The Beginnings of Doncaster Workhouse
In the 1700s, the number of poor and desperate people in Doncaster was growing considerably. In 1719 it was proposed to establish a workhouse, or a house of maintenance, to get the poor off the streets and to work, but it wasn’t until 1730 that a workhouse came into being.
By 1837 the need for a purpose built workhouse was agreed by the Board of Guardians and land was purchased at the corner of Hexthorpe Lane and Cherry or Love Lane. The Union Workhouse was opened around 1840 it comprised of a reception, accommodation block, a chapel and an infirmary. Over the years improvements and extensions were added. In 1859 a boys and girls school was set up.
An Inspector from the Poor Law Board visited and his report was not favourable –
“The inspection was carried out in December 1866, the workhouse contains 238 inmates, 150 were old and infirm, 12 able-bodied and 76 were children. The site has become unsuitable, it abuts the GNR station, the noise and smoke are constant. Provision of lavatories and hot water supply are insufficient. There are no separate sick wards for children and wards for fever and infectious diseases are being misused, there is only one bath and no water closets for these wards.”
The inmates’ diets in the 1860s did not vary from one day to the next:
Breakfast – Bread and milk porridge
Dinner – Soup, cooked meat, potatoes, bread, suet pudding
Supper – Bread and cheese
An able-bodied man could expect 2oz of bread a day and 2oz of suet on Wednesday and Saturday, more than an able-bodied woman and children aged 9 to 16. The elderly and infirm received a pint of tea instead of milk porridge, and no diet was prescribed for children under 9 years old.
Once again the workhouse had outgrown its premises, and in 1900 the new workhouse on Springwell Lane, Balby was opened. It was intended to house 600 inmates and was pronounced (by the Guardians) to be the most up-to-date in England. The new workhouse comprised of: receiving wards, vagrant wards, accommodation for male and female, day rooms for classes, bathrooms, laundry, an infirmary and dispensary, an isolation hospital, cottages for elderly married couples and accommodation for nurses, the porter and a Master’s house.
The Local Government Act of 1929 abolished the Poor Law Guardians so the former workhouse continued to function as a local authority hospital and provided accommodation for the destitute. In 1950 the NHS took control of the premises and it was known as the Western Hospital (although it still carried the stigma of the workhouse). It was used mainly for maternity and geriatric patients and was finally demolished in 1974.
The War Years
As the war progressed and nursing facilities were in short supply, the Workhouse was used as a military hospital where wounded soldiers were nursed to convalescence.
A report in the Doncaster Chronicle dated 27th December 1918 states:
“Wounded soldiers being nursed at the Workhouse numbering 90 (1917 the number was between two and three hundred), along with 190 inmates. All rooms, thanks to staff, were seasonably decorated. The joint for Christmas Day dinner of the poor was pork with plum pudding to follow, both rare luxuries in these times and the meals were served in the inmates own wards, a practice which has prevailed since the greater part of the establishment has been used as a military hospital.
The soldiers had turkey for dinner provided out of the Soldiers Comfort Funds on Christmas Day and pork ration on Boxing Day. Their meals were served in the Dining Hall and on Christmas night the room was used for a concert and dance at which staff and a few friends joined them.”
– but not the inmates presumably!
Hardship at Home – Victims of War
If you were elderly, infirm or vulnerable children, and the breadwinner of the family was away at war, having no other relatives or friends that could afford to support and care for you, your only option and no doubt a difficult decision was to go into the workhouse.
These are some of the cases of Doncaster folk who fell on hard times through no fault of their own.
The Briggs children, Benjamin, Charles and James Briggs, of 2 Jenkinson Yard, Doncaster were admitted on 24 February 1917 by the NSPCC. They were all under 5 years old. Their father, Private Thomas Briggs was in hospital in France, serving with the Army Veterinary Corps. The children were discharged on 5 March 1917. (Ref. HR3/4/2).
Two other young children, William and George Bradley of 53 Queens Road, Doncaster were admitted on 23 March 1917 by the NSPCC. Their father (unnamed) was in the 1/5th K.O.Y.L.I. The children were discharged on 27 March, 1917. (Ref HR3/4/2)
54 year old Jinnie Forrester of Granes Yard, Doncaster was admitted on 14 January 1915, and discharged on 30 January 1915. Her son, Private Forrester, was serving with the K.O.Y.L.I at the front.
Mary Carr, 62, of Skellow was admitted on 22 April 1918. Her son, Private H Carr was in the British Expeditionary Force in France. Mary was discharged on 16 June 1918 (Ref. HR3/4/2)
Edith Doe, born 1899, of 85 Nelson Street, Hyde Park was admitted on 29 February, 1916 by the NSPCC. Her father was Rifleman Doe of the Kings Royal Rifles, Banbury. Edith was discharged on 1 June 1916, re-admitted 16 March, 1917 and discharged again on 24 March 1917. (Ref HR3/4/2)
Maud Lockwood, born 1909, of 20 Young Street, Doncaster was admitted on 29 July 1916 by the NSPCC, and discharged on 5 August 1916. Her father was Corporal Lockwood of the 11th Labour Battalion of the British Expeditionary Force. (Ref HR3/4/2)
Polly Rogan, born 1889, of 30 West Laith Gate, Doncaster was admitted 29 March 1917 and discharged 9 June 1917. Her husband, Private P. J. Rogan of the 1/5th K.O.Y.L.I., was serving in France. (Ref HR3/4/2)
See more detailed stories from Doncaster Workhouse:
The Proctor family – The story behind the story
The Hughes family – The Unworthy Wife six months jail sentence
The Mellors family – Abandoned family ends up in Workhouse
Henry Crisp – HMS Leviathan in Bermuda