ID: PH01_WKH / Elaine Barker

TitlePeldon's Poor and the Poorhouse
AbstractQueen Elizabeth's Poor Relief Act of 1601 pulled together all previous Poor Law Acts, formalising earlier practices of poor relief distribution. Before Tudor times and the Dissolution of the Monasteries (these religious houses had provided some care and relief to the poor) any contributions to the poor had been voluntary.

Towards the end of Henry VIIIs reign he instituted a tax to be collected at local level. During the reign of his son, Edward VI, a collector of Alms for each parish was put in place and in Elizabeth's reign, the act of 1601 gave the duty and the powers to each Parish to care for its own poor. The act made it possible for the Parish to erect a workhouse on waste or common land with consent of the Lord of the Manor. In many smaller villages, however, the workhouse would often be two or three labourers' cottages converted for the purpose and not a workhouse as such but as at Peldon, an almshouse.

Hitherto, the poor had relied on the money collected in church from the wealthier residents of the village and it is estimated that up to a third of the population lived in poverty. The 1601 Act was intended to support the 'deserving poor' who were willing to work but couldn't find a job, those who were too old, young or ill to work, whereas quite draconian punishments were meted out to beggars and vagrants.

It was quite common for someone wealthy to leave alms to the poor in their will such as Henry Bullock, a yeoman in Great Wigborough, who bequeathed money in 1578 to the poor of several parishes including Peldon. The intention, no doubt, to commend his soul to God!

I give to the poore folke of the parishes of Peldon and Tolshunte knights tenne shillinges of Lawfull money of Englande to be distributed to either parishe by equall porc[i]ons by myne executors w[i]thin halfe a yeare nexte after my deathe

Although the Parliamentary survey of workhouses in 1777 does not include one in Peldon, from Churchwardens' accounts and receipts it is clear there was an almshouse. The reference in September 1702's Vestry Accounts reveals the almshouse was being repaired quite substantially at the time, which would argue it had been in existence for at least a few years. (The Vestry was usually composed of prominent landowners, farmers, the rector, and the Lord of the Manor and it was their responsibility to look after the poor of the village.)

There are a number of references to work done at the 'Armshouses' or 'Almshouses'in Peldon throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the Vestry Accounts and Kay Gilmour (Peldon: Village in the Marshes) believes the references to repairs to 'the Town House' also refer to the same building; more often the term 'Poor house' is used.

Work done ranged from mending winders, digging a pond in the Poor House yard, and repairing fences as well as using clay and sand to mend the fabric of the building.

In 1723, local carpenter, John Bullock, presented a bill for 8s 3d for work done at the two poor houses and stuffe used by the order of Mr Digby [parish Overseer of the Poor]. Between then and the last entry in 1817 most reference is to the regular thatching of the workhouses which seemed to be undertaken every year.

In 1749 money was given

for a Load of Wood for the Widows

On March 28th in 1754 the Churchwardens Accounts record

James Deeks for work and stuff done at the church and at the Poor Houses 2.07.9
Samuel Bullock for work and stuff done at the church and church land and the poor houses 1.06.4 Essex Records Office D/P 287/5/3

The 1601 Act required each parish to provide two Overseers of the Poor, more in larger villages. They were annually appointed by the Vestry and were responsible for setting the level of Poor Rate contributions, collecting these payments from land and property owners, or their tenants, and assessing who needed relief.

Those who were lame, impotent, old and blind and those who couldn't work were to be cared for in the almshouse or poorhouse at their parish's expense. In addition to this 'indoor' relief, was 'outdoor' relief, whereby recipients would remain in their homes (usually tied cottages or rented), and be given food, money or clothing or a mix of all three.

In 1657, one of Peldon's overseers, Samuel Munt was required to appear at court. Samuel was a yeoman occupier of Peldon Hall and he was required to answer John Levett, a poor man of the parish for not relieving him Q/SR 373/30 Essex Records Office

Q/SO 1/490 reveals the details of Levett's complaint and request

Upon the Humble Petic[i]on of John Levett of Peldon, Sheweing That he many yeares dwelt in said parish in good fashion untill he was plundered of all his goodes ... and for a yeare last past hath only a Barne in that parrish to reside in, and prayeing reliefe of this Court, It is thought fitt and Ordered That the Church Wardens and other the Overseers of the Poore of the said Parish...shall and doe forthwith provide the said Levett a better habitac[i]on & allow him weekly the Sum[m]e of Eighteene pence towards his Reliefe, unless they shall speedily shew unto S[ir] Thomas Bowes Kn[igh]t* good cause to [th]e contrary.

