Workhouse

Social Services in the days in days gone by

By Ian Mott

There have been a number of references to the Workhouse in articles, the latest in the  A look at the lives of our ancestors  and although there was not a traditional workhouse in our community we did have the work Colony at Dunton. The nearest workhouse, which would have covered our community was Billericay.  Few will remember it as such but many more will be aware of it as St Andrew's Hospital Billericay. 

The buildings that formed the workhouse are still there, even though the Hospital has been replaced with residential accommodation. The buildings being converted into flats.

The references to workhouses triggered the following memory from William Diment: 

One part of old Laindon which has not as yet been mentioned is workhouse for the old and destitute local people. It was situated at St.Andrews Hospital, Billericay. The word workhouse conjures up visions of dark and grim places and it came as a surprise when I first visited one.  

It was on coronation day of King George V1 and a group of us had arranged to give a concert for the inhabitants. We had to change our costumes in the kitchens, which were spotless and had large copper cooking vessels which were gleaming, as were the kitchen tools and work surfaces. The old people were clean and appeared well fed and happy and not at all dispirited as there was considerable audience participation in the way of banter and joining in with songs which they knew. Although they were in a closed environment, an had a lifestyle far superior to those living in the plotlands from which many of them came for their twilight years.    

I do not believe this place survived for many years after possibly due to experts in social care believing they would be better off in the community where today many old people today live in isolation dependant on a few hours a week care attendants and the delivery of a microwave meal.

Dunton Colony

In William's comment below he mentions that the Colony had its own sewage farm. Ken Porter has just sent me the following photograph of the plant which will be familiar to many who have travelled to Fenchurch Street on the LT & S railway (C2C).

Photo:Dunton Farm Colony - sewage farm

Dunton Farm Colony - sewage farm

This page was added by Ian Mott on 24/01/2012.
Comments about this page (Add a comment about this page)

Hallo Gloria, St. Andrews did continue as an NHS facility even after Basildon Hospital was opened. My late wife who suffered a stroke attended a very good physiotherapy unit which gave one on one treatment. When this closed she went to a volunteer cardiac and remedial exercise group held in the nurses recreation room at Basildon hospital until they were told to operate elsewhere and moved to the Noak Bridge community hall. This eventually closed as qualified instructors had moved on. 

Similarly she then went to another volunteer group 'Special Strokes' who used the gymnasium at Southend Hospital but were also told to find other premises and were accomodated by St.Peters Church Hall which my wife attended until she had to go into Basildon Hospital. 

They could not adequately attend to her needs and she moved into a BUPA hospital in Ghyllgrove who gave every attention until she died. 

This is no reflection on the Basildon Hospital nurses as they were totally overworked with so many requiring attention at the same time.

By W.H.Diment
On 04/02/2012

Did Laindon and Langdon Hills once have their own Workhouses?

Follow this link to find out 

By John Bathurst
On 04/02/2012

Yes William, I also read a comment somewhere that a "swap system" was put in place in Billericay with locals, it seems they had their own Piggery at the back of the workhouse. It also appears that plots of land were worked by inmates in Dunton to grow their own veg which as you say William was shared with plotland families.

 St. Andrews Hospital formerly Billericay Workhouse has a special interest for me as this is where my eldest son was born and also the memory of one of those life's embarrassing moments, which I will tell elsewhere. 

In 1940 St. Andrews became an emergency hospital for war wounded and seven additional prefabricated buildings were added five for wards and two for staff.

The hospital flourished for another thirty plus years as a general hospital, a burns unit was then added.  The hospital services were slowly transferred when Basildon was opened and finally the  burns unit was closed and transferred to Broomfield. Most of the site has been redeveloped as residential including the old Workhouse buildings have been retained, as they were listed, but have been modified to provide residential accommodation. I do hope the new residents appreciate the wealth of history they have beneath their feet and remember and treasure it.

