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Stafford Poor Law Union and Workhouse

Stafford Poor Law Union was officially declared 3rd September 1836 and consisted of the following parishes; Bradley, Castle Church, Chartley Holme (added 1858), Colwich, Cresswell (added 1858), Ellenhall (added 1838), Gayton, Haughton, Ingestrie, Ranton, Ranton Abbey (added 1858), St Mary & St Chad Stafford, Seighford, Stowe, Tillington (added 1838), Tixall, Weston upon Trent, Worston (added 1858) and Yarlett (added in 1858)


The administration of poor relief was in the hands of the borough until the later 1720s. A borough ordinance of 1566 gave the bailiffs the responsibility of collecting and distributing the compulsory charity payments to the poor ordered by the Act Of 1563. [54] By the later 17th century the council was appointing the overseers of the poor, usually four in number. [55] In 1677 the retiring overseers were ordered to account in future to the mayor and churchwardens, [56] but in 1684 the council instructed the churchwardens and overseers to see to the details of relief so that the mayor should no longer be troubled with them. [57]  A salaried overseer was appointed in 1700, [58]  and the chamberlain acted as overseer at least from 1712. [59]

 Responsibility for poor-relief passed to the joint vestry of St. Mary's and St. Chad's parishes in 1727 or 1728.  [60]  There were four overseers, but at least between 1735 and 1740 there were two at a time serving six months. [61] In 1767 the vestry appointed a salaried standing overseer, who was succeeded by his son in 1772; in 1780 a new standing overseer was appointed for twelve months. [62]   The vestry clerk acted as assistant overseer by 1829. [63]  In 1836 the borough became part of the Stafford poor-law union.  [64]

The cost of relief was met out of borough funds until c. 1730. Some of the fines imposed by borough ordinances in 1566 were assigned to 'the poor-man's box'. [65]  In 1643 half the fines paid for defaults in the watch were assigned to the poor,  [66]  while in 1683 and 1718 the fines to be paid by councillors for not wearing gowns were similarly assigned. [67]   Around the turn of the century various orders were made assigning part of the income from Coton field to the poor. [68]  The salaried overseer of 1700 was paid out of borough funds. [69]  By the early 18th century the profits from the malt mill were assigned to the poor. With the spread of 'steel or hand mills', however, profits dropped and a poor-rate became necessary. In addition the poor were becoming more numerous. A rate was imposed when the vestry took charge of relief. [70]

The vestry adopted a stringent attitude to relief. In 1728 it bought red cloth in order to badge those receiving relief. [71]  In 1738, with the opening of a workhouse, a tighter control was placed on weekly pay, and in 1742 it was decided to stop it altogether outside the workhouse. [72]  The rule was later relaxed, but in 1774 the vestry ordered the discontinuance of payments to poor living outside the town and the constant wearing of badges by those receiving pay. [73]

In 1735 a proposal was made at a vestry meeting for the use of a house in St. Mary's churchyard as a borough workhouse, and an assessment of the inhabitants of the borough was duly drawn up. [74]  Nothing further was done until 1738 when it was agreed to use 100 given to the town by John, Viscount Chetwynd, in adapting the out-buildings of the former college house on the south side of the churchyard. The corporation granted the churchwardens and overseers a 99-year lease of the premises for the benefit of the poor at a nominal rent. It also gave them money from the sale of timber from the house, with a further 2 10s. to buy materials for employing the poor for a year. The workhouse was opened the same year. John Hill was appointed master at a salary of  15 for himself and his wife, but Samuel Whitley of Wolverhampton was also appointed to set the house in order and instruct Hill in its management for six months. [75]  The workhouse consisted of six chambers, hall-place or work-room, kitchen, brew-house, pantry, cellar, store-room, washhouse, and garden. [76]  A system of management was drawn up in 1742. A committee of three, one of them representing the corporation, was to be appointed monthly to inspect the house and present the accounts to the vestry. Admission to the house was to be by order of the vestry or one of the committee, and the master was to keep a record of admissions and departures; rules were laid down for the discipline of the house. The master was allowed 12 tons of coal from the pits at Hednesford in Cannock. Inmates who worked about the house or nursed the sick were allowed small remunerations, and those employed outside were allowed to keep half their wages. There was to be a school in the house for children over three; between the ages of five and nine they were to spin, knit, or do other work of use to the parish under the instruction of the master or mistress who was also to teach them reading for half an hour twice a day. [77] 

