Saturday 2 May 2015

An A - Z of Victorian Crime and Culture - W is for...

W is for - work capitol... Victorian slang for committing a crime carrying the death penalty, which at certain points in early Victorian times, wasn't difficult. 

In the 17th century the number of offences carrying the death penalty numbered about 50, but this soared to to 160 by 1750 and to more than 200 (222, exactly) by 1815  -  giving rise to the name the Bloody Code.

However, people began to complain at the triviality of many capital offences, and slowly the death penalty was considered for only the most serious crimes.

W is for - Welsh... No, not the population of Wales, but to inform...thus a 'welsher' was an informant. It should actually have been written as 'welch' but illiteracy saw the derivation!

W is for - Workhouse... the worst case scenario for many poor, where they would receive a roof over their heads, poor food, in return for hard labour. Many considered it a worse option than imprisonment, and chose crime and begging as a more tolerable option. The workhouse in Leicester, overlooking the railway on Sparkenhoe Street, was still a miserable and daunting building in later years. (See my other earlier entry under 'Spike').

In 1838, the Poor Law Commissioners authorised the union to spend the sum of £9,600 on a workhouse to accommodate 600 inmates. During 1837, before the new workhouse was ready, there was a depression in Leicester's hosiery trade and the Board of Guardians agreed not to impose the workhouse test but instead to continue allowing out-relief. This changed at the end of the year and, for the able-bodied poor at least, all that was offered was admission to one of the three interim workhouses in which segregation of the sexes was introduced. The strength of opposition to these caused a change of heart and out-relief was reintroduced. Another severe depression in the winter of 1841-2 resulted in around 5,000 claimants being give out-relief. In the spring of 1842, the Guardians tried to introduce a labour test where out-relief was given in return for daily manual labour, usually in the form of stone breaking. Violent riots resulted which were only quelled with military assistance.

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