Report from the Select Committee on the Andover Union (1846) . Added by Marjie Bloy, Ph. D., Senior Research Fellow, the Victorian Web

The Andover scandal of 1845-46 highlighted the hardship of the workhouse regime as implemented by some Masters. It also emerged that the Poor Law Guardians — who were supposed to visit the workhouse regularly — had not fulfilled their duties. Rev. Christopher Dodson, the chairman of the Board of Guardians, had not visited the workhouse since 1840, leaving everything in the hands of the Master. Furthermore, the Poor Law Commission's regulations allowed the workhouse Master to refuse entry to anyone who arrived without warning, including the Poor Law Guardians for that Union.

McDougal, the Master of the Andover workhouse, had a reputation for inhumanity; rumours of excess cruelty eventually led to a public enquiry. The workhouse's medical officer had known of the mistreatment of the inmates but feared for his job and so had not reported the Master's conduct. Between 1837 and 1846, sixty-one paupers from Andover workhouse went to gaol: it seems likely that they committed offences to escape the workhouse regime, the mistreatment and starvation.

Bone crushing was a normal occupation for paupers. The bones of horses, dogs and other animals (and there were hints that some came from local graveyards) were crushed for fertiliser for local farms. The paupers were so hungry that they scrambled for the rotting bones. Bone-crushing became the focus of a case which was reported extensively by The Times and was followed avidly by the public. Edwin Chadwick emerged particularly well and reached the height of his prestige and power at this time. Andover was only the most notorious example of workhouse cruelty. There were several other major scandals and incidents — for example, that in the Huddersfield workhouse — all recorded by the press in minute detail.

Evidence of Charles Lewis, a labourer

9828 (Mr Wakley) What work were you employed about when you were in the workhouse? — I was employed breaking bones.
9829 Were other men engaged in the same work? — Yes
9830 Was that the only employment you had? — That was the only employment I had at the time I was there
9831 Was the smell very bad? — Very bad
9832 Did it appear to affect your health? — It did a great deal mine, and appeared to affect the others
9833 How many men were so employed? — Whether it was nine or ten boxes round the room, I don't recollect.
9834 Was it a close room or shed? — It was a very close room
9835 How did you break them? — We had a large iron bar to break them with
9836 Something like a rammer? — Yes
9837 Had you no other employment at all? — No, not while I was there, but breaking the bones
9838 What sort of bones did they appear to be? — All sorts
9839 During the time you were so employed, did you ever see any of the men gnaw anything or eat anything from those bones? — I have seen them eat marrow out of the bones
9840 You were not examined before Mr Parker, the Assistant Commissioner? — No
9841 Have you often seen them eat the marrow? — I have
9842 Did they state why they did it? — I really believe they were very hungry
9843 Did you yourself feel extremely hungry at that time? — I did, but my stomach would not take it.
9844 You could not swallow the marrow? — No
9845 Did you see any of the men gnaw the meat from the bones? — Yes
9846 Did they use to steal the bones and hid them away? — Yes
9847 Have you seen them have a scramble and quarrel amongst the bones? — I do not know that I have seen them scramble, but I have seen them hide them.
9848 And when a fresh set of bones came in, did they keep a sharp look-out for the best? — Yes
9849 Was that a regular thing? — While I was there.

Last modified 12 November 2002