Saturday, 24 December 2016

Charles William Gedney Part II Poor Law Guardian

Gedney was as I described in part I of this blog a pungent and outspoken critic of the decision by Bromley Union's Poor Law Guardians to exclude journalists from Board meetings held at the Union Workhouse. This coupled with criticism of the diet offered to inmates which had featured prominently in a General Election  lead Gedney to submit his name for election as a Guardian. His first efforts were unsuccessful but as he developed criticism of the way children were housed with adults in the Workhouse and the Guardians lack of response to Local Government initiatives to board such children out in foster homes over a 15 year period he was duly elected by Bromley Parish as a Guardian.
From the outset this forward thinking amiable man was to devote his service to the lot of destitute women and children in particular.
He was outraged by the Workhouse education of children and argued for attendance at local Board schools; later when the Farnborough School Board expanded the school the Board were to offer places at the school for children from the nearby Workhouse on condition that they did not "wear Workhouse habit" to school.
His concern for education generally lead to his election to the Bromley School Board and he and Miss Hepple were the only two members to remain until Bromley became a Council and an Education Committee assumed responsibilty. The popularity of these two members enabled their re-election all other original members were ejected due to delay in securing land for much needed schools championed by both successful candidates.
In 1885 he succeeded in establishing a Boarding Out Committee  for "deserted and and orphaned children" and as the Boarding Out Committe minutes record he successfully placed 36 children in "cottage homes" and local Board Schools in that year. Later he was to dramaticllay increase the number of eligible children to enter foster homes.
From the outset he placed heavy emphasis on after care and particular emphasis on training girls and guardianship of these young women some time after they ceased to "on the books" of the Guardians. In the 1920's obituarists were to comment on his willingness to accommodate in his own home those whose service had ended through no fault of their own.
Throughout the two volumes of Boarding Out Committe minutes there are examples of his intervention in case of sudden critical illness to transport a child to London for treatment and report to Committee the outcome of his intervention. he was also available to assit in removal of children from unsuitable foster parents.
The 1887 movement in Bromley to recruit and elect women Guardians was supported as he felt that the success of Boarding Out Children should increase and in other unions Ladies Boarding Out Committees were succeeding. In 1890 Bromley Union had Isabella Frances Akers elected. After her first remarks to the Guardians Gedney was somewhat ruffled by criticism of the conditions for women and children but characteristically his criticism of her remarks and her apology if she had offended Board members was met with amiable support. Indeed as Miss Akers introduced reforms to the Union she was fully supported and soon more parishes elected Women guardians in some cases unopposed. After the tragic death of Miss Akers her work was continued by a  highly effective group of women guardians and fostering in the rapid expansion of Bromley Union's population was well organised to support those leaving foster care.
The 14 year old Charles William Gedney's naval career and injury in active service overseas was perhaps the influence that ensured that Naval Training ships and Army recruitment was pursued by the Union's children and also provided funding for accommodation for young female servants out of situations by supporting the Bromley Servants House. The injured naval midshipman had come home to take up a new career and he pursued every opportunity for young men and women to emigrate to Canada through numerous Emigration Socities and ensured that the Guardians had Emigration Committee and funding to assist where necessary.
It is difficult to write about Bromley Poor Law Union Workhouse in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and first quarter of the twentieth century without appreciating his great contribution.
He was a mover in developing the Union Workhouse accommodation in general but especially separate housing for Boys and Girls in houses along Wellbrook Road,removing children entirely from the adult accommodation. He also proposed improved Infirmary accommodation in added wings and eventual improvement to casuals accommodation and saniation for women. He was pragmatic enough to point out the unsuitability of requiring casuals to perform "the stone test" a fitness to work test by breaking stone as the 1830's Workhouse housed casuals in cells unlike other Workhouses.
Nowadays we grumble about snowfall inconveniencing travel; but in the Victorian era frost and snow in the first three months of each year stopped farm workers and those in the building industry from working and many local families became destitute. Gedney's concern to improve the Workhouse diet had lead to a Workhouse Bakery (and incidentally apprenticeships for those boarded out). It became possible for the bakery to not only feed inmates but to offer relief in seasonal hardship. The Relieving Officers worked closely with the local government to open up labour yards at Beckenham and Waldo Road Bromley and Gedney would on these occasions visit the men during their lunch break.
When proposals to reform Workhouses were tabled Gedney referred to Locksbottom as being a House for the elderly and sick and was able to demonstrate this by numbers of able bodied poor being lower than comparable Unions whilst the Infirmary was larger.
It was also his activity alone to organise local efforts year round to support the annual "Workhouse Holiday" each August or September from 1880 onwards. Through the generosity of local landowners and businesses offering transport all inmates of the Workhouse would be taken for a day for lunch and tea. Sir John Lubbock became the regular host at High Elms of 200-300 men women and children and many Bromley businesses which maintained vehicles would transport them there. Mister Gedney would always speak and offer a vote of thanks to the host and year round would ensure that tableware seating .
As we will see in another blog Christmas Day in the Workhouse at Locksbottom became inseperable from the Gedney family.
Charles William Gedney died on 7 January 1927 peacefully in his sleep days after organising his 57th annual Christmas Day for the Workhouse which he always referred to as the "grim grey Great House" but the Workhouse was a much more effective organisation for his long service and zealous efforts to improve the lives of those who were admitted.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2017