A British institution

When and where was the last workhouse closed?

This is one of those ‘it all depends…’ questions. Officially, the word ‘workhouse’ was replaced in 1913 by the phrase ‘Poor Law Institution’, reflecting the increasing variety of accommodation being provided for paupers – children’s homes, hospitals, ‘colonies’ for the mentally ill, etc. This is also how workhouses are identified on Ordnance Survey maps after that date.

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The end of the workhouse is often dated to 1930 when the boards of guardians who had run the poor relief system since 1834 were abolished and their responsibilities passed to local councils. Although some former workhouses were closed down, many were redesignated as ‘Public Assistance Institutions’ (PAIs) and continued to operate with relatively little change – usually still being referred to by local people as ‘the workhouse’.

With the launch of the NHS in 1948, the remaining PAIs were either absorbed into the new system for hospital use, or became council-run old people’s homes, hostels etc, or were just closed down and disposed of. Even then, some of the old institutions still retained their workhouse associations for many years afterwards.

Many readers will, I’m sure, have had the experience of an elderly relative refusing to enter
a particular hospital or home because it was once the local workhouse. So, I’m afraid that no single institution can claim the distinction of being the ‘last’ workhouse to close.
 

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Answered by: Peter Higginbotham, author of The Workhouse Cookbook (Tempus Publishing, 2008)