* [Sir Thomas Bowes of Great Bromley Hall was the Justice of the Peace for Essex]

Four years later in 1661, a John Levett of Peldon is had up at the Assizes in Chelmsford with the accusation that he had kept tippling houses without licence and again in 1662!

Overseers were responsible for raising sufficient Poor Rates to cover the costs of the almshouses, and in the larger workhouses setting the able-bodied poor to work. The involvement of Justices of the Peace in the process gave the Overseers more 'clout', most especially in chasing up any defaulters in paying the Poor Relief.

Be it enacted by the Authority of this present Parliament, That the Churchwardens of every Parish, and four, three or two substantial Householders there ... to be nominated yearly in Easter Week, or within one month after Easter, under the Hand and Seal of two or more Justices of the Peace ... shall be called Overseers of the Poor ... setting to work the Children...whose Parents shall not be thought able to keep and maintain their Children. And also for setting to work all such Persons, married or unmarried, having no Means to maintain them, and use no ordinary and daily Trade of Life to get their Living by: And also to raise weekly or otherwise (by Taxation of every inhabitant, Parson, Vicar and other and of every Occupier of Lands, Houses ... in such competent Sum and Sums of Money as they shall think fit) a convenient Stock of Flax, Hemp, Wool, Thread, Iron and other necessary Ware and Stuff, to set the Poor on work

The Overseers were responsible for giving

competent Sums of Money for and towards the necessary Relief of the Lame, Impotent, Old, Blind and such other among them, being Poor, and not able to work ... and also for the putting out of such Children to be Apprentices, to be gathered out of the same Parish, according to the ability of the same Parish 1601 Poor Relief Act

The responsibility of paying doctor's bills for the poor also fell to the Overseer including, as recorded in Peldon's accounts, drawing a tooth, and providing a Gargle for the Child's Mouth

During the Napoleonic Wars, when the government approached each parish to raise soldiers for a Permanent Additional Force it was requested that two men from Peldon be sent to enlist in 1804. The men's subsistence en route to the meeting place, in this case Chelmsford, was to be paid out of the Poor Rate

It is lawful for any Overseer of the Poor of any Parish out of any Rate in his hands for the Relief of the Poor, to advance for the Subsistence of any Man raised and provided for such force by any such parish during his March to the Place of Rendezvous Essex Records Office: Peldon Churchwardens Accounts D/P 287/5/3

On occasions, Overseers had to chase up non-payment of Poor Rates. In 1831 the Essex Standard newspaper reports the business of the Petty Sessions of 17th September held in Colchester Castle.

Several of the parishioners of the parish of Peldon waited upon the Bench, and also the Overseer of the Parish, respecting the sum of £10 14s for two rates for the relief of the poor of Peldon, due from Mr John Sach of Peldon Hall, and requested the assistance of the Bench for the recovery of the sum.

The Elizabethan Poor Relief Act also aimed to give an education to paupers' children by apprenticing them to a master. In general this would train girls in housewifery and boys in agricultural work.

In Peldon there are references to children living with their masters while being apprenticed. These agreements were encouraged by the Overseers of the Poor to relieve the parish from having to support its poorest villagers. In many cases the parish still picked up the bill for clothing the children. the assent of any two Justices of the bind any such Children as aforesaid to be Apprentices, ... till such Man-child shall come to the Age of four and twenty years, and such Woman-child to the age of one and twenty years, or the Time of her Marriage 1601 Poor Relief Act

An indenture for the apprenticeship of an eleven year old girl from a poor family, Mary Wade, has come to light and is currently in the possession of Peldon's Churchwardens. Written in 1692, from the reign of William and Mary, it is an agreement arranged by the church wardens, apprenticing Mary to Robert Blowers, yeoman, to learn the art of housewifery. During a term of ten years Mary

faithfully shall serve in all lawful businesses according to her power, wit, and ability; and honestly, orderly, and obediently in all things demean and behave her self towards her said Master

