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Workhouse! Paupers and Idiots in the Grubber

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The Isle of Wight House of Industry

In 1774 the second workhouse in Britain was founded in Newport on the Isle of Wight – the Isle of Wight House of Industry, from 1902 known as Forest House, although popularly nicknamed 'The Grubber'. The elderly, infirm and disabled, the unemployed, widows, unmarried parents, their bastard children, orphans and the young were incarcerated within its walls in conditions similar to those found within gaols, with the stigmatised inmates treated worse than slaves. It would not be until 1930 that the workhouse would officially be dissolved, although many would continue to live there. Today the buildings are offices and meeting rooms for St Mary's Hospital and are Grade II Listed.

Although it is true that the conditions very gradually and very slightly improved since its opening throughout the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the main aim of the workhouse was to discourage the Island's poor from ever wanting to be a burden on society by entering the Grubber. The paupers inside were considered to be Britain's surplus population; an unneeded drain on resources which, under Malthusian philosophy, should be allowed to die out. Created to care for the poor, rather than deal fairly with those unfortunate enough to need aid as people and individuals, the system was designed to look at each person as a cost-cutting exercise.

Traditional Approaches to Aiding the Poor

Before 1601 each parish looked after its own poor, using voluntary contributions. The 1601 Poor Law Act meant that each parish looked after its own poor through a tax on the families in the parish. In order to prevent too expensive taxes, the wealthy ensured that the laws meant only those legally born within the parish could benefit. Many parishes had their own village Poor Houses, and on the Island one had been founded in Northwood in 1728, with others in Brighstone, Godshill, Newchurch, Newport, Shalfleet and Shorwell. However the number of poor on the Island continued to increase. This became an annoyance to ten of the Island's very wealthiest, including Sir John Barrington of Swainston Manor, Sir Richard Worsley of Appuldurcombe House and Sir William Oglander of Nunwell House. They wished to find a better (defined as being cheaper) method of dealing with the poor, ideally placing them somewhere out of sight.

After all, as the very wealthiest members of Island society, they were in the perfect position for their prejudice to rise to the fore. They felt that the reason that the Poor Rate they were paying was so high was of course because the poor were lazy, idle and refused to work.

What made the Isle of Wight House of Industry different from previous poor houses was that all the Island's 30 parishes' poor were incarcerated in the same building. The inmates were no longer receiving charity, but instead were there to make profit for the workhouse's Governors.

The Founding of the Workhouse

Britain's first workhouse was the House of Industry at Nacton in Suffolk, which had been founded in 1758, established to look after the parish of Sandford. Ten years later, in 1768, an Act of George III made provision for the establishment of a much larger House for all the Isle of Wight's poor, not just the poor of one parish. In 1771 a second Act of Parliament For establishing a House or House of Industry in the Isle of Wight, for the Reception, Maintenance, and Employment of the Poor belonging to the several Parishes and Places within the said Island united the poor responsibilities of the Island's boroughs and parishes into the House of Industry's corporate body. Sir John Barrington, Sir Richard Worsley1, and Sir William Oglander were made trustees. The poorhouses belonging to the Island's parishes were sold off to help fund the new site, many of which were sold to Sir John Barrington, Sir Richard Worsley and Sir William Oglander.

On 21 March, 1772, 80 acres of Parkhurst Forest were granted to the Guardians of the House of Industry on a 999 year lease at £8 17s 9¼d per annum. The site was located north of the Island's capital of Newport and near the Parkhurst and Albany barracks2 which would later become Parkhurst and Albany Prisons. The law required the building of a House of Industry 'in a plain and durable manner serve as an Hospital for the Reception of such aged, sick, or infirm Persons, and young Children, as are not able to work; one other Building, or Part of a Building, to serve for the Resection, Maintenance, and Employment of such poor Persons as are able to work; and one other separate Building, or Part of a Building, to serve as a House or Houses of Correction, for the Punishment and keeping to hard Labour such idle and disorderly Persons, who, being able, shall refuse to work, or otherwise misbehave themselves.'

