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Hatfield, Hertfordshire

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Up to 1834

In February 1725, An Account of Several Workhouses... reported of Hatfield that:

It is about three Years since the Work-house at this Place was erected at the Parish Charge; it cost between three and four hundred Pounds: Above 30 Persons at present are imployed in it, who stand the Parish in 1s. per Head per Week, to maintain them only in Meat and Drink, beside Cloaths; the Children are taught to read: The Rates are reduc'd at least half; the Poor are employ'd in Spinning, Knitting, &c. according to what they can do.

A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded parish workhouses in operation at Hatfield Bishop (for up to 60 inmates), Northmyms [North Mymms] (30), and Northaw (20).

A later Hatfield parish workhouse was erected in 1788 at the east side of Wellfield Road in Hatfield. It was designed by John Donowell.

The North Mymms workhouse was at the north side of Dellsome Lane, Welham Green. After 1835, the building was used as a National School for boys. It was replaced by a new 'parochial schools' building on the same site in 1887.

Northaw's workhouse was opene by 1773 in a building on Hook Lane (a track running between Coopers Lane Road and Northaw Road West). Its master in 1789 was John Rippin, the former licensee of 'The Two Brewers'. In 1835, the building was converted to four cottages. Having become derelict, the cottages were demolished in the 1990s.

After 1834

Hatfield Poor Law Union was formed on 4th July 1835. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 8 in number, representing its 4 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

County of Hertford: Essendon, (Bishop's) Hatfield (3), North Mymms (2), Northaw (2).

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 5,933 — with parishes ranging in size from Northaw (population 600) to Hatfield itself (3,593). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1832-35 had been £3,177 or 10s.9d. per head of the population.

The Hatfield Union took over the existing Hatfield parish workhouse. A number of structures stood on the site, the main block at the east being a two-storey red brick building. By the late nineteenth century it could accommodate 188 inmates. The workhouse's location and layout are shown on the 1897 map.

Hatfield workhouse site, 1897

In 1894, the British Medical Journal set up a "commission" to investigate conditions in provincial workhouses and their infirmaries. Following a visit to Hatfield, the commission's report highlighted a number of shortcomings: the female infirmary, located in some old cottages, was cramped, badly ventilated, and with toilet facilities consisting of just a single commode; toilets elsewhere included an earth closet with no deodorising earth provided, and a water closet with no water; no hot water was piped to any of the buildings and the only fixed bath was in the tramps' ward; there was no nurse on duty at night, and no direct way of summoning help from the wards at night-time. Further details are available in the full report.

Hatfield workhouse later became Wellfield Hospital but has now been demolished.

In 1921, after the Welywn Poor Law Union was dissolved, Hatfield took over the former Welwyn workhouse for use as a children's home.




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.

  • Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, County Hall, Pegs Lane, Hertford SG13 8DE. Holdings include Guardians' minute books (1835-1930); Admissions and discharges (1836-87, 1894-1918, plus admissions from 1809); Births (1847-1910); Deaths (1846-1910); Creed register (1920-22); Children's home register (1921-3); etc.


  • Gutchen RM, Truwert E, and Peters G (1984) Down and Out in Hertfordshire — A Symposium on the Old and New Poor Law (Hertfordshire Publications)
  • An Account of Several Work-houses for Employing and Maintaining the Poor. Anon, 1725.


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