By Gloria Sewell
On 01/02/2012

Thanks for that William. I had imaged that in 1911, with one cook catering single handedly for over 200 people, gruel would have been the staple diet. It hadn't occured to me that she would have assistance from the inmates. It's pleasing that I can now imagine they all received a slightly more varied diet. There were no employed cleaning or service maids mentioned, so again these tasks were probably performed by the inmates. There were however, four employed nurses and a seamstress/sewing machinist.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 25/01/2012

I note Nina's comments as the the food being possibly being mainly gruel. While I have no knowledge as to the actual diet, the kitchen I saw with with its glittering array of utensils and cooking tools appeared to me to suggest otherwise. The fact that there was only one cook could indicate one employed person who would have many assistants from the inmates. Also the cleanliness of the kitchen indicated a number of people would be required to effect this. In bygone eras, even the wealthy upperclasses normaly only had one cook, but many kitchen and serving maids. I also had a Dickensian belief as to conditions until my visit. As to the Dunton colony they had orchards and areas where they grew a variety of vegetables more than they needed and my wife who grew up in the nearby plotlands stated the surplus was often given away to local residents in need, herself included.

By W.H.Diment
On 25/01/2012

By pure co-incident, when searching for a name on the 1911 Census this evening, I found him in the Billericay Union Workhouse. He probably isn’t the person I was searching for, but the information that came up was nevertheless fascinating. The Workhouse Master at that time was Walter Needham (from Norwich, aged 50), who lived there with his wife Elizabeth (from Swansea age 46) and their 4 children all of whom had been born in Billericay. There were 13 staff and 215 inmates (too numerous to list the names here of course) although I have saved the records to my computer. The oldest inmate was 87 and the youngest just 2 months. I notice that amongst the staff, there was only one cook, so no doubt, the menu was pretty abysmal, probably mainly consisting of gruel. The majority of the inmates were described as former farm labourers, a clear indication of the hard times the farm workers were having in 1911.

Editor: Click on link can find out more on the Billericay workhouse. I had a colleague who was born in Billericay and he remembered as a boy seeing the female inmates sitting on the bank facing the road knitting.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 24/01/2012

Hallo Gloria, Yes it was the Billericay Union Workhouse to which I was referring. Many people mistakenly believed it was a part of the hospital, but it was managed by a workhouse master with civilian staff and not considered to be a medical facility. 

Ian also comments upon the Dunton Colony. I was also a frequent visitor there on Sunday afternoons as I played in their cricket team. This was quite a function, as most of the inhabitants turned out to spectate. Although I believe this was more to do with the huge marquee where the teams took tea, usually cucumber sandwiches and huge slabs of madeira cake with enough left over for the patient spectators. The afternoon was presided over by Mr.Goldingay, the mamager of the Colony, with an unforgetful smile displaying gold teeth. 

The colony was far better than the plotlands in which it stood having mains water and its own sewage farm. Once again the inhabitants seemed happy and not at all institutionalised. However, this was not a facility for local people.

By W.H.Diment
On 24/01/2012

William and Ian, after reading your comments I was prompted to look into Billericay workhouse. It seems there has been a workhouse in this area since 1719, three in fact Brentwood, Shenfield and Gt. Burstead/Billericay.

I had noticed a plaque on a building in St.Andrews Hospital but had not thought too much about it, having thought this had always been a hosptal.

It actually reads Billericay Union Workhouse erected 1840 this was a workhouse, becoming a hospital later. 

Was this the one you performed in William? Looking at photos of the above place what wonderful buildings they are, I believe the site is now residential.

Please tell me gentlemen that they have not pulled down those lovely old buildings.

Another thing I learned was it was also called "The Grubber" thought to be because of the free grub obtained there. As a workhouse it covered 26 local villages mind blowing dont you think

Editor: The buildings have a preservation order on them so have been converted into residential accommodation.

By Gloria Sewell
On 24/01/2012
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