The following article has been transcribed from "The Illustrated History of Portsmouth" by William Gates (1900)
In Portsmouth no less than in other ancient towns the problem of the poor has always been a difficult one to deal with. In the days when the old Domus Dei was in spiritual and charitable rivalry with the Church of St. Thomas, there is little doubt that the sick and the poor were amply provided for, but after the dissolution of the monasteries the obligation gradually lost much of its spiritual character and became a temporal concern.
In 1530 an Act was passed directing Justices of the Peace to give licenses to poor, aged, and impotent persons to beg within a certain precinct, " and if any do beg out of his precinct he shall be set in the stocks two days and nights ; and if any beg without such license he shall be whipped or else be set in the stocks three days and three nights with bread and water only." Six years later another Act was passed providing for the maintenance of such poor, aged, and impotent persons by the "voluntary and charitable alms of good Christian people, in such wise as none of the poor persons of very necessity should be compelled to go openly in begging." Thus far and for some years afterwards the relief was entirely voluntary, but early in Elizabeth's reign power was given to the Justices to tax or commit to prison those who would not contribute.
Later in the reign Overseers of the Poor were appointed, being the Churchwardens and four substantial householders in every parish, with power to raise money by taxation for the relief of the poor, and setting to work those having no trade or means of maintenance. In the reign of William III. an Act was passed compelling those in receipt of parochial relief, their wives and children, to wear a badge on the shoulder of the right sleeve, that is to say a large " P," together with the first letter of the name of the parish or place, cut in red or blue cloth. This provision continued down to 1810.

The present Poorhouse system dates from 1722, when an Act was passed authorising the Parish officers with the consent of the Parishioners to provide houses in which the poor might be maintained, and giving them power to farm out the labour of the inmates, that is to say to contract with some one who would feed and clothe them at so much per head and get what profit he could out of their labour.
Portsmouth was not long in adopting the former provision of this statute, but it is to the credit of dead and gone parishioners that they never put in force the power of "farming out " which as may easily be understood led to gross abuses and great oppression. The first Poorhouse was built in 1725 at the northern end of Warblington-street, the site being now included in the Colewort Barracks. The building cost about £1,000 the whole of the money being raised by voluntow subscriptions. Sir Charles Wager and Sir J. Norris, the Members for the Borough, each gave £100, and a similar sum was contributed by Mr. Thomas Ridge, the brewer. Mr. Thomas Missing gave £50, Mr. Henry Stanyford £40, and Mr. John White, £30. At this time there were about 600 inhabited houses in Portsmouth assessed to the relief of the poor. There is no record of the number of inmates of the Poorhouse in the early years of its existence, but we find from some accounts that have been preserved that between August 23rd, 1734, and April 29th, 1735, there were consumed 65 quarts of brandy, at ls. 3d. per quart, and 54¼1bs. of tobacco, 1s. 1d. per lb. Loaf sugar, at from 9d. to ls. a lb.; moist sugar, at 4d. ; and raisins at 3d., were also bought for the use of the inmates, who were apparently well treated.
In 1776 the number of paupers in the Parish of Portsmouth was 160. There were at this time 894 houses, and a rate of 3d. in the £ realised £1,742 14s.
When the Parish of Portsea first became possessed of a poorhouse is not known, the records having been lost ; but it was in existence in 1764 when the salary of the matron was fixed at £5 a year, and in 1765 Thomas Millaway was appointed Master at £10 a year. This Poorhouse which was situated at the corner of Elm Lane, Land-port, was taken down and rebuilt on a larger scale in 1798. A further enlargement took place in March 1835 when accommodation was provided for pauper lunatics. It is interesting to note that £200 an acre was paid for the additional land required.

