Stamford Poor Law Union

Dr Stella Henriques

This article was written by the late Dr Stella Henriques, and first published in the Stamford Historian in February 1979. As a source for the article, Dr Henriques made extensive use of the files of the Stamford Mercury, which at that time were little used by local historians. In a brief introduction, Mr William Kirkwood puts the Stamford workhouse into context. The workhouse described here lasted some 65 years until, in 1899, the Guardians took the decision to build a new workhouse on the Bourne Road (now Ryhall Road); this new building was completed in 1902 and accommodated 175 inmates. After 1930 the new workhouse became a Public Assistance Institution and in 1948 became part of the new National Health Service as St. George’s Hospital. The building was demolished some years ago to make way for retirement housing.

Stamford Poor Law Union


By 1836, when the building of the St. Martin’s workhouse was started, Stamford had known almost a hundred years of experience with town workhouses. During that time there had been two successive houses, one in St. George’s parish and the other in St. Michael’s parish, both of them shared by most or all of the parishes on the town. But a new house was needed after the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act which created a new Stamford Union with a total of 37 parishes covering a large area of Rutland, Northamptonshire, the soke of Peterborough, Kesteven and even parts of Huntingdonshire.
With such a large area after 1834, any comparison of figures from before the Amendment Act would be valueless. Yet it is important to remember that the town workhouse before 1834 also served a wider area than just the parish in which it stood. However, it was clearly much too small to serve the area of the new Poor Law Union and thus another one had to be built.
The Poor Law Amendment Act had two other main results. It made Stamford for the first (and incidentally for the last) time the administrative centre of a region; and it strengthened the position of the Marquess of Exeter, whose estate it covered and who came to hold the position of Chairman of the Board of Guardians.
This last fact does not necessarily however, explain the siting of the new  workhouse. Most of Stamford’s land was as yet unenclosed, which made it difficult to find building land; so that the offer of the Marquess of a suitable site in St Martin’s parish would seem to have been an act of generosity.
Not long after the period described below, the workhouse was rebuilt once more in St George’s parish, this time on the Ryhall Road. The present building is the second one on that site, having been erected in the twentieth century.
On January 20th 1836, the Marquess of Exeter laid before the new Stamford Union Board of Guardians a plan and estimate for a workhouse to contain 300 paupers. The buildings were to cover ‘2 rood and 10 perches of land and their expense was estimated by Mr Browning (the architect) at £3,880.’  Lord Exeter offered to sell for the purpose a piece of land on the north side of the road leading from St Martin’s to Pilsgate. Some people didn’t approve of this site as they considered it to be ‘low, damp and unhealthy, being in the neighbourhood of the river, and adjacent to meadows subject to being flooded’, and a Building Committee was appointed to investigate the whole subject of site and plan of the building. However, the committee decided that the new workhouse should be built on the site offered subject to some alterations to the plan, and when these were done it was adopted on the understanding that the alterations would increase the expense by £100. The house was to contain six wards: one for 40 able-bodied men, one for 40 able-bodied females, one for 51 infirm men, one for 51 infirm females, one for 60 boys and another for 60 girls. The Marquess accepted the proposed terms of £100 per acre. The plans were sent to the Board of Commissioners in London for approval and an application was made for a loan of £4,800 for building the workhouse, to be repaid in ten annual instalments of £480 each.
Tenders for building the workhouse were now received, and that of Mr. Pilkington was accepted at a price of £3,645, exclusive of the charge for a wall to surround the whole premises which would cost £500 more. It was feared that there would be extra expense for the foundations ‘as the site is that of an exhausted stone pit’. In fact the site was questioned in mid-March when the contractor stated that to make the foundation on that spot would cost £900 more than had been allowed for in the estimate, and feelings ran high. The Marquess was entreated to consent to abandon the site but he refused to do so and in April, Mr Pilkington was told to fulfil his contract, the time for completing it being extended to the 25th March 1837 ‘in consideration  of the time (as well as money) lost in the foundations.’
