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Birmingham Workhouse -peter Walker

postie

The buck stops here
Staff member
Origin of the first Workhouse of 1734
During the 18th century, as towns grew and more people moved from farm work, the care of the elderly, infirm, for widows and orphans, who otherwise had no means of support, became an increasing problem for parish councils. Parliamentary Acts were passed to enable parishes to build work-houses, where people could live and do such work as they were fit to do. The Parish of Aston built its workhouse in Erdington as early as 1700, but the first record in Birmingham dates back to 1727 when a minute in the Town Book, signed by 24 persons, recorded that they all "do think it highly necessasry and convenient, and accordingly order, that a publick Work House should be erected in or near the said Town, to employ and set to work the poor of Birmingham aforesaid for their better mauintenance as the Law directs". A private Act of Parliament was passed in 1731, twelve Trustees were appointed, a site was selected in Lichfield Street (later Corporation Street) and a plain but elegant building was erected at a cost of over £1173. 3s 5d. - and opened in 1734. The historian William Hutton described its appearance fifty years later as 'more like a gentleman's residence than a public institution'. An infirmary wing was added on the left-hand side in 1766 costing £400, and workshop wing was added on the right at a cost of £700 in 1779. The accommodation for 600 inmates fully met the requirements at the time. Workhouse Guardians tried to find outside work for their adult inmates, generally without much success, but were given street cleaning and road repair work from time to time. From 1766, the Workhouse Infirmary was the only place in Birmingham where the sick could be attended, until the Birmingham General Hospital in Summer Lane was opened belatedly in 1779.
By 1783 there was serious overcrowding in the workhouse, and plans were prepared for a new and larger building, but nothing much was built for seventy years. However an Asylum for the Infant Poor was opened in Summer Lane in 1797, where boys could learn farming or pin-making, and girls straw-plaiting or domestic work. This was the first attempt to reduce high mortality figures amongst pauper children, and improve the conditions in which they lived. Other children were boarded out in neighbouring villages.

The new Workhouse of 1852
Birmingham's Local Act status made exempted it from the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and the workhouse continued unchanged but increasingly overcrowded the late 1840s, when it was decided that a new workhouse was needed. A competition was held in 1848 and 1849, with the eventual winning plans being submitted by J J Bateman. The foundation stone of the new building was laid on 9 September 1850 on a site at the junction of Dudley Road and Western Road at Winson Green, and the building was opened on 9 March 1852. It accommodated 1610, comprising 602 adults, 601 children, 310 in the infirmary, 80 tramps, and 17 officers.
The central three-storey part of the building housed adult males and females. A feature was the 460-feet long corridor, ten feet wide, open from the floor to the roof, with galleries on the second and third storeys, running the length of the building, to ease supervision and promote ventilation. The corridor separated the able bodied paupers from the aged and infirm. Separate day rooms and dormitories were provided for each class, and each adult pauper had a separate bed. A dining hall seating 1000 persons was over the centre of the corridor for easy access, and officers could supervise the occupants during meal times from a gallery.
The Infirmary was detached, for general cases of both sexes; and building for the epileptic and insane, detached fever wards, a separate hospital and wards for sick children, as well as for lying-in, consumptive and other cases.
The Chapel, in the perpendicular style, which accommodated 500 adults and 500 children, was located facing the road.
The Childrens' department consisted of a main building with two wings. The ground floor was devoted to separate class and work rooms, and day rooms for the boys, girls and infants also served as play rooms in wet weather. In these rooms children had their own numbered seat with a little box for playthings, and a clothes hook. There were three dining halls - one for children over seven years of age, another under-sevens, and a third for infants. The dormitories.were upstairs.
The erection of new schools for boys was already planned, contemplated, but it was not until January 1880 that 14 new cottage homes were opened at Marston Green, together with a probationary home, schools, infirmary, and a supplementary house, residence for the Superintendent, workshops etc, by the Birmingham Board of Guardians. Each of these homes maintained 30 children, drafted from the Birmingham Workhouse, and is under the care of Foster Parents. The boys learned various trades, and the girls household work. A Chaplain attended regularly to give instruction and conduct religious services.
In time, more and more room was needed for the sick, and calls were made for a separate infirmary. This was opened on an adjoining site in 1889, designed by W. H. Ward architect, and it had a corridor a quarter of a mile long linking nine pavilions, based on a model recommended by Florence Nightingale. This became later known as Dudley Road Hospital, now City Hospital. A report in the Birmingham Daily Post for 22 April, 1890 described the relationship between the Workhouse and the Infirmary:
"Patients ... after medical examination are allocated according to their ailments to the different wards in the main building. Persons suffering from smallpox, scarlet fever and similar complaints are not allowed to pass the receiving house, but are sent to the City Infections Hospital whilst those afflicted with contagious diseases such as erysipelas, ophthalmia and minor infectious diseases such as measles, are transferred at once to wards in a detached building in the Infirmary grounds.
"There is only one way, officially speaking, into the infirmary, and that way lies through the Workhouse Gate, for it is only as an adjunct to the Workhouse that the infirmary is recognised by the Poor Law. A patient who is not an inmate of the older institution (the workhouse) must be seen by the workhouse Doctor and formally relegated by him to the Infirmary. The ambulance is then dispatched along the Infirmary Drive and stops under the archway of the receiving house, which stands on the boundary between the grounds of the two establishments. [/i]

