In the Workhouse Aged 100

The following is an interview with Thomas Philpin who had lived in Rosemarket and found himself living in the workhouse in Haverfordwest in 1897.  It suggests that maybe conditions in the workhouse were not always as disagreeable as their reputation suggested.

 2nd January 1897

A Welsh Centenarian


Recently our Haverfordwest representative made his way to the Haverfordwest Union Workhouse to interview, by arrangement, an inmate who enters upon his hundredth year to-day (Saturday).

Our representative had previously spoken to Mr. William Hall, the master, and also obtained the kind permission of Dr Williams, the medical officer, to visit the old man.

Mr and Mrs Hall (writes our correspondent) met me at the workhouse, which looked bright and cheerful, and after bringing me to their apartments fetched the old man Philpin, who was kindly led from the men's sick ward by the master to his office, where I had a lengthy interview with him.

The aged man, who first saw the light at the close of the eighteenth century, walked with comparative ease, with the aid of his walking-stick, through the different wards, till we arrived at our destination.

As he was somewhat hard of hearing, I conveyed many of my questions to him by means of a piece of chalk and a slate, Mr Hall rendering considerable assistance.

I should mention one incident of interest which occurred whilst our little party were moving through the women's ward.

One of the women rushed towards the old man and presented a bright-eyed baby to him, on which he looked kindly. "There's grandfather' said the woman to the child.

Babyhood and age, as represented before me, had evidently met often before, for they recognised each other.

It is interesting to know that Philpin is over four years and a half older than, ex-Dean Allen, of St. David's.

He first of all informed me that his name was 'Thomas Philpin, and that he was born in the parish of Rosemarket, near Haverfordwest.

Here the master uttered an exclamation of surprise, for he learned for the first time that he and the oldest man in Pembrokeshire were natives of the same parish. "When were you born" I asked. "On the 2nd of January, 1798, the year after the French landed at Fishguard. I think you will find it right.

The place of my birth was called Haroldston, a small farm close to Sardis."

"Tell me about your parents." "My father's name was John Philpin, and my mother's name was Elizabeth.

They did not live to such a great age as I have. My mother died at 74, but my father was not as old as that."

Questioned farther about his family, this wonderful old man, who has by this time completed his 99th, year and entered upon the centesimal year of long existence, said: My father was a small farmer. I do not know whether any of my family are alive.

I had two nephews, one in America and the other in Bristol, but I have not heard from them for over twenty years, and whether they are alive or dead I cannot say."

"And now tell me about yourself and your work."

"I never was married. I lived all my days with father, following the team on the farm. We left Haroldston Farm in 1811, or something thereabouts, and went to West Hook Farm, in Langum Parish, where I continued to engage in farm work.

If I live till the New Year, I shall be 99."

"What has been your diet?"

"Oh, farming fare—barley bread and butter, broth and cheese."


"No, I never was one. I never was more than a moderate drinker. I only took what was necessary—a glass of beer occasionally".

"Had much sickness?"

"No, only a cold, perhaps. I was never laid up in bed in all my life."

When asked, he said he could not tell what to attribute his remarkably long life and good health to.

As to his work he said, "My work on the farm was, of course, hard. I was up at work before daylight, and did not leave till late at night.

When at work for my father I never got any wages at all. In later years I became a clerk for Mr. Wilson at Hook Colliery.

I was clerk for the shipping, away about 25 years. I cannot say when I failed working. I gave up my land to Wilson to keep colliery horses, and he then employed me. 

I think I was working up till 80 years of age.

"Where were you at school?''

"Oh, different places. In Rosemarket, Langum, and Honeyborough.

My father was all along keeping me in school. I used to go to church and chapel. I joined Hook Independent Chapel for about five or six years."

"Did you smoke?"

"Yes: but I have not done so from 30 on. I never smoked to excess.

"How do you spend your time?"

"I read the Bible every day. I get up from bed about eight o'clock in the morning, and before sometimes, and I go to bed at eight at night.

I have a good appetite for my food, in fact, as good as ever.

My sight is good, but I read with the help of spectacles." He read large writing and print in my presence without the aid of glasses.

