The Workhouse

The first act of relief for the poor was passed in 1535 by which collections were ordered to be made in parishes for their support and subsequently select vestry provided for the destitute poor. Severe measures were taken by overseers to prevent any parishioners for taking lodgers or tenants into their houses who might become responsible to the parish for support.

In 1747, the vestry in Chester-le-Street found the opportunity to spend accumulated interest which had arisen from previous collections, which by this time had reached £689 14s 0d A meeting decided to set apart a building for the benefit of the destitute poor of the parish. A block of houses at the south end of the town was chosen by a committee appointed for the purpose and was purchased by a part of the charity moneys in the hands of the select vestry. This purchase was several houses that belonged to Christopher Fawcett and Thomas Foster. It was deemed suitable as it had a backyard with a garden as well as having the convenience of water in the back yard. The overseers and their successors in office for ever were made trustees of the property and the poorhouse, which had taken £573 15s 0d of the charity money to buy and fit up and was opened for the reception of the inmates. A Master of the house was appointed and undertook to keep and maintain the inmates at the rate of one shilling and four pence per head, receiving in addition a fixed salary. The poorhouse continued to be managed by the select vestry until it passed into the hands of a Board of Guardians in later years.

Demolished area on left is believed to be the site of the original Workhouse.

The High Crown Public House is opposite

The Gateway

By 1851 a new system created by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 had been operational in Chester-le-Street for 14 years where parishes were joined in unions and were administered by elected boards and guardians with central workhouses. The system prevented the poor from starving to death, but conditions and regulations were designed to deter anyone seeking help. People at that time were not privileged to any sort of benefits to ease distress and many were obliged to accept relief – to be branded a pauper must have been degrading and demoralising. In 1897, there were 149 inmates, meals were very poor, and people dreaded the thought of going there. It was enlarged in 1899 and again in 1921.

1918 saw the 40th year of Sir Lindsay Wood providing funds to cover the cost of a New Year’s dinner at the workhouse.

Before the Second World War at about 6pm. there was often to be found around half a dozen homeless people queuing up outside the Old Police Station in the Front Street waiting for a ticket, just so that they could spend the night in the Workhouse.

The area around the workhouse was cleared some years ago to enable road widening at the top of Ropery Lane, with the old building now part of the General Hospital.