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Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire

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Up to 1834

A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded parish workhouses in operation at Stratford upon Avon (for up to 50 inmates), Old Stratford (40), and Preston Baggott (20).

In the eighteenth century, a row of cottages on Cottage Lane at Hathaway Hamlet, dating from the previous century, was converted into a workhouse and almshouses for the parish of Old Stratford.

Stratford-on-Avon Hathaway Hamlet workhouse, 2007.
© Peter Higginbotham.

After 1834

Stratford-on-Avon Poor Law Union was formed on 30th May 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 44 in number, representing its 36 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

County of Warwick: Alveston, Atherstone-on-Stour, Bearley, Beaudesert, Billesley, Binton, Charlecote, Claverdon, Combroke [Combrook], Compton Verney, Eatington, Fulbrook, Hampton Lucy or Bishop's Hampton, Kineton (2), Langley, Luddington, Loxley, Moreton Morrell, Newbold Pacey, Preston Bagot, Snitterfield (2), Stratford on Avon (4), Old Stratford (2), Temple Grafton, Wellesbourne Hastings, Wellesbourne Mountford, Whitchurch, Wolverton.
Counties of Warwick and Gloucester: Wootton Wawen, Welford, Weston-on-Avon.
County of Worcester: Alderminster.
County of Gloucester: Clifford Chambers, Dorsington, Marston Sicca, Preston-on-Stour. Later Additions (from 1894): Bickmarsh, Drayton, Milcote,.

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 18,745 with parishes ranging in size from Billesley (population 24) to Stratford-on-Avon itself (3,488). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-35 had been £9,404 or 10s.0d. per head of the population.

The Stratford-on-Avon workhouse was built in 1837 at a site on the west side of Arden Street to the west of the town centre. The Poor Law Commissioners authorised an expenditure of £4,380 on construction of the building which was to accommodate 200 inmates. Designed by J Bateman and G Drury, it followed the popular cruciform or "square" plan with an entrance block at the front, behind which lay the four accommodation wings radiating from a central hub, creating yards for the different classes of pauper (male/female, old/young). The location and layout of the site is shown on the 1905 OS map:

Stratford-on-Avon site, 1905.

Stratford-on-Avon from the north.
courtesy of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Stratford-on-Avon from the north-east.
courtesy of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Stratford-on-Avon central portion from the south-west.
courtesy of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Stratford-on-Avon chapel from the south-west.
courtesy of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

A photograph of 1902 shows all the staff, residents and Board of Guardians arranged in front of the workhouse.

Stratford-on-Avon c.1902.
courtesy of Edwin Pickett.

Stratford-on-Avon c.1902 (detail).
courtesy of Edwin Pickett.

Stratford-on-Avon c.1902 (detail).
courtesy of Edwin Pickett.

The former workhouse later became Stratford-on-Avon Hospital. Almost all of the workhouse buildings have now been demolished. Amongst the few remaining structures is the casuals' block at the north-west corner of the site.

Stratford-on-Avon casuals' block from the south-west, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Stone-breaking cells were located at the rear of the block. These still have the horizontal grids through which stone had to be passed after being broken into sufficient small pieces. The cells had an unusual design of interlaced metal grid which apparently served both as an unglazed window and also to allow unbroken stone to be loaded through.

Stratford-on-Avon casuals' block from the north-east, 2005.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Stratford-on-Avon stone-breaking cell, 2005.
© Peter Higginbotham.

From 1896 to 1927, the Master of the Stratford workhouse was Daniel Pickett, with his wife Eleanor as Matron. Daniel's great-grandson, Edwin Pickett, has researched the life of his great grandfather and has kindly allowed the results of his investigations to be included below.

DANIEL PICKETT (1858 — 1931)

In the 1881 census 22 year old Daniel Pickett was listed as residing in Cheddington Bucks — his place of birth in 1858 — in the household of his grandfather, Daniel Millins. His father, William Hemmings was deceased by this time but had been a schoolmaster. Also in the household were his mother and sister. Daniel was described as being a boot and shoe mender by trade. In fact, he had been apprenticed into the saddlery business but had the misfortune to break a leg in an accident and was unable to follow his trade.