Robert's commitment is

in the Art of good housewifery [he] shall teach and instruct or cause to be taught and instructed after the best manner he can ... and allow unto the said Apprentice, meet, competent, and sufficient Meat, Drink, Apparel, Lodging, Washing and all other things necessary and fit for an Apprentice ... And at the end of the said term shall and will save, make, provide, deliver to the said Apprentice double Apparel of all sorts, good andnew, that is to say, a good new Suit for the Holy-days, and another for the Working days.

Mary Wade's Apprenticeship Indenture
[ Read transcription ]

A Peldon child called Susan Pool was also apprenticed in the Art and mistery of housewifery. The 1707 indenture held by the Essex records Office makes an agreement with Edward D Lay of Wigborough, a yeoman who signs the indenture with his mark.

Over a period of at least 100 years, throughout the eighteenth century, four generations of the Bullock family worked as Carpenters in Peldon.

Indentures offering carpentry apprenticeships by Samuel Bullock, Senior and Junior reveal Robert Crook was taken on in 1751, Thomas Haywood in 1760 and James Wells in 1764, the latter, interestingly, still working as a carpenter for Samuel (Junior) in 1792 when an insurance policy was taken out for the business. [London Metropolitan Archives 11936/391/608023]

In Peldon's parish accounts for 1796, two boys from poor families who were 'on the parish' were living with Samuel Bullock. He was provided with cloth by the parish to clothe the boys.

1796 Jan 23 Cash laid out for the Boy Bunn and the boy Pooly
that live at Mr Bullocks for cloth       £2/4/6

He clearly took on poor children as apprentices on a regular basis.

During the nineteenth century the references in Peldon's accounts are to the 'Poorhouse'. Gilmour points out that the cottages are never referred to as 'workhouses'. It is only in the poster advertising the sale by auction of the two cottages in 1837 and very much later, in censuses for Peldon, that the word 'workhouse' is used.

Some other village workhouses, such as Dedham, had a master who would arrange the working day for the inhabitants, providing a workroom installed with spinning wheels, looms and necessary materials. It would appear that Peldon's was much smaller and there are no references to putting the inmates to work.

Gilmour surmises

Probably two old cottages .. were used as free lodgings for pensioners, temporary shelter for vagrants and a place for the care of the sick and disabled.

A report to the Charity Commisioners reveals that in 1815 the Peldon poorhouse burned down. Two years later, either an alternative building or the rebuilt poor house was extended.
In April 1817, following a Parish meeting, the Reverend John Dakins, Peldon's curate, whose family were landowners locally, minuted

It is agreed upon and determined that an enlargement of the present Poor House should be immediately carried into effect, and that the Overseers be required to see into and fulfill the same.

This work was clearly completed by September that year for there is a bill for coal for use at the poorhouse and in 1818 an insurance policy was taken out for £1 for the Poor House.

The Overseers accounts for 1819 - 20 indicate the number and type of residents in the Peldon poorhouse, there appear to be twelve inmates including four Dames, the daughter of one of them, four labourers, two old men, and a half-wit woman.

It was not until 1834 that the responsibility was taken away from individual Parishes and they were all grouped together as Unions with a central workhouse to take the poor and infirm.

In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed, immediately following which, nearly all the individual village workhouses were closed and the Lexden and Winstree Union Workhouse and Infirmary, Stanway, was built. 'Outdoor relief' for able bodied paupers was no longer to be available, in an attempt to clamp down on the undeserving poor. Individual parishes were no longer liable for caring for the sick, elderly and poor and the two Peldon cottages were sold at auction in 1837, the same year that the Stanway Union Workhouse was opened. The poster, transcribed below, held at the Essex Records Office, signalled the end of the provision of workhouses in the village of Peldon.

