Victorian Workhouse Webinar


I have just attended a webinar from The National Archives in London entitled “Why Did the Victorians Fear the Workhouse”. The Presenter was Paul Carter the Principal Specialist in modern domestic records. He has a particular interest in poor law records.For this they use software called Blackboard Collaborator. Ear plugs are needed for the audio. You can see film of the presenter on the top left corner and a display board on the right with diagrams etc. On the bottom left there is a message box where you can ask questions. Paul was very approachable and knew his records. You are sent instructions before hand on how to connect to the webinar and it will be reposted on the website at the National Archives.

I wanted to know if Agnes, my great aunt, wife of Alex Fraser, Master of the South Dublin workhouse would have been compelled to be Matron since her husband was Master. It just didn’t seem possible that she could do that and raise a large family. Also, I hadn’t read anything in the memoirs about her actually working there, just some memories of having Christmas teas etc.

The answer was yes with the idea that she might be able to carry on if he died with the help of another man they would hire (This sounded like it was a common scenario). That didn’t happen in Agnes’s case, she apparently had to leave when Alex died. Whether we will ever find out why, I don’t know. BUT again another example of how amazing Agnes was. Matron of the workhouse, mother of 8 children, one of whom was lost in her last pregnancy, adoptive mother to her sister’s 3 children and hostess to an open house for all her family. And she lived to be 104 years old!

The webinar was brief but full of useful information, the diagrams giving us examples of what we might find in the records. This was related to English records but gave me an idea of where I might look in Ireland. The sure answer to my question would be to find the employment registers for the South Dublin Workhouse.

This was an interesting experience! Oh yes, I had to be ready by 8 a.m. because they started at 4 p.m. their time. That took a little figuring.


But I Digress!

I confess, it is hard to focus on academia when the sun is shining after the usual long, dreary winter. I am still on Edward 1 by Michael Prestwich and after waiting for weeks got another book referred to by Prestwich which was “King Henry III and the Lord Edward by F.M. Powicke. Sadly (or not) that is an inter-library loan which gives me about a week to read it . Not happening.  I have however, read the last chapter in that book  which is the Epilogue:Edward I.

One thing that becomes clear when you venture into these books is that the English language was not used in the same way even 50 years ago as it is today. For example “the kings wardrobe”. Not what you think, it was basically the accounting office of the king’s household during Edward’s time. Inside of that was the provision of all things personal  to the king including his armies. From these accounts, historians attempt to piece together the lives of the royal families. Later, the kings wardrobe would come under the exchequers office.

Another linguistic term commonly used by historians is “seems to have” a rather elusive term politely exonerating them from any mistaken conclusions you might come to. You might say that there are linguistic conventions used by that profession.However, I do enjoy reading the English language as it was meant to be spoken, politely and with a natural flow to it. You may even expand your vocabulary as you go. To which end I always keep my tablet with me so that I can look up words I don’t understand or try to research people and places connected with King Edward. I end up on many adventures this way.

Upon reading that Edward started to build an Abbey in Cheshire I thought I would look for images of it on Google and I was off! Edward had made a vow as a young man to build an abbey if he was saved from a storm at sea. He chose Darnhall, Cheshire, initially but the people were not happy at all with this decision. Also, the site was too small for what he had planned. So a new site was chosen at Over, a few miles away and named Vale Abbey. Everything went swimmingly at first but then, Edward started to run out of money because of his war with the Welsh and the massive castle building projects he had going on there. He eventually abandoned the plan for Vale Abbey taking a good part of the masons with him.

The abandoned monks did everything to finish the building but just couldn’t do it so it was abandoned for 10 years until another prince Edward, the Black Prince, decided he would help them. THEN a hurricane struck and the nave was swept down. Finally, under Richard II it was agreed that the building could be finished but only on a much smaller scale.

However, that really is where the story starts because…the monks were NOT nice people! They became landowners when they were given the abbey and were harsh to their tenants. No one liked them. Discipline became lax and corruptness took hold, ending with one of the abbots being hacked to death for an alleged rape. One of the avenging group was a vicar. This is not my image of a vicar!

After much lawlessness and being taken under “royal supervision” (which apparently did not work, can you guess why?) the governing body of the Cistercians thought they might take a look and decided that the place was “damnable and sinister”. Things settled down for awhile. Eventually, the Abbey was dissolved under Henry VIII and passed through many hands, changing all the while, until very little of the original was left. Today it is home to a private golf club. And that about states it, all that history, the toil and strife of so many, the connection with royalty, is now a golf club.

