Suffolk Workhouses

The following is a list of the various types of workhouses of Suffolk. They began their existence in the county in the second half of the 16th century. The workhouse within Christ Hospital in Ipswich was at the very forefront of this new method of providing assistance to the poor and needy of society.

The Borough Workhouses

Bury St Edmunds1747 - 1907200
Ipswich Christ Hospital1572 - c160030
Sudbury (formerly St Gregory1702 - 183630

The Rural Incorporated Houses Of Industry

Blything (1764 - 1835) at Bulcamp1766 - 1836560
Bosmere & Claydon (1765 -1835) at Barham1766 - 1835600
Calford & Colneis (1756 - 1835) at Nacton1756 - 1835350
Cosford (1779 - 1835) at Semer1780 - 1835500
Hartismere (1794 - 1827) at Eye1794 - 182740
Loes & Wilford (1765 - 1827 at Melton1765 - 1827~
Mutford & Lothingland *1763 - 1893 at Oulton1763 - 1893350
Samford (1763 - 1849) at Tattingstone1763 - 1849*500
Stow (1778 - 1835) at Onehouse1781 - 1835350
Wangford (1763 - 1849) at Shipmeadow1767 - 1835*450

* = continued as an incorporation after 1834 legistation.

(date) = relates to period of the incorporation.

The Union Workhouses Alias (The Spike)

Blything (1835 - 1930) at Bulcamp1836 - c1920560
Bosmere & Claydon (1835 - 1930) at Barham1836 - 1930500
Bury (1907 - 1930) at Bury St Edmunds*1907 - 1930200
Cosford (1835 - 1930) at Semer1835 - 1923500
Hartismere (1835 - 1930) (Adults and Infants at Eye)1834 - 1907200
Hartismere (1835 - 1930 (Children at Wortham**)1834 - 1907~
Hoxne (183 - 1907) at Stradbroke**1837 - 1871300
Ipswich (1835 - 1930) at Whip Street1837 - 1899400
Ipswich (moved to Heathfields)1899 - 1930400
Mildenhall (1835 - 1930) at Mildenhall1835 - 1898110
Mildenhall (moved to Kings Way)1898 - 1914~
Mutford & Lothingland (1893 - 1930) at Oulton1893 - 1930350
Newmarket (1835 - 1930) at Exning1837 - 1930380
Plomesgate (1836 - 1930) at Wickham Market1836 - 1930370
Risbridge (183 - 1930) at Haverhill1836 - 1856~
Risbridge (moved to Kedington)1856 - 1930280
Samford (1849 - 1930) at Tattingstone1849 - 1930500
Stow (1835 - 1930) at Onehouse1835 - 1930350
Sudbury (1836 - 1930) at Sudbury1837 - 1930350
Thetford (1836 - 1930) at Thetford1836 - 1905+300
Thinfoe (1836 - 1930) at Bury St Edmunds*1836 - 1907300
Wangford (1835 - 1930) at Shipmeadow1835 - 1911450
Woodbridge (1835 - 1930) at Nacton1836 - 1899350

(date) = refer to union dates. (sometimes the workhouse shut down premature)

*Thingoe Union was dissolved in 1907. i became Bury St Edmunds Union, adopting the Thingoe Union house in

**Hoxne union dissolved in 1907. Hartismere & Hoxne was formed using the workhouse at Eye.

Debating rooms topics

The second half of the 18th century saw the issue of how to deal with the poor take a new direction. The advent of the rural Incorporation and the accompanying Houses of Industry added a new option in the perenial problem. 

The debating rooms around the county were filled with comment and debate on the merits of the different options open to the parish officers. Here are some thoughts and observations from two of Suffolk’s antiquarians on the matter. 

The letters written in 1763 between two of Suffolk’s most noted antiquarians of the time: Rev R Canning 1708-1775 rector of Harkstead 1738-1769 & Freston 1755-1775, and Rev Stephen White rector of Stratford St Mary demonstrate the depth of feeling of the upper classes towards the welfare of the poor.  S.R.O.(I) S1/1/84.1

Canning spoke of the advantages of the Nacton house of industry with respect to the rich. He clearly felt this was the most economically acceptable way to deal with the poor,  White on the other hand told of his concern at the rumours of hardship and bad management circulating in the community. He suggesting a letter placed in the Ipswich Journal informing the people of the inaccurate information being peddled in the community would be beneficial, Canning was of the opinion this was a waste of time. Instead he preferred to let time and experience educate the majority.