In 1891 details from the census show that Daniel was living at the 'workhouse' in Stoke Next, Guildford where he was employed under the master, a Duncan MacDonald, as a porter. A few weeks later, on 25th June, he was married to Eleanor Jones in the parish church of Holy Trinity, Guildford, Surrey.

He had entered the 'Poor Law' profession in Guildford around 1885 and from there he went to Kingsclere, Hampshire as assistant master, gaining promotion an the death of the master. This move must have been shortly after his marriage as in 1892 Thomas William was born and his place of birth was stated as 'poor law institute', Kingsclere.

In 1896, Daniel and Eleanor were selected to succeed Mr and Mrs Collingwood as Master and Matron at Stratford-on-Avon Union.

Gardening was a favourite pursuit of Daniel and under his fostering care the Union gardens became not only a thing of beauty but a paying proposition. His grand daughter 'Nell' (now 87) vividly remembers visiting the Workhouse which she describes as like a large country house. The gardens are remembered along with the asparagus which was received each year in Yorkshire, and picking gooseberries and other fruit from the bushes.

One of the forms of employment in the workhouse was the making of matresses, pillows and eiderdowns in the 'feather room.'

In October 1926 after completing 32 years in Stratford and 42 years in Poor Law Daniel retired and was presented with a cheque for £17.2s.0d while in appreciation of the exceptionally able manner in which Eleanor had discharged her duties as Matron, four years were added to her length of service for the purpose of calculating her superannuation allowance. This severance from official duty came as a great wrench to Daniel who, it may be said, lived for his Poor Law work.

The following is a reproduction of an article printed in the Stratford Herald dated 7th October, 1927 on the occasion of the retirement of Daniel and Eleanor Pickett from their post of joint Master and Matron of the Stratford workhouse.

"THEIR WORK IN STRATFORD"
IV — MR DANIEL PICKETT

Were some poor old soul to stop you in the street and ask to be directed to No.50, Arden Street, would you grasp the significance of the request? Probably not, for how are you to know that No. 50 contains the largest family in Stratford-on-Avon; that it is, in fact, the workhouse?
"The Workhouse!" It is not a title that you will find falling glibly from Mr Daniel Pickett's lips. He much prefers "No. 50 Arden Street," or perhaps, by way of a change, "the institution". That he is called the Master thereof is a reproof to bureaucracy's lack of imagination; he himself seems to regard his position as that of a patrician householder.
Does "Oliver Twist" make you weep? Then visit Mr Pickett and his charges, and you will soon be happy again. Compared with Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, he and his kindly wife are as alkali to acid. Charles Dickens might have spent the last 32 years — the period of Mr. Pickett's mastership — at 50 Arden Street without obtaining material for anything but a magnificat.

WORK THAT IS NEVER FINISHED

Mr Pickett has two regrets — one that the Burns proposals for grading paupers, so that the majority might have increased comfort, were shelved by the war; and two that this month he is saying good-bye to the institution.
"Would that my physical condition were no worse than my mental state," he said to a Herald representative. "It's a funny thing you know, that my predecessor, who retired because he said he was too old, can get about to-day better than I can!"
"Tell me about your work," he was invited" I couldn't detail it all to you," he objected. "It is too varied. Also, it is never finished. I am responsible for the entire administration of the house itself, the infirmary and the casual ward. I have a clerk to assist me, and so am more fortunate than some masters. My successor, for instance, has had to manage alone at Weobley."
"But what do you do in the course of a normal week?" pursued the reporter.
"Well, I may not do anything, but always I am the overseer. It is no good my telling you that I had to oversee this mornings breakfast put out, because I didn't, but if I hadn't been there I should have had the blame. The master looks after enormous stocks of goods and keeps the buildings and everything else in a proper state of repair and cleanliness, but his first concern, of course, is for the well-being of the inmates. He, or the Matron, decides whether a destitute person who is not armed with the written order of the guardian's clerk or the relieving officer shall be admitted. If the person is brought into the house the master sees that he is cleansed, medically examined and dressed in institution clothes, his own being taken away and kept for him."
"Do you mean to say that you would exchange my suit for one not so good?" queried the interviewer.
"Yes." was the reply. " It would not be so good, but it would be warmer!"
"Doesn't that practice rob a man of some of his self-respect?"
"I suppose it does, but in most cases newcomers' apparel cries out for disinfectant treatment."

