Leeds just gets bigger today. It’s a bit complicated. Hettie from the Town Hall just explained to me that from 1894 Leeds was officially classed as a rural district in the administrative county of Yorkshire, West Riding. This area, called the Rural District of Leeds, was made up of Roundhay and Seacroft parishes comprising an area adjacent to, but not including, the City of Leeds.
It’s all double-Dutch bureaucracy aimed at rearranging the distribution of funds and things to do with the Poor Law legislation. To be honest, many of us Northeners feel that with all the Liberal welfare reforms in the past few years, the days of the Poor Law are numbered.
The whole system is creaking and obsolete, and workhouses, idiocy wards and the like have turned into a problem instead of a solution. These new reforms have a new approach to the poverty problem: they provide free meals and medical inspections for needy school children, weekly pensions for poor persons over age 70, and, most recently, national sickness and unemployment insurance has been established. Industrialisation, textile mills, child labour, the Irish and other immigrants, and so on – these issues call for solutions better than parishes throwing shillings at families or worse: paying them to pack up their meagre belongings and move to the next parish to be a burden on someone else.
The whole rural district administration grew out of the Poor Law. The Rural District of Leeds was originally formed by the Local Government Act 1894 as successor to the Leeds Rural Sanitary District. In that year, a directly-elected rural district council (RDC) replaced the previous rural sanitary authority, which had consisted of the poor law guardians. The latter, no offence, were often portrayed as a bunch of nepotist farmers pretending to be influential on their own little rubbish heap. The new council was not seen much more effective, with their headquarters actually laying outside the district they were supposed to oversee. Up to now, they have been sitting at the Poor Law Offices on East Parade, well within the County Borough of Leeds. I suppose with today’s changes they quite rightfully reside there: if Mohamed doesn’t go to the mountain, then the mountain will go to Mohamed, to turn the old adage around a little.
Anyway, the important thing is that today the rural district will be abolished, the boundaries of County Borough of Leeds will be extended and the parishes of Roundhay and Seacroft will thus become part of the city. I presume now the RDC will have to be disbanded or restructured, even though for the first time they seem to be sitting within the boundaries of the area they work for!
Also, my friend Irene, who is originally from Seacroft, can at last truly say she’s a Loiner through and through – it is now an administratively proven fact!
Excellent discussion of the practice of moving parishioners around: S. A. King, ‘Negotiating the law of poor relief in England, 1800-1840’, History, 96 (2011), 410-35.
Further details about the Poor Law by the Economic History Association here.
More on the history of workhouses in Leeds here.