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Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteKings Lynn



King's Lynn Union, formed under the Poor Law Amendment Act, in 1835, comprises the 2 parishes of St Margaret's & All Saints, in the borough, & the small parishes of North & West Lynn, on the opposite side of the river, in the Hundred of Freebridge-Marshland. In 1841, it contained 16,554 inhabitants, of whom 7547 were males & 9007 females. It had then 3660 houses; of which 3442 were inhabited, 192 uninhabited, & 26 building. 

Of these contents, all were in the borough, except 514 souls & 115 houses. Of the inhabitants, 1772 were returned as not being born in Norfolk; & of those above 20 years of age, 4033 were males & 5324 females. 

The 4 parishes of this Union comprise an area of about 4800 acres, & their aggregate average annual expenditure for the support of their poor, during the 3 years preceding the formation of the Union, was 9220. In 1838, their expenditure was 6683; in 1839, 7165; & in
1843, 7775. 

South Lynn Workhouse, in Friar Street, which has been used by the parish of All Saints more than 60 years, was purchased by the overseers about 1826, but was sold after the formation of the Union. 

St James's Workhouse, which, until 1835, was used only by St Margaret's parish, is now the Union Workhouse, having been altered for that purpose, at the cost of about 750.It consists of the remains of St James's Chapel, & some additional buildings. This chapel was founded by Bishop Turbus in 1146, but after the Dissolution, it was refounded as a hospital for the poor & impotent people, & endowed in 1545, with a tax of 4d per chaldron on all coals brought inton Lynn, now yielding about 450 per annum, which is applied with the poor rates of St Margaret's parish. The chapel having become ruinous in 1560, the nave, the spire, & part of the tower were taken down, & the materials used in repairing the lofty chancel & transept, which were again thoroughly repaired by the corporation, in 1682, & divided into stories, the highest floor of which extends through the pointed arches, which spring from lofty clustered columns. It was then an hospital for 50 poor men, women & children. In 1687, the Corporation settles the building as a Workhouse for poor children, "to hold them to work & train them to trades & manual occupations" & endowed it with 6 a year out of premises formerly the Grey Friary. 

It was afterwards greatly enlarged, & placed under the control of the Guardians of the Poor of St Margaret's. Adjoining it is St James' burial ground, now added to the parish burial ground.

Attached to it is an Infirmary for about 40 sick paupers, erected in 1823, at the cost of 1000. The Workhouse has room for more than 200 inmates, who are maintained at the weekly cost of about 2s.10d per head, for food & clothing. For some years before the formation of the Union, here were often as many as 170 inmates, & the poor rates of St Margaret's averaged about 8000 per annum, levied on land, buildings, ships & stocks in trade. The two later have been exempted from the payment of poor rate by a recent Act of Parliament. 

The Court of Guardians for the support of the poor of St Margaret's parish was instituted by an Act of Parliament passed in 1700, which was
amended by another Act passed in 1808. This corporate body still exists, & consists of the members of the Town Council (ex-officio), the two Churchwardens of St Margarets, & 2 Guardians & 1 Overseer elected yearly for each of the 9 wards, making altogether 53. They have still the sole power of levying rates for the relief of the poor; but the expenditure thereof is now vested with the Union Guardians. One of them is elected governor, & another deputy governor. in 1584, John Lonyson bequeathed 200, to be invested by the Corporation, for the benefit of the poor of St James' Workhouse, & for the use of this sum they have since paid 10 a year, which is applied with the poor rates of St Margaret's parish, as also is the coal tax, & the annuity of 6, named above. 

The Board of Guardians for the Union, consists of 23 members, of whom 18 are chosen yearly for St Margaret's parish, 3 for South Lynn, & 1 each for West & North Lynn. John James Coulton esq, is the union clerk & supt. registrar. Mr John Black & his wife are master & matron
of the Workhouse; the Rev William Howlett is chaplain; H Smythe, W E Hunter, & C Cotton, surgeons; Matthew Burrell & James Hubbard, relieving officers; & Thomas Cook, registrar of marriages. 

Source: WHite Directory 1845 - p 508/9
Submitted by Betty Longbottom

St James Workhouse
The old St. James Union Workhouse Kings Lynn was built on the site of St. James church that was spoiled in the Dissolution of monasteries in 1539, On Sunday morning August 20th1854 , because of lack of maintenance, large cracks appeared in the 80ft clock tower, and with cracking sounds coming from the walls and floors, the workhouse inmates fled outside. At 10.45 a.m. the workhouse clock stopped, a local clockmaker Mr. Andrew climbed the tower to repair it. At 11.20a.m. with a tremendous crash the workhouse tower collapsed killing the clockmaker and an inmate who had refused to get out of bed.
In 1904 the St James Hall, that had been built on the old site was destroyed by fire and the St. James Cinema built on the same site in 1906 was burnt to the ground in1937.
The new Union Workhouse was finished in1856 in Exton road Kings Lynn and it would appear to also have been called St. James.
One small part of a wall still stands on London Road opposite the Kings Lynn Library surrounded by old county Law Court, Methodist Chapel, and Social Security building.
Source: Information and copies of pictures obtained from Kings Lynn Library, submitted by Paul Moth.

Link to Photo Album for photographs of Kings Lynn Workhouse


Records include Minutes 1804-1930, various assorted years for records of Individuals.

Norfolk Record Office
Gildengate House
Anglia Square
Upper Green Lane
Telephone: 01603 761349 

Norfolk Record Office; Records of Poor Law

Genuki Site of Norfolk Poor Law Unions 

Page updated March 12, 2008 by Rossbret