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Burntwood Family History Group
Lichfield Poor Law Institution - The Workhouse
Between 1691 and 1696, the Lichfield Corporation let a house on the south side of Sanford Street, Lichfield, for use as a linen manufactory for the employment of the city's poor. In 1724, the building underwent refurbishment and part of it was adapted for use as a ‘House of Correction’. The House of correction was a type of prison.
Up until 1728, poor from St Mary's occupied the upper part of the building. That year the poor from Saint Michael's parish occupied the lower part of the building.
In 1740 Saint Chad’s and Saint Michael's and St Chad's agreed to set up a joint workhouse at Greenhill, Lichfield.
In 1781 St Chad's set up its own workhouse in Stowe Street.
In 1834 the Poor Law Act came into being. In 1836 a national system of Poor Law Unions was established by the Act. The Unions were groups of parishes, which together provided for the poor within the area. Each Union had to provide a Poor Law Institution, or as more commonly known, a Workhouse. The Workhouse was to house those that were too poor to provide for themselves, infirm, old, mentally unfit and even pregnant women who had been abandoned by their families.
The Lichfield Poor Law Union was formed on the 21st December 1936. It was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians consisting of 40 people who represented its parishes. They were Alrewas, Alrewas Hayes, Armitage, Brereton, Burton, Colton, Elford, Farewell, Freeford, Fulfen, Hammerwich, Hamstall Ridware, Haselour, Kings Bromley, Kings Hayes Bromley, Lichfield Christ Church, Lichfield Saint Chad, Lichfield Saint Mary, Lichfield Saint Michael, Lichfield The Close, Lichfield The Friary, Longdon, Mavesyn Ridware, Ogley Hay, Pipe Ridware, Rugeley, Shenstone, Stonnall, Tamhorn, Wall, Weeford, Whittington and Yoxall.
The Chairman was Edward GROVE, the Vice Chairman was the Reverend William GRESLEY, the Clerk to the Board of Governors was Philip DYOTT, the Medical Relief Officer was John HEWITT with an annual salary of £50 and two Relieving Officers with an annual salary of £100 each.
A Workhouse had to be built in Lichfield. A meeting of the Board of Guardians was held on the 9th March 1937, and it was agreed to build the Workhouse in accordance with Mr KEMPTHORNE’s model. Advertisements for architects to submit plans for the Workhouse were placed in local newspapers, the Birmingham Post, the Staffordshire Advertiser and the Wolverhampton Chronicle.
The successful applicants were George Gilbert SCOTT and William Bonython MOFFATT, and the builder was William SISSONS from Hull.
Land was purchased from Lichfield Corporation and Lord Lichfield Trent Valley Road and Burton Road, Lichfield.
Building work began on 24th May 1838, and able bodied paupers were used in the construction. The main red bricks used were made from the clay dug out from the workhouse foundations and the front and sides of the building were embellished with blue bricks. The foundation stone was laid by Edward GROVE the Chairman of the Board of Guardians. It was of symmetrical design of a central bay flanked by projecting single-window canted bays and then slightly recessed 5-window ranges terminating with shallow 2-window cross wings. Gauged brick flat arches to mostly altered modern windows. Central crenelated, Tudor arched stone porch and a tiled roof, the 3 central bays with gables and central ogee-roofed cupola. 2 storeys; central 3 bays with attic. The building which cost £2,939 and was built to house 200 ‘Inmates’ took just under two years to build. The Master and Matron of the Workhouse would live in a three story house flanked on either side by two accommodation wings, one for men and one for women.
The Board of Guardians advertised the position of Master and Matron for the Workhouse. The Master and Matron had to be a married couple. Over sixty applications were received by the Board of Guardians.
The first inmates moved in on 24th May 1840 and they came from the former parish workhouse accommodation from Saint Mary's in Sanford Street, and from the Rugeley Workhouse in Chaseley Road, which had been built about 1780.
Besides the inmates that had been moved in from Sandford Street and Rugeley, those seeking admittance to the Workhouse had to be examined by the Master of the Workhouse or one of the two Relieving Officers.
Having been examined, assessed and admitted, men were placed in the male wing, women in the female wing, and children were separated from their parents. The accommodation and food that the Workhouse offered was very basic and for those in need of its services, it was the last resort. Inmates were kept as clean as possible but were only provided with a change of clothes once a week. Sanitary arrangements were very basic. Closets were opened late evening by the Master for night time use but closed in the morning to encourage inmates to leave the Workhouse. There was an outside toilet but it had no door.
Inmates rose at 05.45 and their workday began at 07.00. At 12.00 they had an hours break restarting at 13.00. then working through until 18.00. Some of the men picked Oakum or broke up large rocks. The women were given work appropriate to their physical capability, scrubbing floors, washing etc. People had reached their lowest ebb to ask for assistance, and most wanted to escape harsh regime they were subjected to, as soon as they could.
The length of time an inmate was resident in the Workhouse varied depending on their circumstances. If inmates were able to find work and provide for themselves, or a family member was able to provide for them, they would be discharged. Some inmates found themselves being admitted and discharged several times if the work they gained was of a temporary nature. Once a woman had had her child, some families accepted the mother and child back home.
Lichfield Workhouse was officially opened on the 8th May 1840.
By 1841 according to the Census, Lichfield’s population was 24,127.
In 1874 Casual wards were added to the Workhouse.
In 1892 an infirmary was added to the north of the site.
In 1893 a refectory and kitchens were added.
A plan of the Workhouse about 1900
In 1901 infirm wards were added.
In 1908 a nursery was added.
There were reportedly 5 wells on the workhouse site, which in conjunction with on-site animal husbandry and growing of vegetables made the workhouse self-sufficient to an extent.
With the introduction of the National Health Service the Workhouse became St Michael's Hospital. It catered for about 140 patients, most of them being elderly.
On the 9th December 1998 the former Masters House, Rear Range of the Workhouse (2 Trent Valley Road, Lichfield, WS13 6EQ) was registered as a listed building
In January 2007 the building became part of the Samuel Johnson Community Hospital

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