Sunday, 29 May 2016

Loughborough Union Workhouse

A couple of months ago I finally got around to visiting the workhouse at Southwell, which is now a National Trust property, but was once a workhouse for the surrounding areas, where people who were down on their luck could go to get a roof over their head and food in their belly. 

I hope I haven't made that sound too attractive, for it certainly wasn't, and for many reasons people would try and avoid getting into the position where they needed help from a workhouse. Could it have had something to do with the prison-like buildings (I searched for workhouse plans on the internet, and followed this up with a search for prison plans and couldn't help but notice the similarity of design, particularly with Wandsworth Prison)? Or perhaps it was the strict wearing of uniforms that deterred folk? Or was it the arduous tasks, like stone crushing and oakum picking that people were put to that kept them away from the workhouse? Or maybe the food wasn't up to much - relatively plain, but enough to keep you going? Or maybe it was the idea that you would be separated from your family that meant you only went to the workhouse as a truly last and desperate measure?

Of course, workhouses across the country, whilst being similar, were not all the same, some being more generous with food rations than others, some having kitchen gardens where "inmates" would work, etc.. 

The Loughborough Workhouse was originally on the site now occupied by the Post Office Sorting Office, on Nottingham Road, at its junction with the A60. The new Loughborough Union Workhouse was built in 1838, after the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act (the New Poor Law), which meant that people had to enter the workhouse in order to seek help, rather than be given money by the local parish. It was located on Derby Road, behind what are now Oxford and Leopold Streets, and on Regent Street. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and W. Bonython Moffatt, to a design which they used very successfully in many locations. In about 1871, the former workhouse on Nottingham Road became the Star Foundry, under Edwin Cook.

Following the Local Government Act of 1929, which abolished Poor Law Unions and the Board of Guardians, workhouses were controlled by public assistance authorities which were run by local councils. And so it was in 1930 that the Loughborough Union Workhouse became a public assistance institution and was renamed Hastings House. This was followed by another change around 1948 when it was renamed as the Regent Hospital: as might be inferred from the name it became a hospital as well as an old people's home.

I used to live at the Regent Street end of Oxford Street in the early 1980s and I remember Regent Hospital as it was then. I also remember it being demolished and new houses being built on the site. Regrettably, I don't remember exactly when this happened, nor did I take any photographs. 

As well as the new houses that were built, a new care home, Huntingdon Court, was also built on the site.

Pictures of the workhouse have been hard to come by, but there is one of the Board of Guardians outside the workhouse in the early twentieth century, a picture of the Guardians' Boardroom, and the workhouse appears in the background of this picture of terraced houses on Union Lane/Street.

There is also an interesting article on the workhouse, and other Loughborough information on this site.

And now I've run out of time, and haven't even got to the point I was heading to! Pop back to the blog next week for more on the connection between George Hodson, the Loughborough Union Workhouse, Zeppelin raids and a tramp! In the meantime, below are some photographs from my recent visit to Southwell Workhouse.
Southwell Workhouse with the kitchen garden to the front

The water pump at Southwell Workhouse

A boot scraper at Southwell Workhouse

The stone crushing yard at Southwell Workhouse

A view today from below stairs at Southwell Workhouse

Below stairs at Southwell Workhouse

Pots at Southwell Workhouse

Beds for the elderly and infirm at Southwell Workhouse

An upstairs room in Southwell Workhouse
The entrance to Southwell Workhouse

Clothes drying at Southwell Workhouse
Below stairs at Southwell Workhouse

Below stairs at Southwell Workhouse

The separate yards at Southwell Workhouse


  1. It was still called Hastings House when I worked there in 1970/71. A lot of elderly people were afraid even in those days as they remembered it as a workhouse.

  2. Hi Unknown! Thanks for telling us that the workhouse was still known as Hastings House in 1970-71. I think it was common around the country to remember the workhouse with a certain amount of fear, so when they changed to hospitals (like Babbington hospital in Belper, and St Mary's in Melton) and old people's homes (like ours) people held these views of the places. Lynne


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