The story of Athy’s Workhouse is revealed in the minutiae of administrative details written into the minute books of the Board of Guardians, which I had the opportunity of studying before their recent transfer to the County Library in Newbridge. In the months preceding the opening of the Workhouse the Board of Guardians were engaged in making arrangements for furnishing the building and entering into contracts for the supply of provisions. The clerk was directed to advertise ‘for the different articles of clothing used by Gorey Workhouse paupers’ patterns for which had earlier been received and examined by the Athy Guardians. The members of the Board, while dissatisfied with the quality of the clothing, were nevertheless impressed with the clothing design or what the minute books describes as the ‘kind of clothing’.
Tenders for bed clothing for the Workhouse comprising blankets, sheets, coverlets, bolsters and bed ticks were approved by the Board and contracts awarded to Miss Kenny Scott, Mr. Potter and a Mr. Patrick Cosgrove. Kenny Scott was also the successful tender for 75 frieze jackets for men in three sizes at an average cost of 9 shillings and 11 pence each. Local shopkeeper, Mr. Duncan, successfully contracted for the supply of 50 suits in three sizes for boys at an average cost of 3 shillings and 6 pence. Shirts, petticoats, bed gowns, frocks, men’s caps and men’s and women’s shoes were just a few of the assortment of wearing apparel purchased by the Board of Guardians. For local shopkeepers, the opening of the Workhouse in Athy must have provided business opportunities never before experienced.
The list of utensils acquired for the Workhouse makes interesting reading. Heading that list were 100 chamber utensils for which the Board of Guardians paid 3 shillings and 6 pence per dozen. 12 lamps and burners, 4 one quart ladles for stirabout, with two larger ladles with one pint capacity were also required. A stirabout scraper was purchased for 5 shillings and for 2½ pence each 100 quart tins were purchased with a similar number of pint tins for which 2¼ pence each was paid. Indicative of the work which the male inmates were expected to face was the purchase of 24 stone hammers.
At its meeting on 2nd May 1843 in anticipation of what the minute book noted as a ‘collision between the ratepayers and the collectors’ it was resolved that the landlords should be made primarily responsible for the Workhouse rates, while giving them power to recover from the occupiers, their proportion of the rates, as was the case with the rent charge. Later in the month of May the Board directed the newly appointed master and porter to take up residence in the Workhouse, although the workhouse mistress was not yet required to do so.
On 4th June the Board of Guardians accepted tenders for furniture for their boardroom. John Ryan of Carlow supplied the boardroom table with 36 chairs, one armchair ‘with brackets’ and a metal fender and fire irons. At the same time furniture was required for the clerk’s room, the master’s apartment, the porter’s room and the hall. The earlier mentioned John Ryan was also commissioned to build an altar for the Workhouse. Interestingly the clerk and the porter got deal furniture for their rooms, while the master of the Workhouse got American birch chairs for his apartment, as well as a mahogany table and other pieces of furniture.
On 12th September Miss Goold’s tender to supply ‘sweet milk at the rate of 7 pence per gallon’ was accepted. Miss Goold later emerged as one of the principal organisers of the movement to bring the Sisters of Mercy to Athy. The Mercy Sisters came to the town 8 years after her opening of the local Workhouse. She was also a generous benefactor to the Parish of St. Michaels, leaving some property to the parish on her death.
The eight ex officio members of the Board of Guardians were elected annually by local magistrates. On 29th September 1843 with Captain Lefroy in the chair, local magistrates Lord Downes, Sir Anthony Weldon and W.D. Frazier elected the ex officio Poor Law Guardians. Not surprisingly those elected included the aforementioned gentlemen in addition to John Butler, Edward Bagot, B.A. Yates and E.H. Cole. The remaining 24 guardians were elected each year by the ratepayers of the union area.
The appointment of a rate collector for the various districts in the Poor Law Union of Athy occupied almost every meeting of the Board of Guardians. Reasons were seldom given for the frequent changes in the rate collectors, although it might well have been prompted by the reluctance of the rate payers to pay for the operation of the Workhouse which in 1843 was still in the course of construction. The contract price for the building of the Workhouse was exceeded during the year, resulting in the assistant Poor Law Commissioner laying before the Board the accounts of the building contractor which indicated that a further £150 was required to defray extra costs incurred and an additional £150 to build boundary fences around the Workhouse. ……………….TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK………………..