Paupers And Porridge

In January, 1888, Mr T.  L. Murray Brown, the Poor Law Inspector for the district of Clatterbridge in the central part of the Wirral Peninsula, paid a visit to the dining hall of the local Workhouse and noticed that the children were not eating the porridge that made up the bulk of their dinner.

In a subsequent letter to the Wirral Board of Guardians, he observed that “the porridge was good enough, and the men finished it, but the children clearly did not seem to care for it.”

On quizzing the matron of the Workhouse, he was told that she had added sugar to the mix and the children had “eaten better”, but even then they left large portions of it unfinished.

The Inspector wondered if, perhaps, the children being given too much of that kind of food, as it constituted their breakfast and their supper gruel, and he suggested that a dietary change might be considered.

Taking up the case, in its edition of Friday 3rd February 1888, The Globe pondered the reason that English children might have taken against porridge :-


“There is, it seems, mutiny in a modified form at the Clatterbridge Workhouse.

“The Poor Law Inspector has been visiting the dining hall, and has observed that the children do not eat their porridge, even after the matron has put sugar into it.

As he shrewdly observes, it is of no use making porridge simply for it to be given to the pigs; and so he suggests that some alteration should be made in the dietary.


The youngsters, in fact, have conquered.

Had they been Scotch, they would have made, you may be sure, no demur. The Caledonian child is brought up insensibly upon porridge until, when it is old, it cannot depart from it. The consumption of it becomes second nature.

It has been observed that Scotch people in England, old and young, have difficulty in dropping porridge as an article of food; they change both their sky and their mind, in this connection.


But in Scotland porridge seems part of the natural order of things.

It appears on the breakfast table as a matter of rule, and spanked is he who, boldly daring, declines to partake of it. And if occasionally, a Scotch child can turn against porridge, what may not be forgiven to the English repudiator of it?

No doubt it is a wholesome dish; no doubt, too, it is very “filling at the price”; but somehow it does not capture and hold the English eye.


There is something in the mere colour of it which, though like that of the sky at Glasgow on a foggy day, is rather against it; it has a very thick and bilious appearance, which is not altogether improved when, haply, it is partially smothered in milk or cream.

It suits, doubtless, the hardy North-man, who dwells, for the most part, in clear bright air, and, living much out of doors, has a hearty appetite.


But every edible is not for every man’s market.

They say that porridge is heating to Southern blood, and perhaps that is why the Clatterbridge pauper children have declared against it.”