There have been at least three workhouses in Hungerford, including what is now 21 Bridge Street (the "John of Gaunt" Inn); Charnham Close in Charnham
Street, and the Union Workhouse in Park Street (demolished 1995).
Care of the Poor in the Medieval Period: In Medieval times, caring for the poor was the moral duty of the Church
and Monasteries. In Hungerford, the Priory of St John would have helped.
During the period of Elizabeth I and the "Old" Poor Law (The Poor Law Act of 1601), each parish became responsible for the care of its poor, and the
administration of the poor law forms a very significant part of parish records.
Lying as it does on important roads, Hungerford experienced a constant stream of people passing through, often requesting alms.
Designated workhouses began to be established during the eighteenth century.
Follow this link for much more information about Caring for the Poor.
The First Workhouse: The earliest Overseers' Accounts for Hungerford date from as early as 1727. They mention the
workhouse, although the site of this building is not yet known for certain.
However, it was probably at the building which now is the John of Gaunt Inn in Bridge Street. Records confirm it was the site of the workhouse at least between c1764 and 1778. A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded that the parish workhouse in Hungerford could hold up to 30 inmates.
In 1783 entries in the Constables' Accounts started referring to "the old workhouse" and the workhouse moved to a larger building in Charnham Street.
The original Bridge Street workhouse became an inn at
about the same time, although the exact date is unclear - but it is clearly labelled as "John of Gaunt" in the 1819 Enclosure Award map.
The Second Workhouse: The second workhouse was in Charnham Street, in the building now known as Charnham Close, 26 Charnham Street. At the time it had been an inn called The Three Tuns
In 1782 Edward Sheppard, the owner of The Three Tuns, agreed in principle to let the premises to trustees (Charles Dalbiac and others) for 99
years from 25 Mar 1783 for a rental of £27 per annum (payable in twice yearly installments). There was to be an option to purchase the premises (for £420) at a later date. A
lease was to be prepared by 1 Jan 1783 confirming full details. It was intended that from the date of the agreement, the premises were to be converted for use as a
poor-house for Hungerford.
In 1800 Edward Sheppard died; his only daughter, Margaret, inherited, and she married Charles Alderman on 21 Jun 1801.
A fire insurance certificate taken out by Robert Smith, Visitor, and Mrs Mary Pearce, Guardian of the Poor with the Royal-Exchange Assurance on 24 Jun 1813 can
be seen here. A receipt for the 1814-15 fire insurance with Royal
Exchange Assurance can be seen here. [BRO D/P71/18/9]
On 1 Apr 1819 the churchwardens and overseers of the poor took over the full repairing lease of the poor-house for the remaining period of the original lease
(now 63 years).
By 1836 the building had become too small and inadequate for the needs of the area, and the paupers were moved temporarily to Lambourn until the new Union
Workhouse was built, see below.
On 28 Sep 1835 Charles Alderman ("of Kintbury") gave notice to the overseers of the poor to quit his Charnham Street premises by the following Lady Day (25 Mar
1836). The overseers responded by quitting most of the premises, but retaining part for use as a board-room, at a rent of £6 15s per quarter. On 20 Feb 1836 Charles Alderman served notice
to the "visitors and guardians of the poor" - under Gilbert's Act) that he required them "to pay for all dilapidations". The legal case reached Court by 1839. The Court found for the
For more information see 26 Charnham Street.
In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act
swept away the "Old Poor Law" - and introduced a new system of poor relief just when poor relief was at its height. It brought together groups of parishes into "unions", and a more formal basis of support for the poor in large workhouses.
It minimised the provision of outdoor relief in people's
homes and made confinement in a workhouse the central element of the new system.
In essence life in the workhouse was to be made as
unpleasant as possible in an effort to deter people from seeking relief. So successful was this policy that the dread of the workhouse continued well into the 20th century!
The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act provided for Boards of Guardians to administer the Poor Law on a local basis, and also provided for groups of parishes to be
amalgamated into "unions" for administrative purposes.
