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TODMORDEN UNION WORKHOUSE

  

 

Under 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 of "out-relief".

 

The 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.

 

 

The 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.

   
After 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.
   
The local guardians finally agreed to do so and built the new workhouse. Todmorden Union became the last Union in the country to provide one.
   
The 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 was £21,000.
   

The 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 groups:

Men infirm through age or illness

Women infirm through age or illness

Able-bodied men over 15 years

Able-bodied women over 15 years

Boys between 7 and 15 years

Girls between 7 and 15 years

Children under the age of 7 years

The 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 in dormitories

Mr. 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.

The 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.

The 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.

It was noted in the Todmorden and Hebden Bridge Almanac for January 5th. 1890:

"Through 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."

It is worthy of note that the recorded special events were concentrated round Christmas time.

The 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.

 

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