Resuming, he said, "I cannot tell you more about my life.

The only connection I had with Hook Colliery was keeping an account of the shipping. I daresay I was five and twenty years altogether under Mr. James Wilson".

Asked what remarkable events he knew of in his time, he replied, "The French Invasion, I can tell you the date they landed. They landed at Fishguard in February, 1797, and I was born the next year.

I heard a great deal about it when I was a boy. I remember the Rebecca Riots, but I only heard people talking about them, I never saw anything of them".

The old man looked well, and spoke nicely, and seemed quite free from those symptoms of dotage common to men not so old as him.

He possesses a clean shaven, fair face, with fine features, and has silvery-white hair.

In his best days he was probably a handsome man of about 5ft 10in, in height.

Mr. Hall, the courteous master of the establishment in which Philpin will end his days, says that he is a very clean, peaceable, contented, good-dispositional old man.

There is no trouble whatever with him.

He never murmurs about anything. He takes his food regularly, and eats it all, too.

He takes outdoor exercise now and then, very often going down to the quad- range for a walk.

He is not cross or fidgety but appears quite satisfied with his lot.

I asked the old man another question, to which his reply was, "I have been in the workhouse about two years. I like it here, and am comfortable.

Yes, I am quite agreeable for you to take my likeness. I have never had it taken all my life before."

The old man appears to have saved some money for his after-work days, but his many years have, evidently, been too much for his stock of cash.

Mrs Hall informed me that Sir Owen and Lady Scourfield, when giving their Christmas Tree to the inmates, had a chat with "Tommy Philpin," as he is called and her ladyship said that he was the oldest man she had seen.

At the close of over an hour's interview with the remarkable man, who was born when George III. was King, and who has lived to see "Victoria I, 60 on the Throne.

I photographed him in the front of the house, and promised him and Mr Hall copies of the portrait, and of the "Western Mail," in which the photo and interview would appear.

I bade him "Good morning" and departed, wondering whether Tommy would live to complete his hundredth year.

It seemed then not at all unlikely that he would.

Nearly two years later another article appeared in the newspaper. 

4th October 1899

Death of a Centenarian at the Workhouse.

Late on Thursday night the Pembrokeshire centenarian, Thomas Philpin, aged 101, passed peacefully away at the Workhouse, of which he had been an inmate for the past four or five years.

It is stated that he has never been on a bed of sickness in all his long life, and has appeared ever the same during the last few years until a fortnight ago, when the change to colder weather appeared to affect him and indicate to those around him that the slender thread of life was fast giving out.

Towards the end he became unconscious, and passed away in that condition without a murmur. He was truly a remarkable man, even among centenarians.

Not only was he able to get about practically unaided and with comparative ease until very recently, but he was able by the aid of spectacles to read large print very comfortably, and by that means continue his daily perusal of the Bible.

His intellect was wonderfully keen, and although he had practically lost his hearing he revealed by word and gesture, a tenacity to lite that was simply marvellous.

He was singularly free from the dotage that so often accompanies far fewer years, and would sit quietly and contentedly by the fireside for hours together, enjoying an occasional pipe of tobacco.

He had all his life been essentially a son of the soil, having been born at his father's small farm in the parish of Rosemarket, and having been engaged for the greater portion of his life in farm work.

He was a bachelor and always very temperate in his habits, a fact to which no doubt he owes his longevity.

He used to fix his birthday by a very simple process. He was born the year after the historic French invasion of Fishguard, and many were the tales of stirring incidents connected with troublous time that he could recall as told him when a boy.

He worked up to 80 years of age, and then retired on a little hard-earned savings and it is not to be wondered at that the little "old age pension" of his own hoarding should have proved inadequate for such a prolongation of the allotted span.

The poor man’s home was then his only refuge, and here he has passed the last few years of life with a contentment and happiness that was a strange contrast to many similarly situated.

When his great age attracted to him an unsought notoriety, he was the recipient of many attentions and kindnesses, which have helped to smooth his declining days.

This remarkable old man was buried in St Thomas Churchyard on Monday afternoon.