By Don Taylor
It is easy to forget that words often have different meanings in the US than they do in the UK. For example, being “stuck in the bog” could mean being stuck in the bathroom in England, while in the US, it would definitely mean being stuck in a wet spongy ground (a swampy place). So, when I learned James Lamb spent time in the workhouse, I had an American vision of a workhouse in my mind, not the English version. To me, a “workhouse” usually meant the place where a criminal spent time “at labor” for a crime. Occasionally, a workhouse might also be a place where the destitute poor would live, and hopefully, work their way out of poverty.
I learned that James Lamb was admitted to the “City Road” workhouse on 5 August 1886.[i] He was then transferred to Highgate workhouse in Holborn, Middlesex, England, on 6 August and was discharged on 4 September 1886.[ii] It sounded like a 30-day sentence to me. Consequently, I wondered what the 24-year-old did to end up in the workhouse.
After further research, I learned that Highgate was an infirmary where the poor would receive medical treatment.[iii] In 1881, James was a servant and would have little support if he was sick. A such, he could have been ill and went to Highgate for care. So, I guess James may not have done anything wrong other than being poor and sick. If this were the case, he didn’t enlist in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers until 1886. (See: Family Oral History & James Cooper Lamb).
On a final note, I’m not convinced that this 24-year-old James Lamb is my 24-year-old James Cooper Lamb. I have tentatively ascribed this event (time at Highgate) to my wife’s 4th great-uncle, James Cooper Lamb (1862-1898) but I’m ready to remove it if I find anything to conflict with it.
[i] London, England, Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records, 1764-1930 (London Metropolitan Archives), Ancestry, Lamb, James born 1862 – Page 284. London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: HOBG/542/13.
[ii] London, England, Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records, 1764-1930 (London Metropolitan Archives), Ancestry, Lamb, James born 1862 – Page 285. London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: HOBG/542/13 City Road Workhouse (St Luke´s and Other Workhouses) Register, 1885-1886.