With the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1835 a great change was effected in local Poor law administration. Hitherto as we have seen each Parish was separately administered ; each had its own poorhouse and sets of officials, and, as events proved, there was considerable jealousy in the old town at the progress and presumption of its somewhat precocious child " without the walls. " When it was proposed, in accordance with the Act, that the two parishes should be united under one administration, Portsmouth would not hear of it, though Portsea welcomed the change. Notwithstanding the fierce opposition of the old town, the Poor Law Board ordered the Union to take place, which it accordingly did on the 18th July. 1836. On the same day the first election of Guardians took place, fourteen having been apportioned to Portsea and seven to Portsmouth. The latter being now in the sulks, no one would consent to nomination, so the Overseers themselves proposed 20 names to the burgesses, who elected the following : Messrs. Lang, H. Deacon, W. Grant, jun., James Loe, J. E. Atkins, W. Peirce, and Chambers. All of them, however, except Lang, refused to serve, and a fresh election was necessary. This took place on the 31st, when the following were elected and accepted the inevitable :— Messrs. E. Casher, J. Miller, sen., J. T. Garrett, W. Devereux, J. Warne, and W. Mitchell.
In the Parish of Portsea there was a plethora instead of a lack of candidates, and the names of no less than ninety-one were submitted to the burgesses. The election resulted in the return of the following : Messrs. Scale, Alfield, Alnutt, Rev. E. Dewdney, J. F. Pratt, E. Jackson, Captain Travers, S. Griffin, G. Pratt, Jellicoe, R. Rogers, J. Webb, W. Garnett, and T. Ellyett. At the first meeting the Rev. E. Dewdney was elected Chairman and Mr. Scale Deputy Chairman, while Mr. James Moorman was chosen to be the Clerk.
It soon became necessary to provide more and better accommodation than the two Poorhouses afforded, and in 1842 the site of the present Workhouse, 26 acres in extent, was purchased from the Rev. C. Henville for £2,300, and the new House, costing about £17,000, was opened in July, 1846. There have been many enlargements and improvements since that time, the most notable additions being the schoolhouse erected in 1863, the Imbecile Wards in 1883; and the new Hospital, which is replete with every modern requirement, in 1898 ; while in 1879 a handsome block of buildings for office, dispensary, and out-relief purposes was erected in St. Michael's-road on the site, appropriately enough, of an ancient wayside chapel dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. On the whole the Poor Law has been well and generously administered, and though at times the Poor Rate has been as high as 5s. 4d. in the £, few have complained. The number of inmates has ranged from 736 in 1846 to over 1,700 in 1898 ; but latterly there has been a satisfactory decline in pauperism in Portsmouth, and the number of those now in receipt of relief is less than it was thirty years ago, notwithstanding that the population has increased by 120,000 in that time. In 1863 the proportion of paupers to the population was about one in fourteen, now it is about one in fifty.
Of private benefactions on behalf of the poor, Portsmouth has not many to boast of. The following list has been partly compiled from the report of a Government Commission which visited the town in 1866 and made exhaustive inquiries :—
It appears that one Thomas Winter by his will, bearing date 28th July, 1679, bequeathed to the Mayor and Aldermen of Portsmouth £200, the principal to be improved by them for the benefit of the poor yearly for ever, and the benefit which it should make to be distributed amongst the poor of that town on the feast-day of Saint Thomas the Apostle.
The precise date of Mills's gift—another of the Portsmouth Charities—is not clear. In " The Churchwardens' Book of Charitable Gifts, from 1711," it is mentioned that Mr. Thomas Mills gave the lease of a house to the poor, with power to sell, and that it was sold for £100. This sum has been amalgamated with the Winter gift, and the interest, amounting to £15 a year, is distributed on St. Thomas's Day (December 21st) to poor people in sums varying from ls. 6d. to 2s. 6d.
The gift of Mr. Thomas Timbrell appears to have been lost. The donor bequeathed £50 "to the poor," leaving two executors, the survivor taking the money into his hands, and his executors in turn being chargeable with it. A certain Captain Beverley, of Wickham, appears to have been the custodian in 1720, and the churchwardens of the parish received the interest, amounting to £2 10s. for eleven years (1719 —1730) the payment in the latter year being made by Mrs. A. Beverley, after which time no trace of this charity is found.
The will of John Mounsher bears the date of 1702, and it is stated he gave £100 to the poor, leaving three executors, in whose hands the money was placed, and the interest (£5) being given to " the poor widows of Portsmouth not receiving alms of the parish." This sum was distributed for more than 50 years, but after 1761 all tidings of the charity had disappeared.