Stanway and Winstree Poor Law Union
The Stanway workhouse, usually referred to as the Stanway Union, was to offer accommodation and an infirmary between 1837 and 1930. It was built to service 35 local parishes, including Peldon, the Wigboroughs, Langenhoe, Salcott, Fingringhoe, Layer de La Haye, Layer Marney and East and West Mersea. Money from the sale of most of the village workhouses, went towards the cost of the Stanway Union and contributions from the Poor Rates, still collected by each Parish, were made to this central workhouse. Nationally,

Three fit Persons [were appointed] to be Commissioners to carry this Act into execution.

These Poor Law Commissioners covered England and Wales and appointed Assistant Poor Law Commissioners to carry out the work of establishing the workhouse unions and subsequent local inspections. The Commissioners undertook

to make and issue all such Rules, Orders and Regulations for the Management of the Poor, for the Government of Workhouses and the Education of the Children therein

The Poor Law Commission remained in place between 1834 and 1847 following which it became the Poor Law Board (1847 - 1871). The Poor Law Board was itself abolished in 1871 and replaced by a Local Government Board. Meanwhile, the Union Chargeability Act in 1865 resulted in each parish contributing to a union fund not based on how many paupers it had but on the rateable value of the parish.

After the building of Stanway Union, parish Overseers continued to be elected and remained responsible for collecting poor relief payments. Additionally, in each parish from 1836 the vestry had to elect a Guardian of The Poor who would attend all the meetings of The Board of Guardians (in three of Stanway Union's larger villages two Guardians were elected). The total number on the board amounted to 38.

The first Chair of the Stanway Union was Charles Gray Round of Birch Hall, who oversaw the building of Stanway Union. He was a barrister, MP for North Essex between 1837 and 1847, a Recorder for Colchester, Magistrate and deputy Lieutenant for Essex. He was also a substantial landowner. The first Board meeting was held in February 1836 and all the decisions about the running and building of the workhouse and appointment of staff were made by the Board, each individual also reporting to their own parish vestry.

Stanway Union was built between 1836 and 1838 at a cost of £6,800 on five acres of land at Lexden Heath, made available for the purpose and sold to the Union by Charles Gray Round.
It was built to accommodate a maximum of 330 people, it also provided an infirmary, a laundry, and by the 20th century a mortuary. There was also a chapel, although, in the early days, inmates attended church services at one of two local churches. There were stables and a wood and cart shed.

The layout was a three storey central hub plus an attic and contained accommodation for the master. Four three-storey accommodation wings and segregated exercise yards projected out from this central hub enclosed by an outer rim of octagonal service structures. The four exercise yards were clearly visible from the central hub to allow for maximum supervision of the inmates. In the plan it's clear to see the how the accommodation buildings formed a cross inside an octagon.

The infirmary was initially a two-storey rectangular block; this subsequently became the nurses' home.

Detail from 1896 O.S. Map

In February 1836, the Board of Guardians advertised in the local papers for tenders for the building work, staff appointments, including Relieving Officers, and an auditor, and suppliers of bread, flour and stationery.

Work on the building commenced on Monday 5th September 1836 and was due for completion by June 1837.

The first inmates arrived in July 1837.

The elected Board of Guardians met every week and was generally comprised of wealthy men from each village. They had to be nominated and appointed annually.

In the Essex Standard of 14.12.1838 the Board of Guardians sent an addition to their minutes reflecting a more humane approach to the poor than usually credited with.

It is the opinion of this Board that the refusal to allow out-door relief in all cases to able-bodied labourers will be attended with great suffering and hardship to the poor, especially at a time when provisions of all kinds are more expensive than they have been since the introduction of the New Poor Law.

In Peldon's Vestry Minutes, the village Guardians are not comprehensively listed but we find Stephen Overall, farmer at Brick House Farm, acting as Guardian throughout the 1860s and Francis Bawtree, farmer and son of a banker, in the early 1870s. Farmer, William Golden Fairhead, a later owner of Brick House Farm, also became Guardian to the Poor in the 1880s and his son, Percy Golden Fairhead, followed in his father's footsteps early in the twentieth century.

While the Guardian of the Poor would attend the Board meetings at Stanway Union, and the village's poor were no longer housed in the village, local Overseers were still appointed and would have been charged with dealing with payments of the Poor Rate. Peldon seems to have had a large number of Overseers. In the Vestry Minutes [ERO D/P 287/8/3] between 1856 and 1894 there were usually five Overseers elected.

