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The Andover Workhouse scandal, 1845-6

The Andover scandal of 1845-6 highlighted the hardship of the workhouse regime. McDougal, the Master of the Andover workhouse, had a reputation for inhumanity; rumours of excess cruelty eventually led to a public enquiry. Bone crushing was a normal occupation for paupers. The bones of horses, dogs and other animals (and there were hints that some from local graveyards) were crushed for fertiliser for local farms. The paupers were so hungry that they scrambled for the rotting bones. Bone-crushing became the focus of a case which was reported extensively by The Times and was followed avidly by the public. Edwin Chadwick emerged particularly well and reached the height of his prestige and power at this time. Andover was only the most notorious example of workhouse cruelty. There were several other major scandals and incidents, all recorded by the press in minute detail.

Report from the Select Committee on the Andover Union: Evidence of Charles Lewis, a labourer


(Mr Wakley) What work were you employed about when you were in the workhouse?
I was employed breaking bones.


Were other men engaged in the same work?


Was that the only employment you had?
That was the only employment I had at the time I was there


Was the smell very bad?
Very bad


Did it appear to affect your health?
It did a great deal mine, and appeared to affect the others


How many men were so employed?
Whether it was nine or ten boxes round the room, I don't recollect.


Was it a close room or shed?
It was a very close room


How did you break them?
We had a large iron bar to break them with


Something like a rammer?


Had you no other employment at all?
No, not while I was there, but breaking the bones


What sort of bones did they appear to be?
All sorts


During the time you were so employed, did you ever see any of the men gnaw anything or eat anything from those bones?
I have seen them eat marrow out of the bones


You were not examined before Mr Parker, the Assistant Commissioner?


Have you often seen them eat the marrow?
I have


Did they state why they did it?
I really believe they were very hungry


Did you yourself feel extremely hungry at that time?
I did, but my stomach would not take it.


You could not swallow the marrow?


Did you see any of the men gnaw the meat from the bones?


Did they use to steal the bones and hid them away?


Have you seen them have a scramble and quarrel amongst the bones?
I do not know that I have seen them scramble, but I have seen them hide them.


And when a fresh set of bones came in, did they keep a sharp look-out for the best?


Was that a regular thing?
While I was there.

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