Bristol’s Poor

This is from a letter published in Bristol papers of early 1787 from the city’s central poorhouse, St Peter’s Hospital referring to the ‘great and unprecedented number of Poor who are now relieved in this City,’ :

“The Burthen is at present severely felt by every Householder, as to be universally complained of as intolerable; yet grievous as it is, the Prospect before us is still more alarming. For while the Poor Laws of this city continue to be so feebly and relaxly enforced as they have been for some Years pas, the Poor’s Rate must, and will increase and that so rapidly that in a very few years such a Depreciation of the Value of Land and Houses will take Place, that they will become rather Incumbrances to their Possessors, than productive estates – To Persons possessing such species of Property, this is a Consideration of the greatest Consequence, and I am thoroughly convinced that nothing less than a rigid Execution of our Poor Laws can prevent it – But those Laws are Remedies every way adapted to the Disease, and if the Persons whose Province and Duty it is to see them enforced would do so,….
In the year 1760 the Support of the Out-Poor [ie those beyond the city limits] did not amount to £4000 and in the year 1785 it was no less than the enormous Sum of £8118 19s 6d for which alarming increase no other Reason can be assigned than the great Influx of Strangers from all Parts of the Kingdom, who are suffered to obtain Settlement here. For it appears that more Buildings have been erected in this City and its Vicinity, since the Year 1760 than … for a century before that Period. From hence it is reasonable to conclude that Masons, tilers, Carpenters, Labourers and all Persons engaged in the Building Line, must have had more constant Employment than they had before, and of Course be less liable to become chargeable to the city, but the Contrary is the Fact, for a greater number of Persons of thee Descriptions have, for a considerable time past, received Relief than were ever before known to do so…”

So, 250 years ago, foreign builders were being accused of being benefit scroungers. No mention of how much the total population had increased in that time. But the problems were  largely due to the  economic collapse, largely from speculative building,  following the American War of Independence. Bristolians had invested heavily in new industries to supply the North Americans, expecting an export boom with the peace, but those pesky colonials figured out how to brew their own booze and make their own bricks, so Bristol’s economy tanked and lots of buildings were left unfinished.

Things never change.

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