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Exeter Poor Law Union and Workhouse

In 1699, an Act of Parliament passed for erecting hospitals & workhouses for the poor of the 23 parishes etc in the City & County of Exeter; under which a large Workhouse was built in the parish of St Sidwell. Since 1704, the Corporation of the Poor, instituted by this Act, have been in receipt of most of an annuity of 40, left by the Rev John Bury, in 1667, for the support of a workhouse for the poor of the parish of St Sidwell. As part of this annuity they receive 30 yearly out of land at Netherstover, & 31 from a cottage at Broadnymet; but 8.8s per annum charged by the donor on a tenement called Rock, now held by the Dean & Chapter, has not been paid for many years. In 1700, the site of the workhouse, & 17 acres of land adjoining, were conveyed to the Governor & Guardians of the Poor, subject to a yearly rent charge of 30, one half of which belongs to Sir T Lethbridge, & the other half was left to the Episcopal Charity Schools by Mrs Mary Trelawny. Part of this land is occupied as the workhouse garden, brickyard etc, & the rest is let for about 106 per annum, & chiefly occupied as nurseries, gardens & the building sites of two rows of houses called Summerland place & terrace. The Corporation of the Poor derive also about 50 a year as the rents of a house & the Bury Meadows, of which 4/5ths were left by Sir Edward Seaward, in 1703, & the remaining 1/5th by Margery Gould, at a subsequent date. About 4 acres of Bury Meadows were laid out as a public promenade for the inhabitants in 1846. The Workhouse has been enlarged at various periods, & comprises several extensive ranges of brick buildings, in which are accommodations for about 550 paupers, but it has seldom more than 400 inmates. It is pleasantly situated in the eastern suburbs of the city, & is surrounded by gardens & handsome houses. Behind it is a large brick & tile yard, in which many of the able-bodied paupers are employed. The 23 parishes etc of the city of Exeter are still incorporated for the support of their poor, under the local act of 1699, & they form a Superintendent Registrar's District, under the general registration act.
Source: White Directory 1850 p.120-1
Submitted by Betty Longbottom


Workhouses, List of those visited in 1867 With Name of the Workhouse and numbers of  insane, idiotic, and imbecile inmates.
Exeter 19 20 39
Source: 22nd Report of the Commissioners in Lunacy to the Lord Chancellor. Submitted by Alan Longbottom.

Exeter Union Workhouse

1851 census Exeter Union Workhouse
St Sidwell, Exeter, Devonshire.
HO/107/1868             Folio 286     Page 2

James Mason - Master
Margaret Mason - Matron

Exeter Incorporation Part I

I - There is a general revision of the relief lists, with the exception of cases over 75 years of age, and widows with children.

II - The longest period for which relief is given is indefinite, being left to go on until the relieving officer reports some alteration in the circumstances of the case.

III - "Sick" cases are given relief for periods varying according to the report of the medical officer, not as a rule exceeding 3 months.

"Widows with children" are at first given relief for 6 months, and afterwards the relief goes on indefinitely, the case being brought up for alteration when each child attains the age of 11.

"Old and infirm" cases go on from revision to revision, with the exception of those over 75 years of age, which are placed on the permanent list.

IV - The personal attendance of the applicant, and a fresh report from the relieving officer is required in all cases.

V - School-pence are paid in cases where relief is ordered for as much as 3 months. Certificates showing the actual number of attendances are produced.

VII - The Guardians personally question the applicants, and in the majority of cases some member of the Board is personally acquainted with their circumstances.

VIIa - The clerk enters the relief in the Relief Order Book, and the entries are copied by the relieving officer into the Application and Report Book.

VIII - There is no out-door labour test in this Union.

IX - All the relief ordered by the Board is in money. Only about one fiftieth of the total amount of relief is given in kind.

X - The workhouse is offered in cases of suspected imposition and in some cases to persons of drunken habits, and to those who are incorrigibly idle. When offered as a test not one in ten accept it.

XI - The workhouse is as a rule offered to deserted wives, after they have received out-relief for a month. The husband is prosecuted if he can be found. A reward of 1 is offered for his apprehension.

XII - Money derived from a benefit club is estimated at half its value in determining the amount of relief. Cases do not occur of pensioners in receipt of out-relief.

XIII - Relief in aid of earnings is given to widows and aged persons, but not, so far as I could ascertain in other cases.

XIV - Relations, legally liable, are compelled to contribute. Legal proceedings are taken 2 or 3 times a year, but the threat is generally sufficient.

XV - The provisions of the Out-door Relief Regulation Order are strictly observed.

XVI - The medical officers do not attend the meetings of the Guardians unless specially required.

XVII - The Guardians have no system of communications with persons administering charitable relief.

At the date of my visit there was one case of a single woman with a bastard child, and 2 cases of widows with bastard children in receipt of out-relief.

Part II

1 - There are 2 relief districts and 2 relieving officers.

2 - There are no assistant relieving officers.

3 - There is no pay clerk.

4 - The relieving officers do all the visiting; they keep a diary in a form not materially different from that published by Messrs. Knight.

5 - "Sick" cases are as a rule visited once a week, never less than once a fortnight.

"Widows with children" are not visited more than once in 6 months on an average.

"Old and infirm" chronic cases are as a rule visited about once in a quarter, but in some cases not more than once in 6 months.

6 - When the relieving officer gives an order for the workhouse he visits the home first in all cases in which the applicant has one. He reports every case to the Guardians at their next meeting.

7- The relieving officer visits the home before giving "temporary provisional relief" Such relief is always in kind, and is reported to the Guardians at their next meeting.

8 - The Guardians frequently direct the relieving officer to relieve "at discretion" They require him to report what he has done at their next meeting.

9 - The relieving officers visit at uncertain times and unexpectedly.

10-16     Mode of Payment :-

The poor are paid at the Corn Exchange and come in alphabetical order. One district comes at 11 a.m. and the other at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays. About 300 are paid by each relieving officer in an hour or an hour and a half.

If the head of the family, or the wife, if married, is unable to come in person for relief, it is sent by a relation or neighbour. Children are as a rule forbidden to come for it.

The neighbour generally gets 1d for taking it. No person takes for more than 4 or 5 others.

The relieving officer would not intrust the relief to any person not previously known to him, and inquires, when visiting, whether it has been properly received.

When any person is unable either to come or send for relief, the relieving officer takes it to his home.

No person has to come more than mile to receive relief.

Bread, meat, and groceries are given by orders on the contractors.

Wine and spirits are also supplied by daily orders upon the contractor.

17 - There is no dispensary for out-door poor belonging to the Guardians.

18 - The relieving officers attend at their own offices from 10 to 12 and 3 to 5 daily.

Exeter Incorporation
Area 1,800 acres : Population in 1861 - 33,738

Western District - Half Year ending Lady day 1871
Maximum number of cases in receipt of relief 358 being 737 persons
Minimum number of cases in receipt of relief 291 being 552 persons
Charles C. Hendrick - Relieving Officer

Eastern District - Half year ending Lady day 1871
Maximum number of cases in receipt of relief 393 being 705 persons
Minimum number of cases in receipt of relief 363 being 634 persons
John Haskway  - Relieving Officer

From Ist Report of the Local Government Board 1871-72
Pages 122-123
Transcribed by Alan Longbottom

Records Available

Castle Street, 


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