Ancestry UK

Halifax, West Riding of Yorkshire

[Up to 1834] [After 1834] [Staff] [Inmates] [Records] [Bibliography] [Links]

Up to 1834

In 1635, Charles I granted Halifax a charter to set up a workhouse and a managing committee known as the "Master and Governors of the Workhouse for the poor, within the town and parish of Halifax." The workhouse was established near the parish church in a large house given by Nathaniel Waterhouse "to set the poor within the town and parish to work." Waterhouse was appointed the first master, his successors being elected every year by the twelve governors from among themselves. Most of the inmates were contracted out as hired labour.

A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded local workhouses in operation at Ealand [Elland] with Greetland (for up to 80 inmates), Halifax (100), Hipperholm with Brighouse (40), Midgley (24), Norland (12), Ovenden (40), North Owram (70), South Owram (60), Soyland (60), Stainland (50), and Warley (30).

Baines' Directory of 1830 records that the Halifax workhouse stood at 8 Upper Kirkgate, with Elizabeth Casson as its matron. The Overseers' Office was next door, at number 7, while a Vagrants' Office was located at 8 Copper Street.

Eden, in his 1797 survey of the poor in England, reported of Halifax that:

89 paupers are in the Workhouse, an old, small, inconvenient building. 42 are under 12, 20 under 6, and one-third of the whole number are lunatic. The women and children spin worsted. Some of the men are employed in the town. The earnings are from 15s. to a week. Those who work out of doors, in the kitchen or other house business, are allowed butchers' meat for dinner every day in the week, others have meat dinners on Sundays and Thursdays; children have pudding instead of boiled meat. The dinners on other days are potatoes, butter and milk or beer with a slice of bread, or broth and cold meat with bread and beer. Breakfast is usually hasty pudding, boiled milk and bread, or broth and bread. Working people receive a pint of beer each at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those who have been used to tobacco have ½lb. a month; snuff takers, ½lb. a month. Women are allowed to spin to purchase tea.

Southowram's workhouse dated back until at least the 1740s. It was situated on Ashday Lane where the name "Old Workhouse Quarry" was still current until at least the 1890s. Eden noted of the Southowram workhouse that:

34 paupers, chiefly old people and children, are in the house. They appear to be comfortable and well fed. Hasty pudding and boiled milk are provided for breakfast and supper. Dinner on Sunday and Thursday consists of butchers' meat. No regular course is observed on other days, but potatoes butter, milk and oatbread form the chief part of their food. A pint of beer is allowed in the forenoon and afternoon to those who work. The Poor spin worsted. Children begin at 7 or 8; at 9 they are bound apprentices The earnings are from £1 13s. to £2 7s. a month. There are 89 out-pensioners, most of whom have families. About 20 receive casual relief.

Midgley's workhouse stood at New Heath Head at the end of Workhouse Lane to the north of Midgley .

Midgley's former workhouse now renovated as a private house, 2006.

A house on Till Carr Lane in Brighouse was the workhouse for Hipperholme with Brighouse until 1834.

Brighouse former workhouse, 2006.
© Peter Higginbotham.

In Barkisland, a house on Scammonden Road was erected as the parish in 1827. A plaque over its door is inscribed: "This Building was erected AD 1827, by a Committee with the money arising from the coal in the White Birch Farm in Northow-ram, of which the interest that arises therefrom, is to be distributed to such poor people of Barkisland as have no Parochial Relief".

Barkisland former workhouse, 2006.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Sowerby had a workhouse at Bentley Royd on Sowerby New Road.

Stainland's workhouse was at the east side of Stainland Road as indicated on the 1854 map below.

Stainland workhouse site, 1854.

The Elland and Greetland workhouse was at Hullenedge.

Elland and Greetland former workhouse.
© Peter Higginbotham.