An entry in Peldon's Vestry minutes dated June 1862 records that the Poor Rate assessment for village property was reduced. Later minutes record occasional appeals to the committee from local landowners requesting that the rates on their tenements be reduced. Reductions are granted with a proviso that the rate is paid whether the tenement was occupied or not. In February 1867 the minutes record the receipt of new regulations from the Poor Law Board and at the end of 1869 it was agreed that in future it would be owners not occupiers of lower rated properties who would be charged.

The Guardians had to chase up any non-payment of the Poor Rate and the Essex Herald reports a case at Colchester's County Petty Session on 7th June 1879, that of Augustus Smith of Upper Norwood, an absentee landlord. He was

summoned for non-payment of a poor rate in respect of Butler's Farm, Peldon, amounting to £1 9s 6d

We are told the defendant did not appear and an order was made for payment of the rate and costs.

In 1885 it is suggested by the Assessment Committee of the Lexden and Winstree Union that if there is an inequality of rating of lands, Peldon's Overseers and Wardens can request a new valuation. The Vestry forms a new committee to pursue this. Note is made in 1891 that Layer House Farm has been re-assessed and the verdict is the existing valuation is a fair and just one.

In 1894 we learn the amount chargeable to the parish for relief of the poor is ¼d in the pound. This was based on the rental value of the property.

Following the formation of Peldon Parish Council in 1894 it seems that Overseers were no longer elected and all references to the Poor Rate cease in the minutes. A Guardian of the Poor, however, would have continued to be appointed until the closure of the Stanway workhouse in 1930.

So what could Peldon's poor expect after 1837 if they were to go to the Stanway Union Workhouse? No longer surrounded by friends and neighbours, men separated from women, parents separated from children, ruled by a strict time-table and regulations, each section of your day marked by the ringing of the bell; you were expected to work unless sick or infirm and were not allowed to leave unless you gave 24 hours' notice and had a job to go to.

The food included gruel for breakfast and very little meat in the diet. Amounts served to the inmates varied according to whether a man, a woman or a child and those men who were doing physical work had the largest portions; it seems it was a case of giving just enough food to keep inmates alive and well. Withdrawal of food and privileges were used to punish inmates.

All the work of running the workhouse was done by inmates and there is a reference in the Essex Herald of 22.12.1846 of inmates picking oakum.

This was often used as a form of hard labour in prisons. Oakum was a hemp fibre twisted together and mixed with tar. Picking oakum was a form of recycling whereby inmates painstakingly unravelled rope reducing it to individual strands. It was very tedious and hard on the (blackened) fingers and thumbs.

Work-house architecture was deliberately intended to be prison-like and conditions hard in order to put potential inmates off applying to go there but for many, it was the only option.

The staff usually comprised Master and Matron, (a married couple), Schoolmaster, Schoolmistress, Porter, and Cook. In the 1911 census, there was also a laundress and a children's attendant but by then no School teachers since the children went to local schools.

New inmates were taken into a reception area and, humiliatingly, bathed, medically examined, and their own clothes and possessions taken away into storage. Everyone wore the same uniform provided by the Union. You were not allowed to leave unless you had a job to go to. Unless you were employed in gardening and animal husbandry your only outdoor exercise was in segregated yards, one for each accommodation block. If you escaped you could be charged with theft for leaving with Union property, ie your uniform. One case reported in the Essex Standard refers to a pauper being before the magistrates for taking a pair of stockings property of the Workhouse.

The Master and Matron as indicated by the 1841 census were Henry and Harriet Hart. Their son, Henry, in his late teens is listed as a Medical Pupil; he was to go on to become a GP in Birch.

In March 1836 Henry and Mary Hart had been appointed to run Copford Workhouse which remained open until the late 1830s as temporary accommodation before Stanway Union was completed. Did Henry remarry? He died in 1947 necessitating interviews for a new Master. In his death notice in the Essex Standard it reported he had held the situation since the formation of the Union and enjoyed the fullest confidence and respect of the Guardians.

