This letter from the Huddersfield Medical Officer to the Poor Law Guardians preceded the workhouse scandal in the town. TR Tatham was complaining about the appalling conditions that the sick poor were obliged to endure.

To the Chairman of the Board of Guardians of the Huddersfield Union
Huddersfield, June 1847

Sir,

I am sorry to have occasion again to remark on the state and management of the Fever Hospital. It is my wish at all times to avoid complaints, but really when I find affairs of that establishment carried on in a slovenly and inefficient manner, from incapacity and negligence of the nurses appointed to take care of the sick! – I am constrained to give such a statement of facts as I hope will induce you to remedy the evil for the future. Robert Worth is the only nurse in that hospital who can read and write. For a week or two he did his duty; he then became ill of a fever and to be disgusted by his occupation and is become reckless. This man with the help of another man named Mark Bradley are the only individuals I have seen to attend upon the sick of both male and female patients. I have never seen a woman assist in the female wards those who have to make calls of Nature. Besides I have seen three individuals lying in their own filth with the hands and faces smeared with it two whole days without being washed. Their names are

Benjamin Carr – died on the 6th June
James Till – dies on the 15th June
Bridget MacLoughlin – died on the 18th June

The regular administration of medicine prescribed and attention to those patients who are too weak to feed or help themselves are very much neglected. I will here remark that, when a patient arrives at a certain state of weakness and debility, as much depends upon good nursing as medicine. It therefore becomes extremely painful as Medical Officer to find my efforts frustrated by the omission of other adjustments I have so much experience in the early and present period of my professional career as Medical Officer to parish hospitals as to be fully convinced of the utter worthlessness of pauper nurses unless superintended by a proper paid nurse.

TR Tatham


Victorian History Poor Law

Last modified 20 September 2002