The Stockton Workhouse

The Stockton Workhouse

A workhouse was first established on Bishop Street, Stockton in 1730.

Corporation accounts for that year list a payment to a Mr Pewter ‘for his trouble of writing to the Bishop to obtain leave to dig his brick and build a Workhouse upon the waiste two dozen wine, which coast £2-6s-0d’.

This particular area in Stockton cared for the town’s less fortunate citizens – an almshouse, workhouse, dispensary and probation centre had occupied this location for many centuries until 1895 when the area was bought to provide space to build new shopping and office facilities, the Victoria Buildings.

The original workhouse was situated to the rear of the almshouse.  Those who were too poor to be given rooms in the almshouse were sent to the workhouse. The workhouse itself provided accommodation for up to 40 inmates.

An 1827 directory noted that the workhouse ‘situated at the corner of the street to which it gives its name, is the receptacle for the paupers of the parish who are lodged and fed in it under the direction of a master, at the average weekly cost of 3s 2d each’. The name Workhouse Street no longer exists, it is now known as Knowles Street.

The Stockton Poor Law Union came into existence on 7 February 1837; this operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 54 in total representing 41 constituent parishes and townships which covered Stockton, Thornaby, Billingham and Yarm. Such an area was going to have a lot more than 40 homeless people especially with such a shortage of available housing in Stockton.

The new Stockton Union took over the existing workhouse.  The 1841 census records a total of 32 inmates, 18 male and 14 female, although the adult inmates were all female except for one man aged 60. In May 1847, a report by Assistant Poor law Commissioner H J Hawley noted that the workhouse was in use as a fever hospital following an outbreak of illness among the inmates. In addition, there were no receiving wards, school, or separate sick-ward, and poor supervision of inmates so a new site was proposed on Portrack Lane, Stockton to build a new workhouse with better amenities.

On 19 April 1851 a new union workhouse was opened on a nine-acre site on Portrack Lane.  It was designed by John and William Atkinson. It had a staff of 3 to supervise 260 inmates which housed both male and female. The new workhouse had its own laundry, a small hospital and provided basic education for the children resident there.

During times of high unemployment many were forced to live in the workhouse. The inmate population rose from 240 in 1882 to 370 in 1884.  Life in the workhouse was intended to be harsh to deter the able-bodied poor and to ensure that only the truly destitute would apply. The inmates had to work for their accommodation in a nearby stone quarry, the daily requirement for each man was break up 10 -15 hundredweight of stone per day. The penalties for not working were strict and you could be sent to prison for up to 14 days hard labour if you didn’t comply with workhouse rules as one man found out when he refused to work.

The workhouse was always full to capacity even after the children were moved to newly built children’s homes in Hartington Road, Stockton in 1899.  In 1914 the workhouse was extended to provide room for up to 400 inmates but  after this the population of the workhouse never reached the old pre-war levels.

After 1930, the workhouse was renamed Stockton Public Assistance Institution, then in 1948 it became the Portrack Geriatric Hospital.

It was renamed St Anne’s Hospital in 1962 and was finally demolished in the mid-1970s.