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John Field

3 Labour colonies and public health As well as the unemployed, labour colonies were also directed towards those who could not work for other reasons. Large numbers of people with physical or mental disabilities or impairments found themselves in workhouses, often classed together – idiots, the feeble-minded, cripples, inebriates, or simply old1 – as incapable of earning a living in the open labour market. Increasingly, though, the workhouse was viewed as entirely inappropriate for these groups, whose vulnerability was seen as a legitimate basis for intervention

in Working men’s bodies
Work camps in Britain, 1880–1940
Author: John Field

The book provides a comprehensive account of work camp movements in Britain before 1939, based on thorough archival research, and on the reminiscences of participants. It starts with their origins in the labour colony movement of the 1880s, and examines the subsequent fate of labour colonies for the unemployed, and their broadening out as disciplined and closed therapeutic communities for such groups as alcoholics, epileptics, tuberculosis sufferers and the ‘feeble-minded’. It goes on to examine utopian colonies, inspired by anarchist, socialist and feminist ideas, and designed to develop the skills and resources needed for a new world. After the Great War, unemployed camps increasingly focused on training for emigration, a movement inspired by notions of a global British national identity, as well as marked by sharp gender divisions. The gender divisions were further enhanced after 1929, when the world economic crisis closed down options for male emigration. A number of anti-industrial movements developed work camps, inspired by pacifist, nationalist or communitarian ideals. Meanwhile, government turned increasingly to work camps as a way of training unemployed men through heavy manual labour. Women by contrast were provided with a domesticating form of training, designed to prepare them for a life in domestic service. The book argues that work camps can be understood primarily as instrumental communities, concerned with reshaping the male body, and reasserting particularistic male identities, while achieving broad social policy and economic policy goals.

The early labour colonies
John Field

2 ‘We work amongst the lowest  stratum of life’ The early labour colonies Victorian movements for radical social and urban improvement often drew on a heady ferment of land reform and communitarianism. These ideas, often blended with Christian notions of service, inspired practical experiments in community living for several generations, from early labour colonies to the garden city movement.1 In the case of the labour colony movement, two institutions were particularly influential: voluntary Christian social service and local government both generated practical

in Working men’s bodies
Abstract only
John Field

reason for advocating labour colonies, then, was as an alternative to the existing poor law institutions. Advocates could point to earlier experiments, like the workhouse farm opened by Sheffield Board of Guardians in 1848. Isaac Ironside, a radical Guardian who briefly lived on the Owenite New Harmony community in his youth, vigorously defended the ‘New England’ farm, declaring that it allowed the able-bodied poor not only to provide productive labour but also to become ‘better citizens’.9 Once economic conditions improved, the farm declined, and the Sheffield

in Working men’s bodies
Labour colonies and the Empire
John Field

5 ‘The landless man to the manless land’ Labour colonies and the Empire While most radicals and land reformers wanted to settle Britain, others defined their nation more broadly. For William Booth, the colonies were ‘pieces of Britain distributed about the world’.1 And if, as one provincial English journalist confidently asserted, ‘town life is gradually producing a feebler type of physique in the English race’, then the ‘greater Britain over the seas’ would warmly welcome citizens with ‘strong arms and stout hearts’.2 Economically, politically and militarily

in Working men’s bodies
Opposition and protest
John Field

‘slave camp’. It did campaign against the camps, though, and its publications are an important source on conditions inside them. As for men who had entered the camps, MUP_Field_WorkingMen_Printer.indd 222 22/07/2013 15:56 Opposition and protest 223 neither their decision nor their distance from Communist politics can be understood as a signal that they passively accepted their fate. On the contrary, and belying the Communists’ claims that the camps were ruled with military discipline, there were protests, strikes and demonstrations in both the labour colonies and

in Working men’s bodies
Abstract only
Instructional Centres under the National Government
John Field

was good, it really was good. “Home on the range”, and that sort of business.’114 The men also organised football, cricket and boxing matches, with keen – sometimes violent – rivalries between men from different regions. Religion was permissive, rather than – as in some labour colonies – compulsory. Mr Hitman, a volunteer missionary, reported to the Presbytery of Dunoon that although the ‘great majority’ of Glenbranter men were Catholics, forty-five came to his services.115 There was, though, no question of the Ministry diverting funding to the Kirk, nor of obliging

in Working men’s bodies
Abstract only
John Field

workhouse test on the ‘able-bodied’ male poor.6 In many ways, early British work camps – the labour colonies of the 1880s and early 1890s – were both a reaction against the New Poor Law and an acknowledgement that the workhouse system had failed. By this time, Britain was a fully-fledged industrial and urban society, and most of the male population were employed by others, while most of the adult female population were working without a wage in the family home. Britain’s industrial cities, and the rhythms of the trade cycle, stretched the New Poor Law to breaking point

in Working men’s bodies
Memory and context
John Field

phenomenon itself. How did these schemes differ, and how did they compare with the British schemes – and how do they help us to understand the British schemes? MUP_Field_WorkingMen_Printer.indd 245 22/07/2013 15:56 246 Working men’s bodies International experiences The most obvious starting point is the eruption of work camp systems between the wars. While the British debate over the merits of labour colonies was certainly fuelled by international comparisons, there was nothing in the 1880s and 1890s to compare with the back and forth of policy makers, journalists

in Working men’s bodies
John Field

it called, five Transfer Instructional Centres (TICs), aimed at physically ‘reconditioning’ men to suit them for transfer to work away MUP_Field_WorkingMen_Printer.indd 127 22/07/2013 15:56 128 Working men’s bodies from the depressed areas. Two were hutted camps, previously used as ‘testing centres’, at Presteigne and Fermyn Woods. The other centres, at Carshalton, Poole and Blackpool, were non-residential, with the men accommodated in lodgings.10 Bondfield also had an interest in those labour colonies that were still training unemployed men. In England, with

in Working men’s bodies