In response to rumours White had been told of plagues of rats infesting the workhouse, Canning suggested the risk was far greater in the community than it was in the workhouse.  On the subject of bedding. Canning emphasised the recent use of ‘ticking’ (a closely woven cloth used to contain the bedding material) coupled with a better quality of sheets, blankets and coverlets now being used had improved things. Also straw had now replaced the coarser oat chaff as the stuffing of the mattresses.  However a little surprisingly Canning assured White that any inmate who wanted to bring in his or her own bedding was perfectly able to. Though presumably these would have been thoroughly washed (and disinfected??) to avoid bringing disease into the house.  

While White suggested the wearing of badges by the poor was not being adhered to as it should be, Canning dismissed this effort of stigmatisation was being out dated, siting the fact that most poor tended to live separately from the better off thereby nullifying any stigmatisation between the two groups.  

Finally to emphasis his satisfaction with the way the Nacton house was run Canning suggested that members of the forthcoming incorporation of Samford would be well advised to follow the example (of Carlford and Colneis) incorporation, concluding ‘I can make myself answerable for the humane and benevolent treatment of the poor by our governor and his wife’. 

Fressingfield Parish Workhouse

The parish workhouse at Fressingfield was situated in Low Road. The earliest reference discovered thus far for this workhouse is 1762. Found in the churchwardens and overseer’s accounts of 1741-1768. S.R.O.(I) EG16/G1/1.

An entry in the monthly account of churchwarden William Ray, for the four weeks ending 20 Feb 1762 reads ‘hop bagging & nails for the workhouse 11½d’.

It is thought this is a reference to someone (unnamed) supplying hops (in bags) for the production of beer in the house. In this period of time this was the main beverage available to those incarcerated. Water of a drinkable quality was still a long way off.

With no quantities given it is difficult to put a value on the 11½d, other than to compare it with other items such as the chaldron (4 quarters or 36 bushel) of coals supplied for the workhouse the following month, by Mr Eade which cost the princely sum of £1.10.00. 

The following is an abstraction of some of the entries for the following year 1763. It is possible there are other entries relating to the running of the workhouse, but not identified as such. The average monthly expenditure on parish relief was between £7-12-5¾d and £14-19-9½d 

fa sample of what can be found in these overseer’s accounts

Monthly account of Charles Brown ending 15 January 1763: 

Taken from ‘extraordinary’ section of account

Expenses concerning the workhouse 2/6d pd for a pr of sheets for workhouse 11/6d

pd to Jno Watlings for trifles to the workhouse 5d

pd to church for mending chairs at ye workhouse 2/-

pd Mr Seaman two weeks for the people in the workhouse £1.2.6d

pd for 3 quarts of beer for the men yt brought coals to the workhouse 9d

pd for pudding pokes for the men yt brought coals to the workhouse 8d

pd Mr Smiths reckoning when he came to cook at the workhouse 10d [possibly the workhouse cook] 

Monthly account Robert Seaman 4 weeks ending 12 February 1763;

to removing the people into the workhouse, a horse, cart and myself  3/-

pd John Watling for trifles in the workhouse 1/2d

pd for 3 vessels for the  workhouse and a pair of bellows 9/- 

This abstraction demonstrates the range of costs incurred by the parish workhouse.

The payments made to the workhouse governors John Seaman, then William Borrett, increased from 1/3d to 1/6d per inmate. In some cases this would have been calculated to include their wages, ensuring a tight control on the parish purse.  

This rate was deemed sufficient to cover costs such as clothing and diet. In many cases the governor would insist on new inmates discarding their own clothing on arrival on hygiene grounds. These would have been recorded and set aside ready to be given back to the inmate on his or her release.

While this rate per inmate could be seen to lead to the inmates getting a raw deal, there were usually standards set within a governors contract to ensure at least a minimum of care.  The provision of clothing was often at least partly offset by the employment of the inmates to make them. The purchases of cloth, thread and yarn would have been for this usage.  An interesting entry is the provision of 3 quarts of beer for the men yt brought coals to the workhouse. This suggest the overseer recognising the particular effort of this supplier, while the cost of 9d suggesting 3d per quart.