A parliamentary report in 1834 recorded the workhouse populations in a number of Halifax townships:

FixbyTwo cottages housing 12 inmates
Elland cum GreetlandTotal 34. 19 males (8 under 20, the others aged 60 to 70); 15 females (4 under 20, the others from 50 to 60)
Hipperholme cum Brighouse2 males aged 23 and 7, and 3 females aged 80, 63, and 37.
Midgley 1 male aged 8, 2 females aged 10 and 7.
NorthowramTotal 25. 8 under 10, 3 aged 10 to 30, 5 aged 30-60, 9 aged 60 to 90. 11 males 14 females.
OvendenTotal 48. 5 under 10 years, 3 under 20, 2 under 30, 8 under 40, 12 under 60, 4 under 70, 10 under 80, and 4 under 90
ShelfNo workhouse but a few small cottages belonging to the town inhabited by the poor, with a monthly allowance.
SkircoatTotal 10. 4 males (aged 76, 74, 68, and 30); 6 females (aged 74, 65, 28, 4, 3, and 1)
SouthowramTotal 5. 2 females aged 72 and 62; 3 males aged 72, 46, and 43.
SowerbyTotal 34. 21 males: 5 under 10, 2 under 15, 3 under 20, 1 under 30, 2 under 40, 2 under 50, 1 under 60, 2 under 70, 3 under 80. 14 females: 4 under 10, 1 under 15, 1 under 20, 1 under 30, 4 under 40, 1 under 50, 1 under 60, 1 under 70.
SoylandTotal 12: 3 men aged about 80, 70, 23; 9 females aged about 80, 70, 70, 66, 60, 23, 22, 3 and ½
StainlandTotal 13: 7 females aged from 1 to 60; 6 males from 8 to 78.
Warley11 inmates.

After 1834

Halifax Poor Law Union was officially formed on 10th February 1837. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 31 in number, representing its 19 constituent parishes/townships as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

West Riding of Yorkshire: Barkisland, Clifton with Hartishead [Hartshead], Elland with Greetland (2), Fixby, Halifax (5), Hipperholme with Brighouse (2), Midgley, Norland, Northowram (2), Ovenden (2), Rastrick, Rishworth, Shelf, Skircoat, Southowram (2), Sowerby (2), Soyland, Stainland and Old Lindley, Warley (2).
Later Additions (all from 1894): Luddenden Foot, Norwood Green and Coley, Queensbury, Sowerby Bridge, Upper Greetland.

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 89,739 with parishes/townships ranging in size from Fixby (population 348) to Halifax itself (15,382).

The Board of Guardians held their first meeting on 17th February, 1837, at the Trustees Office in Cheapside, Halifax. Those in attendance were: Mr. George Buckston Browne, Mr. Jonathan Akroyd, Mr. George Whiteley, Mr. Joseph Nicholson, Mr. James Hoatson (representing Halifax); Mr. John Stott jnr., Mr. Abraham Pitchforth (Elland Cum Greetland); Mr. John Wilson (Ovenden); Mr. Matthew Paterson, Mr. Thomas Barker (Southowram); Mr. John Holland, Mr. Joshua Butterworth (Hipperholme Cum Brighouse); Mr. Thomas Oldfield, Mr. Samuel Smith (Warley); Mr, John Foster, Mr. Robert Stansfeld (Sowerby); Mr. William Armytage (Clifton Cum Hartshead); Mr. George Binns (Norland); Mr. John Denton (Stainland With Old Lindley); Mr. George Beaumont, Mr. Josehh Stocks, Mr. Edward Emmet (Northowram); Mr. William Baxter (Berkisland); Mr. Walker Priestley (Soyland); Mr. Michael Hoyle (Rishworth); Mr. Charles Pitchfort (Rastrick); Mr. Thomas Gregory (Shelf); Mr. John Aked (Midgley). Skircoat (2 Members) And Fixby did not appear to have elected their representatives leaving the Board 3 members short. Mr. George Buckston Browne, Of Myrtle Grove, Halifax, was elected the first Chairman. Mr. George Binns was appointed Vice-Chairman. Mr. Charles Barstow, Solicitor, Halifax, was appointed Clerk to the Board.

Ninety-three years later, on March 31st, 1930, a dinner to mark the dissolution of the Board was given in the workhouse dining hall. A souvenir menu contained the following history of the Union.

Souvenir menu, 1930
© Peter Higginbotham.

1838. Guardians considered reports on existing Workhouses. There were 14 Township Workhouses, viz.: at Halifax, Southowram, Hipperholme cum Brighouse, Rastrick, Elland cum Greetland, Stainland, Warley, Soyland, Sowerby, Northowram, Shelf, Ovenden, Skircoat and Norland. (Note.- There was certainly one also at Barkisland but it is not mentioned).