In 1743 the churchwardens and overseers took a lease of the malt mill and applied the profits to the workhouse. [78]  The vestry farmed the poor in the workhouse to the mistress in 1774 at 2s. a week each. [79]  An observer in 1806, who praised conditions at the gaol, found the workhouse ruinous, dirty, and 'really deplorable'. The seventeen poor there were farmed at 3s- 3d. a week each. There was no sick room, and when fever had broken out a few years before 22 out of 48 people died. [80]

In 1829 the vestry bought a site for a new workhouse on 'the road leading to the common field'. [81]   The old house, however, was still  in use in 1836 when it was taken over by the guardians of the Stafford union as tenants of the corporation. [82]  A union workhouse was built in Marston Road in 1837-8 to the design of Thomas Trubshaw of Stafford, [83]   and in 1839 the council sold the old building to Thomas Salt. [84]

The building used as the workhouse for Castle Church parish from about the end of the 18th century stood in Forebridge on the corner of Lichfield Road and White Lion Street. It seems to have continued in use until the building of the union workhouse. It was sold in 1839, and Gothic Cottage was built on the site between 1840 and 1842. [85]

In 1948 the former union-workhouse buildings became Fernleigh, consisting of an old people's home and a hospital for the chronic sick, maternity cases, and patients suffering from skin diseases. A new home, the Foxwalls, was opened on an adjoining site in 1971 and the Fernleigh home was demolished. The hospital was replaced by the new Kingsmead Hospital in Corporation Street in 1974, and the building was taken over as offices by the area health authority.[86]

54 T.O.S.S. 1965-7 p 14 : Act for the Relief of the Poor, 5 Eliz I c.3.
55 S.R.O. D.1323/A/1/1 pp 214, 287, 296, 377.
56 Ibid p 270.
57 Ibid p 308.
58 Ibid /2 pp 82-3.
59 Ibid pp 174, 271.
60 The last chamberlain described as overseer held office until Dec 1727 ibid p 300, 316. 

Source: Quoted from the Victoria County History, Staffordshire, volume VI, pages 230-231, by permission of the General Editor.
Submitted by Bryan Slim
References provided by Alan Longbottom


Workhouses, List of those visited in 1867 With Name of the Workhouse and numbers of  insane, idiotic, and imbecile inmates.
Stafford 13 15 28
Source: 22nd Report of the Commissioners in Lunacy to the Lord Chancellor. Submitted by Alan Longbottom.

The Union Workhouse was erected at the north end of Stafford near to Stafford Common in Marston Road. It was built of brick and was surrounded on all sides by gardens and fields. Over the years it became closed in by buildings. The Workhouse could accommodate 400 inmates, although at the time of the 1911 census there were 220.

Workhouse Staff in 1912
Rev. John Edward Jones, Chaplain
James Henry Croudace, Medical Officer
D. W. Dix, Master
Mrs E. S. Dix, Matron

The College Estate p.206
A building on the south side of the churchyard known as the College House occurs from the early 17th century as part of the corporation's property. By 1615 it was occupied by the master of the grammar school, and part of it was normally let to the masters until 1725 when John Dearle left it after a dispute with the corporation over the rent; William Hammersley, usher at the school and curate at St Mary's from 1666 until his death in 1716, lived in the other part.

It continued to be let as two separate tenements for a short time. It was, however, in a poor condition and was demolished in 1736. The profits from the timber were assigned to the workhouse which was established in the outbuildings in 1738 [20].

