According to Connor (1989), a town workhouse was built in Fletcher Street in Bolton in around 1810. Men were accommodated at the east of the site, women at the west, and children at the south. The buildings have two main sections: a rectangular block on the Fletcher Street frontage, and an unusual L-shaped block running along Free Street and down parallel with Pilkington Street. The latter appears to consist of a large number of single-room compartments, rather like back-to-back houses. The 1848 map shows internal staircases and also stairs down into the male yard but not into the female yard. This indicates a two-storey structure, with the site sloping downwards from west to east.
Another Bolton workhouse stood in Old Hall Street and the building was later occupied by the Three Arrows pub.
Small workhouses also existed at Little Hulton and Westhaughton, with a larger one at Goose Cote Farm, Turton.
Bolton Poor Law Union was formed on 1st February 1837. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 33 in number, representing its 26 constituent parishes and townships as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
Great Bolton (5), Little Bolton (3), Bradshaw, Breightmet, Eaton, Edgworth, Entwistle, Farnworth, Halliwell, Harwood, Horwick, Little Hulton, Middle Hulton, Over Hulton, Kersley, Darcy Lever, Little Lever, Great Lever, Longworth, Lostock, Quarlton, Rumworth, Sharples, Tonge with Haulgh, Turton, West Haughton (2).
Later Additions (all from 1894): Astley Bridge, Belmont, Deane, Smithill.
The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 83,369 with parishes and townships ranging in size from Longworth (population 179) to Great Bolton (28,299).
Unlike many other Unions, the Board of Guardians at Bolton decided not to build a new central Union workhouse, but instead carried on using the small workhouses on Fletcher Street and at Turton. Also, flying in the face of the 1834 Poor Law Act, they continued providing out-relief.
In 1856, following pressure from the Poor Law Board, the Guardians relented and began to negotiate the purchase of a church-owned site at Farnworth known as Fishpool Farm. The deal, for the sum of £2,880, was concluded two years later and the corner stones for the new workhouse was laid on September 8th of that year. Construction of the new buildings, which were to accommodate up to 1,045 inmates, cost around £25,000. The architects were George Woodhouse and Leigh Hall, and the building contractor was Robert Neill. The institution was opened by the then Chairman of the Guardians, Dan Wood Lantham, on 26th September 1861.
The layout of the site is shown on the 1893 map below. At that time, railway goods yards still ran along the eastern edge of the site in front of the main entrance.
Built in the then fashionable Italianate style, the main building consists of a three-storey central section, dominated by a 72-foot high tower. To each side are two-storey wings with a three-storeyed pavilion at each end.
The central tower accommodated the administrative offices and also concealed a large water tank at its top. Accommodation for the workhouse Master and Matron was in rooms to the north side of the tower. The northern side of the main building housed male inmates, and females were in the southern side.
The original entrance to the workhouse was via large iron gates set between two square buildings. The one to the left contained the porter's quarters, a probationary ward, and clothing store. The one to the right incorporated the Guardians' board-room and waiting rooms. It was later used as a nurses' home.
From the rear of the main building emanated a two-storey kitchen block connecting to a single-storey dining-hall.
A fever hospital was erected to the south of the main workhouse in 1872. In 1893, an isolation block was erected to the south of the fever hospital.
In 1894 with the purchase of a further 76 acres of land was purchased at the north of the workhouse, at a cost of £10,000. In 1896, a new infirmary, which became known as Townley's Hospital, was erected there. The buildings comprised a central administration block connecting to a central spine from which two-storey wards pavilions emanated.
The later site layout is shown on the 1929 map below. By this date, the original workhouse burial ground at the west of the site appears to have been closed.
By 1915, wounded soldiers were being cared for at Townley's. In May 1917, tents were put up in the grounds to accommodate their increasing numbers.
In 1915 electricity replaced gas for lighting at the site. New extension the following year included maternity and an operating blocks.
From 1919, Townley's Hospital was be managed separately from the workhouse, by then known as Fishpool Institution. A new access route was created so that patients could bypass the workhouse. A total of 150 beds were assigned for use by the town's voluntary hospital, Bolton Royal Infirmary. However, the stigma of the workhouse meant that these often remained empty as many patients would prefer to wait a few weeks for a place at the Infirmary.
In 1930, the Local Government Act abolished the Board of Guardians who had their final meeting on 26th March. The running of the workhouse (now known as Fishpool Institution) passed to a new Public Assistance Committee. Following the inauguration of the National Health Service in 1948, Fishpool became Townley's Annexe, and was used for the chronic sick and the elderly, while the fit were moved to homes at Watermillock and Smithills Hall. In 1951, Townley's was renamed to Bolton District General Hospital (Townley's Branch), with Fishpool as its annexe. The site later became the Royal Bolton Hospital. The workhouse buildings were demolished in 2011.
Kings Gate Casual Ward
Bolton Union operated an establishment for casuals or vagrants known as Kings Gate Institution on Kings Gate in Bolton.
Hollins Cottage Homes
In the mid-1870s, Bolton was one of the unions who pioneered the use of "cottage homes" as an alternative form of accommodation for pauper children away from the main workhouse. On an area at the south of the workhouse, four houses were built around a central green, together with a school. Each single-sex cottage accommodated thirty children and had a large living-room, kitchen, three dormitories, and a bedroom for the house-parents.
The site, which became known as Hollins Cottage Homes, was subsequently extended southwards with the erection of further cottages, together with a gymnasium, and superintendent's house at the south-west. The homes were also walled off from the main workhouse site and had their own separate entrance from Plodder Lane at the south.
On August 13, 1904, the Bolton Evening News reported that:
In 2005, the homes were still in use by local social services to provide emergency housing. However, redevelopment of the site is imminent.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
- Bolton Archives and Local Studies Service, Bolton History Centre, Le Mans Crescent, Bolton BL1 1SE. Extensive and unusually complete records survive including: Guardians' minutes (1837-1930); Indoor and outdoor relief registers (1839-1930); admissions and discharges (1839-1930); Births and deaths (1839-1941); etc.
- The Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society has a project to transcribe some of the surviving Bolton workhouse records — more information here. Please note that access to the records is restricted to Society members.
- A Pauper's Palace: A History of Fishpool Institution 1860-1948. by Betty Connor (Neil Richardson, 1989) [Excellent and highly recommended!]
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