Workhouse Buildings

Built of red brick3, the principal building was a roughly L-shaped three-storey structure 300 feet long by 27 feet wide. It contained a storeroom, steward's room, a 118ft-long dining hall and a common sitting room for the 'impotent and aged'. A chapel stuck out of the north side with a store room above. There were also cellars for provisions beneath the east end. The first floor contained the Governor's and Matron's lodging rooms, laundry, nurseries and sick wards. By the mid 19th Century the workhouse had extended to become a figure-of-eight shape.

The main building's east wing contained school rooms, apothecary, kitchen, scullery, pantry, Bakehouse, Governor and Matron's sitting room with the lying-in rooms, sick wards, 20 bedrooms and two sitting rooms for the old and infirm who could not go downstairs.

Other buildings around a central courtyard included a gateway opposite the main building. Next to this on the east was the master weaver's room and spinning room and storerooms, on the west of the gateway lay the shoemakers and tailors, a spinning room and weaving room and storerooms. The chapel closed off the courtyard, above which was another storeroom. A well house housed a pump. Also on the site were the outbuildings: a dairy, washhouse, brewhouse barn, stable and hogsties. There was also a garden.

A 'Pest-House' existed on site, 400 yards from the main building, where paupers with Scarlet Fever, Typhoid Fever, Cholera, Venereal Disease and 'The Itch' could be treated away from the main hospital4. In 1834 this became the first place on the Island to provide hospital care for general illnesses and surgical needs. It grew in size throughout the 19th Century, becoming separate from the Grubber and naturally evolving into what is now St Mary's Hospital5. A second brick building known as the isolation hospital with its own burial ground was built during the smallpox epidemic of 1794, with a 'building for persons under inoculation' nearby. Two padded cells were provided for the insane, four more were added in 1810. In 1840 it was reported by Dr Waterworth that these were crowded, dark and damp.

Paupers and Staff

In total 950 people could live in the Grubber at a time when the Island's population was almost 24,000.

The staff included a Governor, matron, steward, school master, Chaplain, two surgeons, apothecaries, Secretary and Treasurer. Trusted Grubber residents would be the ones who actually looked after the inmates. Well-behaved men were promoted to be 'wardsmen', women became nurses with no qualifications needed and no training or pay given. The first actually paid nurse was not employed until 1826, at the isolation block north of the main workhouse. The running of the workhouse was determined by the Isle of Wight Guardians Act in 1776. 24 Directors and 26 Acting-Guardians were appointed from the Isle of Wight's wealthy, defined as those who owned property over £100, rectors and vicars. The Guardians met quarterly for over 160 years, usually in the Sun Inn or Town Hall, but sometimes they used the workhouse Board Room. According to the minutes, one of their meetings in 1892 was dominated by the inconvenience caused by the Isle of Wight Central Railway cancelling the 9.40am train from Sandown to Newport.

Grubber Inmates

The Grubber was a strictly stratified society where the inmates were labelled and treated differently depending on which category they fell in. Husbands, wives and their children were separated and not allowed to mix. The young (under 13), the sick and the elderly were allowed board and lodging free of charge. The young would be educated, both in industry and religion. Those capable of work were expected to; the amount charged for work by someone from the workhouse would be pitifully low. With the exceptions of hiring out to chimney sweeps and publicans, the Workhouse Governors would loan their charges to anyone willing to pay. The greatest employment would be at harvest time.

Through the winter, boys and men would be employed as Stone Cracker Johns, building many of the Island's roads by breaking up big stones into smaller, usable stones. Work done in the workhouse itself included farming, weaving, combing hemp, dressing flax and making of all the clothes, shoes, caps and blankets worn by the paupers as well as, from 1787, coffin making. This was so that costs were kept low when burying the paupers when they died, as it was felt by the Board that local undertakers cost too much6. In 1811 a school was established, with boys and girls segregated. Children were allowed to attend half a day at school after doing a half-day's work. This included the teaching of fife and drum to boys, presumably to encourage them to join military service in later life.

