It might seem incongruous to be discussing poverty and poor relief in what is now the – at least outwardly – conspicuously wealthy City of Westminster. However, throughout much of its long history, Westminster was at the poverty-blighted ragged outer edge of the built-up area of London, as can be clearly seen on William Booth’s “Poverty Map” of 1889 (gold denoting wealthy, in Booth’s judgement; shades of red, well-to-do and comfortable; purple, mixed; shades of blue, poor and very poor; and black “lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal”).
In the nineteenth century, after the passage of the “New Poor Law” in 1834, the – “deserving” – impotent poor continued to be cared for in alms-houses, and the – “undeserving” – idle poor to be sent to “Houses of Correction”. However, the – “deserving” – able poor were now refused “out-relief”, and made to work in workhouses, where conditions were quite deliberately made sufficiently inhumane as to deter extended stays. The workhouse system was only finally abolished as recently as 1930, and indeed many former workhouses remained in use until 1948.
In Westminster, the old Tothill Fields Bridewell was demolished in 1834, and replaced by the Tothill Fields Prison.
The Prison was closed in 1877, when the prisoners were transferred to nearby Millbank Penitentiary, and it was demolished in 1885, its former site now occupied by Westminster Cathedral.
Millbank Penitentiary was in turn closed in 1890, and demolished in 1902, its former site now occupied by the Tate Britain.