagrant poor'.
Some of the Poor are sent out to work for the farmers. This was in an old granary at the entrance to King's Meadows in the Forbury.
The lodging rooms contain 2, 3,4 beds apiece, made of flocks and feathers. If they require more they are usually taken into the house. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 15 in number, representing its 3 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one): Berkshire: St Giles, with Whitley (5); St Lawrence, Reading (5); St Mary, with Southcot (5).
In winter generally about 80 or 90 persons in the house. Diet in Workhouse: Breakfast—Sunday—Bread, cheese and beer; Monday and Friday—Bread and broth; Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday—Milk pottage; Thursday— bread and cheese. The population falling within the union at the 1831 census had been 16,042 — 5,112 in St Giles 4,048 in St Lawrence, and 6,882 in St Mary.
The Oracle became a troop garrison during the English Civil War, and then 'an Habitation for an idle sort of Poor, who lived in it Rent free.' The building was demolished in 1850 and the site redeveloped. It rarely happens that a labourer supports himself, wife and children without applying for parochial aid; weavers who can earn 18s.
Later parish workhouses included: St Giles', an old building on Horn Street for 62 inmates; St Laurence's, a group of old cottages on Thorn Street, for 100 inmates; and St Mary's, a building on Pinkney's Lane dating from the 1770s, also for 100. a week do not hesitate soliciting relief, if a temporary stagnation of business curtails their common receipts, and reduces them to those difficulties which a little parsimony might have obviated.
In 1639, the workhouse was reorganised to provide training and employment for fatherless children. Twelve persons belonging to this parish are in different almshouses, and receive from 7d. It is not uncommon for a healthy young fellow, who has ample means of supporting himself and family, to request the parish to pay for the midwife for his first child.
The plans were revised in January 1867 to add an extra storey to the infirmary, adding £430 to the price. Two nurses were on duty at night-time, and pauper assistance was confined to activities such as cleaning and bed-making. In 1909-11 an additional infirmary block was added at the north of the site for up to 150 aged, infirm and convalescent patients. All the inmates were transferred to other workhouses in the area, and the infirmary patients moved to Grovelands School nearby. The cross-shaped main building contained an administrative block, wards and cells, together with a labour yard and labour master's house. The hospital finally closed in 2005 and the buildings have been demolished except for the gatehouse and board-room.
The total cost, including furniture and fittings, was in the region of £14,000. In addition, a new board room, administrative block and master's house were added. Within six weeks, the workhouse was transformed into the Reading Number One War Hospital which, linked together with more than twenty other auxiliary hospitals in Berkshire, constituted one of the country's biggest war hospitals. In 1849, the Reading Union joined with the neighbouring Wokingham Union to form the Reading & Wokingham School District and operated a residential school for pauper children at Gargrave until the early 1900s.
In 1628, the first intake of 24 weavers, 16 shearmen, and six burlers took up employment at the workhouse.
For its first two years, the operation ran at a profit but this soon began to change.