Poor Law in North Staffordshire
the early 19th C. workhouses were still small in scale and basic in
facilities. As attitudes hardened, especially after the Poor law Amendment Act
of 1834, they were replaced by large institutions forming isolated communities
for people from a number of parishes.
the pre-1834 workhouses…
Victoria Buildings, Penkhull
The three storey houses were once the workhouse
- demolished 25th January 1967 -
Penkhull was built in 1735, for the parish of Stoke, and it could accommodate
80 paupers. It was described in the following way in 1829 by Simeon Shaw: it
"will be inspected with pleasure by the philanthropist for cleanliness
and comfort afforded to the aged and infirm, the weak-minded and the
destitute; in fact all the attentions of humanity are supplied to them."
building was opposite St. Thomas's Church, near to the Greyhound inn.
The workhouse in Hanley was apparently around Canon Street.
formerly the Parish workhouse, Norton
(now a listed
© Clive Shenton July 2001
Norton-in-the-Moors workhouse was built about 1798 almost opposite Norton
Hall. Before extension in 1824-5, there was a single large room on both
floors, with a central stove and so master and mistress probably shared the
same space as the paupers. Numbers could fluctuate: there were 10 in 1814 and
only 2 in 1815.
The inmates were mainly the old, sick, unmarried mothers,
temporarily unemployed or disabled men, some children and a flow of vagrants.
After the Poor law Amendment Act, Norton-in-the-moors became part of the Leek
Union, and a new workhouse built there in 1839.
Trentham Parish workhouse was built in 1809-10 off Trentham Road and is still
standing (2000). It had 56 inmates in 1813. After the poor Law Amendment Act,
Trentham became part of the Stone Union and the redundant workhouse sold to
the Duke of Sutherland.
Wolstanton workhouse was at the north-east end of the Marsh, near the church
and village and could accommodate 102 people in 1814.
January 1813 report on
the state of the poor in Burslem
172 were in the poor house
Staffordshire Past Tracks
Burslem's workhouse was built in the 1780's at Greenhead and extended in 1835
to hold 300 people. Paupers were employed in local factories and brought in an
income of £100 per year and the parish was reluctant to lose this. It was,
nevertheless, joined with Wolstanton after the Poor Law Amendment Act and a
new joint workhouse built.
Stoke replaced the Penkhull workhouse in 1832 with a new and remote one on
London Road, where it was hoped that the plan "would prove beneficial to
the industrious poor, operate as a check on those who only used relief because
they were too idle to work, and, at the same time be the means of greatly
reducing the rates." In the 1832-5 period 5 rates had to be levied to
meet the costs of poor relief - £8,000 on out-relief and £1,200 on workhouse
Newcastle took over some houses in Higherland in 1731. After the Poor Law
Amendment Act, 9 parishes were brought into one union and a new workhouse
built between 1838-40 in Keele Road to contain 300 beds. It continued to
function until closure and demolition in 1938.
new building replaced the smaller ones in the 9 parishes. E.g. Workhouse Farm
in Alsager Road, Audley, was built in 1733 by the parish for £500, apparently
replacing an earlier one.
about 1840, Ward in the 'History of the Borough of Stoke-on-Trent', said
of the new workhouse:
"now proceeding on a very large scale near to Chell, the situation being
distant above three miles from Wolstanton and two from Burslem, and
certainly not very convenient for the Guardians to assemble at their
meetings; but it may perhaps answer the design of the legislature, to
suppress indiscriminate pauperism, by throwing the utmost difficulty in
the way of applicants for relief by dealing it out with niggard hand and
by prison like discipline to which claimants must submit, whose
necessities oblige them to avail themselves on the House of Refuge.
We are informed that the cost on this palatial structure, for such it
seems, with the site and furniture, will not be less than ten thousand
pounds, an amount that must preclude any mitigation of the
parish-burdens for many years."
workhouse was built to contain 400 people, but could hold 700 by 1861.
Charles Shaw's view of the workhouse when he entered as a child in the 1840's
was quite different from Wards.
I was a Child"
".. individual bent his head a few seconds and mumbled something. I
suppose it was grace he was saying before the meat, but as far as I
could see there was no grace in anything he did. I noticed he did not
join us in our repast, and I know now he was a wise man for not doing
so. He had asked God's blessing on what we were to eat; but he would
have cursed it had he had to eat it himself. It as a fine piece of
mockery, though I did not know it then, or I should have admired his
acting. I was hungry, but that bread!
That greasy water! Those few lumps
of something which would have made a tiger's teeth ache to break the
fibres of! The strangeness, the repulsiveness, and the loneliness, made
my heart turn over, and I turned over what I could not eat to those near
me, who devoured voraciously all I could spare……
the afternoon we had our school work to do, and as I could read well I
had no trouble with such lessons as were given. But if some of the other
lads had had heads made of leather stuffed with hay they could have not
got more knocks. It was a brutal place for the 'dull boy.' However hard
he worked, and however patiently he strove, he got nothing but blows. If
the devil had kept a school to teach boys how not to learn, he could not
have succeeded better than that schoolmaster who asked God's blessing on
the dinner he didn't share.
and supper by a wise economy were joined together. The New Poor Law was
to be economical if anything, even to the least quantity of food a
growing boy's stomach could do with. But supper time came. What would it
bring? That was the question for me. It brought a hunch of bread and a
jug of skilly. I had heard of workhouse skilly but had never before seen
it. I had had poor food before this, but never any so offensively poor
as this. By what rare culinary-making nausea and bottomless fatuousness
it could be made so sickening I never could make out. Simple meal and
water, however small the amount of meal, honestly boiled, would be
palatable. But this decoction of meal and water and mustiness and
fustiness was most revolting to any healthy taste…. That workhouse
skilly was the vilest compound I ever tasted…"