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The Workhouse

The Workhouse, front view

This building was designed by architect William Owen and opened in April 1839. It was sited on land owned by St Thomas Church and cost in the region of £4,000.

The Workhouse system wasn’t new but the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 radically altered it and shaped it to become remembered as one of the blackest marks on the history of this country.

The regime to be followed by those unlucky enough to find themselves as inmates was, according to the wording of the Act,

‘ be such a system of labour, discipline and restraint as should be sufficient to outweigh in his (the claimant’s) estimation, the advantages which he derives from the bodily comfort which he enjoys (by claiming relief) ... upon this principle the English Union Workhouses have been organised.’

Prior to this Act becoming law, most urban parishes had a Workhouse that was generally used to provide shelter and food for homeless single mothers, the elderly, some vagrants and sometimes the insane. Those who had a home but who had become unemployed were given a small allowance each week at their place of residence.

The new Act wiped all of that away and any men needing to claim were forced, with their families, to enter the Workhouse where they were divided up by gender and age; children over the age of two were placed in boys or girls dormitories and adult men and women were placed in separate living areas.

The work required to be done by inmates was hard, demeaning and constant; to be done in silence and was similar to that required of prisoners in gaols.

The Workhouse system lasted for exactly one hundred years but by the end of its era was being used sparsely and largely only for the few vagrants who remained on the roads. Much of this improvement in attitude had been brought into effect by the introduction of old age pensions by Lloyd George in 1911.

After WW2 the building became a maternity hospital before being adapted as housing accommodation in the 1980s.

The building next to it was the town’s orphanage/children’s home, named Fernlea, now also adapted as flats.

To view the Workhouse from the front, walk through the narrow passage between it and Fernlea but return to this point, and then, with your back to the Workhouse continue up the short hill.

The path that you are now walking along is part of The Parade.

In his autobiography, Augustus John (who with his sister Gwen, both world famous artists, spent part of his childhood in Haverfordwest during the 1880s), says that he can remember pauper girls from the Workhouse being brought along here for their Sunday constitutional.

In 1932 a few local businessmen gifted the land that you are passing on your right to Haverfordwest Town Council on the understanding that a Bowling Green and Tennis Courts would be constructed. The Town Council took the idea further and added a garden area. The construction was undertaken for the sum of £562 8s. The small bungalow (on your right) was the home of a groundsman/gardener the first of whom, was appointed on a salary of £2 15s per week in early 1934.

On your left is....


Base map from