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'The Good Old System'

This is part of the evidence of Joseph Ellison to the Committee on the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1837, Questions 5292 and 5293. Ellison was a member of the Dewsbury (Yorkshire) Board of Guardians and has served on the select vestry of Gomersal before the Poor Law Amendment Act had been imposed in the West Riding. He was objecting to the introduction of the Poor Law Amendment Act in Yorkshire on the grounds that the existing system of outdoor relief had proved to be effective and adequate.

  • Notwithstanding that scarcity of work, your poor rates have been so low as 1/- upon the rack rent, for buildings, and 2/- for lands?
  • Yes, in the last year.

  • That being the case, you think you would have good reason to believe that you could not have the law more satisfactorily conducted, both for the ratepayers and the rate receivers, than it has been during the last year under the operation of the old Poor Law?
  • We do think so, and at a late meeting of our select vestry every one concurred in the answer I have just now given to you, that under no system of management could things be carried on more satisfactorily, both to the ratepayers and to the paupers and this is the opinion of nineteen-twentieths of the ratepayers of that township where I reside.

    The general feeling is this, "What a pity that a system that has worked so well, and has produced so much good, should be now broken up!" That is the universal exclamation. I am not speaking of the working classes, for they do not understand these things; but amongst the most respectable portion of the ratepayers, the clergymen and such gentry as we have, and the principal ratepayers, that is the universal feeling. Indeed, you need not be surprised at that, when the rates have been reduced, within the last twenty years, to the amount that I have stated. The clergy are, I believe, to a man, opposed to the new law; they have seen the good effects of the old system, and are satisfied that it cannot be improved upon; but I am speaking always of the Select Vestry Act; that was the greatest improvement that ever took place in the Poor Law, so far as regards manufacturing districts.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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