A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded local workhouses in operation in Otterburn Ward (for up to 24 inmates ) and at Rochester (24).
Bellingham Poor Law Union formally came into existence on 20th October 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 37 in number, one from each of its constituent parishes and townships as listed below:
Northumberland: Great Bavington, Little Bavington, Bellingham, Birtley, Carey Coates, Catcherside, Charlton — East Quarter, Charlton — West Quarter, Chirdon, Coldwell, Corsenside, Crookdon, Fawns, Little Harle, West Harle, Hawick, Kirkharle, Kirkwelpington, Leemailing, Nook, Otterburn, Plashet & Tynehead, Ramshope, Rochester, Shitlington High Quarter, Shitlington Low Quarter, Smalesmouth, Sweethope, Tarretburn, West Tarset, Thockrington, Thorneyburn, Troughend, Wark, Warksburn, Wellhaugh, and West Whelpington.
The population falling within the union at the 1831 census had been 6,530 with parishes and townships ranging in size from Coldwell (population 6) to Corsenside (524). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1834-36 had been £3,219 or 9s.10d per head of the population.
Bellingham Union workhouse was built in 1839 at the north side of Bellingham. It accommodated 53 inmates. It was somewhat unusual in that it instead of following any of the Poor Law Commissioners' model plans, its design was more typical of local farmhouses. The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1921 OS map:
The main workhouse block is a two-storey square building that at some point, according to the plaque above its door, became known as Fountain Cottage. It was enlarged in 1874 at a cost of £700, and reconditioned in 1937.
The block to the rear was probably used as an infirmary and may be the 1874 enlargement.
Several outbuildings surround the yard to the north and probably contained vagrants' accommodation.
The establishment finally closed its doors in 1931 and the remaining half-dozen inmates transferred to the Hexham Institution. The building is still owned by the local district council and houses a tea-shop, tourist information office and library.
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.
- Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn, Queen Elizabeth II Country Park, Ashington, Northumberland NE63 9YF.
- Higginbotham, Peter The Workhouse Encyclopedia (2014, The History Press)
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