Site Home
 



Topic Home


The Poor

The population of the town increased in the eighteenth century, due to a rise in the birth rate and an inflow of people looking for work. They found accommodation in the inns and cheap lodging houses of the town. Wages were very low; men rarely earned more than 12 shillings a week, women only 2-3 shillings. By the 1790s men were earning from 9 to 18 shillings a week.

Those resident in Leeds lived in small cottages, often in the yards and courts behind the main streets of the town. They did not own these houses; in 1790 a room between 9 and 18 feet square cost 4 pence per week to rent. A cottage for 4 to 5 people with a living room and a sleeping room above, each about 14 feet square, cost 6d per week. An artisan might rent a larger cottage, 20 feet square, for 9 shillings a week. The cottages had no piped water; residents fetched it from standpipes, or bought it from a water seller. There were no sewers; toilet facilities were primitive and insanitary. A working man paid about 5% of his income on rent, an artisan about 8%.

The poor had few possessions, except for some basic furniture and cooking utensils. William Browne, of Nether Mills died in 1707 and left goods worth £4.12.0d, which included 4 beds with bedding, a cupboard, 4 chests, 4 tables and chairs, some pewter, two desks, a barrel, a salting kit, and a cooking range pans plus equipment for making oat cakes.

Oat cakes were an important part of the diet of a poor family, which also included bread, porridge, milk, treacle, beer, and a little cheese and meat.  It was possible to survive on such a meagre diet, although sometimes there wasn't enough money to buy corn for bread. And then there was the rent, and other basics like candles, salt, fuel, clothes and linen which had to come from their wages. There was no money over to save for hard times, and if they were unemployed or fell ill they had to depend on the parish for poor relief which was paid from the poor rate. Some were sent to the workhouse.

The almshouses were used to house the elderly poor. Harrisons and Jenkinsons Almshouses were still in use, and in 1736 Potter's almshouses were built in Wade Lane, endowed by Mary Potter. These were 2-roomed cottages for the use of the widows of deceased tradesmen. The poor also benefited from local charities that gave small amounts of money or clothes.

Most poor children had no formal education. The lucky ones were able to attend the Charity School, (Sometimes called the Blue Coat School), which opened in the workhouse building in 1705. The school was financed by public subscription, and 40 poor children aged 7-14 were fed, housed, and given a uniform made of blue cloth. They were taught reading, writing and arithmetic. This was not a classical education such as the Grammar School provided; it was intended to equip them to follow a trade. They were also instructed in the principles of the Church of England, and attended the Parish Church where there was a pew 'under the north wall for the master and mistress of the charity school with forty poor boys and girls decently clad in blue.' In 1726 when the workhouse re-opened, the school moved to the chapel of Harrisons almshouses.

Unlike the wealthy merchants, if a poor person became ill they could not afford to consult a physician or a surgeon. They relied on herbal remedies, like Dr. Daffy's elixir, which were often worse than useless. But they did benefit when in 1771 the General Infirmary at Leeds was opened. This was a charitable institution dedicated to providing medical care to the people of Leeds, and which provided treatment for the poor, as well as those who were better off.

The poor could not afford the leisure pursuits of the rich. The assembly rooms charged an entrance fee, and the library required a subscription; but what good were books if you couldn’t read? Many people spent time in the inns and alehouses where the publicans arranged cockfights, and entertainments of various kinds. Bull baiting took place on Quarry Hill. The races, feasts and fairs all provided free, or very cheap, entertainment, and were very popular, and celebrations for national events, like the King's birthday, and military victories were opportunities for people to enjoy themselves, and forget for a while the harshness of their day to day lives.
Click images to enlarge
Leeds from the west, c.1760
Leeds from the west, c.1760
Red House Inn
Red House Inn
Turk's Head Yard - workers cottages
Turk's Head Yard - workers cottages
Houses in Tunstalls Fold
Houses in Tunstalls Fold
Back to backs on Nelson Street
Back to backs on Nelson Street
The Workhouse, 1745
The Workhouse, 1745
Potters Almshouses
Potters Almshouses
Advertisement for Patent Medicines
Advertisement for Patent Medicines
Infirmary
Infirmary
Hunslet Feast
Hunslet Feast




Site Map

© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003