The Hungerford Poor Law Union was formed on 1 May 1835. It brought together three groups of parishes:
Aldbourne, Baydon, East Garston, Lambourn, East and West Shefford,
- Ramsbury, Great Bedwyn, Little Bedwyn, Chilton, Froxfield and Hungerford, and
- Shalbourne, Ham, Buttermere,
Inkpen, Kintbury, Avington and West Woodhay.
At the time the Union was formed there were workhouses at
Kintbury and Lambourn as well as one at Hungerford. The Hungerford workhouse was in Charnham Street, the property known as "The High House", now Charnham Close.
It must have been in poor condition, and certainly inadequate for the number of paupers to be housed in it. Consideration was given to refurbishing it.
However, in the end, all the paupers were transferred to the Lambourn workhouse "by cart" for 14s, probably in March 1836.
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For the next ten years the Guardians continued to meet in the old Hungerford Workhouse. The Relieving Officer also
lived there. Meetings were held weekly.
The Union Workhouse: In February 1846 it was resolved that a new workhouse should be built at Hungerford "at a sum
not exceeding £8,500".
A suitable site in Park Street (then Cow Lane) was identified and purchased for £600. The site was suitable for a
building of the "Stratton" design (named on the classic design of the workhouse at Stratton St. Margaret near Swindon, built 1845-46).
Building started in October 1846, and was completed in 1848. The building was of three stories, with a squat "E"-shape, made of brick, with red stretchers and
grey headers, under a roof of slate (all the same size). There was a walled area on the west side, which may have been an exercise area.
The separate chapel was originally to hold 300 people, but the plans were scaled down to 240 and then to 200. It was completed soon after the main Workhouse
building, its walls being two feet thick, and made of knapped flint.
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information on the building of the Union Workhouse see The Building of Hungerford
Workhouse 1846-48, by Eileen Bunt, 1988.
During the Victorian period, there were huge numbers of destitute people, both paupers and vagrants. Follow this link for a full account of the approach to vagrants in Berkshire.
Many systems were put in place to attempt to control the impact of vagrants on any one parish area. For example, ticket schemes
were tried. The Parish magazine 1882 reports that following the reinstitution of the Ticket Scheme, it is interesting to note that "A Return has been issued of the number of Paupers
receiving relief in the County of Berkshire at the beginning of the present year as compared with 1881 and 1880, and it will be seen that there has been a considerable diminution of
pauperism. The in-door able-bodied paupers numbered 101 men, 145 women, and 121 children, against 172 men, 210 women and 222 children in 1881, and 165 men, 181 women, and 168 children in
188-. The not able-bodied inmates numbered 485 men, 229 women and 417 children against 601 men, 269 women and 433 children in 1881, and 609 men, 231 women and 453 children in 1880. The
lunatic paupers numbered 104 against 116 in 1881 and 105 in 1880. In receipt of out-door relief, the able-bodied numbered 288 men, 611 women and 1547 children, against 315 men, 662 women
and 1694 children in 1881, and 314 men, 676 women and 1650 children in 1880. The not able-bodied numbered 796 men, 1617 women and 244 children, against 815 men, 1635 women and 269
children in 1881, and 839 men, 1679 women and 269 children in 1880.
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The Hungerford Poor Law Union workhouse was built to accommodate up to 300 inmates, although the 1851 census lists only about
150. The 1891 Kelly Directory gives the population of Hungerford as 2965, "including 138 officers and inmates in the workhouse". The 1881 census lists seven staff and 138 inmates at the workhouse.
The initial (Feb 1846) list of Bread & provisions Tenders for the workhouse ]also makes interesting reading. They list all the food and supplies from Messrs Snook, Hazell, Hutchins, King, Challen, Buckeridge, Tilly, Stiles, Higgons, Keens, Langfield and Moulding. [BRO G/H 1/4]
The Hungerford Poor Law Union was renamed Hungerford & Ramsbury Union in 1896.
An interesting insight into the way of life for the paupers at the Union Workhouse can be gained by studying
the Hungerford & Ramsbury Union Workhouse Regulations 1914.