Nantwich Workhouse, also known as Nantwich Union Workhouse, Nantwich Union House and Nantwich Institution, is a Grade II listed building and former workhouse In England and Wales a workhouse, colloquially known as a spike, was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment. In England and Wales a workhouse, colloquially known as a spike, was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment. in Nantwich, Cheshire, England. It was built in 1779–1780 to accommodate up to 350 paupers.
Nantwich Poor Law Union took over the workhouse in 1837, serving 86 local parishes and townships. The building remained in use as a workhouse until 1930, when the workhouse system was abolished by the Local Government Act of 1929, which gave local authorities the power to take over workhouse infirmaries as municipal hospitals; Nantwich Workhouse then became part of the Barony Hospital.
A building at the end of Beam Street, formerly the town house of the Mainwaring family, was used as Nantwich’s first workhouse In England and Wales a workhouse, colloquially known as a spike, was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment. In England and Wales a workhouse, colloquially known as a spike, was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment. and house of correction from 1677 to 1748; it stood on the site of the present Crewe Almshouses. By 1748 the residential workhouse had been replaced by three cottages on Queen Street (off Pillory Street), which housed up to 30 people in 1777. The correctional function of the Beam Street workhouse had by then been assumed by a gaol house on Pillory Street, which was in existence by 1739. A poor rate of 6 pence in the pound was first recorded as being levied in Nantwich in 1732 for the support of the poor in the workhouse and in their homes; the rate was collected up to five times a year.
The present building was constructed in 1779–1780 at the Barony on Beam Heath – then a common outside the town – on 11½ acres (4.7 ha) of land donated by the Marquess of Cholmondeley. A total of £450 towards the cost was raised from several existing charities; the remainder was funded by shares taken out by 31 local men, including Sir Robert Salusbury Cotton and George Wilbraham of Delamere. The new workhouse opened in June 1780. It was designed to accommodate 350 people, and took men, women and children. It was administered by a governor, the first being George or Charles Shrimpton; the governor’s income in 1784 was £35 per year.
Shortly after its foundation, the new workhouse is recorded as having a farm, dairy and gardens in which food was grown. Alvaston Farm (now demolished) stood immediately to the north of the workhouse, and might have provided food for the inhabitants. Records of the Nantwich overseers of the poor for 1780–1785 survive, and show that meat, grain, vegetables, malt, wine, tobacco and snuff were all purchased. Children at the workhouse appear to have received some education at this time, as the purchase of copy and spelling books, easy readers, bibles and catechisms is also recorded. The prison reformer John Howard visited the workhouse on 1 August 1788, when it had only 44 residents, and gave the following account of conditions:
The house is visited weekly by the gentlemen of the town in rotation. It was clean, and great attention seems to be paid to the inhabitants. The rooms are too low, and the upper parts of the windows too far from the ceilings. Five shillings a month is allowed for tobacco and snuff, yet the use of tea, though purchased with their own money, is ordered to be punished by confinement in the dungeon.
After the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, Nantwich Poor Law Union, formed on 18 February 1837, took over the existing workhouse. It then served 86 parishes and townships, with an elected governing board of 88 guardians. The workhouse building was expanded around this time, including the addition of a further storey. On 3 April 1881, there were 222 inhabitants.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several associated buildings were constructed adjacent to the workhouse. A children’s home and school was built in 1879–1880 at a cost of £3,300, which accommodated 60 children. In 1890–1891, an infirmary was built at a cost of around £4,500, which provided 70 beds for poor patients; a woman’s hospital was added in 1905 at a cost of £7,000, providing a further 70 beds.
The former workhouse is a large three-storey building in red brick under a tiled roof. It has a U-shaped plan, with a long symmetrical front face and two long end wings which run away from the street. The front face has a slightly projecting central bay, topped by a pediment bearing a clock face. The main entrance is to the central bay; it has a semicircular head with a fanlight, and is flanked by a pair of small windows. The front face has seven casement windows to the ground floor. In about 1971, the central bay had two Venetian windows with a semicircular head; only the second-storey one remains. A bell tower and glazed porch to the main entrance have also been removed. Little of the original workhouse interior remains.
The Local Government Act of 1929 transferred the functions of workhouse boards to the local authority in 1930. The workhouse and its associated buildings were converted into a Public Assistance Institution, later known as Barony Hospital, with 124 beds, which treated poor people who were chronically sick. From 1935 the hospital was used for acute medical cases and as a maternity unit, and also housed some patients with chronic illnesses. After the outbreak of the Second World War, the hospital was extended with 240 beds in huts; in 1963 there were 264 beds in total. Between 1948 and 1962, it was also used as a mental hospital. In 1982 the hospital cared for geriatric and psychiatric patients, with 147 beds.
Barony Hospital closed in 1994. Most of the former hospital buildings are still standing, although some wards housed in wooden huts near Middlewich Road were demolished in the 1990s to make way for an industrial estate.