In England, a workhouse was an institution where the purpose was to provide work and shelter for poverty-stricken people who had no means to support themselves. Life was very regimented, controlled and monotonous and all inmates wore uniforms. They rarely received visitors and could not leave unless they were formally discharged to find or take up work and provide for themselves. Below we have a timeline of the history of the workhouses in Derby.
A parliamentary report records five parish workhouses in Derby. All Saints parish had the capacity to accommodate the most inmates which space for 60 followed by St. Werburgh (50), St. Peter (40), St. Alkmund (34) and St. Michael (14).
A survey of the poor by Sir Frederic Morton Eden records that the number of workhouses in Derby is now four with St. Michael’s absent from the report. It also notes that one house in every sixteen in Derby is an ale-house and that the workhouse with the best conditions is St. Alkmund’s – at that time 36 people were accommodated in the workhouse with six of them under 7 years old and eight of them between the ages of 8 and 12.
On October 19, and overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, the Derby Poor Law Union formally came into existence. The parishes or townships contained in the Union were All Saints, Litchurch, Little Chester, St. Alkmund, St. Michael, St. Peter, and St. Werburgh. Over time New Normanton would be added in 1890, Darley Abbey in 1894 and then in 1898 all parishes apart from Darley Abbey were abolished to form the parish of Derby.
1837 – 1838 AD
The first Derby Union Workhouse was built on the south side of Osmaston Road. Designed by John Mason it did not follow any of the Poor Law Commissioners standard plans. The same commissioners had authorised the sum of £5,360 to be expended on the building which was to house 350 inmates but only had two courtyard areas.
1876 – 1878 AD
A new Derby Union workhouse was built on the north side of Uttoxeter Road. Designed by local architects William Giles and Robert and Thomas Brookhouse, it contained a three-storey main block with a central clock tower. A central dining hall and kitchen block were contained in its rear with a chapel to the north, the infirmary to the east, and a separate school building also on the north of the site. With the erection of this site the former workhouse on Osmaston Road was sold by auction for £9,150 on December 15, 1876, to Royal Crown Derby for a new factory. The new Derby Union workhouse later became known as the Boundary House Institution, then after 1948 as Manor Hospital. The hospital closed in 1988 and was demolished with the location repurposed for commercial use.
Work that had been delayed by the First World War and its aftermath finally began on the erection of a Poor Law Hospital on a twenty-eight acre site at the south side of Uttoxeter Road. The official laying of the foundation stones took place on June 29, 1927, with the hospital opened on November 16, 1929 by the Mayor of Derby – Alderman J.H Grant – at a cost of £175,000. The Royal Derby Hospital is now situated on this site.
The Local Government Act of 1929 came into operation and control of the hospital passed to the Derby Town Council.
The National Assistance Act abolished the last vestiges of the Poor Law, and with it the workhouses. Many of the workhouse buildings were converted into retirement homes run by the local authorities; slightly more than half of local authority accommodation for the elderly was provided in former workhouses in 1960.
Royal Crown Derby on the site of the Osmaston Road workhouse – pictured in 2019.
The Derby Workhouse on the north side of Uttoxeter Road on a 1914 map.
Manor Hospital in Derby.