In 1700 William Brandon left by his will to the Corporation £200, which sum was to be put out to interest, the latter to be distributed on St. Thomas's Day " among the poor and indigent persons that should live within the town and parish of Portsmouth, and should not be maintained at the parish expense." Memoranda of the receipt of several sums of £10 in respect of this gift are found in the book, but there is no evidence that the legacy came into the hands of the Corporation, and the Commissioners of 1866, who attempted to unravel the mystery, failed in the task.
This gift was bequeathed by a barber of that name, of Westerham, in the county of Kent, who, on the 2nd December, 1765, by his will left to certain officials of the parish of Portsmouth, £100, old South Sea annuities—one half of the interest and proceeds thereof to be paid and applied to the relief of the poor, and the other half to be distributed at Christmas among thirty poor housekeepers not receiving relief from the parish. In 1825 an arrangement was made by which the dividends were to be in future received by the Vicar, and distributed by him, together with the parish officers, and four inhabitants of the parish. The charity is now represented by £113 15s. 4d. Consols in the names of trustees. It produces an income of £3 2s. 4d., which is distributed on St. Thomas' Day, one shilling each to sixty-two poor persons resident in the parish.
By the will of William Pike, and by a codicil thereto, two sums of £250 and £50 were left on trust, the interest to be payable on St. Thomas's Day to the poor not receiving alms. These legacies, it appears, amounting together to £300, were laid out in the purchase of £400 South Sea annuities, the dividends, amounting to £12, being received by a Mr. Edward Carter, and distributed by him yearly on St. Thomas's Day in sums varying from 7s. 6d. to £2 amongst poor persons of the parish of Portsmouth. The legacy is now represented by £440 two and-half per cent. stock, in the hands of the Charity Commissioners, the income of which, £11, is distributed to forty-four poor persons not receiving parish relief, five shillings each at Christmas.
In connection with the Unitarian Church, which was formerly known as the High-street Meeting House, there is an endowment of £1,320 in the new 22 per cents which realises £33 per annum, of which £19 goes to the Minister, and the rest to the poor of the congregation.
This charity, which is connected with the General Baptist Chapel, St. Thomas's-street, originated with a Dr. Bowes, from whom it received its name. The existing deed is dated 1792. The property, which amounted to £2,000 new 3 per cents., is now invested in railway stock, and of the interest £44 goes to the Minister, and the rest is at the disposal of the church.
There was formerly an almshouse in Penny-street, Portsmouth, consisting of four rooms above and four below, with small gardens behind, inhabited by old persons (usually widows) appointed as vacancies occurred by the ministers and church wardens. Each occupant received a quarter of a chaldron of coals in the winter from the Churchwardens, and 2s. a week from the Overseers out of the poor-rates. When the Gaol was built in Penny-street, the almshouse was sold and with the proceeds, supplemented by public subscription the present almshouses in Highbury-street were built. In these houses ten poor women are now lodged. By whom or when the almshouses were founded is not known, the earliest record now extant being of a person who was buried from thence in 1655.
In an extract from the deed, it appeared that the dividends on £200 were to be distributed in the purchase of bread and coals for the most deserving wives and families of the corporals and gunners in the Royal Marines and Royal Marine Artillery, the preference being given to the wives and families of soldiers who might be at sea or on foreign service. At the official inquiry it appeared the stock, amounting to £200, 3 per cent. consols had been transferred to the official trustees of charitable funds, who remitted the dividends to the Colonel-Commandant of the Corps.
By the will of Edward Crafts dated June 1780, he directed that his trustees should sell his house, etc., and after the payment of his debts, should lay out the residue for the education of as many boys as the interest would admit of, such boys to be taught reading, writing, and arithmetic ; and to be selected from poor widows' or poor artificers' children, all to be of the parish of Portsea, and not receiving alms from it. He further directed that the Minister and Commissioners of St. George's Chapel, or the majority of them, with his trustees, should have the choosing of the boys, and that his money in the stocks should be transferred to his trustees, that they might sell it out or receive the interest as it should become due. This charity with the two that immediately follow is worked in conjunction with the Beneficial Society. Prior to free education being established, a number of boys were instructed without fees at the Beneficial School ; now the money is 'devoted to the higher branches of education either at the School or elsewhere, the terms of the will in each case being adhered to as closely as modern circumstances admit.
