Preston had a number of local workhouses. The earliest, dating from around 1674, was situated at Avenham and was for the unemployed poor. In 1777 it could accommodate up to 90 inmates. A new building was erected in 1788 at the west side of Deepdale Road where Burrow Road now stands.
Eden, in his 1797 survey of poor relief in England, recorded of Preston:
In 1829, the House of Recovery, a fever hospital was opened just to the south of the workhouse — the institution had originally been established on 28th June, 1813, on a site near Trinity Church.
Other township workhouses in the area included Penwortham (erected 1796), Walton-le-Dale (1796), Longton (1821), Ribchester (1823), Wood Plumpton (1824), Hutton (1825), and Howick (1827).
The Hutton workhouse was located on Pope Lane.
A plaque in the front of the building records: "This Work House was erected in the year 1825 at the Expense of the Tax payers of the Township of Hutton. The Foundation & Area consisting of 1106 square yards. Given by Lawe. Rawstorne Esq."
Preston Poor Law Union was formed on 31st January, 1837. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 35 in number, representing its 29 constituent parishes and townships as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
Alston, Barton, Bretherton, Broughton, Catforth, Cuerdale, Dilworth, Dutton, Elston, Farington, Fishwick, Fulwood, Goosnargh, Grimsargh and Brockholes, Haighton, Hothersall, Little Hoole, Much Hoole, Howick, Hutton; Lea, Ashton, Ingol, and Cottam; Longton, Penwortham, Preston (6), Ribbleton, Ribchester, Samlesbury, Walton-le-dale (2), Wood Plumpton.
Later Addition: Whittingham (from 1838).
The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 59,355 with parishes and townships ranging in size from Elston (population 64) to Preston itself (33,112).
Like many parts of industrial northern England, Preston was opposed to the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and its insistence on the establishment of a deterrent workhouse. The union's preference was to distribute out-relief in times of industrial slump, and for workhouses to be small and local. Following the formation of the Preston Union, the Howick, Hutton, and Longton workhouses were closed and sold off. Deepdale Road and Wood Plumpton stayed as mixed workhouses, Ribchester was used for adult males, Walton-le-Dale became the union's boys' school, and Penwortham was used for girls.
Preston Deepdale Road Workhouse
Deepdale Road was used as the union's main workhouse for adult inmates and by the 1860s could accommodate 480. It also had an infants' school attached.
Conditions in the workhouse were the subject of severe criticism following an inspection by Poor Law Inspector R.B. Cane in November 1866. Some of the observations he made in his official report are given below. ("The Itch" was the popular name for scabies, a contagious skin disease caused by a mite.)
The classification is nominal merely, almost all the inmates meet together in the yard in the centre of the building. Ventilation, in the proper sense of the term, can hardly be said to exist in any of the wards.
The wards are for the most part dark, low, close, gloomy, and unhealthy ; they are dangerously crowded with inmates, especially in the infirm and sick wards.
Many of the infirm people, men as well as women, are sleeping together two in a bed. The sick have not all of them a separate bed to lie upon.
In the "venereal ward" the patients affected with syphilis are sleeping together two in a bed.
Two women, owing to a want of room, have lately been placed together in the same bed in the lying-in ward, both having just been confined.
Four patients, two men and two boys, were lately sleeping together in the same bed in the "itch ward."
Six men occupied two beds in this ward to-day, three in each bed. The man lying in the middle of the bed had his feet to the top of the bed, and his head came out at the bottom of it. The feet of the other two men were placed so as to be close to the head of the man who was lying between them.
In the midst of this ward, and in full view of the others, boys and men, an adult patient was standing upright without a fragment of clothes upon him, whilst a pauper attendant painted him over with a brush dipped in an application for his disease. The "itch ward" is at all times the most disagreeable to enter of any. The peculiar remedy prescribed, the nature of the treatment observed, and the use in such ward of the refuse bedding and linen of the house, necessarily render it the most offensive of all.
