6 Jul 2015
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Walsall Workhouse

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.

Walsall Workhouse,
Pleck Road

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 blocks.

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.

Contact Information
For further information on Walsall Local History Centre please contact :-
Centre Manager
Walsall Local History Centre
Essex Street, Walsall WS2 7AS, U.K.
Tel : (U.K.) 01922 721305- (International) +44 1922 721305
Fax: (U.K.) 01922 634954 - (International) +44 1922 634954
E-mail:  General Information: localhistorycentre@walsall.gov.uk
Last modified: 16 September 2004