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There have been at least three workhouses in Hungerford, including what is now 21 Bridge Street (the "John of Gaunt" Inn); Charnham Close in Charnham Street, and the Union Workhouse in Park Street (demolished 1995).
Care of the Poor in the Medieval Period:
In Medieval times, caring for the poor was the moral duty of the Church and Monasteries. In Hungerford, the Priory of St John would have helped.
During the period of Elizabeth I and the "Old" Poor Law (The Poor Law Act of 1601), each parish became responsible for the care of its poor, and the administration of the poor law forms a very significant part of parish records.
Lying as it does on important roads, Hungerford experienced a constant stream of people passing through, often requesting alms.
Designated workhouses began to be established during the eighteenth century.
Follow this link for much more information about Caring for the Poor.
- John of Gaunt Inn, Mar 2007. The first Workhouse c1764-78
- Charnham Close, Jun 2007. The second Workhouse 1783-1836
- The workhouse, 1907. The text on the card states "This is a photo of the front door with the Master & Matron standing on the steps & the Porter & Supt (?) Nurse against the doors. Our March audit takes place on the 4th of Nov. Rather late isn't it. Hope you are well. Kind regards to the matron & self. A. E. C.". The postcard is addressed to a "Mr Lomer, Master, The Workhouse, Woodstock". Posted Hungerford 4 Nov 1907.
- The Union Workhouse, Park Street, c1908. The third Workhouse 1848-1947
- Tutti-men distributing tobacco to paupers at the Union workhouse, Apr 1910
- Tutti-men at the Union workhouse, 16 Apr 1912
- Tutti-man at the Union workhouse, 16 Apr 1912
- Constable and Tutti-men walking up Park Street on their way to the Union workhouse, date uncertain
- Constable, Tutti-men and Orangeman leaving the Union workhouse, date uncertain
- Tutti-men at the Union workhouse, Hocktide 1913
- Tutti-men at the Union workhouse, 16 Apr 1912
- Tutti-men at the Union workhouse, Hocktide 1927
- Hungerford & Ramsbury Union Workhouse Regulations, 1914
- Staff of Hungerford & Ramsbury Union Workhouse, undated c1933. [A Parsons]
- Working Drawings of Fire Survey of Hungerford Hospital - 1st & 2nd floor only Nov 1977
- Hungerford Hospital prior to closure in 1989
- Hungerford Hospital shortly after it closed. 17 Mar 1990
- Hungerford Hospital Chapel shortly after it closed. 17 Mar 1990
- Hungerford Hospital sign after it closed. 17 Mar 1990
The First Workhouse:
The earliest Overseers' Accounts for Hungerford date from as early as 1727. They mention the workhouse, although the site of this building is not yet known for certain.
However, it was probably at the building which now is the John of Gaunt Inn in Bridge Street. Records confirm it was the site of the workhouse at least between c1764 and 1778. A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded that the parish workhouse in Hungerford could hold up to 30 inmates.
In 1783 entries in the Constables' Accounts started referring to "the old workhouse" and the workhouse moved to a larger building in Charnham Street.
The original Bridge Street workhouse became an inn at about the same time, although the exact date is unclear - but it is clearly labelled as "John of Gaunt" in the 1819 Enclosure Award map.
The Second Workhouse:
The second workhouse was in Charnham Street, in the building now known as Charnham Close, 26 Charnham Street. At the time it had been an inn called The Three Tuns.
In 1782 Edward Sheppard, the owner of The Three Tuns, agreed in principle to let the premises to trustees (Charles Dalbiac and others) for 99 years from 25 Mar 1783 for a rental of £27 per annum (payable in twice yearly installments). There was to be an option to purchase the premises (for £420) at a later date. A lease was to be prepared by 1 Jan 1783 confirming full details. It was intended that from the date of the agreement, the premises were to be converted for use as a poor-house for Hungerford.
In 1800 Edward Sheppard died; his only daughter, Margaret, inherited, and she married Charles Alderman on 21 Jun 1801.
A fire insurance certificate taken out by Robert Smith, Visitor, and Mrs Mary Pearce, Guardian of the Poor with the Royal-Exchange Assurance on 24 Jun 1813 can be seen here. A receipt for the 1814-15 fire insurance with Royal Exchange Assurance can be seen here. [BRO D/P71/18/9]
On 1 Apr 1819 the churchwardens and overseers of the poor took over the full repairing lease of the poor-house for the remaining period of the original lease (now 63 years).
By 1836 the building had become too small and inadequate for the needs of the area, and the paupers were moved temporarily to Lambourn until the new Union Workhouse was built, see below.