At subsequent visit in the following January, things had improved a little, but overcrowding meant that bed-sharing was still commonplace. The following instances were noted as sharing beds:
|Male Sick Wards||Female Sick Wards|
|1 Man with itch and|
1 Boy with itch
|1 Case of rheumatism and|
1 of diabetes
|1 Case of syphilis and|
1 Case of ulcer
|1 Case "Bright's Disease" and|
|1 Case of debility and|
1 of paralysis
|1 Case of bad leg and|
|2 Men both with itch||1 Case phthisis and|
|1 Blind and infirm and|
1 Case of bronchitis
|2 Cases of syphilis|
|1 Case of ulcer and|
1 Case of debility
|1 Case of itch and debility and|
1 of ulcers
Preston House of Recovery
The House of Recovery, located to the south of the Deepdale Road workhouse, became the union's fever hospital. In the same 1866 inspection it was noted that "the beds and bedding were good and sufficient; the whole establishment seemed to be exceedingly clean." However, the lack of a proper mortuary was criticised, as were the waterclosets which were said to be badly constructed, with the foul air arising in them being drawn into the wards.
The Penwortham township workhouse was located on Greenbank Road. A commemorative plaque recording the building's erection still survives. Its inscription reads: 'This workhouse was erected at the expense, and for the use of the township of Penwortham, By permission of William Farrington Esq. The Lord of the Manor In the year 1796.'
The building was roughly T-shaped in layout. After 1834, it was used as the union's girls' school.
In 1866, a Poor Law Board inspection recorded:
It is set apart for the reception of pauper girls only, of whom 86 are allowed to be maintained in it at one time. At present there are 67. Their ages vary from 4 to 13 years. Twenty of them are Roman Catholics, and are visited by priests of the school. The remainder belong to the Church of England, and attend church on Sundays.
The girls are under the care of a matron, who is also the schoolmistress. She is assisted by 10 pauper servants — seven women and three old men.
The reports of the inspector of schools are of a favourable character. The children readily obtain employment as soon as they are old and strong enough, and they keep their places when they leave the school.
They appear to be clean, well clothed, well fed, contented, and cheerful. The house and the wards are perfectly clean. The food is sufficient in quantity and good of its kind. The beds and bedding, clean and comfortable. The ventilation is good.
Upon the whole, this establishment is in a satisfactory state, and its management does much credit to the matron who has charge of it.
The Ribchester township workhouse was located on the Preston Road at Frances (or Francis) Green, two miles to the north-west of Ribchester. Its layout is shown on the 1893 map below.
The buildings were adapted in 1856 to include special accommodation for lunatics and imbeciles.
An inspection by the Poor Law Board in 1866 found that:
The house at present contains:
|Ditto - women||4|
|Old and infirm men||60|
They are under the charge of a master and matron, and a male and female superintendent of lunatics. These are the only resident officers.
The men who are strong enough cultivate the land; others do the washing and laundry work of the house.
There is no bath except in the lunatic wards.
The inmates on admission are not separated and medically examined, in accordance with the regulations. There are no receiving wards fit for these purposes.
The "lunatic wards" are by far the best in the establishment. Ventilation can be effectively kept up in them.
The waterclosets are badly constructed, being in the wards; the foul air arising in them finds its way into the wards, and is very offensive.
The beds and bedding in these wards are clean ;and in a proper state. Bedsteads of a better description are required for lunatics of a certain class, so that the floors may be kept dry beneath the beds.
Beds of a better kind are required for those who are subject to fits, so that they may not fall out on the floors and injure themselves.
The diet is ample, being the same as is provided for the inmates of the county asylum.
The beds are of chaff, and straw mattresses are provided; they ale perfectly clean, and the bedding is also quite clean and in good condition. The men, however, are permitted to sleep together two in a bed. This most objectionable custom has led to overcrowding in many of the wards. The number of reds does not exceed the number fixed by the regulations, but the object of those regulations is defeated by the beds being occupied by two persons at the same time.
There are two wards set apart for sick cases. They are not in good repair; the rain finds its way through the roof into one of the wards. They are overcrowded. They are not large enough for more than eleven inmates. They are occupied by 13.
There is a male pauper nurse to attend to the sick. He gives the medicines, &c., and probably does as well as he can; he reads writing with facility, but then there are no labels on the bottles, or written or printed directions showing to whom the medicines are to be given or applied, at what times, and in what quantities.
Following the opening of the new workhouse at Preston in 1868, Ribchester was the only former township workhouse to be retained and continued in its role of accommodating the mentally ill. In 1881, the workhouse had 84 inmates in residence, almost all of whom were categorised as "lunatic".
The workhouse underwent a major redevlopment in 1913. The site layout in the 1920s is shown below, by which time the workhouse had become known as Ribchester Institution.
