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Sturminster, Dorset

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Up to 1834

A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded parish workhouses operating in Sturminster Newton (for up to 50 inmates), Haslebury Bryan (20), Marnhull (60), Stalbridge (50), and Sturton Caundle (6).

Stalbridge had a parish workhouse on The Ring, in what is now Ringtree House.

Former Stalbridge parish workhouse, 2004.
© Peter Higginbotham.

After 1834

Sturminster Poor Law Union was formed on 4th December, 1835. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 22 in number, representing its 19 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

County of Dorset: Belchalwell, Caundle Stourton, Child Okeford, Fifehead Magdalen, Fifehead Neville, Hammoon, Haselbury Bryan, Hinton St Mary, Ibberton, Lydlinch, Manston, Marnhull (2), Okeford Fitzpaine, Shilling Okeford, Stalbridge (2), Stock Gaylard, Stoke Wake, Woolland, Sturminster Newton (2).
Later Addition: Hanford (from 1858).

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 9,553 with parishes ranging in size from Hammoon (population 54) to Sturminster Newton (1,831). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-5 had been £6,658 or 13s.11d. per head of the population.

The new Sturminster Union workhouse, for 150 inmates, was built in 1838 at the north of Sturminster Newton. The architect was Lewis Vulliamy who also designed workhouses at Epping and Brentford. His Sturminster design was a variation on the Poor Law Commissioner's model "Y" plan, but enclosed within a rectangle rather than the more usual hexagon as can be seen on the architect's plan below (click on the image for an enlarged version).

Sturminster workhouse layout, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1889 map below.

Sturminster workhouse site map, 1889.

Most of the main building was three storeys high with a slate roof. The entrance block, at the west of the site, ran across the base of the "Y".

Former Sturminster workhouse from the north-west, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Former Sturminster workhouse, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The first floor of the entrance block was occupied by the Guardians boardroom — still used as a meeting room today.

Former Sturminster workhouse boardroom, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

In 1891, a chapel, dedicated to All Saints, was erected at the south-west of the site. It was funded by Mr M. Williams of Woolland House and erected by Mr Green of Blandford. The dedication ceremony, in June, was performed by the Bishop of Salibury, after which the workhouse inmates enjoyed a meat tea. The old folks were also given tobacco, snuff, oranges and nuts. The building could accommodate about ninety and had hot-water heating installed.

Former Sturminster workhouse chapel, during its time as a museum, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

A Local Government Board Inspector's report in 1893 criticized several aspects of the workhouse regime:

  • The building's fire escapes were inadequate.
  • Pauper coffins did not bear a nameplate for the deceased, only their initials.
  • No bedside chairs were provided for the aged inmates.

In 1927, the Guardians' minutes noted that "This Board is very concerned and distressed to find so many male applicants for relief who have fought and been injured and disabled in the Great War, and the Country after all promises made on its behalf has failed to stand by these men and prevent their becoming chargeable to the Poor Law."

After being used as an old people's home for many years, the building was abandoned and became derelict. Much of the original structure was demolished around 1980, leaving the entrance block and chapel. The site has now been redeveloped and is occupied by a day centre for the elderly and social services offices.




  • Dorset History Centre, Bridport Road, Dorchester DT1 1RP. Few records survive. Main holdings are Guardians' minutes (1836-1930).


  • Dorset Workhouses (1980, Dorset Countryside Treasures).
  • None.

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