On 28 Sep 1835 Charles Alderman ("of Kintbury") gave notice to the overseers of the poor to quit his Charnham Street premises by the following Lady Day (25 Mar 1836). The overseers responded by quitting most of the premises, but retaining part for use as a board-room, at a rent of £6 15s per quarter. On 20 Feb 1836 Charles Alderman served notice to the "visitors and guardians of the poor" - under Gilbert's Act) that he required them "to pay for all dilapidations". The legal case reached Court by 1839. The Court found for the plaintiffs.
For more information see 26 Charnham Street.
In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act swept away the "Old Poor Law" - and introduced a new system of poor relief just when poor relief was at its height. It brought together groups of parishes into "unions", and a more formal basis of support for the poor in large workhouses.
It minimised the provision of outdoor relief in people's homes and made confinement in a workhouse the central element of the new system.
In essence life in the workhouse was to be made as unpleasant as possible in an effort to deter people from seeking relief. So successful was this policy that the dread of the workhouse continued well into the 20th century!
The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act provided for Boards of Guardians to administer the Poor Law on a local basis, and also provided for groups of parishes to be amalgamated into "unions" for administrative purposes.
The Hungerford Poor Law Union was formed on 1 May 1835. It brought together three groups of parishes:
- Aldbourne, Baydon, East Garston, Lambourn, East and West Shefford,
- Ramsbury, Great Bedwyn, Little Bedwyn, Chilton, Froxfield and Hungerford, and
- Shalbourne, Ham, Buttermere, Inkpen, Kintbury, Avington and West Woodhay.
At the time the Union was formed there were workhouses at Kintbury and Lambourn as well as one at Hungerford. The Hungerford workhouse was in Charnham Street, the property known as "The High House", now Charnham Close.
It must have been in poor condition, and certainly inadequate for the number of paupers to be housed in it. Consideration was given to refurbishing it. However, in the end, all the paupers were transferred to the Lambourn workhouse "by cart" for 14s, probably in March 1836.
For the next ten years the Guardians continued to meet in the old Hungerford Workhouse. The Relieving Officer also lived there. Meetings were held weekly.
The Union Workhouse:
In February 1846 it was resolved that a new workhouse should be built at Hungerford "at a sum not exceeding £8,500".
A suitable site in Park Street (then Cow Lane) was identified and purchased for £450. The site was suitable for a building of the "Stratton" design (named on the classic design of the workhouse at Stratton St. Margaret near Swindon, built 1845-46).
Building started in October 1846, and was completed in 1848. The building was of three stories, with a squat "E"-shape, made of brick, with red stretchers and grey headers, under a roof of slate (all the same size). There was a walled area on the west side, which may have been an exercise area.
The separate chapel was originally to hold 300 people, but the plans were scaled down to 240 and then to 200. It was completed soon after the main Workhouse building, its walls being two feet thick, and made of knapped flint.
For more information on the building of the Union Workhouse see The Building of Hungerford Workhouse 1846-48, by Eileen Bunt, 1988.
During the Victorian period, there were huge numbers of destitute people, both paupers and vagrants. Follow this link for a full account of the approach to vagrants in Berkshire.
Many systems were put in place to attempt to control the impact of vagrants on any one parish area. For example, ticket schemes were tried. The Parish magazine 1882 reports that following the reinstitution of the Ticket Scheme, it is interesting to note that "A Return has been issued of the number of Paupers receiving relief in the County of Berkshire at the beginning of the present year as compared with 1881 and 1880, and it will be seen that there has been a considerable diminution of pauperism. The in-door able-bodied paupers numbered 101 men, 145 women, and 121 children, against 172 men, 210 women and 222 children in 1881, and 165 men, 181 women, and 168 children in 188-. The not able-bodied inmates numbered 485 men, 229 women and 417 children against 601 men, 269 women and 433 children in 1881, and 609 men, 231 women and 453 children in 1880. The lunatic paupers numbered 104 against 116 in 1881 and 105 in 1880. In receipt of out-door relief, the able-bodied numbered 288 men, 611 women and 1547 children, against 315 men, 662 women and 1694 children in 1881, and 314 men, 676 women and 1650 children in 1880. The not able-bodied numbered 796 men, 1617 women and 244 children, against 815 men, 1635 women and 269 children in 1881, and 839 men, 1679 women and 269 children in 1880.
The Hungerford Poor Law Union workhouse was built to accommodate up to 300 inmates, although the 1851 census lists only about 150. The 1891 Kelly Directory gives the population of Hungerford as 2965, "including 138 officers and inmates in the workhouse". The 1881 census lists seven staff and 138 inmates at the workhouse.
The initial (Feb 1846) list of Bread & provisions Tenders for the workhouse also makes interesting reading. They list all the food and supplies from Messrs Snook, Hazell, Hutchins, King, Challen, Buckeridge, Tilly, Stiles, Higgons, Keens, Langfield and Moulding. [BRO G/H 1/4]
Not all poor were resident in the workhouse.