1839. On 27th July, Board decided to erect a new Workhouse for the Union. Land was bought between Gibbet Lane and Hanson Lane. Poor Law Commissioners had reported that in the Township Workhouses the number of inmates was 231. "Some of these houses (said the report) were in a state unfit for human beings to inhabit and the aggregate expense was very great."

15 District Medical Officers were appointed in February of this year.

1840. Removal of paupers from old Workhouses to new Workhouse.

Fever Hospital to be forthwith erected at Workhouse "to be completely detached from Main Building."

1841. Period of considerable distress. Guardians had constant difficulty in dealing with applications for relief.

In 1846 a large sum was raised by inhabitants for relief of the unemployed. It was used by putting men on the construction of a New Reservoir. The men were paid 2d. per hour.

In 1849, £16,376 was expended in relief by the Guardians.

Until the Charter of Incorporation was obtained for Halifax in 1849 the Guardians were the only elective public body in the Town and District. They had the duty of abating Nuisances under the Nuisances Removal Act. Between November 1848, and February 1851, they dealt with 1,597 Nuisances in Halifax.

The Guardians had also to cope with Infectious Disease. In 1849 there was a severe epidemic of Cholera in the Town. 579 cases were diagnosed as Diarrhoea and 20 as Asiatic Cholera. It was stated by Dr. Alexander, a prominent medical man of the Town, "The house to house Visitation directed by the Guardians mitigated the severity and checked the fatality of the epidemic and the early preparation made by that Board in the way of nuisance removal and other preventive measures to all human appearance effectually met the approaching outbreak."

During this period the Guardians were in actual fact the Public Health Authority for the Town of Halifax. In 1851 the Public Health Act 1848, was put in force in Halifax notwithstanding that it was strongly opposed by the Town Council. The duty of Public Health administration (which was foreign to the Guardians' constitution) was thereafter carried out by the Halifax Corporation. At this time there were 312 cellar dwellings in Halifax with 958 persons inhabiting them and apart from these, housing conditions generally were bad. These conditions had their reflex in the large sums the Guardians had to disburse in relief. Times, however, were more prosperous and the numbers obtaining relief began to decline.

Halifax workhouse site, 1849.

In 1869-70, two large 3-Storey Infirmary Pavilions were erected at the rear of the main buildings at a cost of £30,000. These wards were at that period "the last word" in Hospital construction. They did splendid work for the suffering poor until the erection of St. Luke's Hospital at the end of the Century. In 1872 the large Dining Hall (which was designated the "Dining Hall and Chapel") was built.

A serious epidemic of Smallpox and Typhus Fever broke out in 1871-2. A large number of cases were treated by the Guardians in the "Back Block" at the Workhouse.

The Halifax Corporation had no Hospital. They insisted that the Guardians were the "Sanitary Authority" and must provide Hospital treatment for the infected persons. The Local Government Board, however, very soon told the Corporation that they were the responsible authority and that Body had hurriedly to provide an emergency Hospital.

In 1894 was passed the Local Government Act of that year. It abolished the open Voting System for Boards of Guardians and other Authorities, the Ballot superseding it. The Guardians had henceforth to be elected on the Township principle. The number was increased to 48. Women, previously disfranchised, were enabled to be elected to Boards of Guardians. At the election in December 1894, five ladies were for the first time elected Guardians. At this election, Mr. J. W. Hodgson (who first became a member 2 years previously), Mr. J. B. Carter and Mr. Wm. Haigh, were returned as Guardians. All three still remained Members in 1930.

In 1897 the building of St. Luke's Hospital at Salterhebble began. Mr. W. C. Williams, the Architect, 1930. travelled extensively in this country and abroad to acquire ideas in Hospital construction, and the result was the magnificent building at Salterhebble. It was occupied in 1901. The Hospital is the Guardians crowning achievement. It cost £103,000 and there is not a penny owing on it. During the War it was occupied as a War Hospital. The Guardians' Medical Officer, Dr. J. F. Woodyatt, was created a Lieutenant Colonel and placed in Command. But though under Military Control the Guardians continued to provision it and supervise the Building and they did this with great success. Thousands of men passed through the Hospital during the Military occupation. Land to the West of the Hospital was purchased with forethought for future extensions.