The vicar of St Martin’s complained that there would be an increase of clerical duties as the workhouse would be in his parish, so a Chaplain had to be appointed; also there was a necessity of providing a burial ground for the use of the Union. The loan of £4,000 was granted at 4% per annum and a petition was forwarded that the period for repayment be extended to 20 years. Fire insurance was to be borne at the joint expense of the Union and the contractor.
In September, the corn-mill and dressing machine which had been ordered arrived from Birmingham; these were now put up so that there might be employment for such able-bodied men who might be admitted. The request by the Chaplain to the workhouse ‘that a surplice be found for him’ in addition to his £25 a year was ignored by common consent.
Previously, the Board had met in the Town Hall, but on 5th May 1837, the Guardians met for the first time on the Board-room of the new workhouse, and a few days later, 17 men, 13 women, 22 children and two lunatics (sex unknown) had arrived from the earlier town poorhouse.
In January 1850 there were 250 inmates, 49 more than the previous year at the same time; 917 persons were recipients of out-door relief as against 813 in 1849, and the cost of weekly maintenance was now £79. 8s. 0d as against £76. 5s. 5d in 1849.  The following month, numbers were diminishing as far as able-bodied men were concerned as ‘work in the field was about to commence.’
On March 13th, the Inspector of Union schools made a favourable report on the industrial training of the children.  It was also ordered that the inmates of the Union house should have two half-day holidays to visit Stamford mid-Lent fair and that the children should have a gratuity of 1d piece on each day.  There were 165 paupers in the house, 35 less than at the same time in 1849.
Contracts for supplies consisted of bread (2nds), per 4lb loaf, 3 ¾; flour, per stone, 1/7d; Scotch oatmeal per 32 lbs, 4/6d; beef and mutton per stone 5/3d; black tea per lb 3/4d; Jamaica sugar, per lb 4d; Leicestershire cheese per lb. 6d; Patna rice per lb. 2d; salt per cwt 1/9d; yellow soap per cwt. £2. 2s. 0d; store candles per doz. 4/9d; butter (Dutch per lb 9d; soda per cwt. 8/-; and hard pit coal, per ton 12/8d.
It was interesting to note that by 1870 there were some changes and additions. The 4lb loaf was 4 ½ ; beef and mutton had become separated and beef without bone per stone was 8/11d; mutton per stone 7/11d; suet (beef and mutton) per stone 6/9d; loaf sugar per lb 5d; peas (split) per bushel 7/6d; butter (salt) per lb 1/- or fresh per lb 1/4d; tallow soap (mottled) per cwt. £1.15.6; tallow soap (yellow) per cwt. £1.10.0.
In March 1850 the Schoolmaster and Schoolmistress made an application for an increased allowance of rations on the grounds that the rations were more liberal for similar persons in the Unions of Bourne, Spalding and Sleaford, but as it was stated that the Stamford salaries were higher than in the other places the application was left ‘undetermined’. In April the Mercury reported that ‘In the face of much zealous prophecy to the contrary, the lower classes in this part of the country are happily better off than they had been for a long period. The complaints of deficiency of work are comparatively few, and able-bodied men find employment at a fair rate of wages.  The Great Eastern Railway works at Peterborough afford labour to very many hands, and we hear that the Marquis of Exeter employs more than a hundred persons in some agricultural improvements he is effecting at King’s Cliffe.’ There were fewer inmates and the number of casual paupers nil; there had been 131 at the same time in the previous year. The Mercury concludes ‘Whatever may be the cause of this decrease of pauperism, the fact is gratifying in a moral and social point of view, and it will of course prove beneficial to the rate payers.’