There is an account of early twentieth century life in the Stanway Union written in 1959 by the daughter of the Master and Matron of the workhouse, Margaret Joan Wells-Gardner, who was born in the work-house in 1911. []

Margaret's grandparents appear in the 1881 census as Master and Matron of the Union, Alfred and Hannah Gosling. Alfred had started work there as a porter and appears in the 1871 census in that capacity working for the then Master and Matron, William and Katherine Kingsbury. In 1906, Margaret's father and mother, Austin and Alice Gosling, were to take over a few years after his parents' retirement and saw the workhouse through many changes, still being there in the 1939 register, when it was called Winstree House. In all, the Gosling family ran the Stanway Union for over sixty years.

Margaret's memories from the early twentieth century recall that the able-bodied inmates did all the work needed within the workhouse. Many of the men did the gardening and the workhouse produced its own fruit and vegetables; it boasted gardens and an orchard, in total extending to 4 acres plus a nearby field. Some looked after the pigs, some chopped wood, did maintenance and cleaning jobs and also, when Margaret was a child, pumped water from the well up into an upstairs storage tank. The women inmates worked in the kitchens, the laundry, and sewing room and did cleaning as well as helping the elderly and infirm.

Until 1930 there was also a nursery. Some women had their babies in the Union workhouse maternity ward and Margaret's mother and a resident midwife helped with the births. Women were not allowed to leave unless they took their children with them, so some had to stay for a considerable time. Children were taught on the premises until the twentieth century and the names of school masters and mistresses appear in the censuses between 1841 and 1901. Then, until 1920, older children went to local schools.

The workhouse rooms had stone floors until replaced by wooden flooring during Margaret's parents' time. Walls were painted brick and the windows set up high. There was plain furniture and mattresses were stuffed with straw.

The infirmary was staffed by three nurses including the midwife. There were two blocks of four wards with a block between them serving as a nurses' home. Surgery was not performed at the infirmary but at the County Hospital in Colchester. Margaret tells that the standards were equivalent to most small-scale hospitals and the rooms were bright and cheerful, overlooking the gardens, and had coal fires in the winter. There were 12 beds in each ward.

In the Registers of Burials for Peldon which cover the opening of the Stanway Union workhouse, a number of mainly elderly people and some children from Peldon clearly died in the Workhouse Infirmary between 1842 and 1958. By 1920, the address given is Winstree House, reflecting that it had become more of a residential home for the elderly and infirm. After Winstree House, the home became St Albrights Hospital. The last reference to it in the Peldon Burials Register, records the burial of 84 year old Catherine Small in 1958, who died in St Albright's Hospital.

The Stanway censuses from 1851 to 1911 reveal a number of mainly elderly people and orphans from Peldon, as well as widowed mothers and their children living in Stanway Union.

These censuses can only hint at the tragedies that consigned these unfortunate people to the workhouse.

In 1861 five Peldon orphans between the ages of 5 and 9 are listed, three of them brothers, Alfred, Arthur and John Instance.

In 1891 there is a sad story behind the entry for the Bailey family; Emma, widowed in 1887 and only 37, has eight children with her in the Union. In the Peldon burials register, Emma's death in the Union in 1897, aged 43, is recorded. Two years later, her youngest, a daughter, Jessie, died in the Union on 1st November 1899 aged 11 and was also buried in Peldon Churchyard.

The 1901 census reveals another family's desperate situation, listing six children from the Claydon family in the workhouse, not listed as orphans but with no parent present. Walter aged 13, May aged 12, Stanley aged 11, Alice aged 6, Elizabeth aged 3 and Arthur aged 1 are all in the workhouse; where their mother Emma was is not known.

An entry in the Peldon School logbook on 16th November 1900 marks when the family left the village and the four oldest children left the school

The Claydon's family have all gone to the Union (4)

The death of the children's father, George Claydon, who was buried in Peldon Churchyard in 1899, must have spelled disaster for the family.

The above school logbook entry is the only one mentioning a family going to the Union but we know there were many poor families in Peldon; the school teacher notes in October 1907

Several families are but poorly shod

There are numerous entries referring to children being absent from school because of seasonal work, bean-stalking, pea picking, gleaning, gathering acorns or sloes; indeed, in 1909 in one entry it is the Correspondent (School Governor) Mr Mason, who offers the children work, he says as there was an unexpected demand for fruit-picking assistance the school should be closed one and a half days so that the children should take advantage of the opportunity to earn a little money.

