Thursday 25 April 2024

A-Z Challenge 2024: April 25. V:- Vagrancy

The Mid Sussex Times contains numerous reports detailing the issue of vagrancy in Cuckfield Union area.  Presented here are only a selection of these reports, offering a glimpse into the broader situation.

Unknown (but from circa 1536), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

During the Cuckfield Petty Sessions of 1882, William Hughes, a native of Manchester, was charged with destroying his clothes at the Union Workhouse that Tuesday morning. He was sentenced to ten days of hard labour. Furthermore, it was noted that 39 men and women had been admitted to the vagrants’ wards the previous night.

In 1877, a tramp who identified himself as Thomas Hunt from Burton-on-Trent faced charges before Captain Sergison. The accusation stemmed from his act of destroying his own clothes in the casual ward of the Union house. After being admitted on Saturday night, he received his clothes the following Sunday morning, only to tear them into shreds. As a consequence, he was sentenced to ten days in prison.

In 1883, William Hughes was charged with tearing up his clothes in the Workhouse on the previous night.  He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six weeks’ hard labour.

In 1904, the Master of Cuckfield Workhouse presented a report on vagrancy to the Board of Guardians. He noted a significant reduction in vagrancy, attributing it to effective administration and cooperation among the magistrates, police, and Guardians. The number of vagrants decreased from 12,988 in 1894 to 2,216 in 1903. That year, 48 vagrants were prosecuted for refusal to work or damaging their clothes; all but one received a 28-day sentence.

By October 1908, Mr. E. Gosden, the Master of Cuckfield Workhouse, reported a decline in the number of inmates and vagrants receiving relief compared to the previous year. This contradicted claims of incompetence in managing the East Sussex bread ticket system, as suggested by Mr. Shand.  According to the figures presented, 82 vagrants received relief in the previous two weeks, down from 119 in the same period the previous year. During the Michaelmas quarter, 775 vagrants were relieved, compared to 990 in the previous year.

Despite the positive trend observed under one Workhouse Master in 1904, by 1908, there appeared to be a reversal in the trend.

In 1912, the Cuckfield Guardians passed a resolution advocating for legislation to address the issue of vagrancy comprehensively. They suggested that any amendments to the existing law should involve transferring supervision and control of vagrants to the police authorities and implementing a universal adoption of the bread ticketing system.

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  1. I had not read of somebody destroying their clothes in this setting before. I am not quite sure I understand the purpose of the action of damaging one's clothes.

  2. Destroying clothes. Yeah I am not sure I have seen that before as a law.
    Tim Brannan
    The Other Side: 2024 A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons.

  3. This is very interesting Liz, but I do find it sad to think of vagrants being prosecuted.