The Lymington Workhouse: dreaded stigma and harsh regime

The Lymington Workhouse: dreaded stigma and harsh regime

A necessary place of shelter for the New Forest poor, but dreaded 'Bastille' after 1834's new Poor Law

Lymington Poor HouseIn the early 18th century, workhouses were established to provide a place of shelter for homeless and poor people in return for work. Lymington's Poor House was built in 1738, costing £248 10s. 

Richard Budden was the first Master and Henry Hackman was Medical Officer, each with salaries of £10 per annum. One of their duties was to find apprenticeships for males aged 7 to 24 years, and apprenticeships (or marriage) for females aged 7 to 21 years. In 1738 there were 64 people considered suitable to accept apprentices. The number of children at the Poor House between 1700 and 1773 was 141.

In 1780 it was agreed that all 'inmates' from the Lymington Poor House should wear the letters LP for identification, otherwise the Master would not receive that week's pay. In the same year, James Alexander was warned that if he did not contribute towards the maintenance of his child, the Parish would endeavour to get him on board a 'Man'o'War' naval ship - at the time Great Britain was at war with France and Spain...

By 1788 there were discussions with neighbouring parishes, who organised their own Poor Houses, to combine resources and build one common Union Workhouse to serve the whole district - it took 48 years and the introduction of a new Poor Law to reach an agreement! 

The new Poor Law was introduced in 1834, changing the way that relief was given to the poor, but significantly made Lymington the centre of a Poor Law Union comprising the surrounding parishes of Boldre, Brockenhurst, Milford, Milton and Hordle (a combined population of 9,501 in 1831). Twelve guardians were appointed to oversee the Union, four from Lymington and the other from the surrounding parishes.

Union Hill Lymington now East HillIt was decided that a Workhouse should be built near the old Poor House on Union Hill opposite New Lane (now known as East Hill - image shows the bottom of Union Hill). Mr Sampson Kempthorne was the architect of the building that was designed to accommodate 270 inmates, based on his model "200-pauper" plan published by the Commissioners in 1836. It cost £4,500 to build and was completed in 1838. 

A master and a matron were appointed to manage the Workhouse, where there were clearly defined regulations. Prayers and grace were said before each meal. The Master was required to inspect the dormitories each morning at 9am to ensure they were clean and tidy. The Matron had similar duties specifically for the women and children, with the added responsibility for moral behaviour. Inmates had to be in bed by 9pm with lights out.

Under the regime of the new Poor Law, any dignity of the individual was effectively abandoned. On arrival at the Workhouse inmates were examined by the Medical Officer after being bathed and deloused. They were allocated a dormitory ward in which to sleep - men and women were allocated separate dormitories and married couples were separated. During the first decade, Workhouses were often called 'Bastilles' because of the severity of their regime. 

In time, reaction against the system led to beneficial changes, both in the administration and operation of workhouses, however the stigma of the workhouse remained.

Union Workhouse LymingtonThe Lymington Workhouse was set in three acres of grounds where vegetables were grown to make the institution as self-supporting as possible. A typical Sunday diet at the Workhouse was: breakfast - 1/2 lb bread with skimmed milk, dinner - 5oz dressed mutton with vegetable soup, supper - broth and maybe a little cheese to follow if the Master desired.

The entrance block at the south contained a waiting room, with porter's room and search room to the left and bread room and lavatory to the right. On the first floor were the guardians' board room and a clerk's office. To the rear, men's and women's accommodation blocks stood the the east and west, originally linked by a dining hall.  

By 1860 (see plan), the school rooms had been relocated - the boys to the south-east of the main building and the girls to a separate block at the east. A chapel was situated to the north. A building referred to as the Master's House stood at the east, where the old parish workhouse had been located. 

Single storey utility rooms and workshops stood around the perimeter, including washhouse and laundry. A detached infirmary stood at the east of the Workhouse, replaced by a new building in 1928.

From around 1904 the birth certificates of those born in the workhouse did not mention the workhouse so as not to stigmatise later in life, a street address: 20 New Street was given instead.

Later the workhouse was renamed 'Lymington Infirmary' and closed in 2004 for redevelopment. The buildings are now private residences.

Today, New Forest Basics Bank works hard to help out those in need in our local community. Find out more here and do remember to pop something in the collection when you shop - it's a sad truth that poverty remains today...

Don't miss out! If you haven't done so already, do sign up free of charge to receive our Weekly What's On newsletter! Emailed every Friday morning to help you plan your weekend! 


Lymington: A History and Celebration by Jude James
Lymington: a pictorial past by Brian J Down



Your message here