Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas Day in the Bromley Union Workhouse

"And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that truly be said of us,and all of us." -Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol.

Any consideration of Christmas Day in the Workhouse of Bromley Union must consider the example of Charles William Gedney a Union Guardian.
In 1927 he died pacefully in his sleep in early January shortly after he had organised his 57th year of Christmas Day celebrations for the inmates of the Workhouse.
This year round activity involved securing donations from the public of the parishes of The Union to make the hundreds of men women and children unfortunate enough to be inmates at Christmas feel something of Christmas.
The staff of the Workhouse and their families were also recruited to the cause and donations of decorations and large amounts of evergreens from various estates in the district were put to use to decorate the chapel, wards of the Infirmary and day rooms throughout the site. The dining hall was heavily decorated throughout the beamed ceiling.
Gedney ensured toys for each child which he distributed whilst the men would be offered very acceptable tobacco and the women packets of sugar and tea.
Most Workhouses received such gifts but Bromley is exceptional in that one Guardian took responsibility for so many decades. His sons had grown up spending their Christmas Day as a family giving their time to those in need and in support of their father's work.
Christmas Dinner was nearly always reported in local newspapers and consisted of roast beef and roast pork, mutton and plum pudding. Alcohol was not provided but Mister Gedney always secured mineral water donated by a local company.
In the evening musical and other entertainments were organised with visitor musicians and singers to entertain.
Mister Gedney usually received a traditional vote of thanks from The Master of the Workhouse and would make a short speech of thanks. Occasionally in some years he prevailed upon the Chair of the Board of Guardians to appear.
In 1908 he was able to make a speech and appreciate the introduction of old age pensions. Initially the pension of five shillings a week from 1 January 1909 was not available to those in receipt of poor law relief. Mister Gedney suggested that were 5 shillings a week available to relatives many elderly residents of the Workhouse over 70 years of age would find home with family members.(From 1 January 1911 those over 70 years of age in receipt of Poor Law Relief  were adopted into the scheme and Act of 1908).
Bromley Union had prior to this had a larger than average number of inmates over 70 and had a reputation of an enlarged Infirmary and improved accommodation for children from 1909. Gedney's prediction proved accurate as the number of people over 70 fell throughout the remainder of his years as a Guardian.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2017