Industry, Houses of, are buildings erected in various parts of England, in order to maintain the sick, infirm, and aged poor; while children and healthy adults, who are received into the house, labour for their support, and are allowed a certain part of their earnings, as an inducement to industrious habits.
These buildings, doubtless, contribute to the comfort of the poor, and are calculated to lessen the severe burthen of parochial rates: they conduce to the rearing of an healthy, honest, and virtuous race of peasantry. Of this patriotic tendency is the Shrewsbury House of Industry; which, being excellently adapted to the purpose, has given birth to many similar institutions lately formed in various parts of Britain. We are no advocates for the toleration of beggars, who, under the imposing appearance of misery, extort alms from credulous charity: nor is it consistent with good policy to tolerate those hordes of idlers and drunkards, especially in the metropolis; for numbers of such as do strictly belong to the list of mendicants, might be very properly committed to the work-house, under the description of vagrants; because they prey upon the vitals of a deluded public. On the whole, however, we are of opinion, that industry would be more effectually promoted, if the poor were allowed to retain their little independence, and encouraged to persevere in their honest endeavours, by small bounties, occasionally bestowed on them by the parish. At the same time, a comfortable provision might be made for the infirmities of age, by means of friendly societies, which, in the course of a few years, would supercede the necessity of building houses of industry. And, if those benevolent associations could be so organized that the rich and poor should contribute according to their respective abilities, we hesitate not to say, that the latter would be better assisted than they can be at present, on the irregular plan of parochial assessments, which, in too many instances, nearly double the rent of the premises. The opulent would become better acquainted with the real wants and miseries of the poor, while these would gradually acquire both principles and habits of industry: in short, they would thus be reconciled to their lot, and prosper under the management of the wealthy.
Many objections have been urged for and against houses of industry. Those readers who wish to peruse the arguments on both sides of the question, will derive equal amusement and information from Air. Wood's pamphlet, entitled, Some Account of the Shrewsbury House of Industry, (8vo. 5th edit. 3s. 6d. Longman and Rees, 1800), in which several objections are ably answered.