On 23rd September, 1740, under the provisions of Knatchbull's Act, the Llandaff Vestry ordered that "every person who receives relief from the parish shall be lodged in the alms house till the same is full, upon pain of having their allowances withdrawn and for their Better accommodation the overseers are to putt the said house in good repair and cause a Bog house to be built there in the most convenient place."
According to a 1777 parliamentary report, the parish of Cardiff—St John the Baptist and St Mary had workhouse for up to 200 inmates.
A meeting of the Llantrisant parish Vestry on 5th December, 1783, resolved "that a Workhouse be established in or near the Town of Llantrissent for relief of the Poor of the said Parish of Llantrissent and setting the said Poor to work and so forth." The workhouse was set up in a row of four cottages at the west end of Swan Street. The following May, sisters Mary and Rachel Frances were appointed as superintendents of the workhouse at a salary of £10 a year. The able-bodied were required "to assist the Governess in keeping the Houses Clean makeing the Beds Brewing Bakeing & Boiling together with every other matter necessary to be done towards the health and Cleanliness of the said Poor & said Houses." In addition, "only married people" were "to be Lodged in the same room and a Partition to be made between Bed & Bed before they go to the poorhouse".
The state of the Llantrisant workhouse in 1836 was described by an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner in a letter to his superiors in London (quoted in Stewart & King (2004)). He noted that Llantrisant had a:
Cardiff Poor Law Union was formed on 13th September 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 53 in number, representing its 44 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
Barry, Bonvilston, Cadoxton juxta Barry, Caerau, Cardiff St John & St Mary (4),
Cogan, Eglwysilan [until 1863](3), Lavernock, Leckwith, Lisvane, Lancarvan [Llancarvan], Llandaff (2), Llandough, Llanedarne [Llanedeyrn], Llanilltern, Llanishen, Llantrisant [until 1863] (2), Llantrithyd, Llantwit Fardre [Llantwitvadre, until 1863], Merthyrdovan [Merthyr Dyfan], Michaelstone-le-Pit [Michaelston-le-Pit], Michaelstone-super-Ely [Michaelston-super-Ely], Penarth, Pendoylan, Penmark, Pentrich [Pentyrch], Peterstone-super-Ely [Peterston-super-Ely], Porthkerry, Radyr, Roath, Rudry, St Andrews, St Bride super Ely, St Fagans, St George, St Lythans, St Nicholas, Sully, Vaen [Van], Wenvoe, Welch St Donatt's [Welsh St Donats], Whitchurch (2).
Later Additions: Highlight, Llanvedw (from 1895), Llanvithin, Rhydgwern (from 1895).
Monmouthshire: Rumney, St Mellon's.
The population falling within the union at the 1831 census had been 24,997 with parishes ranging in size from Cogan (population 22) to Cardiff St John & St Mary (6,187). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1832-35 had been £11,039 or 8s.10d. per head.
Cowbridge Road Workhouse
A new workhouse was built in 1839 on the north side of Cowbridge Road, in the Canton district about a mile to the west of the city centre. The Poor Law Commissioners approved an expenditure of £5,500 on the work, although according to an 1866 Post Office Directory, the final cost was around £7,500. The original buildings appear to have had a broadly cruciform arrangement with an entrance block at the south. An infirmary with 164 beds was added at the west of the workhouse in 1872. The original layout of the site is shown on the 1880 map below.
The main workhouse was largely rebuilt in 1880. The updated layout of the site is shown on the 1901 map below.
The new building had an imposing entrance block at the south with a clock tower at its centre.
To the rear were placed three parallel blocks running north-south. A new wing was added in 1890 at a cost of £9,000. The workhouse also had 12 cottages in which elederly married couples could live together.
After 1930, control of the site passed to Cardiff City Council and the workhouse became City Lodge Public Assistance Institution. In 1948, it joined the newly formed National Health Service as St David's Hospital. St David's finally closed in around 1995 and most of the buildings were demolished for redevelopment of the site. Only the front block with its impressive clock tower now remains.
Ely Industrial School, Cottage Homes and Workhouse
From 1862 to 1903, the union operated an industrial school for pauper children at Ely, a mile and a half to the west of the Cowbridge Road workhouse. The children (boys only, according to the 1886 map) were taught basic skills such as carpentry.
By 1901, the buildings had been extended and a separate hospital block erected at the south-west of the site.
The schools were closed in 1903 and the buildings converted and extended to provide additional workhouse accommodation for adults, primarily the aged and infirm and also mild "lunatics". A row of children's cottage homes, known as the Ely Homes or the Headquarters Homes, was erected at the south of the site. From this period, pauper children were increasingly fostered out or placed in "scattered homes". In 1914, the union had children placed at homes in the Canton district (433-5 and 449-51 Cowbridge Road, 119-121 King's Road, 11-15 Romilly Crescent, 34-35 Victoria Park Road, 145-7 Clive Road), Grangetown (52-54 Taff Embankment), Roath (13-15 Northcote Street, 3-4 Church Terrace), Cathays (22 Woodville Road, 84-86 Whitchurch Road), Penarth (32 Windsor Terrace), Dinas Powis (Rydal Bank, Station Road), and Barry (15-16 Park Crescent). The union had a "receiving home" at 103 Cowbridge Road, on the south side of Cowbridge Road opposite the main workhouse.
After 1930, the Ely site became the Ely Lodge Public Assistance Institution. After 1948, as Ely Hospital, it was used for the accommodation of mental patients and as a hospice. The hospital closed in 1996.
The Cardiff Union had offices at Queen's Chambers, Queen Street, and its "No.2 Relief District" offices were at 42 Penarth Road. The union also operated a casual ward at 12 King's Road, and dispensaries at Frederick Street (in 1895) and at 62 Charles Street (by 1920).
- Glamorgan Archives, Clos Parc Morgannwg, Leckwith, Cardiff CF11 8AW. Guardians' minute books (1836-1930).
- Ely holdings include: Master and Medical Superintendent's Journals (1906-58); Report books (1914-48); Visiting committee books (1938-69); Registers of lunatics and persons of unsound mind (1919-49; Creed registers (1914-40); Orders for detention of lunatics (1914-23); Deaths and discharges (1930-47).
- Adams, Edna (1993) Indoor and Outdoor Relief for the Poor in Cardiff, 1926-1936. Unpublished thesis for Diploma in Local History.
- Grant, Raymond K (1988) On the Parish (Glamorgan Archive Service)
- Harrod & Co.'s Post Office Directory of Glamorganshire, 1866
- Kelly's Directory of Monmouthshire and South Wales, 1895
- Stewart, J & King, S (2004) Death in Llantrisant: Henry Williams and the New Poor Law in Wales in Rural History (2004) 15, 1, 69–87.
- The union's early correspondence with the central poor-law authorities is online on the TNA website . >
- Thanks to Glamorgan Record Office for information.
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