A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded a parish workhouse in operation at Great Torrington for up to 20 inmates.
Torrington Poor Law Union formally came into existence on 30th November 1835. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 28 in number, representing its 23 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
Devon: Alverdiscot, Ashreigny or Ring's Ashe (2), Beaford, Buckland Filleigh, Dalton, Dowland, Futhelstock, High Bickington, Huish, Huntshaw, Langtree, Merton, Peter's Marland, Petrockstow, Roborough, Shebbear (2), Sheepwash, St Giles-in-the-Wood, Great Torrington (3), Little Torrington, Winkleigh (2), Wear Gifford, Yarnscombe.
The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 17,348 ranging in size from Huish (population 131) to Great Torrington (3,092). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-35 had been £7,416 or 8s.7d. per head
A new union workhouse was built in 1837 on the south side of New Street to the west of Great Torrington. It was designed by Sampson Kempthorne who was also the architect for other Devon workhouses at Axminster, Barnstaple, Crediton, Exeter, Okehampton, and South Molton. Intended to accommodate 200 inmates, the Poor Law Commissioners authorised the sum of £3,800 on its construction. The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1904 map below:
The workhouse layout was based on Kempthorne's standard cruciform or "square" design which created four courtyards — one each for men, women, boys and girls.
In the 1870s a 26-bed infirmary and chapel were added.
The workhouse later became Torrington Public Assistance Institution. The workhouse buildings no longer exist and the site is occupied by Woodland Vale accommodation for the elderly.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- North Devon Record Office, Tuly Street, Barnstaple, EX31 1EL. Holdings include: Guardians' minute books (1837-1932, with gaps); Births (1872-1935); Deaths (1871-1914); Register of lunatics (1891-1922); Register of mechanical restraint (1890-1911); etc.
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