Later history of the Birmingham Workhouse.
The Workhouse and Infirmary continued to function moreorless unchanged for decades. The Board of Guardians was replaced by the Public Assistance Committee in 1930 and, following the Introduction of the NHS in 1948 Birmingham Workhouse became Summerfield Hospital, under the Regional Hospital Board, and it continued to develop as a Geriatric Centre. In spite of the change in name to Hospital, buildings were set apart for the able-bodied elderly paupers which was called Part III Accommodation, and the Tramps and Casuals, called Part II Accommodation. These units continued for many years. Dr. Ellis, the Chief Medical Officer appointed Dr. Nagley to Western House in 1937, and although the appointment was initially for one month Dr. Nagley stayed for over forty years
There was great overcrowding in the Hospital, but the contribution by Inmates could not be ignored, for example, the Gardening and Cleaning of the Hospital. The Hospital also had a fine Orchestra and Cricket Team. Improvements and additional buildings were erected to accommodate the 1250 patients, but the system was obviously old and in need of constant repair. The number of available beds was gradually decreased, until in 1975 there were 452. In 1974 Summerfield Hospital was integrated into Dudley Road Hospital becoming the Dudley Road Department of Geriatric Medicine. Changes in funding and regulations in 1984 allowed Social Security Departments to meet the cost of those in need of long term care. A number of Private and Voluntary Nursing and Residential Homes were set up to accommodate this need.
Summerfield Hospital has since been demolished, leaving one solitary building in the grounds ~ The Archway of Tears. The Workhouse Infirmary became Dudley Road Hospital, later re named City Hospital, Dudley Road.

Sources:
Hutton, William: An History of Birmingham, Pearson and Rollason, 1783, reprinted EP Publishing, 1976
Kelly, Wm & Co: Post Office Directory of Birmingham with Staffordshire and Worcestershire, 1849, copied on CD by Midlands Historical Data, 2003
White, William: White's Directory of Birmingham . . . . the Hardware District, 1873, copied on CD by Midlands Historical Data, 2003
Kelly, Wm & Co: Kelly's Directory of Birmingham with its Suburbs and Smethwick, 1943, copied on CD by Midlands Historical Data, 2003
Dent, Robert K: Old and New Birmingham, Houghton & Hammond, 1878 -1880, reprinted EP Publishing, 1973
Gill, Conrad: History of Birmingham, Volume 1 - Manor and Borough to 1865, Oxford University Press, 1952
Briggs, Asa: History of Birmingham, Volume 2 - Borough and City 1865 - 1938, Oxford University Press, 1952
Upton, Chris: A History of Birmingham, Phillimore, 1993