Girls were often put into domestic service and it was not uncommon for them to be abused and returned, pregnant, to the workhouse. For the payment of a sum, no questions as to how the girl became pregnant would be asked of her former master7. The girl, however, would have her name written in the black book of shame and, along with all other unmarried mothers, would be housed in a block apart from the rest of the inmates and forced to wear a coarse yellow coat marking her as a disgraced fallen woman. She would not be allowed to eat meat.

The mentally disabled were also defined as either:

  • 'Idiot' if they had a mental age of under three years
  • 'Imbecile' if they were considered to have below average mental development
  • 'Lunatic', meaning insane
In 1845 the County Asylums Act was passed and in 1852 the Lunacy Act required that lunatics be housed in County Asylums. Before the Isle of Wight's mental asylum at Whitecroft was opened in 1896, all lunatics were separated from their families and exported at first to Knowle Hospital in Fareham, and later to Laverstock in Wiltshire. Blind, deaf and dumb inmates were also treated as special cases.

At the time, those looking after the sick and ill were not given any specialist training to help them look after them. Indeed, before the 1858 Medical Act, there was no way to confirm whether those employed as doctors had any medical qualifications. In order to keep costs down, it was standard practice for the workhouse to have insufficient, overworked, untrained staff.

In 1796 there were 131 boys and 163 girls under the age of 13, many of whom were crippled, with 86 men and 115 women. The 1881 Census records that there were 377 inmates, 110 of whom were children, and the oldest person was 92 years old. No inmate had the right to vote.

When would Families be Incarcerated?

During the early 19th Century the Isle of Wight, traditionally one of England's poorest regions, was suffering the ill-effects of artificially-high food prices as a result of the Corn Laws at a time when farm labourers were already earning starvation wages, making bread an unaffordable luxury. In addition, when troops were garrisoned on the Island, the price of meat and fish also soared. Many families, through no fault of their own, were unable to afford the basics needed to live. This was compounded by the industrial revolution, where one machine was able to do the jobs of 15 men, with the result being that 15 men, their wives, children and elderly relatives all found themselves within the Grubber.

Families would be incarcerated in the workhouse in these times of economic hardship. Should the main earner die or become ill, it often resulted in their family being incarcerated. If it was felt that a married couple could look after some, but not all, of their children, they were ordered to choose which of their children they would donate to the workhouse. If the weather meant that a harvest was poor, hard-working farmhands would often lose their jobs in winter and be incarcerated. If a child suffered from epilepsy, they could be incarcerated. Wuzbuds8 could be incarcerated.

The nearby Parkhurst Barracks meant that, when the soldiers stationed there were sent abroad, such as during the Napoleonic War, many families whose husbands were in the army were subsequently forced into the workhouse, such as in 1782 when the 25th Regiment was sent to Gibraltar. Grubber boys would often be enlisted in the regiments stationed there.

Not all the poor would be sentenced to the workhouse - only when it was considered to be cheaper to incarcerate them than support them in the outside world. Financial support was given outside the workhouse and known as Out Relief. Out Relief was given to widows and cripples, and to help mothers cover the expensive costs of funerals for their deceased babies.

In the 1830s and 40s, at a time of particular hardship, families were encouraged to emigrate not only to Canada but also Australia and even the United States rather than be a burden on the Poor Rate.

When a family was brought to the Grubber, a cart would be sent to their house to fetch them, as if they were animals. Those in the workhouse were allowed to leave, but often faced the prospect of starvation outside the workhouse door. The Grubber Governors disapproved of anyone leaving, as it indicated that the workhouse was not a nice place to be. However, as all within had their clothes confiscated on arrival, anyone who left would have to first remove their workhouse clothes or they would be charged with stealing workhouse property, incarcerated and punished by flogging.

As the former Parkhurst Barracks became Parkhurst Prison, from 1907 when inmates were released from Parkhurst Prison with nowhere to go, the law stated that prisoners would be required to attend the closest workhouse to the prison. By 1911 the workhouse was used as a place of detention for juvenile offenders. The Grubber was the dumping-ground for society's unwanted.

