Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteWorkhouse Staff


Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteWorkhouse Staff


Staff for the Poor

Workhouse Master

The Master was the most important member of staff with regard to the day to day running of the workhouse, responsible for many duties. He had to register all Paupers admitted into the workhouse, and had to ensure that they were all washed, clothed and examined by the medical officer, and then correctly placed within the workhouse wards. He had to ensure that all the rules of the house were adhered to, maintaining order, regular inspection and reading prayers. The Master was accountable to the Board of Guardians.

The association of Health and Residential Care Officers was founded in 1898 as the National Association of Workhouse Masters and Matrons, dissolved 1984 due to the Care in the Community initiative.

Workhouse Matron

The workhouse Matron assisted the Master with daily workhouse life, making inspections and enforcing the rules of the house. However, the Matron very often had responsibility for the workhouse infirmary prior to the employment of qualified Nurses, and was assisted by other Inmates.

Medical Officers

There was a countryside movement for medical reform demanding that unqualified practice should be made illegal. There was a Government report and the subsequent establishment of a provincial medical and surgical association in 1832, which in 1855 became the British Medical Association.

Following the Medical Act 1858 the Poor Law Board stated that the Guardians could employ no Medical man unless qualified in both medicine and surgery. Poor Law Doctors were to hold two formal qualifications. The General Medical Council was established at this time, to act as a regulating body.


The subject of Nurses cannot be discussed without recognizing the importance of Florence Nightingale who, in 1860 established a formal Nurse training school at St Thomas Hospital in London. The first Superintendent Nurse to work in a Poor Law Infirmary was Agnes Jones who had trained at the Nightingale School, and moved to Liverpool Workhouse to take up her position. She was followed in post by Mary Cadbury, from the famous Birmingham Cadbury family. 

The Nurse Registration Act 1919 introduced a three-year training with examination for Nurses, who were then to register with the General Nursing Council.

Other Staff

Many of the other staff in the workhouse was employed by the Board of Guardians, as Porters, Laundry staff, Workshop trainers, and most were assisted by inmates from the house.


Page updated March 12, 2008 by Rossbret