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see poor lawpoor law,
in English history, legislation relating to public assistance for the poor. Early measures to relieve pauperism were usually designed to suppress vagrancy and begging.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a special shelter for the poor in England during the 17th through 19th centuries.

Living conditions in the workhouses differed little from those in prisons. Initially workhouses were under the jurisdiction of the local parishes; however, with the growth of pauperism during the industrial revolution, the workhouse system was centralized (by an act passed in 1834). All those who appealed for public assistance were forced to enter workhouses. The threat of being placed in a workhouse compelled many poor people to agree to any sort of working condition in factories, and this enabled entrepreneurs to lower wages. The common people, who called workhouses “bastilles for the poor,” often hindered the establishment of new workhouses and destroyed those already in existence. The Chartists included a demand for the elimination of workhouses in their 1842 petition. In connection with the development of social insurance and pensions in the 20th century, the workhouse system became outdated, and the workhouses were converted into homes for invalids and the aged.


Engels, F. Polozhenie rabochego klassa ν Anglii. K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2.
Morton, A. L., and G. Tate. Istoriia angliiskogo rabochego dvizheniia (1770–1920). Moscow, 1959. (Translated from English.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. An institution for confining individuals sentenced to terms usually less than one year.
2. (Brit.) A poorhouse.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. (formerly in England) an institution maintained at public expense where able-bodied paupers did unpaid work in return for food and accommodation
2. (in the US) a prison for petty offenders serving short sentences at manual labour
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Julie Morgan outside the old >Lambeth Workhouse Picture: Rhodri Morgan
NOVELIST Barbara Taylor Bradford has opened her heart about how her grandmother was sent to a North East workhouse.
In 1722 Parliament made powers for the establishment of workhouses but Cardiff did not get its first workhouse until 1753.
As a direct result of this Act, between 1723 and 1750, 600 parish workhouses were built in England and Wales.
The Master's House at Y Dolydd, Llanfyllin Workhouse has been awarded PS31,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards repairing the roof of the building, which stands at the heart of the workhouse complex.
Carleton, Clerk of New-Ross Workhouse, dated October 2, 1861.
By 1877 a new workhouse for 726 was ready on a 15-acre site between New Cemetery Road (now St Barnabas Road) and Ayresome Green Lane.
Livingstone Place in St Asaph A FORMER workhouse and hospital has been transformed into luxury apartments.
Workhouses put up orphaned and abandoned children, the physically and mentally sick, the disabled, the elderly, and unmarried mothers.
Medicine and the Workhouse, edited by Jonathan Reinarz and Leonard Schwarz.
AS IT WAS Workhouses were a feature of most cities The markers of stress on their tiny bodies were linked to malnutrition and disease, but the archaeologist revealed the age-at-death profile of the children in the grave, which increased substantially just after two years of age, may suggest a potential relation to the deep distress of being separated from their parents either through the death, sickness or workhouse segregation.