One result of the medical inspection is that each inmate is ordered an individual diet, particulars of which are entered in the records. Formerly it was the custom to weigh the bread allowed per head per meal. Now everybody at the Stratford institution has as much as he or she can eat. Which system would you think the most economical? Wrong? By not limiting the supply, the officers save thousands of pounds of bread each year, as well as a lot of work. Moneylenders' and bookmakers' circulars inviting applications for loans or bets from a shilling upwards, find their way to men and women boarders at "No. 50," the senders, though knowing their 'quarries' plight is not seeming to be actuated by a malevolent irony. In most cases the recipients are old customers.
"I suppose you have to deal with some queer characters?" Mr Pickett was asked.
"We get all kinds here," he replied. "The other day a fellow with delirium tremens kept seeing a fish that didn't exist. he startled people by suddenly shouting 'Look out! You'll slip on it.
I've dropped it again.'"
"You have to award punishment now and again?"
"Well, I'm empowered to put a man on bread and water, but I never do without consulting the doctor. Really, I don't think I have punished half-a-dozen people, or taken more than two before the guardians, during my 40 years in poor law service. I don't believe in too much power being allotted to one man. I'll show you my punishment book."
He did — ten minutes later. That was the length of time the search for it occupied. When he did produce the book it was covered with dust, so rarely is it used! Misdeeds are chronicled therein that would call down any other master's wrath in full measure, yet against most of these records is the entry, "punishment — none." A woman annexed an old age pension "cheque" from another's booklet and tried to pass it on as a postal order. On the Matron's refusal to be victimised she used very strong language. "punishment — none." "To go to bed after tea each day for a week," was the harshest chastisement that the pressman noticed. "That's what I usually give when I am forced to take action," explained Mr. Pickett. A Daniel come to judgement!

Asked if he held a court for complaints, he said that masters of big unions did so, but at Stratford the inmates had access to him all day long, and he was always ready to investigate any grumble. He is proud of the fact that none of them has ever reported him to the board, whereas in some towns complaints about the master are a weekly occurrence.

PRAISE FROM JOHN BURNS

On two occasions Mr. Pickett entertained Mr. John Burns. His visitors book contains this item :
"Visited the institution, talked to the inmates, and found administration satisfactory.
(signed) John Burns, President Local Government Board. Sept 28th 1911." There are too, numerous favourable comments by members of distant Poor-law authorities.
"Nearly every union master in the country has inspected this institution," remarked Mr. Pickett. "I often show round people of all colours and nationalities. A fortnight ago a Norwegian came to photograph the building. He told me he was clerk to a board of guardians in his own land. Orientals find the system strangely new. "Very nice," they say. and go away to think it over."
"D.P," recalled the days when workhouse masters had no vote and when a guardian had to ask the master's permission to enter the house and the medical officer's to dispense tobacco. He is no believer in the "good old days," and is glad there is more latitude now.
"How would Mr. Chamberlain's scheme have suited you?" inquired the interviewer. "It would have agreed better with my temperament," was the response, "because it would help to banish the idea that a union master is a type of gaoler. You have no idea how important it is that the matron of an establishment like this should possess sympathy and the gift of organisation, and so I must pay a tribute to the wonderful way in which my wife has helped me during our stay here. And before you go I want to tell you this. The chairmen under whom I have served were the best men in the world. You see, I can give them testimonials now — hitherto it has been the other way about.
He brought out a letter from Mr. Chas. Couchman, chairman for 16 years, who expressed a sincere wish that Mr. and Mrs Pickett would live long, and in their well earned rest have health and happiness.
And so say all of us.

Daniel died on Saturday, 26/12/1935 — 'Boxing day'- at his residence — 'Cassiobury', 53 Loxley Road. The end came peacefully following a mild seizure. He left a widow and two sons — Tom who was master at the Pontefract Union and Jack who was Asst. master of the Turnshurst Road Institute, Stoke-on-Trent. The interment took place on the 29th at the Borough cemetery in Evesham Road (plot no. 4420, directly in front of the chapel). The first part of the service being read at the Parish Church by Canon Melville. The mourners were Mrs Pickett (widow), Mr & Mrs Tom Pickett. Mr & Mrs Jack Pickett, Mrs and Mrs Cedric Margetts (nephew & niece), Mrs Avery (sister-in-law), Miss M Hughes and Mr H B Walters. Among those who followed were Mr T Sankey (Chairman of the Guardians Committee). Mr P W Foster (Master at Poor Law Institute), Mr W Ellis (Relieving Officer) C. Smith and C Hollick (representing the Shakespeare Lodge, RAOB), Mr E Drinkwater (representing the Clopton Lodge, AOD), Nurses Matlock and Smith from the Poor Law Infirmary and many others.

