Link back to main ROSSBRET websitePortsmouth/Portsea


Link back to main ROSSBRET websitePortsmouth/Portsea



Portsea Island Union Workhouse 
and Portsea Island Union Workhouse Infirmary became known as St Mary's Hospital c1930. Situated in Milton Street, Portsmouth. The infirmary was a separate building to the workhouse with an Independent Matron. The workhouse accommodated approx. 1500 inmates, with an average of 260 in the infirmary. Isolation wards in a separate building were built in 1870 and became known as The Pest House.

Living conditions in the Workhouse
Submitted by Iris Wood

Source: Anne Mountfield

1. The Workhouse Uniform
After the new inmate had been searched, washed and given a haircut, the workhouse uniform was then issued. The women wore shapeless, waistless dresses reaching their ankles, with a pattern of broad, vertical stripes in a rather washed out blue on an off-white background. The men wore shirts of a similar pattern, and ill-fitting trousers, tied with cord below the knee. Beneath such exterior garments, at least during the 19th Century, the women wore under-draws, a shift and long stockings, with a poke bonnet on their heads. The men wore thick vests, woollen draws and socks, with a neckerchief around their throats, and, in cold weather, a coarse jacket. The children's outfits have been described as a singularly ugly and disfiguring uniform, too often adopted, that brought real misery to the wearers, besides being hated as a badge of pauperism.....The dress of the pauper girl is usually of stout woollen material, good for winter, but generally worn all the year round. They were too often clumsily cut and badly sewn and the long skirts in which the little were attired (to allow for growth) impeded their movements, adding to their awkward gait, which was made worse by hobnailed boots with iron tips.

2. The Workhouse Day
The model timetable devised by the Poor Law Commissioners meant that the workhouse day began when the rising bell rang out at 6am from March to September and at 7am for the rest of the year. After prayers, breakfast followed from 6 to 7 am. They then worked from 7 until noon. After an hour for lunch work resumed until supper from 6 to 7pm. This was followed by more prayers and then bed, by 8pm at the latest.

The daily routine was designed to be dull and repetitive to remind inmates of their situation and discourage other paupers from entering the workhouse. In the same way, the work which filled the day was made hard and disagreeable. The Poor Law Board recommended tasks such as stone-breaking, oakum-picking, sack-making, corn-grinding, laundry work and gardening. Workhouse paupers were also hired out as a cheap form of labour.

3. Workhouse Food
Although each Poor Law Union could choose the food it provided in its workhouses, almost all adpoted one of the six model diets recommended by the Poor Law Commisioners. These supplied between 137 and 182 ounces of solid food a week and as a deterrent the food was made as dull, predictable and tasteless as it it could be.

The worst 'offenders' - able-bodied inmates, received the plainest food.
The following is the No. 3 diet.

Breakfast each day was 6oz bread (5oz for women & children over 9) and 1˝pts of gruel.
Dinner on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday& Friday was 7oz bread (6oz) and 2oz (1˝oz) cheese. Tuesday was 8oz cooked meat (6oz) and ˝oz vegetables, Thursday was 1˝pts soup while Saturday was 5oz bacon and ˝oz vegetables.
Supper each day was 6oz (5oz) bread and 1˝oz cheese.

The workhouse master decided what food children under 9 received. The workhouse doctor ordered the food for the sick while people over 60 were allowed 1oz of tea, 7oz of butter and 8oz of sugar a week instead of gruel for breakfast.

Evidence suggests that that in 1846 the sick, lunatic and infirm in Portsea Workhouse were being given a better diet than many other paupers of the same group in other workhouses.

Living conditions in the Workhouse
Submitted by Iris Wood
Source: Anne Mountfield

LINK to photographs of Portsea Workhouse


Workhouses, List of those visited in 1867 With Name of the Workhouse and numbers of  insane, idiotic, and imbecile inmates.
Portsea Island 50 73 123
Source: 22nd Report of the Commissioners in Lunacy to the Lord Chancellor. Submitted by Alan Longbottom.


Hampshire Record Office
Sussex Street, 
SO23 8TH
Tel: 01962 846154 


Title : Portsea Workhouse By Bob Norman
Debate : Fyona Basset, Chris Elmer
Illustrations : Kate Saull, Alan Stewart, Linda Caesar

Prepared by the Archaelogy and Education Project, Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton, in conjunction with Crookhorn School, under the auspices of the Manpower Services Commission. May
1988. ISBN 0854322957

The project was written for use by 14 - 15 year olds following the Midlands GCSE History syllabus, to fulfill the local study requirements.

Page updated March 12, 2008 by Rossbret