In 1725, the early workhouse directory, An Account of Several Workhouses..., notes the existence of a workhouse at Agmondesham — an old spelling of Amersham.
A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded parish workhouses in operation in Amersham (for up to 75 inmates), Beaconsfield (40), Chalfont St Peter (80), and Chesham (90). Chesham's workhouse was located on Germain Street and the building was later used by Chesham Grammar School.
Amersham Poor Law Union was formed on 25th March 1835. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 14 in number, representing its 10 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
County of Buckingham: Amersham (2), Beaconsfield (2), Chalfont St Giles, Chalfont St Peter's, Chenies, Chesham (3), Chesham Bois, Penn, Seer Green.
County of Hertford: Coleshill.
Later Additions: Ashley Green (from 1897), Chartridge (from 1899), Great Missenden (from 1838), Latimer (from 1899), Lee (from 1838), Little Missenden (from 1901).
The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 15,331 with parishes ranging in size from Chesham Bois (population 157) to Chesham (5,388). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1832-35 had been £11,520 or 15s. per head.
In May 1835, just two months after the union's formation, the inmates of the Chesham parish workhouse were being moved to Amersham. (To where, exactly, is unclear as a new union workhouse had not yet been built.) The removal operation was obstructed by a large crowd with a local magistrate being assaulted and the Riot Act read. The subsequent trial of some of those involved was the subject of a lengthy report in The Times on July 4th, 1835, of a which an abridged version is given below.
AYLESBURY, JULY 3.
TRIAL OF THE CHESHAM RIOTERS.
Daniel Stone, George Benning, Henry Haycock, William
Price, Daniel Brown, Mary Butterfireld, aged 37, Ann Price, aged 18, Charles Purrott, and David Morgan, were indicted for having obstructed the removal of paupers from Chesham to the Union workhouse at Amersham, and with having dragged the paupers out of the waggon. They were also charged with having beaten, assaulted, and wounded Mr. Fuller, the magistrate.
All the defendants except Henry Haycock were found guilty of riotous assemblage and given prison sentences of between 14 days and 4 months.
The new Amersham Union workhouse was built on Whielden Street at the south of Amersham in 1838. It was designed by the partnership of George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt who were the architects of many Union workhouses including the nearby one at Wycombe. The building contract of £5,750 was awarded to a Mr Jacob of Northampton who was required to complete construction work by the end of May 1839. Jacobs went bankrupt before finishing the work and the building was completed by Messrs Page and Simpson. The workhouse was opened on 29th September 1839. Its location and layout are shown on the 1925 map below by which time it was officially known as Amersham Poor Law Institution.
The Elizabethan-style building was faced in local flint. At the south of the site, the single-storey entrance block had a central archway with the date and letters "AV" (Amersham Union) inscribed above.
To the rear stood the three-storey main accommodation block.
In 1904, a new infirmary was erected at the north-east of the main workhouse at a cost of £3,400.
The site expanded considerably to the south-west, later becoming St Mary's Hospital and then Amersham General Hospital. The original workhouse building has recently been redeveloped with some demolition of the smaller buildings, including a single storey outbuilding at the west.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, County Hall, Walton Street, Aylesbury, Bucks HP20 1UU. Relatively few records survive — holdings include: Guardians' minute books (1837-47, 1920-25).
- The History of Amersham General Hospital 1838-1988 by Nicholas Salmon.
Unless otherwise indicated, this page () is copyright Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.