In May, the returns continued to show a fall in the numbers: 143 inmates compared with 156 in 1849. Admission of casual paupers was three against 79 in May 1949. ‘It is believed the Bath Test is the principal agent which deters the application of vagrants. Not one in 100 will submit to a thorough washing.’ The following month the figures were even lower. The Government Inspector of Schools visited the Union-house in September and in the Visitors’ Book remarked that he found the state of education very satisfactory but there was ‘room for improvement in the spelling of the lower classes.’ Contracts were entered into for supplying shoes and drapery. By November, applications for outdoor relief were increasing – mainly for the infirm, widows and children. It was hoped that the start of works near Lynn on the Norfolk and Lincolnshire Estuary would give employment throughout the winter to labourers who couldn’t find jobs nearer home. At the December meeting of the Guardians, the Medical Officer complained that two of the sick inmates had greatly abused him, and that one of them had seized a poker and advanced towards him in a ‘threatening attitude.’ The second man had refused to take his medicine and said that he wasn’t being properly treated. However, the doctor was able to prove that this was not the case and the man was reprimanded. When the first patient was summoned to be sent before the Magistrates, it was found that he had discharged himself and left the premises.
For Christmas Day, the Guardians subscribed among themselves and provided ‘festal fare’. Each man, woman and child was regaled with roast beef, plum pudding and ale, to the complete satisfaction of all. 32 able-bodied and 30 aged men, 42 able-bodied and 7 aged women, 42 boys and 41 girls and 11 infants.
In January 1870, a man who came to Stamford as a confectioner was taken ill and complained that he had been kept in the Vagrant ward for two months. One of the Guardians (Dr Hopkinson) said that it wasn’t a proper place for a person suffering from disease and the Medical Officer was asked for an explanation. One cannot help feeling that the Medical Officer enjoyed giving it, for in his statement ‘he described the nature of the disease under which the man was suffering, and said that the infirmary of the Union-house was so full that the patient was really better in the tramp-ward than in the infirmary, the area of the latter not affording the proper number of cubic feet of air for those sent there’. He also referred to a minute made by him as far back as 10th June 1868, in which he pointed out the necessity of appropriating the fever hospital as an infirmary and using the infirmary as an infirm ward, and that a qualified nurse ought to be engaged by the Guardians. The Guardians agreed to the engagement of a nurse and Mr Heward (the M.O.) followed this up by asking for a small room in the house for a surgery ‘where he might see some of the patients and dispense medicine, and that a medicine chest with medicine be furnished by the Guardians his remuneration as a Medical Officer of the house being insufficient, taking into account the number of patients and the quantity of medicine required.’  This was discussed the following month. One of the Board members complained that at the Stamford and Rutland Infirmary the cost of medicine and instruments came to 4/6d per patient and of that 3/6d was spent on drugs, and that in a large dispensary in Berkshire, it was only 1/9d per patient. It was explained that in a district where low fevers and ague prevailed as in Lincolnshire, more costly medicine was used. So it was decided that the M.O. should have a room set aside for a surgery, his salary should be raised from £25 to £35 per annum and Cod liver oil and Quinine should be paid for extra as usual.
Some weeks later a nurse for the infirmary was appointed. The severity of the weather in February brought about an increase in the number of able-bodied men seeking relief. In cases of families, bread was given, but in the main admission to the house was offered.
A Poor-Law Inspector who was leaving the district reported that the receiving wards required to be whitewashed and properly furnished; the vagrant wards were in a dilapidated state and required more light and ventilation; the children’s day rooms and schoolrooms should have ‘boarden’ instead of stone floors; and the house generally required to be painted and whitewashed. When these recommendations were considered, the boarding of the schoolroom floors was resisted on the ground that they would need to be washed frequently and as they took a long time drying, there would be a greater risk than at present in the children catching cold.
A notice containing a list of women, girls and boys requiring situations was affixed outside the Union-house gate.
