Woolwich, Kent, London
A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded parish workhouses in operation at Woolwich accommodating up 100 inmates, and at Plumstead for up to 45 inmates.
Between 1838 and 1868, the parish of Woolwich was part of the Greenwich Poor Law Union. In 1868, as part of a large number of changes to London's poor law organisation around that time, a new Woolwich Union was created which took in three parishes formerly belonging to the Lewisham Union. The new union officially came into existence on 10th March, 1868. Its administration was overseen by a Board of Guardians, 17 in number, representing its constituent parishes of Charlton next Woolwich (3 Guardians), Kidbrooke (1), Plumstead (5), and Woolwich (8).
The Tewson Road Workhouse
On 2nd April 1870, the foundation stone for the new Woolwich Union workhouse was laid by the Revd Francis Cameron. It bore the inscription "The poor ye have always with you". The workhouse was situated at Tewson Road, between Skittles Alley (now Riverdale road) and Cage Lane (now Lakedale Road) at the south side of Plumstead High Street, and was designed by the firm of Church and Rickwood.
In 1872, a separate infirmary was erected to the south of the workhouse. The new buildings consisted of three ward blocks with central staff quarters, kitchens, stores, offices and committee rooms. The wards included accommodation for children and maternity patients, and a special sick bay for vagrants from the casual ward at Hull Place at the north of the workhouse. The site location and layout are shown on the 1914 map below:
From around 1904, birth certificates of those born in the workhouse carried a euphemistic address so as not to stigmatise them in later life. The Woolwich workhouse's address for this purpose was 79b Tewson Road, Woolwich.
In the 1920s, the workhouse became known as the Woolwich Institution, and the infirmary as the Plumstead and District Hospital. In 1930, following the formal end of the workhouse system, control of the site passed to the London County Council. It was then renamed St Nicholas Hospital and, at that time, had 320 beds. As part of the changes, many of the walls that formerly separated different classes of workhouse inmates were removed as shown on below of the same of the workhouse.
In World War Two, the whole of the northern block was destroyed by in a single bomb attack. In 1945, the hospital suffered further damage from a flying bomb. The hospital has now closed and the site has been completely redeveloped.
The Goldie Leigh Homes
In 1899, the Woolwich union erected the Goldie Leigh children's cottage homes site at Bostall Heath, to the south-east of Woolwich. A receiving home at 43-47 Parkdale Road, Plumstead, which dealt with children prior to their being transferred to the homes.
The name Goldie Leigh is believed to derive from the estate of Basil Heron Goldie (1792-1849), son of Lieutenant-General Thomas Goldie of Dumfries (c.1750-1804) and Amelia Leigh (1756-1845) of North Court, Shorwell, Isle of Wight. Their home, Goldie Leigh Lodge, was situated in what later became the hospital grounds. The Goldie Leigh site location and layout are shown on the 1914 map below.
The homes comprised a row of houses along Lodge Lane, together with an infirmary, laundry and other buildings.
Each "cottage" housed a group of around sixteen children under the care of a house mother.
In 1914, the Goldie Leigh site was rented out to the Metropolitan Asylums Board for use as a hospital for the treatment of ringworm. Ringworm was an infectious disease of the scalp, common amongst pauper children, for which the treatment centre had previously been the Downs School at Sutton. Goldie Leigh then gradually expanded its remit to cover a score of different conditions of the skin and scalp.
In 1930, the site was taken over by the London County Council. By 1938 it had 248 beds, a school with five classrooms, a craft room and a large hall for long-stay patients. The hospital ran its own Girl Guides, Brownies, Boy Scouts and Wolf Cub packs.
In 1961, with a decline in demand for the hospital treatment of skin conditions, part of the hospital — the Bostall Unit — was adapted for the care of children who were classed mentally subnormal. It continued to provide hostel accommodation for children with disabilities until 1988.
The Goldie Leigh Hospital now provides a range of out-patient services including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and psychiatric assistance.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
The Ancestry website has two collections of London workhouse records:
- The London Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records (1738-1930) are searchable by name.
- The Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, 1430-1930 are more extensive but only provide browsable page images.
- The FindMyPast website has workhouse / poor law records for Westminster.
- London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R OHB. Holdings include: Admissions and discharges (1896-1944); Creed registers (1871-1943); Guardians' minute books (1868-1930); etc.
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