In 1878 there were 26,722 tramps across the 13 Unions in Berkshire. To prevent begging, trampts were given tickets by the Masters of each Union, dscribing the route to be followed, and the Union where he would sleep on his way through the county. It also stated the police stations where the tramps could get 8oz of bread each day for his mid-day meal. He would have breakfast and evening meal at the designated Union Workhouse.
If the tramp was found off his designated route and begging, he would be arrested and sentenced by the Magistrate's Court to 14 days in prison.
More on the Union Workhouse:
In 1882 the Parish Magazine records a suggestion that old magazines and other reading matter should be sent to the vicarage for use at the Union Workhouse Hospital.
In Oct 1882 a Report of the Berkshire Quarter Session included a discussion on vagrancy., which had increased by 3% per quarter year on year. The ticket system was not working - largely because other counties were not co-operating. It was difficult to distinguish "honest wayfarers" from "professional rogues". permission was sought to allow tramps to enter the workhouse at any reasonable time after "a good day's walk".
In Dec 1882, a report for the 2nd half of the year states that £518 had been spent on in-maintenance of paupers, and £1,123 on out-relief, £528 of which was given in kind, and £14 was paid in school fees.
In 1884, vagrancy had increased by 50% over all of Berkshire. In the Hungerford Union, 289 night's lodging had been given between mid-summer and Michaelmas, against 232 for the same period in 1883.
In 1886 an inmate committed suicide. The Reading Observer of Sat 10 Jul 1886 recrorded: "Suicide at the Union. - An inquest was held by the borough coroner, Mr John Platt junr., on Friday last, on the body of Joseph Hobbs, an inmate, who was found the previous Wednesday with his throat cut. From the evidence it appeared that the deceased was in the fever ward under treatment. When out for a walk round the Union he must have entered the house and secreted a knife, gone into his bedroom and committed the insane act. When found there was a jagged gash across his throat about 4 inches long. The wind pipe was severed, but Dr H. P. Major succeeded in stopping the flow of blood and sewed up the wound. There was a good deal of heaemorrhage and deceased in attempting to turn round brought on a fit of vomitting which ended fatally. The doctor could hear his say that the burden was more than he could bear. A verdict of "committed suicide while in a state of temporary insanity" was returned."
The Hungerford Poor Law Union was renamed Hungerford & Ramsbury Union in 1896.
An interesting insight into the way of life for the paupers at the Union Workhouse can be gained by studying the Hungerford & Ramsbury Union Workhouse Regulations 1914.
From the Newbury Weekly News, 19th April 1934:
At the meeting of the committee on Monday last, Mr Allright said that they were never informed of figures concerning the institutions, but he had ascertained that at the Hungerford institution there were now 78 inmates with a staff of 30 to look after them, which seemed absurd.
He thought that the public assistance committee should consider very seriously whether the institution was worth running.
There was always something wanting to be done at Hungerford, which was a very scattered place and badly planned. Perhaps it might be made a place for mental deficients.
"If we go on spending money on it, some guardians will have to be certified and go there" he added.
There was no discussion.
With the establishment of the N.H.S. in 1947, the Union Workhouse became Hungerford Hospital, and eventually a psycho-geriatric unit as part the St Birinus Hospital Group (including Fairmile Hospital).
The number of patients reduced during the 1980s, and Hungerford Hospital closed in 1989. The last matron was Chris Jennings.
In 1992 a number of Croatian refugees were housed at the old hospital after they had been rescued from Vukovar, which was razed to the ground by Serbian forces. The initiative was lef by Jeff Hawkins, headmaster of John o'Gaunt School. See:
One family faced deportation after four years in England, See "Despair as Croations face deportation bid", NWN 17 Oct 1996.
The site was eventually put up for sale by the Anglia and Oxford Regional Health Authority, and was sold to local developer Trencherwood. See "Hospital site goes up for sale for residential development", NWN 22 Sep 1994.
The buildings were eventually demolished in November 1995, the area being re-developed for Ramsbury Drive and Aldbourne Close. A new Day Centre was also built on the land, just south of the old chapel.
- List of Bread and Provisions tenders, 1846. This lists each provider, and what they were contracted to supply, including food items, clothes, hardware and equipment.
- "Something about Vagrants in Berkshire", Parish Magazine Nov 1879
- "A Gilbert Act Parish: the relief and treatment of the poor in the town and parish of Hungerford, 1783-1834" by D.S. Stafford, University of Reading 1983
- Hungerford Overseers' Accounts, BRO
In HHA Archives:
- A51: Census Returns 1871, 1881 and 1891; Note on Chapel Windows.
- "Workhouse Births and Deaths, 1866-1914, and Paupers' Service Book 1977-1917"
- HHA Arc