The workhouse was to be ready for 10 May 1785. Until then the “aged, feeble or weakminded all called paupers£ were either left in insanitary cottages or farmed out to be fed by a neighbor for a sum. The diet for the week including milk porridge for breakfast and usually broth for super. The dinner was a variety of beef and roots, flummery and milk, beef, mutton or a special treat on a Monday of bread, cheese and beer."

Some of the rules included: “The upper garment to be all of the same colour and badged with the letters LP in red. The poor to be washed clean on entering the house” The working hours were long, from 6am to 7pm and at the “close of the day’s work the Bible to be read aloud to the poor for half an hour and on Sundays, such as are able, must go to church.” Also “no persons may smoke in the bedrooms or upstairs.”

An inaugural meeting of the trustees was held in the May 17th 1794. The decided to lease a property from Rev Gervase Powell of Llanharan including three burgage plots at the end of Swan Street. This was known as the North Workhouse and operated until Rev Powell’s death in 1799. The south workhouse opened on Yr Allt and was worked until the 1820s.

On 5 May 1794 Mary Francis and her sister Rachel Francis were appointed superintendents at a salary of £10 a year. The rules were recorded in the minutes as the poor were to be “humanely and properly treated” and the superintendents must look after them and see them fed and kept in order. The able bodied were to assist in “keeping the houses clean making the beds, brewing, baking, boiling together with every other matter necessary to be done towards the health and cleanliness of the poor and the houses…only married people were to be lodged in the same room and a partition to be made between bed and bed.”

Their weekly diet was approved by the vicar, Rev Robert Rickards and Watkin Evan the surgeon who was appointed at a fee of eight guineas a year to daily attend the poor.

Some of the minutes revealed: “..one of the parish cows belonging to Llantrissent workhouse is become short of milk and it is for the advantage of this parish to have the said cow sold or exchanged for a more milchy cow.”

In May 1786 “Thomas Nicholas and his wife and Ann Stradling are able to work and maintain themselves the overseers are hereby ordered to discharge them out of the workhouse.”

The inmates had a fair degree of freedom but residents noticed some were leaving the workhouse to find work and supplement their allowance! When the North Workhouse and South Workhouse were fillled to capacity they occasionally used other premises, such as the Black Cock in Yr Allt which was bought for temporary use.

One of the worst features of the system was the “apprenticing of children” to keep down the rates by compelling local farmers and traders to take then as servants. From August 1800 to July 1801 44 children were dealt with in this fashion.

Eventually the rising tide of poverty caused the government to pass the Act of 1834 which established a national policy of poor relief. This was the start of the Union Workshouse where conditions were far worse. The Llantrisant Union Workhouse was opened at the rear of County Stores to accommodate the ever-growing populace of paupers.

The state of the Llantrisant workhouse in 1836 was described by an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner in a letter to his superiors in London (quoted in Stewart & King (2004)). He noted that Llantrisant had a:  “Large workhouse, which has in great measure relieved the parish from the payment of rents, but it is ill-managed, the children are half naked and dirty, while the diet was as the overseer admitted better than that of most of the small farmers of the Parish.”

By 1863, three parishes were taken to form the Pontypridd Poor Law Union. The new Union extended from Llantrisant in the south and Caerphilly in the east to the heads of the Rhondda valleys in the north, covering the parishes of Eglwysilan, Llantrisant and Llantwit Fardre (previously in the Cardiff Union) and the parishes of Llanfabon, Llanwonno, otherwise Llanwynno, and Ystradyfodwg (taken from the Merthyr Tydfil Union). 

The Board of Guardians of the Pontypridd Union consisted of a number of members for each of its constituent parishes; the total number of Guardians varied over time, but was about 50 at the end of the nineteenth century. Llantrisant Union Workhouse eventually closed at the turn of the 20th century.

Joseph John

llantrisant
 

With the creation of the parish workhouse in 1783, provision was made against fraud and it was resolved hat “no person whatsoever make a job of this workhouse by buying any kind of necessaries for the use of the said house, of any relation, and that no overseer sell or buy of any brother officer any commodity for the said poor.”

One of the Overseers of the Poor was appointed to purchase supplies and he was to keep accounts while the other overseers were responsibly for checking his accounts. On the face of it everything sounded above board.

However, Joseph John, also known a Joseph John Philip, a carrier and butter merchant in the town, acted as Llanharan vicar Rev Gervase Powell’s agent and found himself embroiled in a feud between Rev Powell and Rev Robert Rickards of Llantrisant. It would be safe to say that Joseph suffered miserably as a pawn in their ongoing saga and was a victim of the circumstances surrounding the opening of the parish workhouse.

Joseph was authorized to borrow money from Rev Powell for building or purchasing another house for the purpose of opening a parish workhouse and eventually a new house seems to have been built or acquired on Yr Allt. This was the South Workhouse and was used until the late 1820s while the Swan Street “North Wokhouse” of four cottages was used until the death of Rev Powell in 1799.

Joseph acted somewhat dishonestly but his reputation was defended and his humane treatment of the poor was even commended. He borrowed more than he was authorised to do. The vestry agreed the sum of £120 but according to Rev Powell he loaned £430 accused Joseph of appropriating much of the money for his own use. The lease was cancelled an the unauthorised portion of the loan repudiated with the threat that if the Rev Powell refused to accept the repudiation and to hold Joseph responsible for the balance, then the parish would turn over to him both the new and old workhouses.

Questionably was Joseph John merely doing the bidding of Rev Powell who had an axe to grind because he did not become the town’s Portreeve when his brother died? Instead it was Rev Rickards who claimed the position under the authority of Lord Bute himself.

He bought Gwern y Moel Fach and let that to the parish at an exhorbitant rent of £28 per annum and bought corn for the workhouse “to the injury of the market since the paupers had formerly bought it locally whereas Joseph bought it cheaply elsewhere.” When the Workhouse Trustees examined the corn they found it was rotten. 

In May 1786 it was resolved by the Vestry that “Wheareas it appears to us on Inspection that the corn bought for the Workhouse by Joseph John is not fit to be kept for the use of the Poor, he is at Liberty to take to all the said Corn and to have a reasonably time to remove the same out of the workhouse, and we do hereby unanimously resind and make void the order of the vestry…ordering overseers of the poor to pay until the said Joseph John £12.4.19s."

Rev Rickards pursued Joseph in the courts and eventually he was sentenced to transportation. The Vicar appealed to the Court of Great Sessions for protection because he claimed Joseph had tried to “induce various people to blow him up, run over him with a wagon, startle his horse, or otherwise dispose of him”. 

Joseph John died in the Hulks in Portsmouth in July 1793.