Family History Federation

Register of Tramps Carrying Insurance Cards – Torrington – 1914-1915

This booklet was compiled by members of the Devon Family History Society in co-operation with the North Devon Records Office. The booklet provides an extract of some information and further details may be obtained from the North Devon Records Office. Tramps were always the outsiders of society; they didn’t even fit neatly into the well ordered regime of the nineteenth century Poor Law Union workhouse system. The attitude of the Poor Law Commissioners is summed up by their harsh definition of them: ‘these paupers do not, as a class, possess or deserve the compassion of the public … these are the mendicant vagrants, who are known to be generally persons of dissolute character, to lead habitually a life of laziness and imposture, and not infrequently to resort to intimidation and pilfering’. If they applied for assistance they were given grudgingly a couple of nights’ lodging in a workhouse, usually in a cold outbuilding, some bread and water for a meal, and were expected to move on as soon as possible. This register of tramps carrying insurance cards who sought help from the Torrington workhouse at the outbreak of the First World War is part of that process. It helped-the system to identify those tramps who were genuinely seeking work, as opposed to those habitual drunks or vagrants deemed less worthy of assistance at the public’s expense. This register of tramps carrying insurance cards (ref: PLUlTor/59) is held at North Devon Record Office in Barnstaple and covers the years 1914-1915.


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