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Dickens, Scrooge and the Victorian poor

Louisa Twining

Page 22 from Rogers's Reminiscences of a workhouse medical officer, mentioning Louisa TwiningJoseph Rogers becomes aware of Miss Twining's workRogers had help behind the scenes from a remarkable woman, Louisa Twining, founder of the Workhouse Visiting Society, a member of the famous tea family. An elderly woman from her own parish in the Strand had begged Miss Twining to visit her when she was forced to go into the Strand Union Workhouse, and - like Dr Rogers - Miss Twining was deeply shocked when she entered the place.

Her description of the regime at the Strand Union Workhouse in Cleveland Street under the workhouse master who tried his worst to intimidate and provoke Dr Rogers was that it was a 'reign of terror'. She saw, as did Rogers, that the Poor Law Board governed the system by neglect. The Master and the Workhouse guardians were in cahoots, and there was little concern about the poor souls living and dying in the place.

Title page of bookTitle page from Miss Twining's Thoughts on some social questions past and presentAt first alone, and then along with a group of like-minded and determined women, Miss Twining created the Workhouse Visiting movement, which eventually influenced the atmosphere in these closed institutions, by introducing small and simple but nevertheless significant changes like fresh flowers, and pictures for the bare walls. They tried to help inmates with prayer, and to improve their lot in small practical ways, always careful not to antagonise the workhouse management, who might exclude them at a whim.

The women who went inside these places also spoke about the things they had seen to their husbands and brothers, to churchmen, to members of Parliament, and to public meetings, all of which served to spread knowledge among a class hitherto completely ignorant of the daily humiliations, cruelties and miseries that passed within workhouse walls. Their determined efforts, while Christian, kindly, and comforting to inmates proved abrasive to the system, and had far-reaching results.

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