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Monmouth, Monmouthshire

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Up to 1834

In 1743, the Monmouth Overseers purchased several houses in Back Lane (now St John’s Street) 'for the building of a Workhouse for the Benefit of this Parish'. Overmonnow, the part of Monmouth to the west of the river Monnow, had one even earlier, immediately to the south of St Thomas's Church. In 1761, a workhouse for all the town’s poor was established on Weirhead Street, where Monmouth School for Boys now stands. In 1776, the rented premises could house forty inmates, who were occupied in spinning.

Eden, in his 1797 State of the Poor, records of Monmouth that:

The Poor are maintained partly at home and partly in a Workhouse, where there are 24 inmates, viz., 3 children under 7, 12 between 7 and 30, 9 between 30 and 79, chiefly employed in making linen and woollen clothes for the house. The house is convenient, well aired and very clean. The beds, which are good, are furnished with coarse sheets, but no blankets, though some are preparing against next winter. There are 45 regular and 4 or 5 casual out-pensioners. It is supposed that the Poor do not really cost the parish more than a shilling in the pound on the fair rental, yet it is generally thought the rates are high. This is the bill of fare : Breakfast—Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, milk pottage; other days, broth. Dinner—Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, meat and vegetables; other days, bread and cheese. Supper—every day, bread and beer.

In 1835, the Monmouth town workhouse was on Weir Head Street with Joseph Harper as its Governor.

When Assistant Poor Law Commissioner George Clive visited the area in 1836, prior to the formation of the Monmouth union, he uncovered a multitude of malpractices and poor conditions.

Many workhouses are rented in the county of Monmouth; in the parishes now forming the Monmouth Union, nearly 150l. is annually paid in rent for them, exclusive of course of cottages rented for the poor. In only one or two of these houses is there any attempt at a dietary or employment, in none classification, in the generality every kind of abuse. In Monythusloine poorhouse the contractor keeps a shop; different families have apartments in the house; the whole is filthy to the last degree. In one room was a woman who has had nine bastard children, the last confessedly born in the house; and from the time she had been resident there, doubtless many more.
   In Coleford poorhouse I found an idiot, who had been there 48 years; during all this time, winter and summer, this poor wretch had had no other covering than a canvass shirt, no shoes even or stockings. At night he was, as the master expressed it, " ticed" or forced into an out-house, a place unfit even for an animal; a hole in the wall was the only window; there he slept in some damp straw on the bare ground, for there was not even a stone floor. The answer to my remonstrances was, "He does not feel cold;" an assertion which the appearance of the shivering wretch sufficiently disproved. Yet in this very place did I receive remonstrances from some well-meaning, but more interested persons, against the cruelty of removing the poor to a well-conducted establishment at Monmouth.

[Note that prior to 1894, Coleford was a 'tithing' within the parish of Newland.]

After 1834

Monmouth Poor Law Union was formed on 11th July 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 37 in number, representing its 31 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

County of Monmouth: Cwmcarvan, Dingestow, Dixton Newton, Llandenny, Llandogo, Llangattock-Vibon-Avel, Llangoven, Llanishen, Llantillio Crossenny, Llanvihangel-ystern-Llewern, Mitchel Troy, Monmouth (4), Penalt, Penrose, Pen-y-Clawdd, Ragland, Rockfield, St. Maughan's, Skenfreth, Tregare, Trelleck, Wonaston.
County of Gloucester: English Bicknor, Newland (4), Staunton.
County of Hereford: Ganarew, Garway, Llanrothal, Welsh Bicknor, Welsh Newton, Whitchurch.
Later Addition: West Dean (in 1843), Park Grace-Dieu (1867).

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 19,618 with parishes ranging in size from Pen-y-Clawdd (population 46) to Monmouth itself (4,916). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-35 had been £7,188 or 7s.4d. per head of the population.

The Monmouth Union took over the existing Monmouth parish workhouse which was located on Weirhead Street at the south side of the town centre. In 1837, the Poor Law Commissioners approved the expenditure of £800 on its alteration and enlargement.

In 1870, a new Union workhouse was erected at the north of the town at the west side of the Old Hereford Road. The buildings cost around £6,000 and could accommodate around 200 inmates. The architect was G.C. Haddon.

A contemporary Post Office directory recorded:

Monmouth Union Workhouse is now being erected on the old Hereford road, immediately above the gaol : it is arranged for the accommodation of 200 inmates, and consists of four blocks of buildings, viz., the lodge, receiving building, principal building, and infirmary. The receiving building contains wards for the probationers, and the vagrants of each sex, with bath rooms, lavatories, and airing courts. The principal building contains, on the ground floor, in the centre, an entrance, with apartments for the master and matron, stores, and general administrative rooms, and extending right and left of this centre portion are wings containing wards with centre corridor between; in the front are day rooms and dormitories, with separate bath rooms, lavatories, staircases, and airing courts; and in the rear are day rooms, with bath rooms, lavatories, staircases, and airing courts; in the centre of the rear of building are a dining hall and chapel, with serving room combined, a lift, communicating with kitchen, and other culinary apartments and stores in the basement, which contains also cellars, larders and dairies; and on the same level are covered play-grounds for the children, as well as workrooms on the able-bodied men's side, and washhouse, laundry and drying closet on the able-bodied women's side. The infirmary building contains in the centre the nurses' apartments, and in the wings, right and left, are convalescent and sick wards for each sex, as well as bath rooms, and spacious airing grounds. In the rear of this building is a detached fabric, containing nurses' apartments and wards for the infectious cases of each sex. The whole of the buildings are of stone, and enclosed with a low wall and palisading, the contract for the whole of the works complete being about £10,000, which are being executed by Messrs. H. P. Bolt & Co., Newport, Monmouth, under the direction of Mr. G. C. Haddon, architect, of Hereford and Great Malvern; the clerk of the works being Mr. Thomas Davis, of Monmouth.

The location and layout of the site are shown on the 1901 map below.

Monmouth workhouse site, 1901.

The large T-shaped main block was mostly two storeys high. Administrative offices and the master and matron's quarters lay at the centre, with the dining hall at the rear. Males and female inmates were placed at each side with the infirm being separated from the able-bodied. The area to the rear of the building divided up into airing yards for each class. At the west of the site were a line of buildings containing workrooms, the washhouse and laundry .

Monmouth main block from the east, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The entrance lodge and board-room block lay at the south of the site, with a receiving block for new arrivals at its rear.

Monmouth lodge and board-room, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The chapel was located at the centre rear of the main block.

Monmouth chapel, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The infirmary was located in a separate block at the north of the main workhouse. A small block containing nurses' accommodation and isolation wards stood at the rear.

Monmouth, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Monmouth, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

In 1909, electric lighting was installed at the workhouse.

After 1930, the former workhouse operated as a Public Assistance Institution for some years.

The former workhouse buildings are now occupied by part of Monmouth's Haberdashers' Schools.




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.

  • Gwent Archives, Steelworks Road, Ebbw Vale NP23 6DN. Holdings include: Guardians' minute books (1839-41, 1847-49, 1857-1930); Admissions and discharges (1853-1926, with gaps); Births and deaths (1866-1914); Creed register (1881-1930); Punishment Book (1859-1930); etc.



  • None.

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