'Political and Administrative History: Local Government and Public Services', A History of the County of Warwickshire: Volume VII: The City of Birmingham (1964), pp. 318-53. URL: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=22973. Date accessed: 28 June 2005.
Birmingham Archives, Central Library, , URL: https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/genealogy
 

sospiri

Ex-pat Brummie
My great grandfather was brought up in the Asylum for the Infants Poor for which sadly no records have survived. There he was taught to be a tailor and after an apprenticeship after he left, he had his own tailoring business at various addresses until shortly before he died in 1901. He was even given the name James Taylor.

Maurice
 

sospiri

Ex-pat Brummie
Lyn,

He seemed to be a good guy, but died in 1919, a year before my grandfather. I did inherit my deafness from him though via his daughter and my mother! So I never knew either of them.

Maurice
 

Scarlet

master brummie
Very interesting information postie. My grandfather, Joseph James Underhill, died at Western Road on the 17th July 1929. He had a family and home in Parliament Street, so I assume he went there because he was ill.
 

jimjay

Brummie babby
Just joined the history forum, interesting read about the workhouse in Lichfield St as my wife's great grandmother was born there in 1849 (father unknown!)and I think farmed out to a family later.Still investigating!
jimjay
 

Vivienne14

Super Moderator
Staff member
Welcome jimjay. Good luck with your research. You may find other threads which help with your research. Enjoy the Forum. Viv
 

Michael_Ingram

master brummie
Aston Workhouse - post #8 the bottom end if Lichfield Street (no longer there, see Lichfield Street thread) on the left hand side walking from town centre. My great great grandparents had a dye business across the road from there
 

Peter1

master brummie
My great grandfather was brought up in the Asylum for the Infants Poor for which sadly no records have survived. There he was taught to be a tailor and after an apprenticeship after he left, he had his own tailoring business at various addresses until shortly before he died in 1901. He was even given the name James Taylor.

Maurice
What a wonderful story Maurice.
 

Peter1

master brummie
My father James Edmund Littleford was put into the Western Road workhouse at 2 years old, about 1921, with no further contact of any sort with brothers and sisters for the rest of his life. He died in 2002, 81 years. Although he died believing that he had been abandoned by his mother - Sarah (although this was never stated or spoken about) I have since found out (after my father died) that his mother placed him there shortly before she died in 1921. What will be known from this thread is that the workhouse was the only place that the very poor could get infant welfare and clearly it appears to me an amazing act of love to have placed her son in the workhouse. I wish I had been able to communicate that to my father before he died. I have been to see the remaining structure (the archway of tears) of the Western Road workhouse a few times. Neither my father or me ever met a single blood relative from my fathers side - which I feel is so disappointing.
 

izzy eckerslike

Yaw've med my day yaw ave
I guess my Grandfather would have spent some time there, he was a foundling in 1885 but so far I've not found any info to this effect
 

sospiri

Ex-pat Brummie
I was told by Birmingham Archives, that they have records for Western Road workhouse from 1880 onwards, but nothing before that date, the time in which I was interested. My great grandfather spent his childhood in one of the forerunners to Western Road, the Asylum for the Infant Poor, for which no records have survived. It was demolished in 1852.

Maurice :cool:
 

Peter1

master brummie
I was told by Birmingham Archives, that they have records for Western Road workhouse from 1880 onwards, but nothing before that date, the time in which I was interested. My great grandfather spent his childhood in one of the forerunners to Western Road, the Asylum for the Infant Poor, for which no records have survived. It was demolished in 1852.

Maurice :cool:
Hi Maurice, I did spend quite some time looking at the original books/archive of the work houses at Bham library.
 

rosie

brummie
Hi Peter, sadly the Archway of Tears was demolished recently to make way for development. I don't know what hapeened to the plaque which was inside.
rosie.
 
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