Birmingham Poor Law Union, Warwickshire

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History[edit | edit source]

The Birmingham parish workhouse came into being after 3 April 1734 resolved to purchase a site and build a parish workhouse. The original rectangular building had two wings added subsequently.The workhouse was erected on land between Lichfield Street and Steelhouse Lane, where Coleridge Passage now stands. The building cost £1,173 and was intended to accommodate 600. Later extensions included an infirmary wing at the left erected in 1766 at a cost of £400, and a workshop wing at the right erected in 1779 at a cost of £1,100.


Birmingham Incorporation
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In 1783, Birmingham was incorporated under a local Act of Parliament, giving it greater powers over the management of poor relief. The Incorporation was managed by a body of 108 Guardians of the Poor and was enabled to set up a workhouse "with Apartments for the sick and diseased, and for the old, impotent and infirm, and for those able to work, for the carrying on divers Trades, Works, and Manufactures, as also for the Punishment of the idle, refractory, and profligate". In fact, the Incorporation appears to have continued using the existing parish workhouse building for a further 70 years. By 1848, it could accommodate 645 inmates and was generally full.

The poor rate for the workhouse wass a concenr and various efforts were made to raise revenue. In 1754, the spinning of packthread was introduced into the workhouse. In 1756, a mill for grinding corn was set up in the house, but was sold in 1761. In 1766, the spinning of mop yarn was introduced, but the yarn proved of less value than the wool. Various other plans were tried, but all failed to control the poor rate. Due to the rapid ris of the city popoulation demand for accommodation and costs inevitably rose.

In 1789, Josiah Robins, a worsted maker in Digbeth, was given permission to set up a workshop in premises adjoining the workhouse, and to employ the inmates. Their earnings were paid each week to the workhouse governor. Some inmates, who were deemed capable, were appointed as instructors and supervisors and given separate accommodation at the workhouse.

In 1797 the Guardians opened "An Asylum for the Infant Poor" which remained in Summer Lane until 1852.

Birminghham Union
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Due to the local Incorporation by Act of Parliament Birmingham was exempt from most of the provisions of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and the Incorporation remained in operation, continuing to use the Litchfield Street workhouse. Finally, in the late 1840s, it was decided that a new workhouse was needed. The design of the new building was the subject of competitions in 1848 and 1849, with the eventual winning plans being submitted by JJ Bateman. The foundation stone of the new building was laid on 9th September 1850 on a site at the junction of Dudley Road and Western Road at Winson Green. The building was opened on 9th March 1852. Further additions were made to the buildings and site.

In 1888, a large infirmary designed by WH Ward of Birmingham was erected at the west of the workhouse.

In the winters of 1878-79 and 1879-80, a stoneyard was opened to serve as a labour test for men being given out-relief. However, little work was performed by many of the applicants and the scheme only succeeded in attracting the able-bodied poor of neighbouring districts. The Guardians then took over a large disused factory in which they set up a temporary branch workhouse for the able-bodied. A mixture of spartan conditions and a requirement for hard labour proved so effective in deterring applicants that a permanent Test House was erected at the north-west of the main workhouse site, separate from the main establishment. The work required of inmates included oakum-picking — the daily amounts demanded being 4lb for men and 3lb. for women. This compared unfavourably with the amounts required of prisoners serving terms of hard labour of 3½lb. and 2lb. respectively. Sleeping accommodation in the Test House comprised a continuous sloping shelf on which inmates had to lie together. The Test House continued in operation until 1889.

From 1904, to protect them from disadvantage in later life, the birth certificates for those born in the workhouse gave its address just as 1 Western Road, Birmingham.

In 1911, Birmingham merged the adjacent Aston Poor Law Union, Warwickshire and King's Norton unions to form enlarged Birmingham Poor Law union. The Birmingham workhouse site later became Dudley Road Hospital. Almost all of the original workhouse buildings have now been demolished.

Marston Green Cottage Homes
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The Marston Green Cottage Homes were erected in 1878-9 to provide accommodation for pauper children aged from three upwards. The Marston Green site was one the earliest such developments to be organised as a "village" located away from the workhouse in a rural setting. The original scheme, which opened in January 1880, included seven homes for boys and seven for girls, together with a probationary home, school, infirmary, swimming baths, workshops, bakehouse, a superintendent's house and offices. A farm was built to the south of the homes. The site aimed to accommodate over 400 children.

After 1911, the age limit for admission was lowered to two, and two new cottages for infants were erected giving a total capacity of 510 children. Other additions included a convalescent home (Ivy Lodge) in 1913, and an assembly hall and new swimming bath in 1923.

Boys at the homes learnt various trades, and the girls household work. A chaplain attended the homes regularly to give instruction and to conduct religious services.

After 1930, the site became Coleshill Mental Hospital, caring for what were then referred to as mental defectives. The remaining children children were then either boarded out with families, or transferred to either the Aston Cottage Homes at Erdington, or the King's Norton Cottage Homes at Shenley Fields.

The site was later renamed Chelmsley Hospital. Most of the cottage homes buildings have now been demolished and replaced by modern housing. Only the lodge, chapel, mortuary, and two houses survive, now converted to business use.




Summer Hill
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Birmingham had another small children's establishment at Summer Hill.


MonyHull Colony
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In 1908, Birmingham, Aston and King's Norton set up a Joint Poor Law Colony at Monyhull near King's Norton to accommodate up to 210 "sane epileptics and feebleminded persons". The site later became Monyhull Hall Hospital but closed in around 2000. Any surviving buildings now form part of Lindsworth School.


Constituent Parishes[edit | edit source]

Birmingham St Martin, Warwickshire Genealogy
Birmingham All Saints, Warwickshire Genealogy
Birmingham Bishop Ryder, Warwickshire Genealogy
Birmingham St Bartholomew, Warwickshire Genealogy

Birmingham St George, Warwichshire
Birmingham St Jude, Warwickshire Genealogy
Birmingham St Luke, Warwickshire Genealogy
Birmingham St Mark, Warwickshire Genealogy
Birmingham St Paul, Warwickshire Genealogy
Birmingham St Peter, Warwickshire Genealogy
Birmingham St Philip, Warwickshire Genealogy
Birmingham St Stephen, Warwickshire Genealogy
Birmingham St Thomas, Warwickshire Genealogy

Records[edit | edit source]


  • Birmingham Archives and Heritage Service, Central Library, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham B3 3HQ. Holdings include: Guardians' minute books (1783-1930); Indoor relief lists (1889-1915); Baptism registers (1864 onwards); Workhouse infirmary (later Dudley Road Hospital) admission and discharge registers (1899 onwards with many gaps and in poor condition); Various other workhouse infirmary records e.g. post mortems, death registers (from early 1900s); Marston Green Cottage Homes registers (1880-1934).
  • Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives, Cathedral House, St Chad’s Queensway, Birmingham, B4 6EU. Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows in the Workhouse, Western Road — RC Baptisms (1856-1902).

Websites[edit | edit source]

http://www.workhouses.org.uk/index.html?Birmingham/Birmingham.shtml