The Workhouse in England.
Workhouses were to be found throughout England from the 17th to the 19th Century and were created to provide employment for paupers and food and lodging for the infirm. It was not until the 20th century that the system of social security replaced them.
Unfortunately they also proved to be a convenient place to house orphans, lunatics and criminals and some workhouses were difficult to distinguish from houses of correction.
In some cases the inmates were either let out to provide cheap labour in the community or kept idle to prevent competition with local workers depending on the economic situation at the time.
The Highworth Workhouse.
The Workhouse after 1835 when it was used as the Vicarage
An Act of Parliament in 1789 resulted in a new workhouse being built in 1790. It was built in Cricklade Road, Highworth and cost the parish £1900. It continued to be used as the parish workhouse until 1835 when as a result of the Poor Law, Swindon and Highworth were joined in the Poor Law Union.
The workhouse in Highworth was the only building available for the new, larger union but it was clearly not big enough and the sum of £850 was allocated to provide alterations and enlargements to allow housing for sometimes up to 80 inmates. However, due to increasing demand for places this too became over subscribed which led, in 1846, to a new workhouse being built in Stratton St Margaret near Swindon.
Surviving records show that the transactions of the Highworth and Swindon Poor Law Union (commonly known as the Workhouse) were frequently reported. Advertisements appeared requesting tenders for supplies from the following trades: Grocers, Butchers, Bakers, Drapers, Shoemakers, Undertakers, Masons, Plasterers, etc.
For example, on September 21st 1857, when the workhouse had moved to Stratton, the following Highworth people were successful in their tenders.
William Newman for bread at 6d. per 4lb. Loaf and thick cheese and salt.
Harris and Seymour for thin cheese, black tea, loaf sugar, treacle, soap and starch.
George Gorton for meat at 5 3/4d a pound.
William Bullen for shoes.
Staff for the Highworth and Swindon Union were always needed and it is noted that in 1858 they were advertising for the following posts.
Schoolmaster at £30 per year plus board and lodging.
Porter at £10 per year plus board and lodging.
Laundry Woman at £12 per year.