Minster had poorhouse in operation as early as 1630 (Judge, 1987). It was part of the Manor of Minster, owned by Sir John Haywood, which was left to be administered as a charity after his death. The poorhouse provided shelter for the old and homeless until any of those that were able could find work or accommodation.
A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded parish workhouses in operation at Minster with accommodation for up to 26 inmates, and at East Church (40 inmates).
In 1784, a new workhouse was erected at Minster but burnt down five years later and was rebuilt. In about 1815 a Gilbert Union was formed which included the parishes of Minster and Eastchurch with Queenborough and Sheerness joining later.
Sheppey Poor Law Union officially came into existence on 25th March 1835. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 14 in number, representing its 7 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
County of Kent:
Eastchurch (2), Isle of Elmley, Isle of Harty, Leysdown, Minster in Sheppey (6), Queenborough (2), Warden.
Later Addition: Sheerness (from 1894).
The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 9,847 with parishes ranging in size from Warden (population 27) to Minster in Sheppey (7,922). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1831-4 had been £6,695 or 13s.7d. per head of the population.
The new Sheppey Union adopted the existing Minster workhouse. In 1836, the Poor Law Commissioners authorised an expenditure of £1,000 on enlargement of the building. The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1908 map below:
The oldest surviving portion, believed to date from 1789, is the workhouse lodge at the southernmost corner of the site.
An irregular mixture of 19th century blocks runs along the roadside at the southern edge of the site.
A new infirmary was erected perpendicular to the road in 1869. Latterly, the entrance to the site was at the southern side of this block.
In 1889, another fire caused damage to the workhouse buildings.
The workhouse had its own school at the north of the site which was in operation until 1895. After this time, workhouse children were sent to the local village school although they had to sit in their own part of the classroom. From around 1904, children born in the workhouse were given the address "Cliff House" on their birth certificates to disguise their place of birth.
After the official end of the workhouse system in 1930, the site came under the control of the local council. In 1938, the buildings were redesignated as Minster Hospital with facilities including a maternity unit and operating theatre. It later became Sheppey Hospital but has now closed. The site is currently (2005) closed off and awaiting redevelopment.
- Kent History and Library Centre, James Whatman Way, Maidstone, Kent ME14 1LQ Holdings include: Guardians' minutes (1835-1930); Ledger (1835-1930, with gaps); Births (1835-1930); Deaths (1866-1931); Creed registers (1869-1930); Register of mechanical restraint (1890-1922); Admissions and discharges (1853-1929); Indoor relief books (1848-1921, with gaps); etc.
- Thanks to George Cook for information and picture of Sheppey.
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