Festiniog (Ffestiniog), Merionethshire
The Festiniog (or Ffestiniog) Poor Law Union was formed on 8th May, 1837. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 22 in number, representing its 15 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
County of Merioneth:
Festiniog (3), Llanbedr, Llandanwg, Llandecwyn, Llanfair, Llanfihangel-y-Traethan (2),
Llanfrothen, Maentwrog, Trawsfynydd (3).
County of Carvarvon: Beddgelert (2), Dolbenmaen, Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, Penmorfa, Trefblys, Ynyscynhaiarn (2).
The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 11,489 with parishes ranging in size from Trefblys (population 78) to Festiniog itself (1,648). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1834-36 had been £4,208 or 7s.4d. per head.
Festiniog Union workhouse was erected in about 1839 at Minffordd, near Penrhyndeudraeth, to the east of Porthmadog (Portmadoc). The Poor Law Commissioners authorised an expenditure of £3,200 on construction of the building which was to accommodate 150 inmates. The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1917 map below.
The building broadly followed the popular "square" layout with its entrance and administrative block fronting onto the road at the south. This originally comprised just the central two-storey five-bay portion but was later enlarged with single-storey extensions to each side.
The two-storey main block at the rear had a central supervisory hub giving views over the various exercise yards.
A mortuary was located at the north-east of the site.
In 1875, a number of additions were made to the building including infectious, vagrant, and receiving wards, an an able-bodied men's dormitory, the architect for the scheme being Owen Morris Roberts of Portmadoc.
The vagrants' ward accommodation included six combined sleeping/work cells where inmates slept on wire metal beds without a mattress. The work cells were used for stone-breaking and had metal grids at the outside through which broken stone was passed when its pieces were of a small enough diameter.
The workhouse had its own piggery where pigs were fattened with waste food from the workhouse and then sold.
In 1894, the British Medical Journal set up a "commission" to investigate conditions in provincial workhouses and their infirmaries. Following a visit to Festiniog, the commission's report highlighted the fact that the sole staff employed at the workhouse were the master and matron, who had to govern the house, nurse the sick, overlook the able-bodied, care for the children, admit the tramps, etc. There was no separate infirmary — the sick were housed in cramped quarters within the main workhouse building. There was also a general lack of toilet and washing facilities. The commission strongly recommended the appointment of more staff: a trained nurse who would also be qualified as a midwife; a night nurse, a porter, and responsible attendants for the infants and the children. They also advised the provision of separate accommodation for the sick, better sanitary facilities, day rooms for the infirm, and an improved lying-in ward. Further details are available in the full report.
In 1902, a new porter was appointed at the workhouse. because his surname, Jones, was such a common one, the Guardians decided that he should be called called by his first name, Gittins.
In 1918, part of the workhouse premises were adopted for the accommodation of adult 'mental deficients'.
After 1930, the site was taken over by Merionethshire Council and redesignated as a Public Assistance Institution. It then joined the National Health Service in 1948 as Bron y Garth Hospital. Following the hospital's closure in 2009, the site was sold for redevelopment but the scheme stalled due to planning obstacles..
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.
- Meirionnydd Archives, Ffordd y Bala, Dolgellau LL40 2YF. Holdings include: Guardians' minute books (1842-69, 1876-1931); Ledgers (1840-1928); Admissions and discharges (1847-54, 1867-85, 1894-99, 1901-8, 1911-28); Punishment book (1898-1918); Register of lunatics (188-1930); Paupers' loan book (1881-1919); Births register (1914-34); etc.
- Higginbotham, Peter The Workhouse Encyclopedia (2014, The History Press)
Unless otherwise indicated, this page () is copyright Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.