In 2001, the hospital was closed and the site awaiting redevelopment.
Walton-le-Dale Workhouse / School
Walton-le-Dale's workhouse was at Bamber Bridge, at the east side of what is now Station Road. At some point after 1834, it took on the role of the union's boys' school for up to 124 pupils aged from 6 to 14. Its location is shown on the 1847 map below.
In 1866, the premises were described as: "an old, ill-arranged building, adjoining the road, with only a small garden in front of it. It is the boys' school of the union. It is allowed to contain 124 inmates."
Wood Plumpton Workhouse
Wood Plumpton (or Woodplumpton) was another mixed workhouse for adults which, by the 1860s, could accommodate 72 inmates. The building, which appears to have been arranged around a central courtyard, was situated on the Woodplumpton Road at the east side of Belford Bridge. Its location is shown on the 1847 map below.
The official inspection of Wood Plumpton in 1866 noted:
It is, however, placed in an airy and apparently healthy situation, but it has the disadvantage of being hardly separated from the high road. The water is said to be good, and the supply plentiful.
There are no receiving wards, consequently the inmates on admission cannot be separated from the others until they have been medically examined, cleansed, and clothed. A newly-admitted person undergoes a washing in a tub in the laundry or wash-house. Ventilation is imperfect, especially so in some of the rooms. Some of them evidently do not afford space enough for those who occupy them. Some of the men sleep together two in a bed.
There is one so-called "sick ward," which, however, is quite a small room. There were two men in it, the only two who were ill, and in bed. Other beds were in the room, which was very close, ill-lighted, and badly ventilated.
The beds, which seem to be exceedingly clean, are of chaff, with proper and sufficient covering besides.
The men wear their own clothes as long as they will last. The house contains 55 men and three women. The men work on the land, and wash the clothes; the women are employed in household work.
The medical officer resides at a distance of five or six miles from the workhouse; he visits weekly, and as often as sent for besides. Such drugs as he may require are provided by the Guardians.
The master and matron evidently exert themselves, and are successful in their endeavours to keep the wards clean, and the whole of the premises in as good order as possible.
The inmates seem to be contented, and had no complaints to make.
The Woodplumpton workhouse building was demolished in around 2000.
Watling Street Road Workhouse
In 1865-8, a new workhouse was built on Watling Street Road in Fulwood at the north of Preston. It was designed by Leigh Hall to accommodate up to 1,500 inmates. It was planned to cost £30,000 although the final total was in the region of £50,000. By 1870, the crippling loan charges against the project stood at £87,761.
The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1912 map below:
The main workhouse building was T-shaped, with male accommodation to the east, and female to the west.
A dining-hall cum chapel was located in the centre rear. An infirmary stood to the rear.
Following the opening of the Watling Street Road workhouse, the House of Recovery and the Wood Plumpton workhouse were closed.
The workhouse later became known as Preston Civic Hostel and was subsequently used as offices. More recently it was used as a local college and as a business centre although has now been sold for redevelopment, probably for residential use. The workhouse infirmary later became Sharoe Green Hospital was used for geriatric care but has now closed and the buildings demolished.
Preston Brockholes View Children's Home
In the early 1900s, the union established children's homes in adjacent properties known as Ivy Bank and Sunny Bank at 232-234 Brockholes View in Preston. The whole establishment eventually adopt the name Sunny Bank.
One former inmate of the Home was Arthur Eric Crook (1917-1997). His memories of the establishment were recorded by his daughter Heather who has very kindly allowed them to be included here.
My first day was spent doing chores, this pattern continued till I left the Home at the age of 14. Early in the morning I was shook by one of the other boys and told to get up. It was not quite six o'clock but I was to be shown how to perform the daily jobs, which had to be done meticulously before breakfast. Every single morning, we were to make our beds, making sure there were no creases in the turned down part of the top sheet. The younger boys had not, or did not stir themselves till seven o'clock. We older boys after bed making went downstairs, and commenced work. The fireplace scaled. The good part of the cinders picked out, and used when the paper and firewood had been laid. Ashes were emptied and the whole of the Lancashire range blackleaded. The steel parts including the poker and tongs emery papered. The fire was lit, everywhere dusted and the floors mopped on your hands and knees using cold water. The long passage from the front to the back door half polished using 'Ronuk' and a big heavy iron polisher with bristles in the base, the other half was scrubbed. All doors and doorframes dusted, every single handle, door knob, latch and taps, which were made of brass and had to be polished. Stairs had rubber treads and had to be scrubbed, the sides polished. The porch at the back door had to be cleaned and the floor tiles scrubbed. Five lavatories outside, bowls to be cleaned and floors washed and donkey stoned, the same with the stones round the cellar grating. The outside steps that led to the cellar washed and stoned. The same applied to the step and the three flags on the pavement at the outside gate.
