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Norwich Poor Law Union and Workhouse

The Workhouse
in Bridge St, St Andrew's, forms with St Andrew's Hall & the Dutch Church, part of the remains of the Black Friary, but was thoroughly repaired & greatly enlarged after the year 1802, by new ranges of buildings extending down to the river, so that it has now accommodations for about 600 paupers. Those who are able to work are employed in the manufacture of worsted & cotton goods. A detached part of the Workhouse establishment is the Infirmary, in an airy situation a little beyond St Augustine's gate, in the parish of St Clement, formerly a lazar house, founded by a bishop of Norwich, but now the pleasant retreat of Infirm & superannuated paupers, none being admitted under the age of 65. 

It has accommodations for about 130 aged men & women, with a good house for the master. Adjoining it is a building erected in 1828, & enlarged in 1838, as an Asylum for Pauper Lunatics, with a ward for sick patients. The average weekly number of paupers in the Workhouse & Infirmary, during the year 1843, was 505, & the number of out poor 2288, including 79 illegitimate children, & 119 non-resident paupers.

The expenditure in the same year, on account of the Workhouse, was 3020; on account of the Infirmary, 2069; & on account of the out poor, salaries etc, 19,963. The inmates of the Workhouse are maintained at the weekly cost of 2s.2+d per head. All the parishes & hamlets of the city & county of the city, except Trinity or St Mary's in the Marsh, were united for the support of the poor under an act of parliament passed in 1712, vesting the management in a Court of Guardians, empowered to assess to the poor rates all lands, houses, tenements, tithes, stocks, & personal estates. The assessment of the two latter gave rise to much dissatisfaction among the merchants, manufacturers, & shopkeepers; & the mismanagement of the guardians, together with depressions in trade, & the increased population, having augmented the poor rates from 20 to 40 per annum, & in 1826, to upwards of 50,000, the inhabitants applied to Parliament for a new act, which received the royal assent on May 27th, 1827. This act abolished the assessment of stocks & personal estates, & changed the constitution of the Court of Guardians, which has been again altered by another act of parliament passed in 1831. Under this act, the Court consists of 63 Guardians, elected yearly, on the first Monday in June, in the 39 parish vestries, one or more being chosen for each parish, according to its size & population, & the churchwarden being returning officer, & having a casting vote in case of an equality. Persons rated for property to the value of 10 per
annum have 1 vote; those rated at 20 or upwards have 2 votes; & 30 & upwards, 3 votes. The mayor, recorder, steward, justices of the peace, constables, alehouse keepers, publicans & persons not rated at 5, are excluded from being elected guardians. The Poor Rates amounted, in 1828, to 20,000; in 1833, to 30,000: in 1834, to 26,252; in 1838, to 16,595; & in 1843, to 25,053. 

A Dispensary is attached to the Workhouse; & for affording their aid to the sick & lame paupers, 8 surgeons have each a yearly salary of 25. The 63 Guardians form themselves into 11 Committees, for transacting the various departments of their affairs, & hold a general court on the first Tuesday of every month. One of them is appointed Governor, & 
another Deputy Governor. The former office is now held by A A H Beckwith esq, & the latter by John Skipper esq. The principal  stipendiary officers, are their yearly salaries, are Messrs W C Lowne, master of the Workhouse, 70; John Bilham, master of the Infirmary & Asylum, 60; R R Cremer, apothecary, 100; Rev J B Tompson, chaplain, 50; Roger Kerrison, clerk, 130; Starling Day, cashier, 200; John
Abel, office clerk, 80; Eli de Carle, Robert Winter, & Robert Steele, relieving officers, about 90 each; Robert Martin, removal officer, & Isaac Bailety, schoolmaster, 60; & Elizabeth Woods, schoolmistress, 31. ... 
Source: White Directory 1845 - P 144/45
Submitted by Betty Longbottom

The Workhouse became West Norwich Hospital.
The construction of the workhouse infirmary outside St Augustines Gate is not known, but moved in 1859 to Bowthorpe Road, Heigham, Norwich. It also became known as Bowthorpe Road Infirmary, and between 1930-1948 was known as Woodlands Hospital. Records are held at Norwich City Archives (address

Data on Poor Law Expenditure
The average cost in England and Wales is 8s and 2d farthing. but
this is for rural as well as urban districts.
Comparative data for the five largest towns in the Eastern Counties
may be taken from the last Report of the District Inspector.

  Total Indoor Total Outdoor Per Head
King's Lynn 5s-10d 2s-2.25d 3s-7.75d
Yarmouth 5s-4d 2s-9.5d 2s-6.5d
Norwich 4s-9.25d 1s-10.75d 2s-10.5d
Ipswich 4s-4.25d 2s-7.5d  1s-8.75d
Colchester 3s-9d 2s-2d  1s-7d

These figures bring out the highly significant fact that whilst
Norwich spends less on indoor relief than any other town in the
district, the expenditure on outdoor relief is the highest but 
one on the list. The explanation is to be found in the fact that
until the new infirmary buildings were put in hand, no effort had
been made in Norwich to provide adequate indoor accommodation for the sick poor, whilst, on the other hand, outdoor relief has been
given with a lavish hand.

