Stoke-on-Trent Local History

 

 
Wolstanton and Burslem union workhouse at Chell

 

Turnhurst Road, Chell, Stoke-on-Trent
The workhouse was built in 1838-9 and eventually demolished in 1993
A hospital was added in 1894. This became Westcliffe Hospital which is scheduled for demolition in 2009


next: photos of Westcliffe Hospital

also see Poverty and the poor law in Stoke-on-Trent

In his book Clayhanger, Arnold Bennett described the Victorian workhouse at Chell as the Bastille....
 

the face of Arnold Bennett watches over a family wending their way to the workhouse
the face of Arnold Bennett watches over a family wending their way to the workhouse
from a mural in the Potteries Shopping Centre

"The Bastille was on the top of a hill about a couple of miles long, and the journey thither was much lengthened by the desire of the family to avoid the main road. They were all intensely ashamed; Darius was ashamed to tears, and did not know why; even his little sister wept and had to be carried, not because she was shoeless and had had nothing to eat, but because she was going to the Ba-ba-bastille; she had no notion what the place was. It proved to be the largest building that Darius had ever seen; and indeed it was the largest in the district; they stood against its steep sides like flies against a kennel. Then there was rattling of key-bunches, and the rasping voices of sour officials, who did not inquire if they would like a meal after their stroll. And they were put into a cellar and stripped and washed and dressed in other people's clothes, and then separated, amid tears. And Darius was pitched into a large crowd of other boys, all clothed like himself. He now understood the reason for shame; it was because he could have no distinctive clothes of his own, because he had somehow lost his identity. All the boys had a sullen, furtive glance, and when they spoke it was in whispers."

Clayhanger Arnold Bennett

In 1838 Tunstall became part of the new Wolstanton and Burslem Union. The union workhouse was built in Turnhurst Road, Chell, c. 18389, 'a palatial structure' costing 6,200 and providing accommodation for 400 inmates.

The workhouse remained in use after the amalgamation with Stoke Union in 1922  and became the Westcliffe Institution. The original structure, of yellow brick with stone dressings in the 'Tudor' style of the period, continued to form part of a large group of buildings on the east side of Turnhurst Road - it became a home for poor people until 1975 when the 300 residents were moved into five purpose built homes in other parts of the city. It was demolished in 1993.

A range was built to the south as a hospital in 1894. This became the Westcliffe Hospital.
 


The workhouse on the road between Great Chell and Packmoor - 1902
The workhouse on the road between Great Chell and Packmoor - 1902

the Westcliffe Hospital on Turnhurst Road - 2008
the Westcliffe Hospital on Turnhurst Road - 2008
(Google Maps)

The poor house that Bennett based his emotive writings on, was in fact the poor house of Chell. Chell is a suburb of Tunstall on the easterly road to the ancient settlement of Moorland Biddulph. It was to this place that the truly poor of the district would be incarcerated in the mid 1800's.

The Union Workhouse or the Bastille in Bennett's novel "Clayhanger" would strike fear into the hearts of the people of the area. The residents of Tunstall would hurry past its door, not daring to look up or breath the air around the building for fear that they would catch the extreme poverty which seemed to afflict some families, like the nameless horror of an unspeakable disease. The horrors that awaited the poor residents of the Bastille so graphically captured by Bennett.

"In the low room where the boys were assembled there fell a silence, and Darius heard someone whisper that the celebrated boy who had run away and been caught would be flogged before supper. Down the long room ran a long table. Some one brought in three candles in tin candlesticks and set them near the end of this table. Then somebody else brought in a picked birch-rod, dripping with salt water from which it had been taken, and also a small square table.
Then came some officers, and a clergyman, and then, surpassing the rest in majesty, the governor of the Bastille, a terrible man. The governor made a speech about the crime of running away from the Bastille, and when he had spoken for a fair time, the clergyman talked in the same sense; and then a captured tiger, dressed like a boy, with darting fierce eyes, was dragged in by two men, and laid face down on the square table, and four boys were commanded to step forward and hold tightly the four members of this tiger. And, his clothes having previously been removed as far as his waist, his breeches were next pulled down his legs.
Then the rod was raised and it descended swishing, and blood began to flow; but far more startling than the blood were the shrill screams of the tiger; they were so loud and deafening that the spectators could safely converse under their shelter. The screaming grew feebler, then ceased; then the blows ceased, and the unconscious infant (cured of being a tiger) was carried away leaving a trail of red drops along the floor."


A print of Chell Workhouse, circa 1839.
A print of Chell Workhouse, circa 1839.
picture: Exploring the Potteries


next: photos of Westcliffe Hospital