Hampstead, London (Middlesex)
The early workhouse directory, An Account of Several Workhouses... contained a report dated 29th October 1731 describing the Hampstead's first workhouse:
IN order to this, they hired a large convenient old House at Frognal near the West End of Hampsted Church, upon a long Lease, at 20l. per Annum, and opened it Midsummer 1729. for receiving all their Poor.
THERE are now about 20 in Family, of which 8 or 9 are Children, under the Care of a notable Woman Housekeeper, who governs the Family, and obliges them to Cleanliness, especially the Children, which makes them appear quite other Creatures than when they were under the Care of their own Parents, who fancied Slovenliness recommended them to the Pity of those that relieved them.
THE Poor, Old and Young, that are able, are employed in spinning Mop-Yarn, and making it into Mops, which all the Inhabitants now buy of them, and tho' the Gain be inconsiderable, 'tis infinitely preferable to Idleness and Beggary.
THE Rent of the Workhouse is not much more than was paid before for several Cottages, where the Poor lived miserably, in Nastiness as well as Poverty, from the ill Habits they had been accustomed to with an Allowance of 2s.6d. or 3s.6d. per Week, and notwithstanding all the Expence attending the beginning of this Method of bringing the Poor into one Family, the Overseers have been enabled to discharge some part of a Debt on the Town, occasioned by the Demands of the Poor, and to reduce the Taxes from 18d. to 10d. in the Pound, and the Poor are better provided for in all Respects, at the Charge of about 2s. a Head Weekly, than when they were left to themselves.
A Parliamentary report of 1777 recorded that the workhouse could accommodate up to 80 inmates. Conditions at Frognal deteriorated to such a degree that a new workhouse was set up at New End in 1800-1. An existing house with large garden was purchased and extended for the purpose. The building work was supervised by Henry White junior, a local surveyor and mason. The workhouse opened in July 1801 and the existing inmates were transferred from Frognal.
On 3rd February 1837, the Edmonton Poor Law Union formally came into existence with Hampstead as one of its member parishes. The New End building continued in use until 1842, after which time paupers were placed in a new workhouse at Edmonton. New End was then used as a venue for local meetings. However, in 1848, Hampstead became an independent Poor Law parish with its own 11-strong elected Board of Guardians.
The new Board had originally intended to alter and extend the existing New End building, but it was instead decided to replace it with a new purpose-built workhouse. The architect of the new building was H.E. Kendall and his creation came to be known as "Kendal's Hall". Its location is shown on the 1915 map below.
Although not directly connected with the workhouse, New End was also the site of the Provident Dispensary erected by local subscription in 1850-53. It was built following the cholera epidemic of 1849 as "a thank offering to Almighty God for His special mercy in sparing this parish".
In 1867, the Metropolitan Poor Law Act required that adequate care be provided for the sick and infirm poor. In 1869, in response to this, a dispensary was built to the immediate west of Kendal's Hall and in the same style to designs by John Giles. Giles was also the architect of a four-storey pavilion block infirmary erected at the rear in the same year. The design drew upon both Poor Law Board guidelines, and also the recommendations of Florence Nightingale published in her Notes on Hospitals several years earlier. It included features such as sanitary towers projecting from the building, and tall windows (one for every two beds) at each side to provide cross-ventilation and sunlight. The building was extended to the south in 1878.
Growth in demand for hospital accommodation led to the erection of a further ward building in 1884-5. The original suggestion was for a further block similar the existing one. However, the infirmary's medical officer Dr Cook, proposed the construction of a circular tower ward, which had begun to appear on the continent in the 1870s. In 1881, workhouse and infirmary architect Henry Saxon Snell had published a sample design for such a building. The design used at Hampstead was by Charles Bell. Situated to the west of the existing infirmary, it comprised three floors of wards, with nurses' accommodation on an attic floor, and a 12,000 gallon water tank at the top. Each ward was 50 feet in diameter and accommodated 24 beds arranged radially with their heads against the outer wall. A ventilation shaft at the centre extracted stale air and fresh air was drawn in through gratings located beneath the outer windows, passing over metal heating coils. The building cost £12,000 and is the earliest surviving example of its type in the country. Another example can be seen at the Havil Street site in Camberwell.
A further four-storey infirmary block, designed by Keith D Young, was erected at the corner of New End and Heath Street in 1896.
In 1896, the Hampstead Board of Guardians debated the case of two of their elderly inmates, Mr and Mrs 'Pigeon' Hill, who had left the workhouse for an hour or so, went to church, and got married. They had then returned and demanded a place in the workhouse's special quarters which were available only to elderly married couples. The couple were both over sixty and each had been married twice before. The Guardians, who clearly felt they were being manipulated, called for an alteration in the law so that the privilege of special quarters should be extended only to those who had been married for six months previously.
During the First World War, the workhouse served as a military hospital with its inmates being transferred to the Marylebone workhouse.
In 1930, the Hampstead workhouse site was taken over by the London County Council and used as a general hospital known as New End Hospital. The old workhouse was used as administrative offices and staff accommodation.
The hospital closed in 1986 and the surviving buildings have now been refurbished, mostly for residential use.
By the 1920s, the Hampstead Union had established boys' and girls' homes at 'Homesfield' one Erskine Hill, Golder's Green, where a total of 26 children could be accommodated. The property still exists, now in private residential use.
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.
- Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, Holborn Library, 32-38 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8PA. Holdings include: Guardians' minutes (1800-16, 1826-35); Overseers' accounts (1826-37); Settlement examination books (1804-14); Workhouse accounts (1734-39); Workhouse visitors' meetings (1809-13); Other records 1830-1874.
The Ancestry website has two collections of London workhouse records (both:
- The London Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records (1764-1930).
- The Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, 1738-1930 — a wider range of London workhouse-related records.
- The FindMyPast website has workhouse / poor law records for Westminster.
- London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R OHB. Holdings include: Admissions and discharges (1887-90); Births (1850-1913); Deaths (1850-1915); Creed registers (1882-1915); Guardians' minute books (1848-1930); Financial records (1848-1930); Staff records (1861-1930); etc.
- Higginbotham, Peter Workhouses of London and the South East (2019)
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