Wareham and Purbeck, Dorset
Up to 1834
Separate Poor Law Unions for Wareham and for Purbeck were formed on 25th March 1836. However, in September of the same year, the two were merged into a single Wareham and Purbeck Union.
The original Wareham Union had an elected Board of Guardians, 20 in number, representing its 18 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
County of Dorset:
Affpiddle, Arne, Bere Regis (2), Bloxworth, Chaldon Herring, Coombe Keynes, East Holme, East Lullworth, West Lullworth, Morden, Moreton, Tonerspiddle, East Stoke, Wareham Holy Trinity, Wareham Lady St Mary (2), Wareham St Martin, Winfrith, Wool.
Later Additions: St Martin (from 1894)
The population falling within the original Union at the 1831 census had been 8,620 with parishes ranging from East Holme (population 55) to Bere Regis (3,109). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-5 had been £4,576 or 10s.7d. per head of the population.
The original Purbeck Union had 11 Guardians representing its 9 parishes:
County of Dorset: Corfe Castle (2), Church Knowle, Kimmeridge, Langton Matravers, Steeple, Studland, Swanage alias Sandwich (2), Tyneham, Worth Matravers.
The population falling within the Purbeck Union at the 1831 census had been 5,959 with parishes ranging from Kimmeridge (population 124) to Swanage (1,734). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-5 had been £5,959 or 11s.1d. per head of the population.
The new Wareham and Purbeck Union workhouse was built in 1836-37 on a site to north-west of Wareham near the common. The architects were Messrs. Carter and Hyde whose designed followed the popular cruciform plan. The new building cost £4,560. Its location and layout are shown on the 1889 map below.
The buildings was three storeys high and built of red brick with a slate roof. The entrance block, was across the south of the site, with the main accommodation wings radiating from a central octagonal hub.
The Wareham and Purbeck Board of Guardians were beset by a number of problems in the institution's early days. The building itself was late in completion owing to the bankruptcy of the the builder and only opened in January 1838. The flour mill that had been bought to provide work for the inmates proved unreliable, and the engineer responsible for it turned out to be a drunkard. Oakum-picking was briefly considered as an alternative form of employment, but eventually the Guardians resorted to the use of bone-crushing, which had initially been rejected as being too objectionable and hazardous to health. In November 1837, the appointment of a Mr Daniel as workhouse chaplain was vetoed by the Bishop who felt he already too many responsibilities in his existing post as Curate of Wareham. Then, on the 11th December 1838, the porter and schoolmistress had to be dismissed for certain indiscretions.
As was usually the case, conditions for inmates in the early years were severe. Tobacco and liquor were banned, and inmates were allowed visitors only on Mondays and Fridays. However, as time went on, things improved and by 1929 when the workhouse became a Public Assistance Institution, the Guardians had even begun to organize occasional day-trips to the seaside.
In 1948, the institution became a Joint User Establishment providing both hospital facilities and temporary hostel accommodation. Following its modernization in 1964, the hospital was renamed Christmas Close Hospital. In the 1990s, a new hospital was built on an adjacent site to the east, and the former workhouse was converted to residential accommodation.
- Dorset History Centre, Bridport Road, Dorchester DT1 1RP. Few records survive. Main holdings are Guardians' minutes (1836-1930).
- Dorset Workhouses (1980, Dorset Countryside Treasures).
This page () is copyright Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.