Up to 1834
In 1728, a proposal to erect a poorhouse in Bury was rejected by the Vestry meeting. However, there was apparently a change of mind in 1731-2 when the scheme was approved.
In a parliamentary report of 1777, Bury was listed as having a workhouse with accommodation for 50 inmates. Eden, in his 1797 survey of the poor in England, reported of Bury that:
Bury's workhouse, also known as the Redvales workhouse, was erected in 1775 to the south of the town on the Manchester Road. Up until 1810, it was managed by the town's oveerseers, then a separate manager was appointed. In 1826, the Vestry expressed the opinion that the "workhouse in its present state is not sufficiently large to afford an opportunity of employing the inmates in useful labour nor such conveniences as are essential for the health of such an establishment." A new wing was then added at the eastern end of the building.
Township workhouses also operated on Blackburn Street at Radcliffe, on Bury Old Road to the west of Heywood, on Pot Green (where house numbers 13-20 now stand) at Holcombe Brook in Tottington Lower End, and at Elton.
The Pilkington workhouse on Moss Lane at Whitefield also included a school.
The Bury Poor Law Union was formally declared on 8th February 1837. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 25 in number, representing its 12 constituent parishes and townships as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
Lancashire: Ainsworth, Ashworth, Birtle-cum-Bamford, Bury (5), Elton (2), Heap (3), Hopwood, Pilkington (3), Pilsworth, Radcliffe (2), Tottington Lower End (3), Walmersley (2).
The population falling within the union at the 1831 census had been 62,599 with parishes ranging in size from Ashworth (population 294) to Bury itself (15,086).
Initially, the Bury Union continued to use the old township workhouses at Bury, Radcliffe, Heywood, Heap, Tottington Lower End, and Pilkington. Until 1852, children were accommodated at the Pilkington workhouse but from that date most were sent to the Manchester Union's industrial Schools at Swinton. The Radcliffe workhouse appears to have housed only male paupers, with Heap used for females.
In 1850, Lord Derby refused to renew leases for the Bury, Heap and Pilkington workhouses which stood on his land, saying that the Guardians had "already spent as much money as would have built a union workhouse by paying extra salaries and not having a labour test." The followng year, the Poor Law Board proposed the building of a joint workhouse for Bury and the adjacent Union of Rochdale which was in a similar position. In 1852, the Bury Guardians borrowed £6,000 and advertised for plans for a workhouse to accommodate 400 inmates, with a separate 60-bed hospital. Work on the new buildings finally commenced in 1855 when a further £8,000 was borrowed. The workhouse opened on January 21st 1857, and a year later the total expenditure for the scheme had swollen to £20,481.
The new workhouse was erected at Jericho, almost two miles to the east of Bury, and a height of 461 feet above sea level. The location and layout are shown on the 1894 map below:
The main building (now demolished) was an asymmetrical T-shape with its entrance at the east. The irregular H-shaped building at the east was probably the original workhouse infirmary.
Over the next twenty years, various additions were made including accommodation for infants in 1862, and for the insane in 1868. In 1876, a new 32-bed infectious hospital was built at the west of the site. It comprised four ward-blocks connected by a wide, open covered way, and was designed in conjunction with the Local Government Board. A contemporary report described the new wards as 'excellent in themselves and greatly in advance of anything hitherto attempted'. Additional buildings erected at the same time included a nurses' home and mortuary.
The workhouse had its own burial ground at the west of the site, as shown on the 1894 map above. This was not a common feature of English workhouses. Paupers who died in a workhouse whose bodies were not claimed by family or friends were usually buried in a local nearby churchyard in an unmarked grave. The Jericho workhouse cemetery is believed to have continued in use until 1916, by which time around 4,000 burials of deceased inmates had taken place there.
In 1903-5, a new 126-bed infirmary was erected to the south of the workhouse. Designed by A Hopkinson, and built from Accrington plastic bricks, it comprised a central administrative block flanked by two double pavilions. Accommodation for 17 nurses was provided in the administrative block.
By 1912, the number of inmates in the workhouse was well over 700, including 83 children and vagrants. In 1914 a military hospital was established at the site.
From 1904, to protect them from disadvantage in later life, the birth certificates for those born in the workhouse gave its address just as 1 Broad Oak Lane, Bury.
If an inmate died in the workhouse, their next of kin (if known) would be informed and invited to arrange a funeral. If this did not happen, the body would receive a paiuper's funeral and uried in an unmarked grave, usually with a number of other similar individuals.
The workhouse later became Bury Union Institution, then Jericho Public Assistance Institution. In 1940, it became a decontamination centre. In the same year, a bomb fell in the grounds but caused relatively little damage or injury.
The site is now known as Fairfield Hospital and most of the old workhouse blocks have been replaced by modern buildings.
The union erected offices on Parson's Lane in Bury which were opened in August 1866.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- Bury Archives Service, Bury Museum and Archives, Moss Street, Bury BL9 0DR. Holdings: Guardians' minutes (1840-1930); Admission and discharge registers (1864-7, 1871-81, 1885-6, 1897-1900, 1906-7); Creed Registers (1869-1934); Registers of burials at workhouse cemetery (1858-1946); Returns of paupers relieved (1871-1900).
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