the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the Government required the
township to join a Union comprising the townships of Todmorden
& Walsden, Heptonstall, Erringden, Langfield, Stansfield
and Wadsworth; and for this Union, known as the Todmorden
Union, to build a large workhouse to accommodate all the paupers
of the 6 townships and discontinue the much preferred system
previous article on the poor Laws from 1834 details the local
reaction to the 1834 Act, the Township's refusal to comply
with the new laws, and the consequences. John Fielden, local
mill owner and MP for Oldham (1832-1847) was the mainstay
behind the revolt, and he had a band of supporters in the
locality prepared to face imprisonment rather than comply
with the requirement to discontinue the existing methods of
helping the poor of Todmorden & Walsden and Langfield
and remove them all to the workhouse.
idea of a workhouse was unthinkable to John Fielden. He had
resisted the implementation of the new poor law fiercely .
His pamphlet 'The Curse of the Factory System" makes
clear his view that many workers were not responsible for
their own poverty. Consequently, the Todmorden Union Workhouse
was not built until long after his death.
almost 40 years of resistance the local Board of
Guardians were forced into agreeing to build a workhouse
when the Poor Law Board threatened to disband the
Union altogether and re-allocate the 6 townships
between the Halifax and Rochdale Unions.
guardians finally agreed to do so and built the
new workhouse. Todmorden Union became the last Union
in the country to provide one.
money to build the workhouse was raised by a loan from
the Public Works Loan Commissioners. Ironically, the
site on which it was built was on an estate known as
Beggarington at Lea Bottom, Langfield. It opened in
1879 and at first, there was accommodation for 100 inmates
and further accommodation for vagrants. The total cost
building, designed in the style of a prison, aroused great
hostility amongst the locals, who dreaded the prospect of
entering its walls. The Government's Poor Law Board had drawn
up a set of guidelines to be followed in all Union Workhouses.
These included categorising the inmates into one of seven
infirm through age or illness
infirm through age or illness
men over 15 years
women over 15 years
between 7 and 15 years
between 7 and 15 years
under the age of 7 years
seven groups were to be kept totally separated at all times,
even during what little leisure time there may have been.
Married couples, even the elderly, were to be kept apart at
all costs so that they could not 'breed'. Each of the seven
classes was supposed to have its own exercise yard. There
was no segregation of inmates after the seven classes had
been separated. This meant that the old, ill, insane, slightly
unbalanced and fit were kept together both day and night with
no form of diversion. Inmates simply sat and did nothing if
they were not working. It was accepted that the inmates slept
and Mrs Gent from Huddersfield were the Master and Matron
until they left in July 1882. The Guardians then appointed
a married couple who had been the porter and porteress at
the Chorley Union Workhouse, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Townley,
and a Miss Willman from Southport as nurse. This was an unfortunate
period in the history of the Union Workhouse, culminating
in the the arrest of Mr. Townley. On 23rd December 1886 he
was taken into police custody for having been apprehended
the previous day under a warrant charging him with unlawfully
and indecently assaulting 2 vagrant inmates, namely; Walter
Pearce and Richard Hartley. Townley failed to surrender himself
for trial at the Leeds Quarter Sessions. Clearly, the couple
were dismissed and replaced by Mr. and Mrs Pilling.
building was extended in 1890 to accommodate a further 150
inmates and a vagrants' ward. The extension consisted of two
pavilions for the inmates plus an extension to the Infirmary.
The formal opening ceremony took place on 14th. November 1890
in the presence of the Guardians and a number of invited guests.
The Todmorden Handbell Ringers gave some light entertainment
to the inmates that evening.
Todmorden Union Guardians appeared to have tried to alleviate
some of the distress to the inmates by arranging special events
for them from time to time. On each Christmas Day there was
a special dinner with the occasional presents and entertainment
such as in December 1890 when the children of Roomfield Board
School infants class went to sing for them.
was noted in the Todmorden and Hebden Bridge Almanac for January
the generosity of Mr T. Russell, of the Pavilion Theatre
, as many of the inmates of the Union Workhouse as were
able to walk to town and back were admitted free to
an afternoon performance of the Christmas Pantomime
"Little Bo-Peep," and afterwards entertained
to a substantial tea in the club-room of the York Hotel."
is worthy of note that the recorded special events were concentrated
round Christmas time.
workhouse became a Public Assistance Institution in 1930,
serving the newly formed Calder Guardian Area. At that time
there were 293 residents, mainly elderly, with a further 60
people in the infirmary. It survived in this role until 1948
when it was converted to a hospital - the Stansfield View
Hospital, providing care for the mentally handicapped. The
vagrants' ward was left open until 1950. In 1993 the hospital
closed and the buildings were demolished in 1996 to make way
for a housing development.