Grubber Life

Breakfast of bread and butter began at 8am. At noon bread and butter would be provided, or possibly even soup. At the end of the day supper would be served. This would consist of bread and butter and leftovers. Beef was allowed on Sundays, however this was cut into little pieces, all bones broken, boiled into a soup and thickened with bread. Bedtime was at 8pm in winter, 9pm in summer. No candles were allowed between May and August. Tea, tobacco and alcohol were forbidden. Most of the food would be grown on the workhouse land.

Between meals, all that were able, which were all healthy inmates aged 13 or older, were expected to work, with hard labour the norm for men. Work included husbandry or other farm labour and oakum picking – unravelling frayed, tarred rope so that the threads could be reused. Anyone on the Island could ask to use inmates, and as the workhouse was so close to the barracks, it was not uncommon for servicemen to request the presence of often adolescent female domestic servants. All wages would be paid to the workhouse, and used by the workhouse.

Inmates were locked in their cells between 8pm and 6am in summer, 6pm and 8am in winter. Husbands would naturally be kept separated from their wives to ensure that no further children would be born to be a burden on the workhouse.

The clothes worn by inmates were made in the workhouse of coarse, hard-wearing fabrics that stigmatised the wearer as being from the workhouse. No other clothing could be worn. Punishments usually consisted of withholding meals from inmates. Clean clothes were provided once a week on Saturdays, clean bed sheets once a month.

In 1853 an 11-year-old boy ran away from the workhouse. When he was caught he was sentenced to being whipped 20 times with a cat-o'-nine-tails.

On 16 February, 1869, Queen Victoria visited, after which she expressed her 'strongest approbation of the good order and cleanliness that pervaded in every department.' Following this visit, it became fashionable for the Island's nobility to take an interest in the inmates, especially the children, donate toys for them and ask them to come to tea in the grounds.

The workhouse, too, was good for local businesses who supplied it with everything from food to timber, soap and medicines.

Workhouse Rules

When the workhouse opened, a book containing 64 rules was published. As time went on, more and more rules were added to the rule book. Among them were:

  • No person to smoke tobacco on any account, save in the kitchen... by an express order of the surgeon
  • The Governor and Matron shall not, but by order of the surgeon, suffer any poor persons belonging to the house to drink tea
  • The Governor was never to be sent off the Island
  • A necessary9 be provided... to be properly guarded against slopment and emptied once a day
  • The workhouse surgeons were to instruct women who volunteered in the art of midwifery, provided the women were respectable and did not have any illegitimate children and therefore bad habits they could contaminate the women they attended with


Many of the workhouse's young were apprenticed until the age of 21. Although the apprenticeship scheme was intended to give young people a trade as a craftsman so they would be self-sufficient and not a burden on the workhouse, in practice it did not work out. As all parishioners with incomes over £50 a year were compelled to have an apprentice or be charged a £10 fine, many apprentices were sent out to those who had no need for them. Most apprentices became farmhands or domestic servants.

A typical contract for the loan of one of the young female paupers as an apprentice dating from 1780 reads:

I do hereby agree with the committee to take a pauper in this House, aged about ten years, and to keep her one year from the date hereof in victuals, drink and clothes and to return her in good condition and in clothes at the expiration thereof.

Apprentices often joined the Navy and merchant shipping companies.

Valentine Gray

The Isle of Wight's workhouse was, for its time, quite progressive; it refused to allow its inmates to become chimney sweeps10. In 1822 a 10-year-old chimney sweep named Valentine Gray from Alverstoke, who had been imported from the Gosport workhouse in Hampshire, was found dead in Newport. His tragic death inspired the Climbing Boys' Act, which raised the age at which children could be employed as chimney sweeps. It also inspired Charles Kingsley's novel The Water Babies. Kingsley was a frequent visitor to Farringford on the Isle of Wight, being close friends with Lord Tennyson.


These menus remained constant week after week, year after year, with the only change the single occurrence of Christmas Day, or during the potato famines of the 1830s and 40s, when meals of potatoes were substituted by bread. The bread, of course, was cheap rye or oat bread, rather than wheat. Look at the 1809 menu and then consider whether you would enjoy eating only what is on offer for the next 23 years.

