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Medicine and the Workhouse


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Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries workhouses were a key provider of medical care to the poor. Workhouse beds in Britain far outnumbered beds provided by charitable hospitals, and a high percentage of inmates were elderly and infirm, needing not only accommodation and work but also medical relief.
Historians of welfare, the English poor laws, and medicine have been aware of the importance of workhouse-based medicine, but the topic has not been studied in depth. This volume is the first to examine the history of the medical services provided by these institutions both in Britain and its former colonies, over the period covered by the Old and New Poor Laws. Written by prominent historians of medicine, welfare, and social policy, the essays document the experiences of those who received care or died in these houses, and form the critical foundation for a new historiography of workhouse medicine.

Contributors: Jeremy Boulton, Virginia Crossman, Romola Davenport, Steven King, Angela Negrine, Susannah Ottaway, Rita Pemberton, Jonathan Reinarz, Alistair Ritch, Leonard Schwarz, Samantha Shave, Kevin Siena, Leonard Smith, Alannah Tomkins.

Jonathan Reinarz is director of the History of Medicine Unit at the University of Birmingham, UK. He has published extensively on the history of English medical institutions, 1750-1950.
Leonard Schwarz has recently retired as a reader in Urban History at the University of Birmingham, where he founded the Birmingham Eighteenth Century Centre.


This long overdue volume of essays moves beyond accounts of exclusively metropolitan experiences, drawing attention to the diverse experiences and policies that shaped medical relief at the regional or local levels and showing how, in words of one contributor, the workhouses were "reluctant saviors at best." The volume offers a coherent, up-to-date edited collection that will inform further research and appeal to a large audience of medical and welfare historians. --Keir Waddington, Cardiff University, School of History, Archeology, and Religion


First Published: 01 Oct 2013
13 Digit ISBN: 9781580464482
Pages: 290
Size: 9 x 6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: University of Rochester Press
BIC Class: MBX

Details updated on 19 Mar 2016


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  Contagion, Exclusion, and the Unique Medical World of the Eighteenth-Century Workhouse: London Infirmaries in Their Widest Relief
  • 3  The Elderly in the Eighteenth-Century Workhouse
  • 4  "These ANTE-CHAMBERS OF THE GRAVE"? Mortality, Medicine, and the Workhouse in Georgian London, 1725-1824
  • 5  Workhouse Medical Care from Working-Class Autobiographies, 1750-1834
  • 6  "A Sad Spectacle of Hopeless Mental Degradation": The Management of the Insane in West Midlands Workhouses, 1815-60
  • 7  Workhouse Medicine in Ireland: A Preliminary Analysis, 1850-1914
  • 8  Exploring Medical Care in the Nineteenth-Century Provincial Workhouse: A View from Birmingham
  • 9  "Immediate Death or a Life of Torture Are the Consequences of the System": The Bridgwater Union Scandal and Policy Change
  • 10  Practitioners and Paupers: Medicine at the Leicester Union Workhouse, 1867-1905
  • 11  Workhouse Medicine in the British Caribbean, 1834-38
  • 12  Poverty, Medicine, and the Workhouse in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: An Afterword
  • 13  Selected Bibliography
  • 14  List of Contributors
  • 15  Index

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