The Honourable Poor 1924

The following article, which took a look at the impact of the poor law on the lives of those whom it was intended to help, appeared in The Western Times on Wednesday, 24th December 1924:-


The Bishop of Exeter Makes New Suggestions


In view of criticisms which have been levelled at the Bishop of Exeter, and the resolutions of protests by the Boards of Guardians in Devon and elsewhere, special interest attaches to his Lordship’s letter in the current “Diocesan Magazine,” in which he repeats his plea for reform of the Poor Law.

His Lordship says has visited a good many workhouses and has always found the inmates well treated, but poor people disliked the House because of their loss of freedom, their dislike of leaving their homes and the fear of humiliation associated in their minds with a Poor Law Institution.

An exterior view of the workhouse at Poplar.
Poplar Workhouse.


An old man, who had served in the Highland regiment and is in receipt of an old-age pension of ten shillings a week, asked why he did not prefer to go into the Exeter Poor Law Institution, replied:- “I worked hard to get a few things together, and I like to look at them in my old age.”

Why, asks the Bishop, should he be separated from his few old things?

No doubt the same spirit that made him hold out and endure on a few shillings a week made the Devon men stand firm to save England.

Why should we not admire, cultivate and reward that spirit?


The Bishop adds that he should like to see the Poor Law modified. Merit should be recognised by the State. Poor, honourable people should have some mark by which everyone should know that as they had served England well so England had valued their service.

They should have a title and a uniform and might be called “the King’s Bedesmen.” They should be admitted at a Court presided over by the Mayor. They should live where they liked, and if they went into any institution they should only be asked to associate with men and women of like high character to themselves.

Perhaps private people might be induced to give them privileges. In churches, they should have an honourable place. Scouts and members of Lads’ Brigades should be taught to salute them.

The name of the Workhouse Infirmary should be changed to Infirmary where all classes could receive treatment, the richer by paying for themselves, the poorer to be paid for out of the common purse.


The Bishop points out the extravagance of the present arrangement of poor relief. Old age pensioners and military pensioners all under separate organisations.

Even if the system which he advocates costs more the Bishop says it is a false economy to tolerate a system which promotes discontent.


The difficulty, as much as our industrial world as in our political world, lies not so much in the fact that there is a difference of ideas in the various classes in which a community is divided, but in the distrust which makes strikes take place for little reason, and which makes men unwilling to do their best at their work for fear of benefiting the master whom they distrust.

What makes the political aspect always one of uncertainty is that every man who invests his money must consider tho possible risk of spoliation or even revolution.


All these things hang like some dead weight on a country’s activity.

Re-establish a feeling of friendliness, show that there is a spirit of reasonable consideration, and if you spend money you save it; but, above all, convince the many hundreds who stand outside the Church of the real sincerity of our Christian principles by showing due care for those whom Our Lord and Saviour declared were His representatives upon earth, the honourable poor.