Plymouth, Workhouses

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New version created: January 1st 2014

The Elizabethan Plymothians took the view that the best way to deal with the poor people of the Town was to find them some work to do.  They made their first attempt at this in 1618 when the Plymouth Castle was used.

Not long after, in 1630, the Hospital of the Poor's Portion was opened in Catherine Street, close to the parish church of Saint Andrew's.

An Act of Parliament in 1708 gave the townsfolk the authority to appoint their own Guardians of the Poor to take over the Hospital of the Poor's Portion, which later became the Plymouth (Old) Workhouse.  Inevitably the number of poor citizens outgrew the accommodation available and in 1854 the Plymouth New Workhouse was opened at Greenbank.  The Board of Guardians ceased to exist in 1928 when their functions were passed to the local authority.

The general responsibility for taking care of poor people was in the hands of each parish vestry.  Saint Budeaux is said to have had a Poor House in 1650, while there were Poor Houses in East Stonehouse, Plympton Saint Mary, Plymstock, and Stoke Damerel during the eighteenth century.  During the nineteenth century all were replaced with new premises, the one for Stoke Damerel being known as the Devonport Workhouse.

In 1836 the Plympton Board of Guardians was formed and the poor of Ermington, Holbeton, Newton Ferrers, Wembury, Yealmpton as well as Plympton Saint Mary, Plympton Saint Maurice and Plymstock (and possibly Saint Budeaux) were housed at the Plympton Saint Mary Union Workhouse from 1837 onwards.

After 1928 the Plymouth New Workhouse and the Plympton Union Workhouse became hospitals and the Devonport Workhouse became a Public Assistance Institution.


Text (except quotations)   Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK 2014
 as stated beneath each image