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Garstang Workhouse

Workhouses were part of the provision of relief for the poor, legislation for which evolved over time from the Act for the Relief of the Poor in 1597, and included the setting up of parish houses for those who were incapable of supporting themselves.

Information about the origins of the Poor Law and workhouses can be found here at this very informative and interesting website by Peter Heginbotham.

We are indebted to Jim Dempsie for providing us with information about the Garstang workhouse and the Garstang Board of Guardians. Jim’s extensive research into the Garstang workhouse and its Board of Guardians in the form of a university thesis is fascinating.

The Claughton workhouse

The first workhouse in Garstang was situated on Stubbins Lane at Claughton. It no longer exists, and cottages have been built in its place.

The Claughton workhouse was built in 1795 and was used as an almshouse until 1815. It was extended in the 1820s and became a general mixed workhouse.

In 1834 the government passed a new piece of legislation, the Poor Law Act.

The Poor Law Act 1834 required the grouping together of parishes into Poor Law Unions, run by a locally elected Board of Guardians. The Board of Guardians had responsibility for their workhouse, and the relief of the poor.

The Garstang Poor Law Union Board of Guardians took over the Claughton workhouse on 31st January 1837.

At this time there were 39 inmates, but this rose over the years and by the end of 1843 there were 117.

1841 census details of workhouse inmates

1842 – Rules of the workhouse – set by the Poor Law Commissioners for every workhouse

Any pauper who neglected to observe any of the regulations would be deemed to be Disorderly, or Refractory.

To be deemed a Disorderly pauper, the peron could have committed any of the breaches of the rules below:

  • Making noise when silence had been ordered
  • Using obscene or profane language
  • Insulting or reviling any person by word or deed
  • Threatening to strike or assault any person
  • Not duly cleansing his person
  • Refusing or neglecting to work after being required to do so
  • Pretending sickness
  • Playing cards or other games of chance
  • Entering or attempting to enter without permission the ward or yard appropriated to any class of paupers other than that to which he belonged
  • Misbehaving when going to, at, or returning from public worship out of the workhouse, or at prayers in the workhouse
  • Returning after the appointed time of absence when allowed to temporarily quit the workhouse
  • Wilfully disobeying any lawful order of any officer of the workhouse

Punishment for Disorderly paupers could include a dinner of bread and potatoes for a period of no longer than 48 hours, and no butter, cheese, sugar, tea or broth during that time.

Being a Refractory pauper was more serious than being disorderly. 

A Refractory pauper was one who committed any of the following breaches of the rules:

  • Within 7 days repeated any one, or committed more than one of the offences specified in Article 34 (as for disorderly paupers above)
  • By word or deed insulted or reviled the master or matron or any other officer of the workhouse, or any of the Guardians
  • Wilfully disobeyed any lawful order of the master or matron after such order had been repeated
  • Unlawfully striking or otherwise assaulting any person
  • Wilfully or mischievously damaging or soiling any property whatsoever belonging to the Guardians
  • Wilfully wasting or spoiling any provisions, stock, tools or materials for work belonging to the Guardians
  • Being drunk
  • Committing any act of indecency
  • Wilfully disturbing other inmates during prayers or divine worship.

Punishment for a Refractory pauper could include confinement to a separate room for 24 hours, with or without a similar dietary change to that of a Disorderly pauper.

If it was deemed that 24 hours confinement was insufficient then the Refractory pauper could be brought before a justice of the peace.

Both Disorderly and Refractory paupers could be made to wear some form of penal dress for not more than 48 hours as a punishment in addition to the punishments of confinement or dietary change.

1851 census details of workhouse inmates

In June1860 a Parliamentary report was published, entitled ‘England & Wales, Paupers in Workhouses 1860’. This report followed a return from each workhouse in England and Wales with the name of every adult pauper who had been an inmate for a continuous period of five years.

The report shows a list for each union workhouse of inmates who had been in the workhouse for a continuous period of five years. It showed the name of the paupers who met the criteria, how long they had been in the workhouse, the reason they were there, and whether they had been brought up in a district workhouse or school. None of Garstang’s paupers had been brought up in a school.

The list for Garstang contains 10 names:

1861 census details of workhouse inmates

1871 census details of workhouse inmates

Jim’s research tells us that able bodied inmates were put to work breaking large stones, which were then sold to nearby townships for use in such things as road construction. This stone breaking work also continued at the new workhouse at Bowgreave, and was so hard that sometimes the inmates preferred 7 days gaol to doing it.

The Preston Herald dated 16th Oct 1886 reports:


At the Bowgreave Police Station Tuesday, before A. Simpson, Esq. a refractory pauper, named Thomas Standing, from the Garstang workhouse, was charged with refusing to perform the stipulated amount of work. He was sent to gaol for seven days, with hard labour.

The seven day gaol sentence seems to have been a fairly common occurrence among the refractory pauper inmates of the workhouse at the time.

The Bowgreave workhouse

On 25th March 1876 the new workhouse which could accommodate 67 paupers was opened at Bowgreave. It had cost a total of £6691 5 shillings and fourpence.

The Bowgreave workhouse building no longer exists, and a care home sits on the site today.

The first master of the Bowgreave workhouse was James Thompson, and his wife Jane was the matron.

At the time of the 1881 census there were 29 inmates at the workhouse, plus James and Jane Thompson, the Master and Matron.

1881 census details of workhouse inmates

1891 census details of workhouse inmates

1901 census details of workhouse inmates

1911 census details of workhouse inmates

Workhouse inmates 1939

Definition of terms used on Census returns England & Wales 1841 – 1891

Lunatic: a mentally ill person with periods of lucidity

Imbecile: persons who have fallen in later life into a state of chronic dementia

Idiot: persons who suffer from a congenital mental deficiency

Weak or feeble minded: persons who may be capable of earning a living under favourable circumstances, but are incapable from mental defect, existing from birth or from an early age: (1) of competing on equal terms with their normal fellows, or (2) of managing themselves and their affairs with ordinary prudence.

What happened next

In the 1920s the Garstang workhouse became the Garstang Institution, caring for the old and infirm members of the local population.

When the NHS was created in the 1940s the workhouse became an old people’s home and was renamed The Beeches.

The original building was eventually demolished in 1974, after the residents of the old building were moved to their new accommodation, helped by schoolchildren from the local secondary school. One of those children, Sylvia Walmsley, recalled how her grandmother was one of the residents that were moved, and how frightened she was – having been cared for in the old building for some years and having to move into unfamiliar surroundings at the age of 88. Happily she soon settled down and lived in the care home until she died in November 1976.

The building continues as a care home to this day. Now named Bowgreave Rise it is run by Lancashire County Council.