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Clifton (Barton Regis from 1877), Gloucestershire

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Up to 1834

A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded parish workhouses in operation at Stapleton (for up to 100 inmates) and Bristol St Philip and St Jacob (for up to 100 inmates).

Eden, in 1797, reported on poor-relief in Clifton area of Bristol:

The Poor of the out-parishes of St. Philip and Jacob, and of St. George, which contain about 16,000 inhabitants, are partly relieved at home, and partly in a Workhouse in which there are at present 85 persons. The number of out Poor is about 200. It is singular that here it is thought most beneficial to the parishes to maintain the Poor at home, and that the Poor want to get into the house. It is pleasantly situated and appears to be clean and comfortable. There are 2, or 3 beds of flocks and feathers in each room. Bill of fare in the Workhouse: Breakfast—every day, milk pottage. Dinner—Sunday, Thursday, bread and cheese; Monday, rice milk; Tuesday, Friday, pease soup; Wednesday and Saturday, pickled beef and vegetables. Supper—every day, bread and cheese or butter. 3 pints of beer are allowed to each person on meat days, and a quart on other days. One lb. of bread is given out daily and 9oz. of cheese every week. Once a month 12lbs. of butter are distributed, and at particular seasons better fare is provided, more especially for the sick.

The Clifton poorhouse was located at the east side of Church Lane in Cliftonwood, on the hillside above Mardyke. In 1859, the building was converted for use as a boys' industrial school.

Clifton former parish workhouse site, 1886.

St George's poorhouse was located on what is now Hudds Vale Road. The site later became the home of the Crown Pottery.

Former St George's parish workhouse from the east
© Peter Higginbotham.

St George's parish workhouse site (Crown Pottery), 1888.

After 1834

Clifton Poor Law Union was formed on 9th April, 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 32 in number, representing its 12 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

City and Borough of Bristol: Clifton (6), St James and St Paul (20, St Philip and St Jacob (7).
County of Gloucester: Compton Greenfield, Filton, Henbury (2), Horfield, Stapleton (2), St George (4), Stoke Gifford, Westbury-on-Trym (3), Winterbourne (2).

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 51,345 with parishes ranging in size from Compton Greenfield (population 40) to St Philip and St Jacob (15,777). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-35 had been £17,863 or 6s.11d. per head.

Prior to 1846, the Clifton union continued to use several former parish workhouses in the area. The former St George's poorhouse in Hudds Vale Road was used for children; another in the parish of St Philip and Jacob Without on Pennywell Road accommodated able-bodied paupers, and one in Clifton Wood was for the aged and sick. However, the Guardians eventually proposed to build a new large combined workhouse at Eastville. The reasons for this were threefold. First, there had been a large increase in pauper numbers — from 406 in 1836-7 to over 800 by 1844. Second, the very poor condition of the Pennywell Road workhouse which was overcrowded and had sick, insane and able-bodied inmates all in the same ward. It also had no infirmary ward or tramps' accommodation. One Guardian reported having found a woman there with a bastard lying dead at her side and that 'itched paupers' were not separated from other inmates. Finally, it was calculated that the annual cost of running a single institution would be £2,148-19s-9d compared with £2,682-19s-2d for three separate ones.

The Eastville (Fishponds Road) Workhouse

The new workhouse was erected in 1847 at 100 Fishponds Road to designs by Samuel T Welch. Its location and layout are shown on the 1912 map below.

Eastville workhouse site, 1912.

Eastville workhouse from the west, c.1905.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The entrance block was at the south-west. To the rear, a central spine containing dining-hall and chapel divided the male and female sides. The buildings no longer exist and housing now stands on the site. All that remains are some parts of the boundary wall.

Former Eastville workhouse site, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

In 1894, the British Medical Journal set up a "commission" to investigate conditions in provincial workhouses and their infirmaries. Following a visit to Barton Regis, the commission's report found a number of matters to praise. The sick wards were furnished with bright curtains, pictures and flowers, and in the day room for infirm women, the inmates could sit and sew, look at periodicals, tend growing plants, and brew their own tea. There were, however, several criticisms. The staffing levels for the care of the sick were said to be inadequate. No night nurses were provided for the sick and infirm wards whose inmates numbered 586. The old and infirm men were tended only by untrained male nurses. Further details are available in the full report.

On 14th March, 1877, the Clifton Union was renamed Barton Regis. In 1897, the workhouse and several of the parishes in the Barton Regis Union were taken over by Bristol which was reconstituted as a single Poor Law parish. The Eastville workhouse subsequently became a home for the aged.

The Southmead Workhouse

In 1900-2, the reduced Barton Regis Union built a new workhouse at Southmead. Its official foundation stone was unveiled on the 18th September 1900 by the Duchess of Beaufort.

Southmead foundation stone, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The buildings were designed by AP Cotterell and WH Thorp in a style described as "a simple type English Renaissance". The layout of the site is shown on the 1912 map below.

Southmead workhouse site, 1912.

The main building adopted a pavilion-plan layout, with walkways linking the separate blocks. The central block contained the Master's quarters, with dining-hall, kitchens, and boiler house to the rear.

Southmead administration block from the west, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Accommodation blocks lay to each side, males to the north and females to the south. A small block for married couples lay to the north of the male block.

Southmead workhouse male accommodation block from the north.
© Peter Higginbotham.

To the rear of the main building were a laundry of the female side, and a carpenter's shop on the male side. A 28-bed hospital block for females and children lay at the south of the site.

The site entrance lay at the north-west of the site on Southmead Road. Offices lay at the north side of the entrance, and receiving wards at the south. A small stables and mortuary block stood at the western corner of the site.

Southmead receiving block, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

In 1904, the Barton Regis Union was wound up and its member parishes dispersed between a further enlarged Bristol poor law administration, and the Chipping Sodbury Union. The new Southmead workhouse became the second in seven years to be inherited by Bristol from Barton Regis.

Aerial view of Southmead workhouse from the north-east. © Peter Higginbotham.

During World War One, the workhouse was taken over as an army hospital and was not returned to civilian use until the early 1920s. In 1924, a large pavilion-plan hospital known as Southmead Infirmary was built at the south-east of the workhouse. The site gradually evolved into a large general hospital now known as Southmead Hospital.

Southmead military hospital, c.1916. © Peter Higginbotham.

Aerial view of Southmead from the north-west. © Peter Higginbotham.

Southmead Infirmary male pavilion from the north-east, 2000. © Peter Higginbotham.

Southmead workhouse site, 1935.




  • Bristol Record Office, 'B' Bond Warehouse (in the 'Create Centre' section from 3-Dec-2013), Smeaton Road, Bristol BS1 6XN. Bristol workhouse records were virtually all destroyed by enemy action in 1940.


  • Large, David (1995) Bristol and the New Poor Law (Bristol Branch of the Historical Association)
  • Summers, Marian and Bowman, Sue (1995) Of Poor Law, Patients and Professionals...


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