The Diary of Benjamin Woodcock, master of the Barnet Union workhouse, 1836 to 1838

Edited by Gillian Gear

Hertfordshire Record Publications

Volume XXIV for 2008 - published 2010

The journal that forms the basis of this book was begun on 1 September 1836 by Benjamin Woodcock, the master appointed by the newly formed Barnet Union. It begins almost a year after his appointment and although the site for the new workhouse had been selected, the district's paupers were still living in some of the parish poorhouses. Ending on 10 May 1838, the diary covers the period of the building's completion in the late spring of 1837, the transfer of inmates from the Barnet, Shenley and East Bamet poorhouses to the new central workhouse and the establishment of a settled routine for staff, inmates and guardians.

In the journal Woodcock describes his daily routine, admitting and caring for the workhouse inmates, his handling of problems he experienced in creating a smooth-running regime in the new buildings and coping with the demands of the many visitors who took an interest in this newly conceived method of dealing with the poor. The journal was produced to be seen by the board of guardians. Its survival and publication in full provides an opportunity for readers to reach a better understanding of the running of an early workhouse, the views and actions of the master, guardians and paupers. This is a rare opportunity for, whilst the journal was written to be read by the board of guardians, it has a personal touch that reflects the attitudes of both master and guardians in a way that is not the case in more formal communications such as those with the Poor Law Commissioners.

The journal is a small, hand written, volume. It is held at the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies under reference 70876. In 1984 extracts were included in Down and Out in Hertfordshire, produced by Hertfordshire Publications. The book, which included two other chapters on associated topics, is out of print. To provide a better setting and increase understanding, the new volume will include additional information, such as the early admission and discharge register, early accounts and extracts from correspondence between the Poor Law Commissions and the Board of Guardians and the latter's correspondence. Analysis of the first admission and discharge registers has been undertaken in order to establish the reasons for admission, gender and age of inmates on admission, the number of occasions an individual was admitted and the reasons for their eventual discharge. A comprehensive index to the journal has been designed to identify the behaviour of the inmates and their treatment and the actions, and sometimes the opinions, of those in charge of them.

A bibliography of both published work relevant to the subject and original sources and their locations will be included. Copies of plans of the original architect's design, together with maps showing the location of the former poorhouses and of the new district workhouse are included, together with a selection of photographs. An especial effort has been made to ensure that the coloured cover has been designed to reflect the wealth of information that can be found within and attract the general reader.

 Advanced information from Hertfordshire Record Society Newsletter, Spring 2008

While this is the 2008 book in the series, it did not appear until April 2010, but was well worth waiting for. For most workhouses few record survive to the comings and goings og the inmates, and the reasons for their admission, but this diary includes some exceptionally detailed records as the follow extract for June 1837 shows:

Thursday 1

Thursday 1

Thursday 1

As Usual sold her flannel Petticoat & two Shifts given by the Union

Thursday 1

This man had 2 9s when he came in, which I have in my Possession

Friday 2

Friday 2

Thomas Foskett Aged 12, Pauper of Chipping Barnet, admitted in house 1 June by order of the Board

Charlotte Seagrave Aged 27, Pauper of Chipping Barnet, Admitted in the house on Thursday 1 June by order of board. On hir examination by the Medical Officer he ordered that her Provision Utensils might be Kept Separate from the other inmates. Shes in a bad State

Ann Gray Pauper of Ridge, who was sent from East Barnet Workhouse, to the London Hospital by order of board on tuesday 4 March, was discharged on tuesday the 30 May, for the same cause as she was discharged from the Lock [hospital] sometime ago. Namely not willing to submitt to the Operation. Admitted in the house 1 June by order R[elieving] O[fficer] 9 Oclock evening. Placed with the woman Seagrave.

George Fisher Aged 52 belonging to the Hitchin Union, having Met with An Accident in the Parish of Hadley on Thursday night 1 June, was Admitted in the Workhouse about 12 Oclock by Order R[elieving] O[fficer]. The Medical Officer Promptly Attended but it was not of any serious nature

Ann Hale Widow, Pauper of Shenley, was dis­ charged from the workhouse at her own request on Thursday 1 June. Gone to live with her Daughter

Thomas Stubbington, Pauper of East Barnet, wishes to try the benfit of the Hospital. Mr Morrisons assistant having told him his Complaint was hopeless


The book has an excellent index - so if your ancestor was involved with the Barnet workhouse in the period covered by this diary you may well find some relevant entries/


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Page updated July 2008