Union Workhouse (The Spittals)
Stoke, Fenton and Longton formed the area covered by the Stoke-upon-Trent
Union in 1836. Stoke was the first manufacturing area to be placed under a
board of guardians according to the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834), and the
reason was that there was something of a crisis. Two of the officers were
convicted of embezzlement the cashier absconded and thirty percent of the
rates collected were lost. At the same time the potter union declared its
intention to take over the administration of relief and use rates to support
became impossible for the vestry to make decisions and in December 1835 a
public meeting passed a resolution asking the Poor Law Commission to send an
investigator, to which both local manufacturers like Ridgeway and working
class ratepayers agreed. Rather than campaign against the principles of the
1834 Act, the union was trying to gain control on the new board. The poor law
assistant commissioner arrived in March 1836 and by the end of the month the
Stoke-upon-Trent Union had adopted the new Act.
while the union urged a £6 qualification for membership of the board of
guardians, the assistant commissioner instead recommended a £20
qualification. The subsequent election resulted in only one guardian
sympathetic to the union being
elected and when the union's funds were exhausted in the long strike of
1836-7, strikers could not receive relief from the guardians and the strike
workhouse grew enormously from the original two blocks of 1832.
In 1842 a school house, hospital and vagrants wards were added; a new
school block and chapel in 1866, with further additions through into the early
the end of the 1830's, work was to be provided within the premises, which was
part of the aim to make the workhouses repellent tot he poor. They became
self-sufficient, even to having a wharf on the canal over the road to bring in
stone for the vagrants to break.
numbers increased so the facilities to supply all aspects of life also
increase. Capacity was increased to 500 people after 1836 and to 800 people by
Stoke-upon-Trent Poor Law Parish was formed on 30th April 1836, governed
by an elected Board of 24 Guardians. The new Union had had a population
of 37,220 in the 1831 census, and a poor-relief expenditure of £11,550
for the period 1833-5. The existing parish workhouse was taken over by
the new administration.
step taken, when it was found that the old place was no longer suitable,
was in 1832, when the building, now known as the "House" was erected. It
was planned to accommodate about 270 inmates, and consisted of one large
block; one wing being for men, and another for women, the two
departments being separated by Master's and Officers' quarters, and the
dining hall. In front of this main building were two smaller ones
devoted to the use of boys on one side, and girls on the other. At the
back were two ranges of buildings, the first one fitted up for old men,
the bakehouse, and the nursery; and the second (an old factory that had
been purchased as it stood, with the land) which was used as stables,
laundry, workshops, and coal store. Down the west side of the buildings
was another department, containing the well, cells, female receiving
ward, female tramps, bath, male tramps, male receiving, ward, and
workhouse's history -
from an Almanac of 1902
Former school at
Stoke-on-Trent Union Workhouse
(now a listed building)
photos: © Peter
A new Stoke-upon-Trent
Poor Law Parish was formed on 30th April 1836, governed by an elected
Board of 24 Guardians. The new Union had had a population of 37,220 in
the 1831 census, and a poor-relief expenditure of £11,550 for the period
1833-5. The existing parish workhouse was taken over by the new
It was found that many
of the people who sought admission were in a bad state of health, and
from that cause unable to work to keep themselves; and then again, many
of the inmates, being aged and infirm, sickness was a common occurrence
with them; so it was found necessary to have a separate place for
dealing with this particular branch of the Guardians' work. In 1842,
east of the standing structure was built the Parish Hospital.
This was arranged to
hold about 80 patients, and was found a very valuable addition to the
hospital at Stoke-on-Trent Union Workhouse
(now a listed building)
In the entablature of the entrance
architrave, an inscription:
"Stoke-on-Trent Parish Hospital erected AD 1842"
photos: © Peter
Chapel at North
(now a listed building)
© Brian Peach August 2000
Former Workhouse chapel, now used as hospital chapel. 1866, with mid and
late C20 alterations. By Charles Lynam of Stoke-on-Trent.
Provision of a detached chapel for Christian worship was a significant
step in C19 social policy. This is an early example of such a workhouse
Guardians of the above parish will be ready, at a Meeting of the Board
to be held on Wednesday, the 23rd instant, to receive Tenders
for the supply of the under-mentioned Articles from the 29th
instant to the 25th day of December next.
Seconds Flour, at per sack of 16 stones net.
Oatmeal, at per load of 240 lbs. net.
Good Beef - consisting of Beds, Rounds and Sticking Pieces, or in Sides,
at per stone of 14 lbs. net.
Tea, Coffee, Moist Sugar, Rice, Pepper, Starch, Blue, Treacle, Candles,
Brown Soap, each at per lb.
Soft Soap, at per firkin of 64 lbs. net.
Peas, at per bushel of 60 lbs. net.
made of inch elm, well pitched and ribbed inside, for persons above 14
years or age.
- ditto - under 14 years of age.
- ditto - for infants.
will be received for the under-mentioned Articles until the 25th
day of March, 1841.