Major Ebenezer Vavasour, by his will, dated 1808, left £100 to the Portsea Beneficial Society for the education of six poor boys of the parish.
Richard Wilmot bequeathed, in 1805, £500, from the interest or dividends of which 20 poor boys were to be taught the English language, writing, accounts, and navigation. There were also a number of minor bequests.
Thomas Brewer bequeathed, in 1666, his purrock, or small enclosure of land, at Buckland, to his son and heirs on condition that they would pay to the poor of the parish £20 a year, and Eleanor, his wife, gave £40 a year out of a close called "Bird's Close," but at the Government inquiry in 1866 it appeared that there had been no receipts for some time.
William Sheppard, by his will, dated August, 1797, gave £100 in trust, that the same should be placed out at interest, which interest should be expended on Whit Monday in every year, in the purchase of bread, to be distributed amongst poor widows, resident in the Parish of Portsea.
Eliza Claypits left by her will, dated 1848, £300, the annual dividends on which were to be expended by the Vicar and Churchwardens in the purchase of bread, to be distributed among the poor on the 21st of December.
Thomas Fitzherbert, by a codicil to his will dated 1821, directed that the dividends on £10,000 stock should be applied for the benefit of five poor men, ten poor widows, and five single women, born in the Parish of Portsea, and who had not received parochial relief.
This was a legacy of £1,000 left by Miss Williams in 1843, now represented by £1,071 3s. 8d. Consuls in the hands of the Charity Commissioners. The income amounts to £29 9s., and is distributed to the poor of the parish by tickets for groceries, &c., at Easter and Christmas, according to the terms of the will. Also a legacy by her now represented by £267 7s. 8d. Consols, in the names of trustees for the Green-row Rooms School, the income of which, £7 2s. 4d„ is applied to the expenses of the Sunday-school held in that building.
This was a legacy of £1,000 left by Mrs. Jones in 1883, now represented by £980 7s. 10d. Consols in the hands of the Charity Commissioners, the income of which, £26 19s., is applied according to the provisions of the will in giving the ten inmates of the Portsmouth Alms Houses £2 10s. each in quarterly payments. The surplus is to be used " as the Vicar should think fit."
This consists of a sum of £2,927 Os. 8d. 21 Consols left by James Bass Eltham, of Ringmore Cottage, Havelock-park, Soutbsea , who died on 2nd December, 1879, the dividends to be distributed annually by the Mayor and six senior Aldermen of the borough for the time being amongst such of the deserving poor (male and female) of the town of Portsmouth and within a district of Southsea bounded by Castle-road, Elm-grove, Victoria-road South, Chester-road, Lennox-road, Clarence-parade, and Western-parade, as the Mayor and six Aldermen decide. The payments are made in January each year, and a notice is inserted in the local papers that applications will be received on forms supplied gratis at the Town Hall.
This Institution in Canal Walk, Fratton, was founded in 1866 by members of the registered Friendly Societies of the Borough of Portsmouth. It became a lapsed charity in 1891 through the failure of the Portsea Building Society with which it was connected. In 1896 Sir J. Baker, Knight, M.P., decided to resuscitate it, and for this purpose paid £400 to rid it of its liabilities. He then conveyed the property to Friendly Society Trustees by whom it is now successfully administered. The Cottages afford shelter to several necessitous members of Friendly Societies, their wives or widows, who further benefit by a free distribution of coal provided out of a legacy of £200 left for that purpose by Miss Scale. The maintenance of the charity is undertaken by the Friendly Societies of the Borough.
Alderman J. G. Whitcombe, who was Mayor of the borough in 1881-2, endowed a local scholarship at the Royal College of Music and bequeathed a sum of £6,000 to the Corporation for the payment of certain annuities to the poor.
Mr. W. Pelham Winter, who died in 1894, left a number of charitable bequests, including £250 to the St. Luke's Soup Kitchen at Landport; £350 to the Vicar and Churchwardens of St. Luke's, to be invested and the income applied as they shall think most advisable ; £500 to the Portsmouth Hospital ; £200 to the Eye and Ear Infirmary ; and £200 to the Blind School.
[See for information on Portsea Workhouse]