The Workhouse

At the January meeting of the Society member Patricia Atkinson gave an informative and illustrated talk on the history of the Workhouse.

She explained how the growth of population in the 17c and 18c and the rapid expansion of industrial cities meant that the historic system of assistance to the poor and needy dispensed by local Guardians could no longer cope. Early attempts to improve the system failed until the Poor Law Act of 1834 when a duty was placed on each urban area to provide a large building for a Union Workhouse that provided food and medicines for starving people.

Halifax was one of the towns that responded quickly with a Workhouse in St Johns with smaller ones at Salterhebble and Southowram. Living conditions varied widely in Workhouses but reforms were gradually made to assist residents move on to employment. By 1945 and the beginning of the NHS most of the remaining workhouses looked after the elderly and the sick and were transformed into hospitals.

Geoff Barnes, Publicity Officer