After the War, patients (who had been treated in the old Sick Wards of the Gibbet Street Institution —the old Workhouse) were re-transferred to the Hospital, and the Guardians resumed their ordinary administration. Normal times did not arrive as was expected. Unemployment and distress ensued. Demonstrations of the unemployed were frequent. Numbers marched to the precincts of the Board Room when the Guardians were sitting and demanded relief. Firmness, patience, and discretion met the situation, and gradually more settled conditions were restored.

In 1929 was passed the Local Government Act. It abolishes Boards of Guardians and transfers their functions to other Authorities on 1st April, 1930. After 93 years of successful administration, the Guardians end their sphere of labour with a pauperism of 118 per 10,000 of the population, the lowest numbers in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and which contrast with 347 per 10,000 for London Unions and 261 per 10,000 as the average for the whole Country. Their Institutions are at the highest point of efficiency and are entirely free from debt.
31st March, 1930. Exeunt omnes.

George Buckston Browne,
First Chairman, 1837
© Peter Higginbotham.

Miriam Lightfowler, JP,
44th and last Chairman, 1930
© Peter Higginbotham.

George Barstow,
First Clerk, 1837-77
© Peter Higginbotham.

John William Longbottom,
Second Clerk, 1877-94
© Peter Higginbotham.

Arthur Thompson Longbotham, MBE,
Third and last Clerk, 1894-1930
© Peter Higginbotham.

One episode that the above history omits occurred in 1842 when the Poor Law Commissioners investigated the employment and conditions of children in mines and manufactories. They discovered that workhouse boys, some as young as eight, were being sent on "apprenticeships" of up to twelve years working in coal mines. As a result, some unions in the coal-mining areas of South Staffordshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire were asked to provide detailed information on the children who had been apprenticed in the mining industry in recent years. The returns showed that small numbers of workhouse boys had indeed been sent to work in the mines although, no doubt chastened by the Commissioners criticism, most claimed that the practice had now ceased. The return for Halifax is included below. The first table lists boys under sixteen sent to work in coal mines or apprenticed to coal miners by the Halifax Union's Board of Guardians. In fact, in none of the cases was an apprenticeship arranged.

TownshipName of ChildAge
Coal mine.Name of Master.
SouthowramWilliam Hollingworth13—0Bradshaw Pit, OvendenAbraham Oldfield
SkircoatJohn Pearson12—6Holling Edye, EllandJoseph Whiteley
SowerbyJoseph Firth13Shibden Pit, NothowramThomas Bottomley
HalifaxJoseph Lister13Clough Hole Pit, NorthowramGeorge Scott
DittoJoseph Ellis14—1Thorn Bar, NorthowramDitto
WarleyWilliam Wood15—0Windy Bank, NorthowramJoseph Burker
Dittoditto  "Woodhead's Pit, Idle, near BradfordBenjamin Normanton

The second table lists boys who were sent to work in coal mines or apprenticed to coal miners by parish officers in the Halifax Union.

TownshipName of ChildAge
ApprenticedApprenticeship Period
Premium.Sent to work without being apprenticed.Coal mine.Name of Master.
Elland GreetlandWilliam Luty10—0yes11—020s. for clothingnoPark Bottom, EllandWilliam Luty (boy's uncle)
DittoJoseph Crossley9—0  "12—020s.  "  "  "William Harewood
HalifaxJames Butterfield12—7  "8—5none  "Rawson's CollieriesHenry Butterfield (boy's brother)
DittoMark Chadwick10—0  "11—0  "  "  "George Watson
DittoJoseph Lister12—0  "9—0  "  "Northowram CollieriesGeorge Scott
HipperholmeMatthew Pender10—0  "11—0  "  "Bradshaw, Ovenden
DittoJohn Brook14—2  "6—10  "  "Pump, Southowram
DittoWilliam Brook11—4  "9—8  "  "ditto
DittoCharles Pinder11—0  "10—0  "  "Bradshawhead, Thornton, near Bradford
NorthowramAlfred Saville9—2  "10—215s. for clothing  "Boothtown, Northowram
DittoWilliam Sharp13—5  "7—715s.  "  "Boothtown, Northowram
DittoSimeon Jowett9—9  "11—315s.  "  "Bradshaw Lane, Ovenden
DittoJames Noble11—0nononenoneyesPenfold Pit, Northowram
OvendenShadrack Holden12—0yes9—010s. for clothingnoShugden Pit — ditto
DittoJohn Priestley10—3  "10—910s.  "  "ditto
StainlandJames Ramsden11—4  "9—410s.  "  "Shitlington, near DewsburyWilliam Goldthorp

