Tag Archives: Westminster

Edward VI entertains Mary of Guise (1551)

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Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London …

On this day in 1551, the boy king, Edward VI, wrote in his diary of how he had, amid much pomp, accommodated and entertained the Catholic Queen Dowager (and mother of Mary Queen of Scots) Mary of Guise at Westminster, after her ship had been forced ashore by bad weather en route from France to Scotland.

His entry reads in part as follows:

 “[D]ivers … lords and gentlemen, … ladies and gentlewomen went to her, and brought her through London to Westminster.  At the gate there received her the Duke of Northumberland, Great Master, and the Treasurer, and Comptroller, and the Earl of Pembroke, with all the sewers, and carvers, and cup-bearers, to the number of thirty.  In the hall I met he, with all the rest of the Lords of my Council, as the Lord Treasurer, … etc., and from the outer gate up to the presence chamber, on both sides, stood the guard.  And so having brought her to her chamber, I retired to mine.  I went to her at dinner; she dined under the same cloth of state, at my left hand; at her rearward dined my cousin Francis, and my cousin Margaret; at mine sat the French Ambassador.  We were served by two services, two sewers, cupbearers, and gentlemen.  Her master hostel [Maitre d’Hotel] came before her service, and my officers before mine.  … After dinner, when she had heard some music, I brought her into the hall, and she went away”.

Poverty and  Poor Relief in Westminster in the Nineteenth Century

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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.

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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.

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Millbank Penitentiary was in turn closed in 1890, and demolished in 1902, its  former site now occupied by the Tate Britain.

 

Poverty and  Poor Relief in Westminster in the Medieval and Post-Medieval Periods

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.

In the Medieval period, poor relief was provided by charitable donations from the churches, including Westminster Abbey, and from other rich institutions and rich individuals.

In the post-Medieval, after the passage of the  “Old Poor Law” in 1601, there was a formalised further charge on ratepayers to provide for relief at the level of the local parish.  This saw the  “impotent poor” cared for in alms-houses; the “able-bodied poor” either put to work   in “Houses of Industry” (the fore-runners of workhouses) in exchange for board and lodging,  or else provided with “out-relief” payments or payments-in-kind; and the “idle poor” sent to  “Houses of Correction” (essentially prisons).

Tothill Fields Bridewell

In Westminster, the Tothill Fields Bridewell was built in 1618, and demolished  in 1834.  The last surviving relic,  the seventeenth-century gate-way, may still be seen,  in Little Sanctuary.

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The Palmer Almshouses were built in 1656, and demolished and replaced by the United Westminster Almshouses in 1882.

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And the St Margaret’s Workhouse was built in 1692, and replaced by the Greycoat School in 1698.