- Walsall Worthies
In the Workhouse - Christmas Day
It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse
And the cold bare walls are bright
With garlands of green and holly;
And the place is a pleasant sight:
For with clean-washed hands and faces,
In a long and hungry line
The paupers sit at the tables,
For this is the hour they dine.
And the guardians and their ladies,
Although the wind is east,
Have come in their furs and wrappers,
To watch their charges feast;
To smile and be condescending,
Put pudding on pauper plates,
To be hosts at the workhouse banquet
They've paid for -with the rates.
- extract from the poem by George R Sims (1847-1922).
The Walsall Union Workhouse, located in Pleck Road, was built in 1838, when
it also replaced the old 18th century Bloxwich Workhouse on what was then
Chapel Green. At one time, it was the only established resource of the poor
and disadvantaged in the area - and cold comfort at Christmas.
The new building had been designed by architect W. Watson,
who had also designed the Warwick Union Workhouse. At the time, this
substantial double cruciform building cost an equally substantial £7,600.
Enlarged in 1842, and subsequently also in 1881 and 1903, the Workhouse was
supplemented by an adjoining Chapel which was built in 1876 on the corner of
Pleck Road and Moat Road, and by this time the establishment was able to
accommodate some 464 inmates from the ranks of the local poor.
In 1896, a new Infirmary building holding 130 beds was
built, this time from designs by Mr. H.E. Lavender, a local architect who at
one time had offices in Queen's Chambers, Lower Bridge Street. In 1902, four
further wards were added to the infirmary, with a corridor linking the two
The Board of Guardians office was at Crescent House, situated next to the
Workhouse itself. The Walsall Poor Law Union, which included the parishes of
Aldridge, Great Barr, Bentley, Darlaston, Pelsall, Rushall, Walsall Borough
and Walsall Foreign (an area largely consisting of Bloxwich, Walsall Wood,
Blakenall, Leamore and north Walsall) supported a population of 118,607 in
1901. At this time Mr. Alfred Hunt Lewis was Clerk to the Guardians and
Assessment Committee, and he also acted as Superintendent Registrar. Mr.
Charles Laban was Collector to the Guardians.
In 1926, a Nurses Home was built to the rear of the Infirmary, and in 1927,
the Medical Officers House was erected on the corner of Wilbraham Road and
Moat Road. Access to the Infirmary was improved in 1929, when a new entrance
from Moat Road was created.
In 1929 the Infirmary was transferred to Local Authority Control and was
renamed The Manor Hospital, following the Local Government Act of that year.
Renamed Beacon Lodge and operating under separate administration, the
Workhouse buildings were again renamed in 1950, this time as St John's
Hospital, but in 1957 they were finally merged with the Manor Hospital.
During the time since the setting up of the National Health Service, great
changes have taken place at the Manor Hospital, especially since the closure
and demolition of the General (Sister Dora) Hospital in Wednesbury Road.
Remarkable developments in modern healthcare have more than kept pace with
the erection of new and more comfortable dedicated buildings for which some
of the old Workhouse has had to make way.
Yet, for those who still wish to see a little of the real Dickensian
Christmas, St. John's Block and the Medical Officers House (now the
occupational health department) are still in use, and Crescent House, always
an imposing edifice, can still be seen on Pleck Road, though now boarded up.