1809 Menu

MondayBread & ButterPeas and beef liquorBread & Butter
TuesdayBread & ButterBread & ButterBread & Butter
WednesdayBread & ButterBeef soupPotatoes
ThursdayBread & ButterBread & ButterBread & Butter
FridayBread & ButterPotatoes, green peas or beans with pork fatBread & Butter
SaturdayBread & ButterRice milkBread & Butter
SundayBread & ButterBoiled beefPotatoes

1834 Menu

MondayOnion soup & BreadPea soup & BreadBaked Potato
TuesdayOnion soup & BreadPork with potatoes or cabbageBaked Potato
WednesdayOnion soup & BreadRice and treacleBread & Cheese
ThursdayOnion soup & BreadPork with potatoes or cabbageBaked Potato
FridayOnion soup & BreadPea soup & BreadBread & Cheese
SaturdayOnion soup & BreadPork with potatoes or cabbageBread & Cheese
SundayOnion soup & BreadMutton and potatoesBroth & Bread

Workhouse Power

The Guardians of the Workhouse had the legal right to apprehend anyone on the Isle of Wight who could not afford to support themselves or their families, those who refused to support their families and the idle or unemployed. If the Guardians felt that a family was too large and could not be supported, they had a legal right to confiscate children and incarcerate them.

Any paupers who caught smallpox would be confined automatically to prevent the spread of the disease.

All the wages that were earned was paid direct to the workhouse, unless the Guardians chose to allow the worker a share. Even when the workers received a wage from the Guardians for the work they had done, the Guardians could choose what the money was spent on. The workers were also required to pay a fee to the Governors, Stewards and Matrons, who would check that the money had not been spent on alcohol.

No-one, not even family, was allowed to visit the inhabitants of the workhouse without having received a note from a Guardian or other official allowing them to do so during visiting hours. Brief visits from outside would be allowed on a fortnightly basis – male inmates only could be visited one week, female inmates the following. Parents inside were only allowed to see their children for an hour a week on Sundays.

In 1903 elderly inmate Emma Harding died with over £36 and 8s in a Post Office account. The Governors demanded this money to pay for the cost of her forced stay, and also demanded that the Post Office disclose all information about all savings accounts that workhouse inmates held. When the Post Office declined, saying it was against their policy to disclose account information without the account holder's permission, the Governors were furious. They asked every workhouse in the region to support their proposal that workhouses be allowed to confiscate the savings of those who die in their care. 106 agreed to support this, only 24 declined. Fortunately this was never made law.

Poor Law Amendment Act

In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in England and Wales, spreading the workhouse system nationwide, but harsher. The Isle of Wight was originally exempt, having already had a workhouse appointed by a previous Act of Parliament. However in 1865 the Isle of Wight's workhouse's independence was legally challenged. When it was set up, the Guardians were permitted to raise money for poor relief provided the amount was below the average raised between 1765-70 (as the workhouse was designed to be a cost-cutting exercise), unless the average price of wheat on sale at London's Mark Lane market was higher than the average price there between 1765-70. Sadly, no record of what the average price of wheat was at London's Mark Lane market survived, and so the Local Government Board used this legal loophole to incorporate the workhouse as a Poor Law Union under the Poor Law Amendment Act, to be run by 54 Guardians rather than 24 as before.

The introduction of the Poor Law Amendment Act was followed almost immediately by campaigns to close the workhouses, led, most notably, by Charles Dickens as well as The Lancet. Nationwide there were many scandals in which the inhabitants were starved to death, female inmates were sexually abused and food etc intended for the paupers was routinely stolen by workhouse workers for their own benefit, to sell on to make a profit, or, in one case, to feed pet pigeons.

In 1877 it was the Isle of Wight's turn, with the shocking headline 'Idiot Starved to Death in the Isle of Wight Workhouse' and the sad story of Edward Cooper.

