Each record contains a transcription of the original workhouse death register. The amount of information varies but you can find the following information about your ancestor:
Date of birth
Name of parent (usually the mother)
Whether illegitimate or not
Whether there were any siblings
Poor Law Union
There are 403 baptisms recorded from the Monmouth workhouse. The church register would also usually record whether or not the mother was unmarried and, if so, whether the child was her first illegitimate birth.
The first recorded workhouse in Monmouth was opened in 1760 and it remained open for around 100 years. After the Poor Law Amendment Act the control of the workhouse passed from the parish to the Poor Law Union. As a Union workhouse it grew to accommodate around 30 parishes in the surrounding area which also covered parts of Hertfordshire and Gloucestershire in across the border into England. The old workhouse was soon overcrowded and cramped and there were frequent outbreaks of violence.
A new workhouse was opened in 1871 to house 200 people. The new regime was not without problems. Local undertakers complained that only one coffin supplier was being used – one that was using converted fruit boxes from Birmingham.
The Monmouth Poor Law Union covered 31 constituent parishes. The workhouse was over seen by a Board of Guardians, 37 in number made up of representatives of the various parishes. The Union also covered several parishes in the neighbouring English country of Gloucestershire. A full list of parishes is given below:
Dixton with Dixton Hadnock and Dixton Newton
Park Grace Dieu joined the Union at a later date
Monmouth and Newland had four Guardians each.
The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act established Poor Law Unions in a move away from the parish based system of poor relief that had been in place since the 17th century. The Unions were to administer workhouses for the local poor.
Workhouses were supposed to be a deterrent to the able-bodied pauper. Under the Act, poor relief would only be granted to those who passed the “workhouse test”, in other words you would have to be desperate to enter a workhouse.
They were there for the truly destitute, the so-called “incompetent poor” - an able bodied man could only enter if his family came with him. The elderly, the infirm, orphans, the mentally ill and single mothers were all accommodated but life inside the workhouse was intended to be as off putting as possible. Men, women, children, the infirm and the able-bodied were all housed separately. Food was basic and monotonous - gruel, a watery porridge, or bread and cheese. Inmates had to wear the rough workhouse uniform and sleep in dormitories and baths were allowed, supervised, once a week.
The able bodied were given hard work, stone breaking or picking apart old ropes. Families were only allowed minimal access to one another and in the early days were not even allowed to speak to each other outside these access times. The workhouse came to be seen as the ultimate degradation.
Some people only stayed in the workhouses briefly, when there was no other option, others spent their entire lives in the same workhouse. As medical care in the home was expensive, the poorest women would sometimes come to the workhouse hospital to give birth. Many unmarried women who had become pregnant ended up in the workhouse as well.