This post is about something I’ve not come across in my searching, thankfully, but it seems to be something that hasn’t really changed. Single mothers in the workhouse, ok so there are no workhouses around now but if you translate it into today’s terms then its single mothers on benefits schemes, so they can survive and raise their child or children.
Single mothers seem to have had it hard for … well … forever. Having a child out of wedlock was certainly not the done thing. A Poor Act from 1576 pronounced that ‘Bastards begotten and born out of lawful Matrimony were an offense against God’s Law and Man’s Law.’ These births were not only disapproved of on moral grounds but also births were expensive.
Settlement laws decreed that an illegitimate child ‘belonged’ in the parish where it was born and any costs regarding raising the child would fall on the parish. Common knowledge says that after having a child it not only meant you then had another mouth to feed but the mother would have great difficulty supporting herself for quite some time.
Now the fathers could shake off their responsibilities to the upkeep of the child if they wanted by paying a lump sum called a bastardy bond, though this rarely happened due to the expense.
The parish tried many things to, in a sense, get the heavily pregnant women off their hands, including, paying a man from 0utside the parish to marry such a woman. I guess in their eyes they see it as the child then having a mother and a father and so, growing up with a normal family life and also it meant that the child, which would then be born in wedlock, would take the husband’s settlement.
The reason behind the workhouses was that it was not only easier to care for one big family under one roof than it was to care for many under several roofs, but it also saved the parish money.
If you are interested to know more about the workhouses or are struggling to find an ancestor who may have been in a workhouse, then have a look at the following websites.
There are surviving workhouse records from London at http://www.ancestry.co.uk
There is also free access to some early records at http://www.londonlives.org
A variety of census transcripts can be found at http://www.workhouses.org.uk
Another site for workhouse documents is http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/minutes/minutes.htm
http://www.genfair.co.uk has a lot of workhouse records also