And that is what happens when you go off searching for things! By the way, did you know that Edwards first language was French, his second Latin? How did he rule a country like that?

The Infamous Edward


Continuing with my efforts to create a backdrop for Scotland, the country of my maternal grandmother, I wanted to talk a bit about the above Edward, also known as ” Longshanks” and “Hammer of the Scots”. He will forever live in the memory of Scots as the “villain of the piece” because of his murderous campaign to bring Scotland into union with England. The capture and decapitating of William Wallace was a measure of his intention. He was ruthless in his methods.

Edward was born at Westminster in 1239. His father Henry III (b. 1207) was the first ruler of Britain from the Angevin or Plantagenet line in France. The name Plantagenet derives from the founder of this dynasty, Geoffrey V of Anjou who used to wear a sprig of broom (genet)  in his hat. Edward’s mother was Eleanor of Provence. Henry was a weak and ineffectual ruler who caused trouble among the English by populating his court with the French family of his wife Eleanor. His barons took exception to this and led by Simon de Montfort , Henry’s brother-in-law and Earl of Leicester, they forced him to sign the “Provisions of Oxford” a guarantee of rights for the English people. Henry soon reneged on the charter and civil war broke out. During the Battle of Lewes, Henry and his son Edward were captured and held captive. Even after this, the Barons could not agree among themselves and another war broke out. Edward escaped and joined the side of the Barons. During this war, Simon de Montfort was killed. De Montfort laid the foundations for a parliamentary government in which the king could no longer rule alone. He had been a mentor to Edward and would have an influence on the way that he would rule.

Edward I

Edward I

In 1254, Edward had married Eleanor of Castille (Spain) in a political effort by Henry to retain their lands in Gascony (France). Eleanor was 13 years old and Edward was 15. She went with him on a crusade to the Palestine in 1271 where she gave birth to a daughter, Joanna and to Wales in 1284  where he was building Caernarfon castle . There she had their son Edward who would rule after his father. In the end, they had 17 children together. Edward was so devoted to her that he had “the Eleanor Crosses” built for her after she died.

Eleanor of Castille

Eleanor of Castille

While they were returning from the crusade, Henry died and Edward took the throne. He set about repairing the ruin of his father’s reign. He set up a system of administration and law in England which reformed the land laws and feudalism which had originated in France. He continued with the use of parliament for raising money in exchange for their approval on taxes.

He completed the conquest of Wales, a place where the original British had been pushed to during the Norman Invasion. Thereafter, he set about building the round castle towers that now dot the countryside of Wales.

He expelled the Jews from England and appropriated their property and money for his own use.

Had things gone differently in Scotland after the death of Alexander III, Edward might have never been involved in “The Great Cause”. Alexander had maintained a time of peace with Edward by paying homage to him but for only those lands he owned in England. Thus the lands of Scotland were not under control by Edward. Two tragedies ensued, first Alexander’s accidental death while returning from his new young wife, Yolande and secondly, the death of Margaret the Maid of Norway, on her way to be married to Edward’s son which would continue the peace between both countries.

At this point the country was thrown into chaos when as many as 14 claims were made to the Scottish throne. The barons decided to go to Edward to make a decision. This he would do only if they agreed that he was their sovereign. They agreed and Edward proceeded with all apparent legality. It was decided that John Balliol had the most legal right to the throne because he was a descendant of David I of Scotland through his mother.

John Balliol was forced to swear homage to Edward but when Edward decided that Scotland had to fight with him against the French, the country’s magnates protested.  The Scots made a treaty with the French, the “Auld Alliance”,  upon the threat of an English invasion.  They made an attack on Carlisle, in northwest England, which Edward countered with a horrible attack on Berwick where 8000 people were slaughtered, Edward’s idea of “making an example”. Later, at the Battle of Dunbar, the Scots were defeated and John Balliol was publicly humiliated, stripped of his regalia and sent to the Tower of London. 2000 Scots nobles and clergy were forced to sigh the “Ragman Rolls” declaring their homage and fealty to Edward. By 1296, Edward had an English parliament set up in Berwick which he rebuilt and troops holding castles across Scotland.

To Be Continued…