In April, an extremely heated discussion took place on the meaning of the term ‘destitution’. This arose from the case of a woman who had applied for relief. She was a widow with two children and lived in a house of £8. She had been helped in paying this by her uncle who had died. She had managed to keep herself by using her savings and small earnings for three years, but could do so no longer. It was contended against her claim for relief that while she had furniture, she could not be considered destitute. The Board agreed that in justice to the Ratepayers she must be refused relief; but in opposition it was remarked that the Board should be considered Guardians of the poor as well as the ratepayers, and that having so long tried to keep her family without troubling the Union, she should not be compelled to sell her household goods before she could claim relief. The application was refused by five votes to four. The number of inmates was and had been higher for some months than at the same period in the previous year, e.g. May 6th 1870, 203; 1869, 169; Outdoor relief was however less; 1870, 799 (£89. 19. 3) and 1869, 818
(£108. 3. 5).  Seventy four vagrants were admitted.
At the latter part of May, a large number of wives of Militia men applied for relief, their husbands being at Grantham for training, and allowances were made.
The severe winter had been followed by a prolonged drought and in June many able-bodied men were out of work and applied for relief. The drought lasted for nearly three months with no ‘sensible amount of rain except for one day’. However, later some work was found in Southorpe woods, the steward of the estate having started grubbing operations earlier than intended so that the pressure of able-bodied applicants was somewhat diminished.  A brick-maker from Bourne was summoned to appear to explain why he had not contributed to the support of his father who had been an inmate for some years; other sons were also summoned and the brick-maker was ordered (on order from Bourne Sessions) to pay 2/- per week for his father’s support. Later the father left the house.
July 19th. The applications for relief were fewer but the number in the house continued in excess of the average – 185 as against 146 the year before and 60 vagrants.  It was noted that one batch of bread was ‘very heavy’.
On July 22nd the Marquess of Exeter gave permission for the Union School children to have a picnic in Burghley Park and sent £6 to be expended on small presents for the party. The 84 children were given tea, cake, fruit and a number of swings and other amusements were provided. Each child was given a basket of fruit.
August. The new Poor Law Inspector reported that he was satisfied to find ‘that certain suggestions made by his predecessor had been carried out and that all the inmates of whom he had made enquiry admitted that they were kindly treated’. He also suggested, among other things, that there should be a fence in front of the infirmary to ‘keep the patients from the paupers who work or walk in the garden’. And that the receiving wards should be ventilated.  It was agreed by the Board that the contract for meat next quarter should be beef and mutton separately, and not in aggregate, and that henceforward the inmates should have mutton twice a week and beef on Sundays.
The relieving officer was asked to prepare a list of aged recipients of out-relief who would prefer to be paid entirely in money instead of money and bread.
The intention to enclose the front of the infirmary with a ha-ha fence was recommended and the labour for such could be found in the house. As the autumn approached so did unemployment increase and also applicants for relief, many of whom had come from long distances in search of work. In October as there was a large number of old and some able-bodied men in the house without work, it was decided that they set to oakum picking. The cost of the material was 13/- per cwt and when picked was worth 20/-, so it was agreed to buy a ¼ of a ton of junk, inmates to pick 3lbs per day and tramps 1lb.
December. The Central Board issued an order on the boarding out of pauper children. Previously children could not be placed in homes beyond the limit of their own Union. However the Guardians were now empowered to do so. The order recommended that there should be no boarding with out-door paupers; that, in the foster parents open air should be preferred to sedentary labour, that special attention should be paid to decent accommodation and the proper separation of the sexes; that great care should be taken to provide children with education and with clothing; and that all boarding out in large towns to be avoided.
Christmas was now approaching and the usual Christmas dinner for the inmates was voted and it was also determined to give a extra shilling to families on out relief. The dinner was to be given on the 26th as Christmas Day fell on a Sunday. Before this, the inmates had a dinner of roast beef and plum pudding on the 20th to celebrate the coming of age of Lord Burghley. The Marquess sent £10 to be spent on articles for the women and children. There was also a Christmas tree for the children but that was reserved for the 26th.  It was unfortunate that ‘owing to bad cooking’ the Christmas dinner for the 207 inmates was not enjoyed as much as usual.
The number of inmates on December 30th 1869 and 1870 were as follows:
                           1870                  1869
Inmates                207                    215
Out-relief              797                    856