The workhouse and the local economy

TTo function properly, the workhouse relied on a number of tradespeople, merchants and shopkeepers in Dungannon and the wider area. These included people who supplied for coal, bread, milk, tea, sugar and other items which were part of the diet of both official and ‘inmate’ alike. The process involved the guardians advertising for tenders for the supply of goods. Each tender would be requested to send a sample of the good or product which was then sampled/tasted by the guardians at their weekly meeting. 

In November 1894, for example, Thomas Tackaberry, the master, noted in his journal: 

‘the master requests a committee examine a chest of tea and some clothing sent in by contractors’.

The following month another committee was required to ‘examine two dozen women’s handkerchiefs sent in by contractor‘. Other items purchased by the workhouse from local businesses included soap, cordoroy, flannel and other items of clothing. In 1892 the following people provided supplies for the workhouse: John Best (Bread); T.W. Reynolds (Yellow meal, tea, sugar); R. Richardson (Barley, Washing soda, starch) G.H. Sythes (Whiskey, meat) Cullen brothers supplied ‘best’ beef and James Nethery provided medicines.

As the nineteenth century went on, large numbers continued to arrive and avail of the workhouse’s services, an indication of the poverty which abounded in county Tyrone. In 1868 the guardians claimed that the shoemaker employed  in the workhouse was unfit to make shoes and that it was desirable the ‘inmates’ should have shoes during the winter.

In January 1868 the chief clerk of the union, B. Banks, wrote to the Poor Law Commissioners in Dublin that their shoemaker was
unfit to make shoes for the large number of people now in the workhouse. ‘It is very desirable that the inmates of the workhouse should have shoes during the winter months’. The matter of the shoes took a number of weeks to complete.

On 30 January 1868 (as per the Guardians minutes) it was ‘ordered that the commissioners be informed that a committee was appointed to examine and report on the present supply, which they did on this week, and that the committee have bought two dozen men’s shoes, and two dozen women’s shoes, which they should consider sufficient, with the stock on hand, to supply all the inmates.

These items were then purchased in Dungannon, creating a healthy economy for local shopkeepers and merchants. As a result of rising costs, in 1900 a tailor was appointed to make each article and repairing, the guardians believing that it made more financial sense to do so. 

The local economy and population was also important for the workhouse and items of waste and material deemed of no use were sold in the locality. These included bones, rags, metal and lead.