St Mary's National School was built on the site of the workhouse in 1856 [21]

20 S.R.O., D.1323/E/1, ff. 64v., 99v., sqq.; S.R.O., D.(W.) 1721/1/4, f. 113v.; S.R.O., D.1323/A/1/1, pp. 7, 17, 194, 256; /2 pp. 182-3, 248-9, 265, 412-3, 449; D.1323/F/1 reverse pages, pp. 20-1, 67, 70; W.S.L., 49/112(B) 44, relators proofs. ff. [5-6]; J.S. Horne, Notes for the History of King Edw. VI Sch. Stafford. (Stafford, 1930), 25-6, 30, 70.
21 See p 261

Source: Quoted from the Victoria County History, Staffordshire, volume VI, pages 230-231, by permission of the General Editor.
Submitted by Bryan Slim
References provided by Alan Longbottom


Common fields in Coton Manor, The Fowler family as Lords of the Manor p.209
In 1699 the mayor was given sole responsibility for the distribution. It was also ordered that any holder of an acre who became a charge on the town through poverty should have his acre seized by the mayor to be used towards his maintenance. Another order provided that everyone taking possession of an acre should in future pay the equivalent of a year's rent to `rhe poor's box' [4]

 4 - W.S.L., H.M. 32.

Source: Quoted from the Victoria County History, Staffordshire, volume VI, pages 230-231, by permission of the General Editor.
Submitted by Bryan Slim
References provided by Alan Longbottom


The Town Mill p.212
By the 1720s, however, `steel or hand mills' for grinding malt were in use in the town. As a result the corporation's income from the mill, by then assigned for the support of the poor, fell sharply and it became necessary to levy a poor rate [4] In 1743 the churchwardens and overseers of the poor took a 51-year lease of the mill from the corporation and applied the profits to the running of the workhouse. [5]  They were still working the mill in 1775 [6]  and it was described as `lately used' as a malt mill in 1780 when the corporation leased it to George Boulton for 99 years [7] . By the time that the lease expired the mill had been demolished. [8]

4 W.S.L., 77/45, f. 19; W.S.L., 49/112(B)/44, relator's proofs, f.3.
5 S.R.O., D.(W.) 0/8/1, p.41; D.(W.) 0/8/18 
6 S.R.O., D.1323/K/1, 6 Aug.1775
7 S.R.O., D.(W.) 0/8/1, p.362.
8 Cherry, Stafford, 82-3.

Source: Quoted from the Victoria County History, Staffordshire, volume VI, pages 230-231, by permission of the General Editor.
Submitted by Bryan Slim
References provided by Alan Longbottom

An Illustration of The union workhouse in 1843 is available on page facing 225 in the Victoria County History.

A house for the rector of the church at Stafford p.239
The rector later occupied a house in the churchyard as tenant of the corporation, which in 1698 granted his request for a year's remission of rent.
[93]  In 1708 the corporation bought a house in Greengate Street for the rector; part of the cost seems to have been met by the sale of a house in the same street, which was part of the endowment of Robert Sutton's charity. [94]  By 1729 the rector paid only an acknowledgement instead of a full rent. [95]  In 1835 the corporation waived its right to the house in favour of the rector in return for recognition of its right to the workhouse adjoining the churchyard. [96]  

93 L.J.R.O., A/V/1/3, p.73 ; S.R.O., D.1323/A/1/2, p. 57.
94 S.R.O., D.1323/A/1/2, pp. 122, 126, 128, 374; D.3130/44 ; D.(W.) 0/8/1, p. 80 ;     L.J.R.O., B/V/5, Stafford, St Mary, 1751; Keen, Letter to Inhabitants of Stafford, 36;    11th Rep. Com. Char. 595.
95 S.R.O., D.(W.) 0/8/2, p.34; D.1033/1, p.2 ; D.1323/A/1/3, pp. 119, 143;    11th Rep. Com. Char. 596. In 1719, however, the corporation had decided to charge a rent of 10 a year for 7 years; D.1323/A/1/2, p. 198.
96 S.R.O., D.1323/A/1/5, pp. 147-9.

Source: Quoted from the Victoria County History, Staffordshire, volume VI, pages 230-231, by permission of the General Editor.
Submitted by Bryan Slim
References provided by Alan Longbottom

Records available from
Staffordshire Record Office
County Buildings
Eastgate Street
ST16 2LZ
Telephone: U.K. 01785 278379 

Page updated 12 March, 2008

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