And so, back to the kitchen. The youngest of the older lads had to tend the cooking of the oatmeal for the porridge. Iron pans were in use those days, very heavy. Once it had come to the boil, constant stirring was required to stop it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. As it thickened you let it simmer and it formed bubbles which burst, the resultant splash left red burn marks on the back of your hand, but you had to keep stirring. Next the table laid for twelve hungry lads, we had porridge sweetened with syrup, followed by bread and dripping six days a week. On Sundays we had a boiled egg, small kids half an egg.
After breakfast and 'lengthy' prayers offered in thanks, including 'Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed etc.' I still know all the words) then washing up was carried out and everything put away. During the exhortation from the table after breakfast, the collect had to be read. It was a mini church service.
After washing up the stove had to be blackleaded, then down the cellar to get washed, after we cleaned six wash basins and thirteen taps. By this time the water had started to get warm. In winter, the cellar was illuminated by a single batwick burner. After ablutions up the stairs to show our mentor our hands and bend over to display the cleanliness of our necks. All this work, was carried out by about six boys, if we didn't get through our quota, or it wasn't to the correct standard, no breakfast.
A last duty had to be performed before leaving for school, everyone had to sit on the toilet till a motion had been produced. On my first morning I did so and pulled the chain, to a scream from one of the others saying ' Eric you have t'show her what you do, never get rid of it till she has seen it' For the next few days I suffered from fear induced constipation, try as I might I could not make my body provide waste for someone to look at, this was soon remedied with large doses of castor oil shoved down my throat. In due time nature responded (and for the next sixty years at 8.30am Nature called).
Then off to school. I loved school, no Miss Hall.
Home for dinner twelve till two, when nearly all jobs were repeated again, but no dusting or outside work. After tea it all happened again. On going to school, the golden rule was if the girls from next door were en route to their place of learning we had to walk on the opposite side of the road. No talking to the female species, brothers and sisters had to ignore each other, they were not allowed to communicate, it was not considered the proper thing to do.
Miss Hall, 'the mother' ruled the roost with an iron fist, the slightest misdemeanor or stray from the rules called for retribution. She had four alternatives: a smack across the ear hole; the strap, which hung beside the fireplace quarter of an inch thick and tails at the striking end, administered freely with severity; or one was made to sit in a bath full of cold water, for half an hour, whatever the weather; or stripped bare naked in the bathroom and lashed with a wet towel for a good ten minutes.
You had no choice of course, it was purely random, depending on her mood and the severity of the crime, God, she was a monster. Milder punishment was meted out for simpler wrongdoing, sent to bed with out tea or no extras, which meant no cakes or biscuits, after our tea of jam and bread or denied an apple after dinner when we went back to school. The worst by far was being denied your Saturday penny.
For the first two years that I was there we were the only boys in the whole of Preston who still wore those horrible stiff collars, one sees on old Victorian post cards or photographs. Black ribbed stockings like the ones girls wore. And capes! They made us look like infantile Sherlock Holmes's we stood out like sore thumbs, and all and sundry called us the Home Boys. Then some enlightened member of the Board of Guardians brought us into the twentieth century. We were dressed in grey shirts and striped ties, with grey stockings with two blue bands on the turn down, bicycle stockings we called them, and blazers, but we still had to wear clogs like everyone else.
- Long-term workhouse inmates (1861)
- Preston workhouse - 1881 Census
- Ribchester workhouse - 1881 Census
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
- Lancashire Record Office, Bow Lane, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2RE. Holdings include Guardians' minutes (1838-1930); Workhouse births (1868-93); etc.
- Thanks to Marton Ramsbottom for contributing the pictures of Woodplumpton, to Heather Crook for the picture of the Penwortham plaque, and Peter Maleczek for the workhouse dining hall picture.
Unless otherwise indicated, this page () is copyright Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.