The Hadleigh Society


The Paupers of Hadleigh

a talk by Clive Paine on 27th April

Why is it that Hadleigh always seems to be different? Having learned some of the ramifications of the Peculiar from Sue Andrews, Clive Paine revealed how Hadleigh showed the way in dealing with unemployment in the 1830s. Clive’s act (much more animated than just a talk) revolved around the impact of the New Poor Law of 1834 which dramatically cut what ratepayers had to pay to support the poor, with a corresponding impact on the lives of the unfortunates. Part of the scheme involved a rationalisation of the parish arrangements into a larger workhouse for a whole Union of parishes. East Suffolk had already lead the way in this up to 50 years earlier, and so had neighbouring Cosford, but in 1830 Hadleigh still took responsibility for its own poor. When the new law was introduced Hadleigh could have left its poor to the Cosford workhouse but the parish wanted to do better. The opportunity presented to them was the booming developments elsewhere in the country. In particular the new factories of Lancashire and W. Yorkshire were looking for weaving and spinning skills that were strong in these parts. Archdeacon Lyall dispatched Robert Kersey and Mr Ansell with two labourers to investigate the prospects. One of the men found work on the Birmingham railway construction at 17/- a week before even reaching Lancashire and duly sent for his family who between them would earn 51/-. Lancashire proved equally promising and Robert Kersey subsequently organised the migration of 100-200 people. To establish the trust of the employers it was important to send the best the workhouse could supply: widows with more grown up children were ideal since the factories employed children in preference to adults. Although Hadleigh’s operation was unique in its autonomy, the Poor Law Commissioners altogether organised the migration of about 400 people from the South and East, of which about 50% came from Suffolk. In the reports of the time there were some glowingly satisfied families, but the industrial boom was short lived and in 1837 a depression drove many of the migrants back to the Suffolk workhouses that continued to be responsible for them. Nevertheless there are still many today in the North West who could trace their ancestry back to places which Lancastrian census-takers misreported as Kerseyalley, Adley and Whitfield.