Monday, 21 June 2021

Wargrave Local History Society

MEMBERS were given a presentation about the old Henley workhouse at their May meeting.

MEMBERS were given a presentation about the old Henley workhouse at their May meeting.

Valerie Alasia told how the Poor Law Act of 1601 had made it compulsory for parishes to raise money to assist the “lame, impotent, old, blind and those not able to work”.

Overseers of the poor were appointed to collect a “poor rate” from landowners and they could recruit poor children as apprentices.

In 1652, the Henley Corporation bought three acres of land from Richard Bolt “for the use and benefit of the poor of Henley”. As the land belonged to the town, it came to be known as Townlands.

In 1727 a poor house was set up in New Street which lasted until 1790, when a larger house was erected by builder John Strange on the Townlands site.

The Poor Law Amendment Act, which recommended that parish workhouses be combined in to bigger institutions, was passed in 1834 and Henley merged with other parishes including Caversham, Watlington, Medmenham and Remenham.

The workhouse was run by a board of guardians who met fortnightly in the boardroom at Townlands. Each parish provided one member and magistrates were also represented on the board with Lord Camoys as the chairman.

The master of the workhouse would report to the board on how he dealt with the inmates, which grew from 150 to 250 under the new law.

The first master was William Jackson, previously an overseer, who was replaced in 1848 by Samuel Mortlock.

The workhouse had many problems, such as nurses who were drunk on duty. The number of inmates grew to a maximum of 350 in 1851, although Mortlock’s successor, John Martin, managed to reduce the number to 91.

A school was built in 1870 for 100 pupils and after the formation of the NHS in 1948 all the workhouse’s infirmaries were taken over by the new organisation, creating Townlands Hospital.

A new hospital has been recently built on the site and the surviving workhouse buildings are set to become assisted care accommodation.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday, June 14, when David Williams, finds liaison officer for East Berkshire and Surrey, will talk about archaeological objects found in the area.

Meetings are held the Old Pavilion in the recreation ground, starting at 8pm.

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