North Walsham had a parish workhouse which, by the 1770s, could hold 80 inmates. In 1786, a new workhouse was built, perhaps in the vicinity of what is now Workhouse Loke.
In 1792, ten years after the passing of Gilbert's Act, the Oulton Gilbert Union of six parishes (Banningham, Blickling, Colby, Erpingham, Itteringham, and Oulton) was formed. Its workhouse at Oulton, three-and-a-half miles to the north-west of Aylsham, was leased from Lady Sheffield and was originally a farmhouse and stood about a mile to the south-east of Oulton church, was converted from an old farmhouse at a cost of £1,100. Erpingham joined the union in 1806, Coleby in 1811, and Itteringham and Banningham in 1832, when the workhouse was enlarged at a cost of around £300 to hold up to 80 paupers.
In 1805, the parishes of Gimingham, Knapton, Mundesley, Overstrand, North Repps, South Repps, Sidestrand, Trimingham, and Trunch formed a Gilbert union and erected a House of Industry at Gimingham.
Also in 1805, Sheringham [or Sherringham] formed a union with Aldborough, Aylmerton, East Beckham, Beeston Regis, Cromer, Felbrigg, Gresham, and Runton and set up a workhouse near to the church at Upper Sheringham. The large U-shaped building could house 150 but seldom had more than 50 inmates. It was later adapted for use as a school.
Holt's parish workhouse was built in 1779 when fifty acres of the waste was enclosed. It was an E-shaped building on Pearson's Lane, now converted to cottages.
Erpingham Poor Law Union was formed on 11th April 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 53 in number, representing its 49 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
County of Norfolk:
Aldborough, Antingham, Aylmerton, Baconsthorpe, Barningham Norwood, Barningham Winter, East Beckham, West Beckham, Beeston Regis, Bessingham, Bodham, Briston, Cley next the Sea, Cromer (2), Edgefield, Felbrigg, Gimingham, Glandford with Bayfield, Gresham, Gunton, Hanworth, Hempstead, Holt (2), Hunworth, Kelling, Knapton, Letheringsett, Matlask, Metton, Mundesley, North Walsham (3), Northrepps, Overstrand, Plumstead, Roughton, Runton, Salthouse, Sheringham, Sidestrand, Southrepps, Stody, Suffield, Sustead, Thorpe Market, Thornage, Thurgarton, Trimingham, Trunch, Weybourne.
Later Additions: Upper Sheringham (from 1901).
The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 20,024 with parishes ranging in size from Barningham Norwood (population 42) to North Walsham (2,615). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-35 had been £16,532 or 16s.6d. per head of the population.
Initially, the Erpingham Union retained existing parish workhouses at Sheringham, Gimingham and North Walsham. The Poor Law Commissioners authorised an expenditure of £836 for alterations after which Sheringham could accommodate 300 inmates and Gimingham 100. Sheringham was used to house aged and infirm paupers.
However, the old workhouses proved unsatisfactory and a new Erpingham Union workhouse was erected in 1848-51 at West Beckham. It was designed by William J Donthorn who was also the architect of workhouses for the Aylsham, Downham, Freebridge Lynn, and Swaffham Unions. Erpingham was a cut-down version of his design for Aylsham, being an elongated cruciform plan. Construction of the building cost £7,386. The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1906 map below.
Like Aylsham, the workhouse had an imposing entrance block, justifying its nickname of "Beckham Palace".
The building was badly damaged by fire and was restored in 1888 at which time it could hold 539 inmates. However, in 1890 when Walter and Mary Emery were Master and Matron, there were only 78 in residence.
After its closure, the building stood empty and became derelict. The main building was demolished in the late 1970s.
All that now remains is the former infirmary block at the north of the site.
The Erpingham Union established a children's home at Old Rectory, Holt Road, Gresham. Dates of operation uncertain. The property is now a private residence.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
- Norfolk Record Office, The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich NR1 2DQ. Few records survive — holdings include: Guardians' minute books (1836-1930, with gaps); Births (1867-1931); Deaths (1867-1933); etc.
- Minutes of Erpingham Union transcribed by Bill Atkins.
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