In 1725, the early workhouse directory, An Account of Several Workhouses..., noted the existence of workhouses at Epping and Harlow. Workhouses also operated at Theydon Garnon from around 1704, and Chigwell from 1728 (Hitchcock, 1985).
From about 1789, an Epping parish workhouse was located in the village on what is now Station Road, opposite what later became the National Westminster bank. It was a three-storey brick building with a few small cottages and a garden to the rear.
Epping Poor Law Union was formed on 16th January 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 22 in number, representing its 18 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
County of Essex:
Chigwell (2), Chingford, Epping (2), Great Parndon, Harlow (2), Latton, Little Parndon, Loughton (2), Magdalen Laver, Matching, Nazeing, Netswell [Netteswell], North Weald Bassett, Roydon, Sheering, Theydon Bois, Theydon Garnon.
Later Additions: Buckhurst Hill (from 1894), Epping Upland (from 1896).
The population falling within the union at the 1831 census had been 14,734 with parishes ranging in size from Little Parndon (population 90) to Epping itself (2,735). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-35 had been £9,614 or 13s.1d. per head of the population.
Epping workhouse was erected at a site on The Plain in 1837-8. The Poor Law Commissioners authorised an expenditure of £6,000 on construction of the building which was intended to accommodate up to 220 inmates. It was designed by Lewis Vulliamy who was also the architect of the Brentford and Sturminster Union workhouses. The workhouse location and layout is shown on the 1895 map below.
Vulliamy's design for Epping was a variation on the model cruciform or "square" plan published in 1835 and executed in a plain Elizabethan style. Its modifications to the standard layout included the placing of the chapel/dining-hall at the rear of the central hub, and the addition of short infirmary cross wings at the ends of the main accommodation ranges. A separate two-storey infirmary was added in 1846 which was later used as a laundry. Another infirmary was added in 1876 at the south of the main building. In the 1880s, a major building programme included the remodelling of the entrance black at the north, and the replacement of the southern wing with a new infirmary and dining-hall/chapel, together with new buildings to the west.
In 1911-12, a new infirmary, at the east of the workhouse, and a master's house were erected at a cost of about £10,000. The infirmary was taken over by the army in 1917-19.
The aerial view below, taken from the north, shows the workhouse buildings at the right and the 1911 infirmary at the left.
The former workhouse later became Epping Poor Law Institution and then St Margaret's Hospital. Most of the surviving workhouse building was demolished in 2001.
Epping Cottage Homes
By 1912, Epping Union operated a small cottage homes site for 40 children at Coopersale Common. The home was later renamed Forest Side. The children attended school at Theydon Garnon. Like many children's homes, the inmates took part in Boys Scouts and Cubs activities. They also went away for an annual seaside holiday at Mersea Island. After 1930, the home was taken over by Essex County Council and continued in operation until the late 1960s. The buildings no longer exist.
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.
- Essex Record Office, Wharf Road Chelmsford CM2 6YT. Few records survive — holdings include: Guardians' minutes (1836-1930; Lunatic examination book (1870-1919); Punishment book (1914-38); Cottage Homes Committee minutes (1912-30); etc.
- Hitchcock, T.V. (1985) The English workhouse: a study in institutional poor relief in selected counties. l695-l750. (DPhil thesis. University of Oxford.)
- Hills, Sidney Glimpses of Epping in Olden Days.
- Garratt, Tinma (1982)St Margaret's Hospital, Epping: Origin, History and Development
- Wildman, Mary (2000) Other People's Children (An account of the cottage homes. Copy at Essex Record Office.)
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