Extracted from Brixworth – a Village Appraisal
© 1994 Brixworth Village Appraisal Committee
In the years before the Workhouse was built the poor of the parish were cared for mainly by the Church. Benefactors left legacies for the Church to administer to the poor along with the common and widespread practice of alms giving. Eventually the Manorial Court in Brixworth became responsible for the overall running of the parish and Overseers were appointed to provide financial assistance to those in need. The income required to provide this service came from the village’s landlords and from other wealthy parishioners. This form of financial assistance was known as ‘out relief’ and in 1835 just prior to the Brixworth Workhouse being opened the weekly expenditure was almost £l-3s-5d per head in Brixworth, £1-3s-l0d in Spratton and £l-8s-l0d in Teeton. The total cost to the parish at this time was £11,388 or £0 18s- 3d per head of the adult population.
Although parishes were authorised by Parliament as far back as 1722 to buy or rent Workhouses to accommodate those receiving “out relief” and so reduce the cost to the parish of supporting the poor and needy, it was not until July 9th 1835 that Brixworth appointed a Board of Guardians to prepare for its own Workhouse. At its first meeting held at the Red Lion Inn the Right Honourable Earl Spencer became the Board’s first Chairman and nine male Guardians were appointed. As a suitable building for a Workhouse was not available in the village it was decided to build a new one on land owned by a William Smyth on Spratton Road. A 4 acre plot was purchased from Mr Smyth at a cost of £150 per acre. The Brixworth Overseers were all sent a letter informing them that the Union was taking over their duties once the Workhouse was built.
Opened at a cost of £5,800 on March 25th 1837 to accommodate 265 inmates, the Workhouse was built to provide support and care to the poor of the parishes covered by the Brixworth Union. In 1834 this Union of parishes comprised of Brixworth, Holcot, Hanging Houghton, Walgrave, Old, Faxton, Draughton, Maidwell, Lamport, Hannington and Haselbech. By 1836 Cold Ashby, Thornby and Naseby had been added to the list and by 1874 so too had the parishes of Althorp, Boughton, Chapel Brampton, Church Brampton, Brington, Great Creaton, Little Creaton, Coton, Cottersbrooke, East Haddon, Guilsborough, Harlestone, Holdenby, Hollowell, Moulton, Overstone, Pitsford, Ravensthorpe, Scaldwell, Spratton and Teeton. The total area covered by the Brixworth Union was 87 square miles.
The first Master of the Brixworth Union Workhouse in 1837 was a Mr Baillie with his wife appointed as the Matron, and the first meeting of the Board of Guardians took place in the Workhouse on May 4th of the same year. Within five years of the Workhouse opening the cost of “out relief” in Brixworth had been reduced to £0-9s-0d a week for those entitled to it. By 1902 the figure had dropped to £0-5s-0d for a single person and £0-7s-0d for a couple, with cases of as little as £0-2s-5d not uncommon. Soon after the Workhouse had opened the Secretary of State had to send a Bow Street Runner to Brixworth to investigate the strict policy being adopted by the Guardians regarding the payment of “out relief” to the poor and needy of the parish. Brixworth became known as the “dark portion of rural England” due to its almost complete withdrawal of “out relief”. Conditions inside the building were often criticised too as being prison like and spartan and Mrs Briddon, one of the cooks, described the food as meagre and tasteless. It was an institution feared by the old and needy, a place where families were split up and accommodated in single sex dormitories. As a result of recommendations made by a Local Government Committee in 1892 set up to look into the conditions in the Workhouse, the Brixworth Guardians were instructed to:“make the building more cheerful”. They also recommended the provision of:“a more continuous occupation during the day both for the infirm and able bodied and that women should be employed in knitting and needlework of some kind”It was agreed, however,“the provision for old married couples was second to none”
Although built to accommodate 265 inmates there is no evidence to indicate Brixworth Workhouse was ever full. At the time of the Census in 1851 the total in residency was 134 including 10 Officers and by the 1891 Census this number had reduced to 82 with 6 Officers. It should be remembered, however, that the Workhouse was often used as a halting place for tramps and vagrants and as many as 2,000 casuals were admitted at different times each year right up to the 1930′s when this figure dropped dramatically. Special “cells” were provided for tramps to segregate them from the more permanent inmates and they were never allowed into the building until after 6.00pm. If any of the casuals had money they would often hide it in the high boundary hedge of the Pytchley Kennels opposite the Workhouse to avoid having it taken off them by the Officers. When the hedge was eventually removed by Council workmen during road widening in Spratton Road, several caches of money were discovered having not been reclaimed by the inmates. It was also common at the turn of the Century to see men breaking stone and women picking oakum to pay for their bed and board.
In 1876 the Board of Guardians passed a resolution to send children to Brixworth School and by 1916 all the Workhouse children had been admitted. Up until 1920 the children all wore the same regulation clothes to school and had shaven heads to prevent the spread of head lice. It was due to the changes introduced by Mrs Parker, the Matron, that this degrading practice was stopped.
Brixworth Workhouse had eight Masters during its 98 year history with all their wives acting as Matrons. One Master, a James Macdonald in the 1890′s was a man with exceptional physique who would deter tramps from entering the Workhouse by exercising outside with a set of Indian clubs. It was the same Master who adorned his lavish sitting room with autographed photographs of Queen Mary and her brothers. Despite having taught deportment and physical exercise to royal pupils, when he left the Workhouse in 1898 he fell upon hard times himself and on returning to the Workhouse as an inmate, he died there a pauper.
In 1935 the functions of the Workhouse and the Brixworth Union were taken over by the Rural District Council and Brixworth Workhouse closed. The Council bought the land for £2,000, rear buildings were demolished, many of the rooms including the Chapel were converted into offices and Council houses were built on what had been the Workhouse gardens. The building much reduced in size is now used for private business.
If you would like further information about Brixworth Workhouse or other workhouses in the country visit this link.