Edward Cooper

Mary Cooper entrusted her 23-year-old mute son Edward Cooper, also known as Edwin, to the workhouse on 26 February, 1877, when she was assured that he would be cared for and well looked after. A month later he was dead. When Edward's brother-in-law, Francis Munns, came to collect his body, he noticed that it had shrunk, was covered in bruises and signs of other injuries including all his teeth broken.

Edward's brother Henry, a corporal in the Royal Engineers, asked Colonel Atherly for advice. The colonel recommended that he contact a surgeon from Ryde, a Mr Barrow. Following an autopsy, the coroner was informed by Barrow that the cause of death was starvation.

This was the second time that Edward had been in the workhouse. The first time was in 1874 when Edward's father was severely ill and unable to work. As his mother was considered able to work, the assistance offered was to give Edwin to the idiot ward. His mother Mary described his experience in 1874 with the words:

My husband [visited Edward]. He came home and began to crying ready to break his heart. He said the poor boy was fell away to nothing and had sores all round the lower part of his body – the dry skin was hanging off his back and he had like boils round him. We then made up our minds to take him out... His mouth was dry and turned up hard and his body had got very thin, all round the lower part was in these large wounds, more especially one on the hip... His other parts were all but dropping from him. He had been then in the workhouse 10 clear days.

In 1877 Edward's father died, and the situation had become so grim that Mary had no choice but to trust the workhouse with her son. She explained that he struggled to eat on his own, and always took food with her when she was allowed to visit him. He had been placed in the care of nurse James Wilson and Mrs Emma Booker who was in charge of the idiot ward, and supervised by Mr Loftus Beckinsdale, the workhouse's Medical Officer, and his assistant and son, Mr Daniel Beckinsale. Loftus Beckinsale wrote on the death certificate that the cause of death was 'debility and imbecility of the mind'. After Edward died, they all testified that he had been treated in a fair and reasonable manner, but it was revealed that he had spent much of the time tied to his bed by his bedsheets, and often left lying in soiled linen for long periods of time.

A board of enquiry was held. When Dr Beckinsale was asked why he had not paid more attention to Edward's state, he replied:

It never struck me that it was desirable that I should myself see him fed, notwithstanding the representations of his mother and his failing state.

The Enquiry resulted in Booker and Wilson being dismissed for gross dereliction of duty and Mr Loftus Beckinsdale was invited to resign. Daniel Beckinsale was initially banned from working within a workhouse again, but this decision was later overturned following an appeal.


1601Poor Law Act meant that each parish looked after its own poor through a tax on the families in the parish
1728First village Poor House on the Island established in Northwood
1768First Act of Parliament 'for the establishment for a House for the reception, maintenance and employment of the Isle of Wight's poor'
1771Second Act of Parliament 'For establishing a House or House of Industry in the Isle of Wight, for the Reception, Maintenance, and Employment of the Poor belonging to the several Parishes and Places within the said Island' united the poor responsibilities of the Island's boroughs and parishes into the House of Industry's corporate body
177280 acres of Parkhurst Forest granted to the Guardians of the House of Industry on a 999 year lease
1774Workhouse opened in Newport
1776Isle of Wight Guardians Act
1794Isolation hospital built during smallpox epidemic
1796131 boys and 163 girls under 13, 86 men and 115 widows in the workhouse
1811School established within the workhouse
1822Valentine Gray, chimney sweep, dies in Newport
1830Rick burning and threshing machine destruction on the Island
1834Poor Law Amendment Act passed
Workhouses spread nationwide under Poor Law Unions, a new, even tougher, central system. For 30 years the Isle of Wight's workhouse, having been created by an earlier Act of Parliament, is exempt
1835Neighbouring Parkhurst Military Hospital becomes Parkhurst Prison
1845County Asylums Act passed
1852Lunacy Act required that 'lunatics' to be housed in County Asylums
1856Vaccination (Compulsory) Act requires all inmates to be vaccinated against smallpox
1865Isle of Wight workhouse comes under central control as a Poor Law Union
1869Queen Victoria visits
1870Beginning of 'Boarding Out' system of children being raised outside in cottage homes in Wootton and Arreton
1871Poor Law Board replaced by Local Government Board
1877'Idiot starved to death in the Isle of Wight Workhouse' - death of Edward Cooper
1880Construction of the 'Upper Hospital' begins, now the main block of St Mary's Hospital
1881Census reports 377 inmates, 110 children and oldest inhabitant 92
1888A library opens
1890Isle of Wight County Council formed
1894Highway Commissioners abolished, inmates no longer make roads
1896Isle of Wight's mental asylum opened at Whitecroft
1902House of Industry renamed 'Forest House'; Princess Beatrice visits
1907Parkhurst prison inmates released required to go to Island's workhouse if they have nowhere else to go
1909A patient had an accident and died. Workhouse criticised for being understaffed as at time of accident there was only one nurse looking after 13 wards, both male and female
1909Old Age Pension Act
1911Workhouse used as a place of detention for juvenile offenders
1912Boarding out committee for children established
1918Workhouse now under the control of the Ministry of Health
1918Representation of the People Act
All men over 21, including paupers, as well as wealthy women over 30 allowed the vote
1919Local Government Board replaced by Ministry of Health
1928Representation of the People Act
All women, including paupers, allowed the vote
1929Local Government Act
Poor Law Unions abolished
1930Last meeting of Workhouse Governors
Management passed to the County Council, the minutes record that their last official act was to sing 'Auld Lang Syne'
1934The Infirmary at Forest House was to house patients suffering chronic illnesses and disabilities – eg, illnesses and disabilities which they were not expected to recover from
1936Infirmary at Forest House renamed St Mary's Hospital
1948National Health Service Act
Management of St Mary's Hospital passed to the National Health Service