In 1907 it was ascertained that the number of separate individuals
relieved during the year in Norwich was 11,259, exclusive of 
vagrants and pauper lunatics in the asylum. Compared with other urban areas the pauper class in Norwich is quite exceptionally large.

King's Lynn 1,261 6.7%
Yarmouth 2,936 5.8%
Norwich 11,259 10.1%
Ipswich 3,412 5.1%
Colchester 2,349 6.1%
London 339,256 6.1%

Only about 14 out of every hundred paupers in Norwich receive 
relief in the workhouse or infirmary. 

The Norwich Board of Guardians speak of their workhouse with pride, and it is officially regarded as being in some ways a model
institution. (See - Evidence Poor Law Commission Vol 1, A)
Its special feature is the care which is taken to classify the old
people according to character and behaviour. These constitute, of
course, by far the largest proportion of the inmates. Deserving
old married people occupy a row of cottages apart from the general
body of the house, and come and go at will. Next to them are the
privileged old people, who have a day room rather more comfortably furnished than the ordinary. There are arm-chairs for instance;  and below them again are those whom it is necessary to keep under rather stricter discipline. 
As far as possible, each class is kept by itself, so that in Norwich
a real effort is made to do away with the worst hardships of a
workhouse life. The respectable old person is not driven to associate with the kind of people whom he or she has never associated with  before. How far this experiment is really successful a stranger is hardly in a position to say. In spite of everything, the indescribable workhouse atmosphere is just as all-pervading in Norwich as elsewhere.
Any attempt to deal with all classes of people, old and young, good
and bad, sane and insane, under the same roof is inevitably doomed to failure more or less complete.
Different workhouses fail in different ways, but failure in some
direction there is bound to be. 

Next to the aged the most important class, numerically, to be found
in workhouses is the feeble-minded. In Norwich it is the custom to
keep in the imbecile wards all paupers of unsound mind who are not actually dangerous. It is cheaper than sending them on to the asylum; but to treat every type of mental disease in the same wards and in  the same way, and under the supervision of the same workhouse doctor is scarcely a satisfactory way of dealing with the problem.
Much of the same sort of criticism applies to the treatment of the
so-called able-bodied. Everyone under sixty who is not actually 
sick is regarded by the Poor Law as able-bodied, but included in 
this category are those of every degree of capacity and incapacity.
It is a miscellaneous assortment of humanity in which it is quite 
exceptional to find a really able-bodied man in health. Whatever
they are, they must be set to work; but it is absolutely impossible
in the same building and under the same officers to enforce any
reasonable standard of effort amongst a horde of paupers who differ so widely from one another in ability and willingness.
Whatever their taste it tends to be a demoralising sham, rather 
attractive than otherwise to a certain type of character, and
admirably calculated to destroy any latent capacity which individuals may chance to possess. Whatever a man is when he goes into the workhouse, he will inevitably have sunk to the level of the rest when he comes out. 

It is mainly in this way that the Poor Law manufactures the
dangerous type known as the "ins and outs" The paupers enumerated in 1907 were classified according to the number of time relief was granted during the year, and in Norwich those who came on relief five times and upwards numbered 479. Of these, between two and three hundred, on a moderate estimate would belong to this class. Whether in the workhouse or outside of it, they prey upon society, coming into the workhouse for brief intervals of recuperation whenever they grow tired of a predatory life outside.
Except for these, and the tramps, of whom there are always between sixty and seventy in the casual wards, the population of the work- house in Norwich is not on the whole very migratory.
The building, which is good and fairly modern, is certified to
accommodate 800, and there are always over 700 inmates, including upwards of 160 or 170 sick people in the infirmary. In 1907, apart from children and vagrants, under 1,300 people all told received indoor relief, so that it is evident that the larger proportion
of workhouse inmates are there permanently. This is even true to
a large extent of the infirmary, which is largely given up to those
who have grown too old and feeble to remain in the body of the house.
Source: Norwich A Social Study by C B Hawkins. With an Inntroduction by the Dean of Norwich. London, Philip Lee Warner 36 Albemarle St. 1910 326 pp. LL 287.5  p.142/147
Submitted by Alan Longbottom

In 1905-6, and 1906-7 Distress Committees emigrated many thousands of families, and amongst these was a party of 53 men, women and children who were sent from Norwich in February 1906, to Toronto at a cost of over 400. 

Last year again the Norwich Distress Committee sent out 102 persons and as a contribution towards the cost the Local Government made a grant of 700. 
Since 1905 the Norwich Distress Committee has emigrated exactly
182 persons.
Source: Norwich A Social Study by C B Hawkins. With an Introduction by the Dean of Norwich. London, Philip Lee Warner 36 Albemarle St. 1910 326 pp. LL 287.5  p.180
Submitted by Alan Longbottom

Useful Links

Norwich City Archives; records held:


Norwich Workhouse became the West Norwich Hospital, now under threat of closure.

Records include Minutes 1834-1930, and various other assorted comprehensive records.

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