In the days before the introduction of the benefits system of the welfare state, it was the job of the Relieving Officer to identify the needy in his district and address those needs to the best of his ability. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act introduced a National Welfare System (of poor relief) covering the whole of England and Wales, creating new administrative areas called Poor Law Unions. Each Union operated a Workhouse as the principal channel for providing relief, run by an elected Board of Guardians who employed paid officers, the Clerk, Treasurer, Relieving Officer, District Medical Officer, an Overseer and Workhouse Staff. The regulations of the Poor Law made the Relieving Officer responsible for the relief of the poor of a District. His duties were set out by the Poor Law Commission: he had to report weekly to the Board of Guardians, keep accounts of all transactions and live in the district, which in Leamington Priors covered an area of approximately 12,440 acres and a growing population of 29,000 people in Leamington, Lillington, Milverton, Offchurch, Radford Semele, Bishops Tachbrook and Whitnash.
Thomas William Bromwich Bone was born in Warwick. His first job was as a Railway Ticket Collector in Coventry, and he and Maria his wife lived in Railway Cottages, Warwick Road Coventry, where their first five children, Alfred Robert, Thomas William, Maria Annie, John Henry and Emily were born. After a move to Edmondscote, Warwick and an interesting change of job, Ada was born in 1866, followed by Arthur Samuel in 1870, at 14 Wise Street, Leamington Priors.
Thomas Bone held the position of Relieving Officer for the Leamington District of the Warwick Union from 1865 until his death in November 1890. He visited applicants in their homes to assess their health and living conditions, offering appropriate relief and medical help from the Union District Medical Officer to the sick and infirm where necessary.
He called on the elderly sick and infirm of all the parishes in his district and where relief could not be given outside the Workhouse he arranged their admission, taking them to the Union himself if need be. Thomas’ role included attendance at the weekly meetings of the Board of Guardians, presenting weekly accounts to the Clerk and reporting back on relief administered. He was responsible for paying the weekly allowances agreed by the Guardians and made recommendations to the Board if he thought any young men both deserving and capable of indenture as an apprentice. Thomas’s job afforded him a comfortable living: he was earning £60 a year by the time of his death in 1890, but it was far from an easy life. His work brought him into daily contact with the illness, misery and sheer hardship endured by many of the families in the still prosperous Spa town and surrounding villages. The Leamington Courier reported the Coroner’s inquest into the death of a resident, whose body was quite emaciated, her condition exacerbated by the winter weather and “scant food”. The woman and her husband had been scraping by on 2/6d per week relief from the Board of Guardians, and 2 shillings from their son, and often went all day without food.
Thomas Bone also acted as schools’ Attendance Officer, and from 1877, Registrar of Births, and Deaths. For sixteen years he was also treasurer of Spencer Street Church. His many responsible jobs may well have undermined his health: by mid-November1890, Thomas Bone had been ill for a while and was not strong enough to recover from an operation carried out at the local hospital. He died a week later, at home in Wise Street. He and Maria who died in 1902, are buried in Brunswick Street Cemetery.
This article appeared originally in ‘People and Places’ researched by Leamington History Group members and published in collaboration with History@bathplace