Powys Digital History Project

Care of the poor 15

A long-term problem
Besides the problems of looking after the poor of the Union, the Board of Guardians had also to meet the demands of wandering paupers in the rural landscape. As farming became more mechanised and units were bigger, fewer people could be employed on the land. Those who did not want to seek new opportunities in the industrial areas, or abroad, often became paupers and were left with the choice of the workhouse or the road. Many of these tramps could get temporary relief and shelter at the workhouse in return for their labour.
The entry below from 1908 records a letter sent by the Union to the authorities about the problem of increased vagrancy in the area.

Rhayader Board
of Guardians
Minute Book

County Archives


The entry begins with a resolution and reads:-
"that this Board desires respectfully to impress upon the Local Government Board and on His Majesty's Goverment the necessity of dealing at once with the question of vagrancy, the difficulty arising through the alarming increase in the number of tramps, the impracticability of suitably employing them in workhouses at a profit, and we fear, the serious menace in the future to the peace and well being of the country, lead this Board to the conclusion that the most practical solution of this difficult problem is the establishment of "labour colonies" or Government Works at which vagrants should be compulsorily employed on remunerative labour, and it is believed that such employment under proper regulations, might be not only of great benefit to the vagrants themselves but also of financial advantage to the state."

This advocacy of compulsory labour camps seems harsh to our late 20th century eyes, but the Board was faced with huge numbers of tramps calling at the workhouse. In one six month period around the time of the letter (1908) the workhouse gave relief to 2617 vagrants. For such a sparsely populated area the Union must have felt almost overwhelmed at times. 

  There are 19 pages on Care of the Poor. Use the box links below to view the other pages