An obituary in The Stratford Herald dated Friday 1st 1932 stated:

Mr Pickett will be remembered by many residents as the large-hearted Master for 33 years of the Stratford-on-Avon workhouse. The thousands of men who came under his care, representing the flotsam and jetsam of humanity, had a very warm regard for the 'Guvnor' who, with his great capacity for friendship, his rare sympathy and kindly nature was always ready to do his best for the travellers who came his way.
During the tenure of his office at 50 Arden Street, Mr. Pickett witnessed many improvements in Poor Law administration and the local institute was brought up to date by the erection of the women's infirmary, the new tramp wards and laundry. In the house were the old 'Duke' who passed to his rest at the grand age of 102: Lucy Freeman who was moved to the building from the old parish workhouse in Henley Street; John Adams, a time expired man at the date of the Indian Mutiny, who was in receipt of a weekly pension of 7 shillings from which he paid 5 to the Guardians for his keep, and other interesting personages. A few years after Daniel's appointment beer was included in the Christmas menu and the privilege was never abused.
Considerate and kind to a degree, Daniel gained the affection and esteem of all those under his charge who represented the 'flotsam and jetsam of humanity'. Known as the 'Guv'nor', he had a great capacity for friendship, a rare sympathy and kindly nature and was always ready to do his best for the travellers who came his way. He did his utmost to find temporary employment for those who were genuinely seeking work. he was much intrigued by one 'road philosopher' who, after 'dining sumptuously' on Christmas fare, returned to his 'cell' and chalked the following quotation from Shakespeare on his door. 'When I was at home I was in a better place, but travellers must be content'.

It would seem that contrary to the popular view of poor law institutions No 50 Arden Street was a place in which the unfortunates of Stratford-on-Avon could truly find some sanctuary and was a testament to the fact that one good man (backed by a good wife) could make a difference to the lives of so many.

However, as all too often happens in genealogy, more comes to light. Although the two newspaper articles quoted earlier show the Stratford workhouse in a much more favourable light than is normal for such institutions it was still particularly pleasing to obtain an original visitors book from the Stratford workhouse as this contained numerous entries that served only to confirm the favourable view.

Extracts from the Workhouse Visitors Book July 1910 — July 1913.

'I visited the House — Infirmary, Tramp Wards, and Laundry and found all in excellent order and the inmates well cared for and contented. I fear the time will shortly arrive when we shall need at least half a dozen new bedspreads in the Infirmary.'
Signed Francis H. Hodgson Dec. 13th 1911

We have pleasure in stating that we have surveyed the whole of this institution and the administration appears to us to be the most perfect and satisfactory in every detail and that nothing is spared in providing for health and comfort of the inmates and the efficient control of the institution. We also much appreciate the courtesy of the Master and other officials in affording us such an instructive privilege
signed — Horace Goosty, F Atwill(?) members of the Tamworth Board of Guardians Jan 10th 1912

Visited the house and found everything in first rate order. The inmates look very cheerful and happy. The men particularly wished me to thank those guardians who voted for them to have beer with their xmas dinner. The house generally reflects great credit on all the officials.
signed Walter Moors — Dec 27th 1912.

Staff

Inmates

Records

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

  • Warwickshire County Record Office, Priory Park, Cape Road, Warwick CV34 4JS. Holdings include: Guardians' minute books (1922-30); accounts (1921-20).
  • Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Records Office, Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 6QW. Holdings include: Guardians' minute books (1836-42, 1848-1922, 1930-32); Various workhouse records (1903-28, includes admissions and discharges, indoor relief lists, births and deaths); Workhouse plans (1836-1902).

Bibliography

  • None.

Links

  • None.

Acknowledgment

  • Grateful thanks to Edwin Pickett his contribution to this page, and to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for use of pictures.

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