However, several local farmers are taken to task by the Attendance Officer, permanently employing children who should have been at school.

Some of the owners of the 'big houses' and the clergy and their wives involved themselves with the school, in some cases laying on a tea, giving clothing or Christmas presents, which might be a bun or small gifts of money. Some of the girls are given sewing to do by the ladies from Peldon Hall and Peldon Lodge. One can only hope that support within the village minimised the risk of families having to go to the workhouse for reasons of poverty.

It was usual, where possible, for the Workhouse Master to arrange burials in the village where the inmate had come from and when in May 1901 both Elizabeth and Alice Claydon died at Stanway Union, aged 4 and 7 respectively, their names appear in the Burials Register for Peldon.

In 1911, thirteen people from Peldon appear in the census returns for Stanway Union out of 139 inmates (including 6 vagrants). There were eight officials (and one child, the Master's daughter) and 56 rooms with 3 wards described as 'fever wards'.

Jessie Mason and her five children between 4 and 14 are living at the workhouse in 1911; her horseman husband, Edgar Mason, who had worked and lived with the family on a Peldon farm, had died in 1908.

Edith Mary Harvey at only 22, single, and described as a General Servant, is in the Union with her two year old and a baby, only a few days old when the census was taken, in every likelihood the baby was born in the workhouse but registered as being from Peldon.

These censuses can only be a snapshot of the day they were taken, once every ten years, and no doubt there were many more Peldon admissions. Throughout the Peldon Burials register it is apparent many elderly people had gone to the infirmary to live out their last days. For some, it became their home for several years; in 1861 the Poor Law Board surveyed how many paupers had been in the workhouse for longer than five years, they found a number of people had been there from between 6 and 20 years, largely due to old age or a weak mind.

There were just over fifty Peldon deaths in Stanway Union, later Winstree House and St Albright's, between 1837 and 1958.

Upon closing in 1930, the Union became the Stanway Public Assistance Institution. It then offered hospital facilities between 1930 and 1948. It had by then became more or less an old people's home and remained so until its complete closure. Much later Essex County Council used the building as office space and it was renamed 'Rose House', finally closing at the end of 2005.

It is not known who bought Peldon's workhouse cottages at auction in 1837 but a conveyance and plan dated 14th October 1927 in private ownership quotes a 1922 conveyance which reveals where the workhouse cottages stood, in plot 179 on the OS map.

All that plot of land containing about one rood twelve perches situate in Peldon ... on the East side of the road leading from Abberton to Wigborough and opposite the south end of the Churchyard upon which plot formerly stood several cottages known as Parish Poorhouse or Workhouse.

Plan showing in pink the plot where Peldon's workhouse cottages stood

In earlier censuses for Peldon, buildings are generally not named but the 1881 census lists two families, The Mortlocks and the Osbornes, both heads of the family being agricultural workers, living in Workhouse Cottages.

In 1891 there are six cottages listed referred to as Poor House Buildings. One is empty but the other five are the homes of the Wenlocks, the Greens, the Osbornes and John Craske all of whom are agricultural labourers and Frederick King, a retired labourer. It is very likely that a local farmer or landowner bought the cottages to use for his men and it was a common practice to divide houses to allow multiple occupancy - often one up one down with a communal kitchen. In the 1901 census, the cottages are only identifiable by virtue of two of the same occupants. Five cottages are listed, two unoccupied and they are described as being near the Hall (Peldon Hall). John Craske is still there aged 80 as is John Osborne and a family called the Theobalds. In all three censuses the location of these cottages is on the 'top' road, Church Road, Peldon. When they were demolished is not known but it is likely it was between the 1901 census and the 1918 electoral roll.

Elaine Barker
Peldon History project

Essex Workhouses by John Drury
Lexden and Winstree Union Workhouse by Christina Edwards.
National Library of Scotland The map above is part of 1897 25 inch map

AuthorElaine Barker
PublishedOctober 2020
SourceMersea Museum