The End

Since its inception, the workhouse system failed. It was designed on the flawed assumption that those receiving poor relief were the surplus, lazy, able-bodied population. In truth, those who were forced to turn to the workhouse were the old, the young, the sick, the infirm, orphans, widows, unmarried mothers and the mentally ill, as epitomised by Tiny Tim and Oliver Twist.

In 1887 the Royal Sanitary Authority took over responsibility for the workhouse's infectious diseases wards, one of the major steps in its transformation into a hospital. In 1909 Old Age Pensions were introduced, which reduced, though not eliminated, the number of elderly inside.

In the early 20th Century the Isle of Wight's population was much higher than it had been in the late 18th. With increased mechanisation leading to high unemployment, the practicalities of housing the entire Island's unemployed as well as all their families within one building was impossible. The final meeting of the Isle of Wight Workhouse Board of Governors took place on 27 March, 1930. On 1 April, 1930, the 643 Workhouse Boards of Guardians in England and Wales were abolished and their duties transferred to local councils. Although throughout the 1930s and early 1940s the sick and elderly continued to live in the same building, they were treated with respect and care.

In 1948 the National Health Service was formed, and for the Isle of Wight's poor the world became a better place.

1The frequently cuckolded Sir Richard Worsley would have done better to have spent more time worrying about his wife, the notoriously promiscuous Lady Seymour Worsley, than the poor. A national scandal was caused when Sir Richard's wife was found in bed with George Maurice Bisset of nearby Knighton Gorges House. Worsley sued him for £20,000. The judge awarded Sir Richard damages of one shilling.2A constant source of protest from the Workhouse Guardians was that the Albany Barracks cesspool drained through the workhouse grounds, until drainage was improved in 1861.3It is believed that the lake at what is now St Mary's Hospital was formed when clay to make the workhouse's bricks was excavated from there.4The pest-house was demolished in 1952. Before being demolished it had been used as a carpenter's workshop.5Although at times of serious infection a 'hospital ship' was kept offshore near Cowes, where those infected with smallpox or cholera could be kept isolated at sea.6Of course, if more than one person died in the same week, the common practice of sharing coffins helped keep costs down.7Although in many cases, masters who had abused young girls in their care were not permitted the loan of girls in the future.8An Isle of Wight term for illegitimate children, especially those whose mothers were prostitutes.9A toilet.10The workhouse also refused to allow inmates to work for publicans or send children to the Satanic spinning mills in northern England.

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