A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded parish workhouses in operation at Penzance for up to 30 inmates, and at Marazion for up to 8.
Penzance Poor Law Union was formed on 10th June 1837. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 44 in number, representing its 19 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
St Buryan (2), St Erth (2), Gulval (2), St Hilary (2), St Ives (4), St Just (4), St Levan, Ludgvan (3), Madron (2), Marazion (2), Morvah (2), Paul (4), Penzance (6), Perranuthno, Sancreed (2), Sennen, Towednack, Uny Lelant (2), Zennor.
Later additions: St Michael's Mount (from 1858).
The Isles of Scilly also appear to have been included as a parish within the Penzance Poor Law Union.
The population falling within the union at the 1831 census had been 39,627 with parishes ranging in size from Morvah (population 377) to Penzance itself (6,563). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1834-36 had been £6,312 or 4s.3d. per head of the population.
The Penzance Union workhouse was built in 1838 at Madron, near Penzance. It was designed by George Gilbert Scott and his partner William Bonython Moffatt who were also the architects for other Cornish workhouses in Liskeard, Redruth, St Austell, and St Columb Major. Intended to accommodate 400 inmates, the Poor Law Commissioners authorised the sum of £6,050 on its construction. The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1906 map below.
Penzance followed Scott and Moffatt's typical design. It had a single-storey front block with a central entrance archway.
To the rear was the main accommodation block, three storeys high, rising to four storeys at the centre where the Master and matron had their quarters.
An infirmary block stood to the rear.
After 1930, the workhouse became a Public Assistance Institution under the control of Cornwall County Council's Public Assistance Committee. The Institution was closed at the inauguration of the National Health Service in 1948. The former entrance block has now (2001) been converted to housing, and the old infirmary is used by a food processing company.
- Long-term workhouse inmates (1861)
- 1881 Census - Madron workhouse
- Cornwall Online Census Project:
- 1841 - Enumeration Districts 13 to 16 (includes workhouse)
- 1851 - Enumeration District 3 (includes workhouse)
- 1861 - Enumeration Districts 10 to 13 (includes workhouse)
- 1871 - RG10/2342: workhouses
- 1881 - Enumeration Districts 10 (includes workhouse) to 12
- 1891 - Enumeration Districts 9 and 10 (includes workhouse)
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.
- Cornwall Archives, Kresen Kernow, Little Vauxhall, Redruth TR15 1AS. Few records survive. Holdings include Guardians' minute books (1837-1930).
- Higginbotham, Peter The Workhouse Encyclopedia (2014, The History Press)
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