The Hinckley Union Workhouse

The Hinckley Union Workhouse was a magnificently designed building by Joseph Hansom.

Map of the Hinckley workhouse in 1901
Map of the Hinckley workhouse in 1901

Along Stockwell Head in Hinckley there used to be what is known as the 'Old Workhouse'. The workhouse was built by the trustees of the Feoffment Charity and was let to the Guardians of the poor for £40 a year. In 1826 during the Stockingers riots, the front wooden gates of the workhouse were pulled down at burned in the Market Place. The workhouse continued in operation until the 'New Workhouse' was built.

In 1838, the 'New Workhouse' was built along London Road after the formation of in 1836 of Hinckley Poor Law Union comprising of eleven parishes, Hinckley, Aston Flamville, Barwell, Burbage, Earl Shilton, Elmesthorpe, Sapcote, Sharnford, Stoney Stanton, Burton Hastings and Stretton Baskerville. The Architect commissioned for the new building was Joseph Hansom (who went on to design The Hansom Cab), which was to provide accommodation for 450 inmates.

The design of the building was a built in a classic Elizabethan style of an E shape, it was three storeys high along with a low range connecting two projecting wings. The building also had square chimneys, battlements, stepped gables and strong mullions for the windows. The cost of the building came to £4,000.

The workhouse provided accommodation for the poor that became increasingly overstretched along with complaints about the state of the fabric even in to the early 1900s. Overcrowding led to alterations to the internal infirmary in 1902. During the same year, the children of the workhouse were moved to a cottage home locally in Burbage that was setup by the Hinckley Union District Council.

27th June 1908 The inmates of the Workhouse, locally known as the 'Bastille' had their annual outing. It was a happy and enjoyable day for 68 inmates to go around the area of Gopsall. They would stop at the George and Dragon at Newbold Verdon for a meal and later on they would visit Curzon Arms at Twycross for tea where Mr Peach of the Curzen Arms would receive three cheers from Mr Allen, the Workhouse Master and the inmates. On their return to Hinckley the inmates met the Salvation Army Band at the Gas Works and were played through the streets of the town.

Hinckley Workhouse 1910
Hinckley Workhouse c.1910

In 1911 a major project provided two further large buildings. The architect was W.T. Grewcock of Hinckley (who would go on to do alterations to The Manor House) and the contractor was Mr Frank Sleath of Rothley. The additional building provided a laundry block which was to the east of the main workhouse, and an infirmary to accommodate 40 beds that was behind the mortuary and parallel to the main building. Additional facilities were a new kitchen along with other alterations and improvements.

During 1928 there was a debate to find out the future of the workhouse, taking into account the heavy cost of its upkeep. A report of the state of the workhouse was made by E.H. Crump who was a Hinckley Union District Council surveyor.

The report - The administration block and the outbuildings connected therewith were in a very poor condition, both structurally and otherwise except where recent painting had rendered them cleanly. The whole of the buildings were effected with the following defects: Excessive dampness, defective and dangerous chimneys, insanitary and insufficient washing accommodation, unsatisfactory closet accommodation, falling in of ceilings and in some cases roofs, defective guttering and insufficient rainwater pipes; uneven floors, ill lighted and badly ventilated corridors, an unsatisfactory food store without cupboard accommodation, perishing windows with defective window sills, etc.

Hinckley Workhouse from the London Road c.1915
Hinckley Workhouse from the London Road c.1915

The continued use of the old tramp ward block... ought to be obviated. The mortuary was unsatisfactory for its purpose. It would be waste of money to endeavour to put these buildings in repair as a low estimate for that work would be from £3,000 to £4,000, and if such work was carried out very little amendment could be made in the general planning and lay-out of the buildings which were out of date. Excessive dampness was apparent everywhere, due to no damp courses in the walls, defective and leaky gutters, etc. Insertion of damp courses in every ward was necessary to deal with this. Larger and new gutters were required as well as new tiling on some of the roofs, there were about twenty chimneys in which the bricks and mortar were perished. They required taking down and rebuilding.

New sanitary and up-to-date blocks for washing should be provided. The ceilings of various apartments were loose and liable to fall. They could only be rectified by complete relathing and replastering. Additional guttering and new rainwater pipes were required outside the buildings. A number of windows were rotting away and in such a condition as to assist towards the dampness of the building. The old tramp ward should be demolished without delay. The existing mortuary was not a suitable place for the reception of any dead body.

'Crump concluded, 'I could enlarge further on the defects I found, but the above convinced me that the only real solution was the removal of the whole of the existing main administrative block and the erection of an up-to-date and better and smaller building on a site at the rear of the infirmary. No other practicable or economical course is open'. Meanwhile basic repairs should be undertaken at a cost of about £150. But the Guardians 'should at once consider the question of a new administrative block. That policy would be the most economical and most efficient, and the estimated cost would be about £14,000 to £15,000.

Hinckley Workhouse c.1920
Hinckley Workhouse c.1920

Responding to the report Mr Freer said that the workhouse had served its day and that the demands of the day had completely outgrown the current building. There were further discussions to find out if Hinckley needed a new workhouse to be built but nothing came of the idea.

There was an article in the Hinckley Times during 1937 'today, ninety years after, it is one of the most picturesque buildings in Hinckley, and if ever discarded from its present use, should be acquired by the town for some other public purpose.'

After the war of 1939-1945 the future of the building was under consideration again. There were talks to demolish the building and build a new part of the Technical College in its place. This was announced in the Hinckley Times and the public were up in arms saying 'this building was the only piece of heritage that Hinckley had'. A couple of surveys were done with a view of restoring the building to its former glory, but to no avail. The cement between the bricks was decaying which would have cost thousands of pounds to make the building habitable once again.

It was decided in 1947 that to maintain the workhouse was costing too much, so therefore the building was demolished leaving the infirmary and laundry blocks which would form part of the Hinckley College.

Have a brief look at what life was like in a Victorian Workhouse.

Below are photos from workhouses around the country during the Victorian period.

Tip: Click on the i (top-left) on the photo viewer for a description of the photo.

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