William Hollingworth (or Hollingsworth), who appears in the first table above, later gave evidence to the 1842 Royal Commission on Children's Employment in Mines and Manufactories revealing how he had had to work underground continuously for up to sixteen hours a day:

I have no father or mother; my father was a shoemaker and has been dead five years, and my mother eleven; I lived with my sister at Crossfield six months after and rather better, and then went to the old workhouse; I was then apprenticed by the overseer of the parish of Halifax to Joseph Morton, the brickmaker, in the township of Southowram, where I remained two years. When he died. and I came here for a little while, Jonathan Oldfield, a collier. living at Bradshaw-lane. made application to the Board of Guardians for an apprentice; I was willing to work for him or anybody else, and went with him by consent of the Board on trial for a month; if I had remained with him I should have been bound until I was 21; I stayed with him five days; he gave me porridge for breakfast at half-past five, and then I went with his other two apprentices. with whom I slept, to the pit; each of us took a cake and a half for our dinners; we had no time to stop to eat it, but took it as we hurried; the first night I worked in the pit, which was last Thursday [the 3rd inst.], we remained until ten o'clock at night, and then all three came away together; the second night [Friday] we stopped until nine, third night until half-past eight, and on the Monday until a quarter to eight; we had nothing during the whole of those days but the cake and half each, and nothing to drink; there was no water that we could get in the pit's bottom, and they would not allow us to go up to drink; I was very thirsty at times; my master never beat me, but he cursed enough at me because I was not sharp enough with the corves. I hurried without shoes one day, but was obliged to put them on again because the ground hurt my feet; the other apprentices told me that they worked until 10 and 11 o'clock at night regular. It was Mr. Joseph Stocks's Royd Pit that I worked in; I ran away from him Tuesday [yesterday] morning because he worked me so late; I was so tired when I got home to his house that I did not think I could stand it; after I left him I made application to come into the workhouse again; I would rather work if I had a good master; I have been to day-school and Sunday-school, and can read and write very well; I heard my master say last Sunday to another man who looks after his cow, that the four getters and three hurriers that he employs earns every day 14s.; one of his apprentices is a getter, the other is a hurrier; besides them he has three other getters.

As noted earlier, the Halifax Union workhouse was erected in 1839-40 at the north side of Gibbet Street at the west of Halifax. The architect is unknown. The site layout is shown on the 1905 map below.

Halifax workhouse site, 1905.

With its entrance at the south, the main building was broadly based on the popular cruciform plan with four wings radiating from an octagonal hub. Originally there was a fever hospital at the rear with infirmary blocks to each side. This was the part of the building was redeveloped in 1869 with the creation of two new pavilion ward blocks and a fever ward to the north. The old infirmaries were converted for use by imbeciles and a small circular padded cells were added to the south side of each. New vagrant wards were erected at the west of the workhouse in 1895.

Halifax workhouse from the south, c.1919.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Halifax workhouse detail, c.1919.
© Peter Higginbotham.

In around 1905, a new porter's loage was erected on Gibbet Street.

Halifax workhouse new porter's lodge (left), c.1905.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The workhouse site later became known as St John's Public Assistance Institution, and remained in use as an old people's home until 1949. The workhouse buildings no longer exist.