Hurden, Linsey Brown, and striped Grey Grogram, Blankets, Cotton
Counterpanes, Cotton Bed Ticks, Linen ditto, Cotton Sheeting, Linen
ditto, Calico shirting, Linen ditto, Coloured Cotton for petticoats,
ditto for gowns, Fustian
for jackets, &c, Moleskin, for ditto, Cotton Handkerchiefs for men,
ditto for women, coarse Cambric for women's caps, Woollen Coverlids,
Woollen Cloth, Flannel, Stockings, Hats and Caps for men and boys,
Canvass, coarse Chip or Straw Bonnets.
of all the above articles, as far as practicable, to be sent with each
contracting will be required to enter into a bond, with two sufficient
sureties, whose name, residence, and calling must be mentioned in the
to be delivered to the Clerk to the Guardians not later than ten o'clock
on the 23rd, free of expense.
Griffin, jun. Clerk to the Guardians. Parish Office, Stoke-upon-Trent,
Sept 10th 1840.
Advertiser Newspaper, 19th September 1840
vagrants were a problem for the Guardians. By 1849 2,342 passed through the workhouse.
Their reputation for criminality and for bringing disease led to an
increasingly unpleasant reception for them. Eventually, new vagrants blocks
were built in 1894 on London Road. Each male cell had a stone-breaking cell
Typical meal time in the
female section of a workhouse
Extracts from 1914 regulations of the Spittals
Regulations relating to
the admission and searching of inmates
Every person on admission
to the Institution shall be searched by the Officer appointed for the
purpose providing that a male shall only be searched by a male Officer and a
female only by an Officer of that sex.
Any articles prohibited by
the Regulation of the Guardians shall be taken from the inmate, and disposed
of in accordance with those Regulations.
Any articles of value found
upon the inmate shall at once be deposited with the Master for safe custody.
Every inmate admitted shall be informed that any money or value security in
his possession will, if the Guardians so direct, be taken for his
maintenance in the Institution.
A careful record of the
clothes and articles taken from the inmate shall be made and entered in the
'Inmates Property Register', and the entry in respect of each inmate shall,
when completed, be read over to him.
The following articles are
prohibited from being brought into the Institution and if found in the
possession of an inmate will be immediately confiscated:
Cards or Dice, Letters, Cards, articles or written or printed matter of an
obscene or improper character. Matches or other combustible articles.
Spirituous or fermented liquors or any drug or poisonous matter.
bathing of inmates
Every inmate shall be
bathed on admission to the Institution unless the Medical Officer gives
direction to the contrary.
Except in cases which the Medical Officer considers that it is undesirable,
every inmate shall be bathed at least as frequently as once a week.
No inmate shall be bathed
except under the direct supervision of an Officer of the same sex, excepting
that children of either sex, under the care of female Officers, may be
bathed under the supervision of such Officers.
A bath for each inmate
shall be prepared as follows: The cold water shall be turned on first and
the water shall be thoroughly mixed. The temperature shall then be taken and
no inmate shall be bathed in water of less than 88 Fahrenheit and no more
than 98. No additional water, hot or cold, must be added while the inmate is
in the bath. In case of a thermometer being inefficient from injury etc.,
all bathing operations shall be suspended until another is obtained.
The inmate is to be well
cleansed with soap. The head of the inmate shall not be held under water. A
clean towel must be provided for each inmate and the bath towels must always
be washed before being used again. Fresh water must be used for each inmate.
The keys of the hot water taps where provided, shall on no account be let
out of the possession of the Officers. They shall not be used by the inmates
and shall not be allowed to remain on the taps.
hours and places of meals and work, and the hours of rising and going to bed
Meals shall be taken in the Dining Hall by all the inmates except the
sick, the children and infants, persons of unsound mind, persons too infirm,
inmates of the Receiving Wards or Vagrant Wards, and save and excepting any
other class of inmates in respect of whom the Guardians by resolution
of Rising Etc.
Breakfast: Work: Dinner: Work: Supper: Bedtime:
Sept 5:45 6:30-7 7-12 12-1 1-6
March 6:45 7:30-8 8-12 12-1 1-6
The male inmates shall be
employed in such places and at such work as the Master or the Labour Master
may direct, and the female inmates in accordance with the directions of the
Matron or Labour Mistress.
Only the necessary work
shall be performed by inmates on Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day. An
inmate who is pregnant or recently confined or suckling an infant shall only
be employed at such work and for such hours as the Medical Officer may
An inmate who shall refuse
or neglect to work after being required to do so, shall be deemed disorderly
and may be punished accordingly.
Interior of 1889 Male
Vagrants Block, showing cell doors,
Stoke-upon-Trent Union Workhouse
Exploring the Potteries
Life within the workhouse was
meant to be harsher than normal. The workhouse itself was built to be grim and
intimidating - designed to look and function like a prison. It was the belief
that such an environment would act as a deterrent leaving only those in
absolute poverty to enter.
As the number of inmates
entering grew rapidly, the workhouse became a place of overcrowding and
Admittance to the workhouse
was also made a degrading experience. Initially inmates were segregated into
specific groups eg. Men, Women, Girls, Boys, Elderly, Infirm, Sick. This saw
families being divided, often never to be reunited or have contact with each
other again. Inmates were immediately stripped, searched, washed and given a
severe haircut. Their belongings and clothes were taken away. Few, if any
personal possessions were permitted. Inmates were then given a uniform, it was
often coarse, dull, simple and as cheap as possible. From here inmates would
then be sent to their block.
With such an intimidating
building and brutal routine, aversion to the 'house' became extremely strong.
Exploring the Potteries