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Ripon, West Riding of Yorkshire

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Up to 1834

Ripon had at least two 17th century workhouses: one was a house at Sharow; the other was located within the Archbishop's manor-house where the old court house now stands. A workhouse existed at Wath from around 1739.

A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded local workhouses in operation at Ripon (for up to 30 inmates), West Tanfield (8), and North Stainley with Sleiningford (10).

In 1777, Allhallows Hall on Allhallowgate was given by John Aislabie for use as a workhouse. The site layout is shown on the 1853 map below.

Ripon Allhallowgate site, 1853

Local poorhouses were also operated by a number of parishes in the area, including Kirkby Malzeard, Bridge Hewick, and Skelton-cum-Newby as shown on the 1856 maps below.

Kirkby Malzeard poorhouse site, 1856

Bridge Hewick poorhouse site, 1856

Skelton poorhouse site, 1856

After 1834

Like a number of other districts in Lancashire and Yorkshire, Ripon strongly opposed the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act which it saw as unwarranted interference in local matters. It refused to co-operate with the Poor Law Commissioners in implementing the new law. The continuing existence of the Great Ouseburn Gilbert Union also delayed the Poor Law Commissioners' plans for unionizing the area. However, the Ripon Poor law union was eventually formed in 1852.

The new union officially came into existence on 25th October, 1852. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 36 in number, representing its 32 constituent parishes and townships as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

Aismunderby-with-Bondgate, Aldfield, Azerley, Bishopton, Bridge Hewick, Clotherholme, Copt Hewick, Eavestone, Givendale, Grantley, Grewelthorpe, Ingerthorpe, Kirkby Malzeard, Laverton, Lindrick, Melmerby, Middleton Quernhow, North Stainley with Slenningford, Norton Conyers, Nunwick-with-Howgrave, Ripon (5), Sawley, Sharow, Skedling, Skelton, Studley Roger, Sutton Grange, Sutton-with-Howgrave, East Tanfield, West Tanfield, Wath, Westwick, Whitcliffe-with-Thorpe, Winksley.
Later additions: Asenby, Baldersby, Bishop Monkton, Dishforth, Hutton Conyers, Markington-with-Wallerthwaite, Marton Le Moor, Newby with Mulwith.

The population falling within the union at the 1851 census had been 13,147 with parishes ranging in size from Clotherholme(population 17) to Ripon itself (5,553). The average poor-rate expenditure for the period 1849-51 had been £4,640 or 7s.1d. per head of the population.

A new union workhouse was erected in 1854 on the site of the existing town poor-house at the north side of Allhallowgate. It was designed by William Perkin and Elisha Backhouse who also designed Armley Gaol in Leeds. The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1908 map below.

Ripon workhouse site, 1908

The two-storey entrance block at the front has an entrance archway at its centre, with single-storey wings at each side. These contained receiving wards (for new inmates) with those for females at the west and for males at the east.

Ripon entrance block from the south-east, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Ripon entrance archway, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The main workhouse building is a two-storey T-shaped structure, with the master's house projecting forward at the front. Behind this were the dining hall and stores, with female inmates' accommodation in the west wing and males' in the east.

Ripon main workhouse building from the south-east, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Originally, the workhoouse infirmary was located in a two-storey block to the rear of the main building, while children pccupied a block at the east side. In 1897-9, the children's block was replaced by a large new infirmary, with the children then moving into the old infirmary.

Ripon workhouse new infirmary from the north-east, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

A wash-house and laundry was located on the women's side at the north-west of the site.

Ripon boiler room (left) and wash-house, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The workhouse mortuary stood at the north-east of the main block.

Ripon workhouse mortuary, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

At the east side of the entrance block were the male and female casual wards where vagrants were accommodated overnight in a block of sleeping cells.

Ripon casuals' sleeping cells, 2000
© Peter Higginbotham,
courtesy of Ripon Workhouse Museum

On entering the casuals' ward, the inmates were required to take a bath. Their clothes would be fumigated in the sulphur disinfector room.

Ripon casuals' baths, 2000
© Peter Higginbotham,
courtesy of Ripon Workhouse Museum

In return for their accommodation, vagrants were required to perform a certain amount of work. In the case of the men, this was usually chopping firewood, carried out in a small yard to the east of the cell block.

Ripon workhouse vagrants' block and yard, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The external wall of the vagrants' yard was topped with spikes to prevent their leaving before their work was completed — perhaps the origin of the workhouse vagrants' ward being popularly known as a "spike".

Ripon workhouse vagrants' yard wall, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

From 1904, to protect them from disadvantage in later life, the birth certificates for those born in the workhouse gave its address just as 75 Allhallowgate, Ripon.

By 1930 some reorganization had taken place and all the receiving wards were in the west wing.

Ripon ground plan c.1930.

In 1930, the workhouse was taken over by the West Riding council and became the Ripon Public Assistance Institution. The inmates became "residents" and workhouse uniforms were abolished. After the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, the main buildings became an old people's home called Sharow View. Vagrants continued to use the causal wards, by then officially known as a "Wayfarers' Reception Centre", until around 1960.

The main buildings are now used as social services administrative accommodation. The former casual wards have now become the Ripon Workhouse Museum and provide a vivid insight into the former life of the establishment.

The author Barbara Taylor Bradford has a family connection with the Ripon workhouse. Her grandmother was born in the institution, the first of three illegitimate children to have the same start in life.




Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.

  • North Yorkshire County Record Office, Malpas Road, Northallerton DL7 8TB. (Some film copies also held at Ripon Library.) Holdings include: Guardians' minutes (1852-1879); Rough minutes (1890-94); Admission and discharge books (1880-1973); Registers of inmates (1914-48); Indoor relief (1895-1969); Workhouse births (1855-1938); Deaths (1853-1946); Creed registers (1869-1951); Workhouse visitors' books (1890-1969); Casual paupers (1891-1964); School attendance records (1888-1906); Weekly outdoor relief lists (1867-1924).


  • Ripon Workhouse by Anthony Chadwick (Ripon Museum Trust leaflet, 1996)


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