Halifax Union Infirmary

In 1897-1901, a new union infirmary was erected at Skircoat. As well as the usual long 'nightingale' wards, the new infirmary was unusual in having two three-storey circular tower wards similar to those in the poor law infirmaries at Hampstead and Camberwell. A full description of the buildings appeared in the journal The Builder in April 1901:

WORKHOUSE HOSPITAL, HALIFAX.— A building has been erected at Salterhebble by the Halifax Board of Guardians to meet the need for increased hospital accommodation. The hospital stands on a site of about twelve acres, about a mile front Halifax on the Huddersfield-road. Plans have been prepared by the architect, Mr. W. Clement Williams, of Halifax, for a comprehensive scheme which will provide accommodation for 642 patients, in addition to which there are beds for about 100 nurses and servants. The total estimated cost is about 130,000l. It has been thought, however, that to meet the immediate requirements the provision of 400 beds for the sick would be sufficient, together with the complete scheme of administration buildings, for by this arrangement it would only be necessary to add an additional pavilion as the need may arise for more beds. The Nurses' Home is the first building seen on entering from the Huddersfield-road, and is placed astride the centre line of the hospital. It contains accommodation for nurses and probationers, including general and separate sitting-rooms, library, dining-room. and lecture-room. There are in this block over seventy bedrooms. Immediately behind the Nurses' Home, the first floors being connected by a three-arched bridge, is the administration block, the ground floor of which is devoted to porters' rooms and storerooms. The first floor is set apart for committee- rooms, doctors', stewards', and matron's offices and sitting-rooms, dispensing and matron's stores, with electric lift from the basement. Here are also a large kitchen and a scullery, with larder, &c. On the south side of this floor is an isolated receiving pavilion connected with the main building by a bridge. On the same story of the eastern block are the assistant medical officer's apartments. The chief medical officer will be provided with a separate residence. The other administrative buildings are the electric light and power station, placed below the ground level, the boiler-house and disinfecting station, and the laundry. The buildings already referred to occupy the centre line of the site, which runs from east to west, and the ten pavilions for patients (five for each sex) are placed in two lines, one on the north and one on the south side of this central block. Corridors connect the administrative buildings with the pavilions, all of which are connected by one-story corridors with service subways underneath them. The subways allow of any pavilion being served from the kitchen or store without the hospital corridors being used. Eight of the pavilions are oblong and two stories high, while the remaining two are circular and three stories in height. Outside the general hospital scheme and entirely isolated are two small pavilions for maternity cases, each containing four beds. The mortuary will also be an isolated building. There are fire-escape staircases for all the wards. The Guardians have had to take over the mason's contract (with Mr. Richard Charnock as manager), and the electric lighting, &c. (under the superintendence of Mr. Savile Watney), while the other principal local contractors are:— Messrs. Hanson & Son, joiners; Messrs. Rushworth & Firth, plasterers; Messrs. Moss Brothers, painters; and Mr. Boocock, plumber. In connexion with the water supply, the water is supplied through Walker's health pipes, supplied by Messrs. E. Walker & Co., of Heckmondwike.

Halifax workhouse infirmaty site, Salterhebble, c.1905.

Between 1914 and 1920 the infirmary was occupied as St Luke's Military Hospital.

St Luke's Military Hospital c.1916.
© Peter Higginbotham.

In 1930, the infirmary site taken over by Halifax County Borough and became St Luke's Hospital, then after 1948 it joined the National Health Service as Halifax General Hospital. The surviving buildings now form part of the Calderdale Royal Hospital complex.

Nurses' home, 2009.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Infirmary circular ward block, 2009.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Children's Home

The Halifax Union operated a children's home at Craigie Lea, Ovenden. In 1924, the home could accommodate 34 children, with Miss Dyke as its superintendent.

Craigie Lea, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham.

After 1930, the home was taken over by Halifax Borough Council as a home for 'low grade mentally defective boys and girls' up to the age of 14. The property is now a day nursery.




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.

  • West Yorkshire Archive Service (Calderdale Office), Central Library, Northgate House, Northgate, Halifax HX1 1UN. Relatively few records survive — holdings include: Settlement, apprenticeship and bastardy papers (1673-1749); Guardians' minute books (1837-41); Ledgers (1835-39, 1857-1925); etc.


  • Halifax Workhouse by Anthony Chadwick (Ripon Museum Trust leaflet, 1996)


[Top of Page] [Unions List] [Unions Map] [Home Page]

Ancestry UK

* * * Amazon US For US readers Amazon US * * *