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BMJ Reports on the Nursing and Administration of Provincial Workhouses and Infirmaries, 1894-5.

In 1894-5, the British Medical Journal — as part of a campaign to improve the nursing and medical facilities in workhouse infirmaries — conducted site visits to around fifty workhouses in England and Wales. Below are extracts from their report on the Forehoe union workhouse.


In the village of Kimberley, three miles from the interesting town of Wymondham, stands the quaint old workhouse of the Forehoe Union. It was built in 1777 for 450 inmates, but nothing like that number of beds are now occupied. The master gave us every facility for seeing the quarters of the sick.

The infirmary wards are in the house, the men being in one wing and the women in the opposite wing, with the width of the house between them. A wide oaken staircase gives access in each case to the wards, 2 on each side. There are 12 beds for the men and 12 for the women. These wards are the old dormitories, divided by partitions, which makes them warmer and more home-like; the pitched roof remains as it was. There was an air of cheerfulness and comfort about the rooms, due in a measure to the blue and white check curtains at the head of each bed.

The patients, 9 in all, could hardly be called sick, they were mostly infirm; 2 men were in bed, the one with rheumatism, the other a case of senility. There was also a little boy who had been brought in on the previous day suffering from sore throat (there was diphtheria in the village). The wardsman was washing him, and, in reply to the matron's question, said that there was now nothing amiss with the throat. On the female side 3 patients were in bed — cases of senility. There is a nurse, not trained, and a wardsman or wardswoman to each wing. The bedsteads are old-fashioned wooden frames, and the bedding is mostly straw; a few feather beds have been brought in by inmates. It was all quite sweet and wholesome. The sanitary appliances are very rudimentary. In the women's ward one end is partitioned off, leaving the gable open; here there is a commode; on the men's side the commode is enclosed on the landing. There is not a closet in the house, and the same arrangement is made for the able-bodied at night, a commode in the middle of each ward. No water is laid on to any part of the house; hot water is obtained from a copper in the kitchen, and the matron is careful to keep a copperful hot through the night. All slops, etc., have to be carried downstairs. Baths are not used in the infirmary: there is a movable bath for use in the house.

The lying-in ward is so seldom used that the matron makes use of it as a sewing room.

The nursery is on the ground floor in the further wing, a cheerless stone-paved room, destitute of comforts, not even a mat for the babes to crawl on. The cradles are the ancient wooden boxes, and along one wall is a frame holding sloping bins, intended in past days to hold the infants: The babies are in the care of the children's caretaker helped by an inmate. The only two imbeciles were in the house under the care of the matron.


The two crying wants are the supply of earth closets in suitable places all over the house — no difficult or costly matter in the country — and the provision of a proper nursery for the infants, with all suitable appliances for the care of young children. Since labour is scarce in almost all these Norfolk unions, it would be well to lay on a supply of water upstairs for the infirmary, and to provide some means for emptying it. In other respects the most was done for the sick with the material that the officers had at their disposal. Again we throw out the suggestion of the practicability of organising these country workhouses as the centres of medical relief for the district.

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