Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: October 05, 2021
Webpage updated: October 05, 2021




On April 13th 1736 the Honourable Richard Edgcumbe, Member of Parliament and Recorder for Plympton Erle, granted by deed to the Mayor and Burgesses of the Borough a parcel of land of approximately a quarter of an acre upon which he had erected a messuage or tenement containing eight rooms and two sheds as a Poor House for the parish.

The premises were used as a cholera hospital during 1832 and afterwards it was put under the control of the Overseer of the Poor.  It was always known as the Almshouse until 1841 when it suddenly got deemed to be the Workhouse for the purposes of the Poor Law Amendment legislation.  The building was described a being picturesque, with a turret, a vane and a bell, although the vane was removed by the Corporation before 1800.

The Plympton Saint Mary Union was formed on Monday October 10th 1836, following the passing of the Poor Law Act of that year.  The Union covered the Ancient Parishes and Tythings of: Bickleigh, Brixton, Compton Gifford, Cornwood, Eggbuckland, Ermington, Harford, Ivybridge, Newton Ferrers, Plympton Maurice or Plympton Erle, Plytmpton Saint Mary, Plymstock, Revelstoke, Saint Budeaux, Shaugh Prior, Tamerton Foliot,  Wembury, Weston Peverell and Yealmpton.

At a meeting of the Plympton Board of Guardians on Friday October 21st 1836, it was recommended that one central workhouse be established in or near Ridgeway.  Another meeting was held on Friday January 13th 1837, at which it was decided to lodge all the male inmates at Plymstock Workhouse and the females and children at Ridgeway.

On Friday April 14th 1837 it was ordered that all the inmates of the Poor Houses in Newton, Wembury, Yealmpton, Ermington, and Holbeton should attend at the Union Workhouses -- the men at Plymstock and the women at the old workhouse, Elm Terrace, Ridgeway.  However, where the men and women were married they should both attend the Plympton Workhouse.

The average cost of provisions in the workhouses was 2s 2d per head per week but it was possible to have what they called "out-relief", which for a single person amounted to two shillings and a loaf of bread weekly and for a man and wife, 3s 6d and a loaf weekly.  It is of no surprise to learn that many of the inmates, presumably those in parishes far from Plympton or Plymstock, refused to quit their poor houses and were brought before the magistrates.   Fortunately the magistrates ruled that they had no jurisdiction to enforce the order and the Board of Guardians was forced to seek advice from the Poor Law Commissioners.   As a result, the churchwardens and overseers of the poor in the very parishes were ordered to give their tenants one months notice to quit.  Some of the inmates moved to the Workhouses while others found alternative accommodation within their parishes.

On Friday April 20th 1838 it was resolved that a new workhouse should be erected, capable of housing 200 inmates.  The first problem was to find a suitable site.  At a Guardians' meeting on Friday May 4th 1838 a site at "Terridge Meadow" and "Terridge Field" at Ridgeway was recommended.   This idea fell through and other sites were inspected.  Finally, at the meeting on Friday March 3rd 1839 a resolution was passed that "Butt Side Park", the property of Lord Morley, and an orchard, the property of Miss Catherine Treeby, at Underwood, be purchased as the site for the new Workhouse.  This does not quite agree with a later claim that it was built on the site of a former lazar house, unless that had been demolished a long time previous.

Although the local press attributed the design for the new building to a Mr M Develley, it is probable that this was a misprint, or misunderstanding, for Mr Dwelley, of Plymouth, who designed the Plymouth Workhouse.   On July 12th 1839 the Board accepted the tender of Mr William Bartlett junior, of Devonport, in the sum of Ł3,621, for the construction.  The Clerk of Works was Mr William Pearse.

The Board under the chairmanship of Viscount Boringdon gave the go-ahead on August 9th 1839.  In the end the total cost of the project was 5,169 2s 4d, of which the cost of the land and conveyancing was 643 9s, and 163 18s 8d was spent on constructing a reservoir, the work being carried out by Messrs Rowe and Hardie.  A boundary wall cost a further 84 10s.

The Plympton Union Workhouse was first occupied on Monday March 22nd 1841, when the inmates of the two buildings in Plympton and Plymstock were transferred.

It was managed by a Board of 35 Guardians representing the parishes in the Union.  Within the present area of Plymouth this meant the parishes of Compton Gifford, Eggbuckland, Plymstock, Plympton Erle, Plympton Saint Mary, Saint Budeaux, Tamerton Foliot, and Pennycross.  In later years even the Extra-Parochial districts of Chelson Meadow and Laira Green elected Guardians.  Among the Board members were Mr William Revell, representing Compton Gifford; Mr Edward Rabbidge, senior, and Mr John Bartlett, junior, representing Eggbuckland; Mr Joseph Pearse, senior, Mr Christopher Spear and Mr Richard Willing, for Plympton Saint Mary; Mr Thomas Brown and Mr Joseph Pearse, junior, for Plympton Saint Maurice; Mr John Somerford Edwards, Mr John Hart, Mr William Lugg, and Mr Robert Rowe, for Plymstock; Mr George Stead, for Pennycross; Mr John Fortescue, for Saint Budeaux; and Mr Henry Bradridge and Mr Luke Morris Hall, representing Tamerton Foliot.

At a Parish Vestry meeting on Thursday December 9th 1841 it was decided that the former parish poor house should be sold.  On Thursday May 12th 1842 the offer from Mr Richard Langworthy of 115 was accepted and the building was transferred to him.  It was reconstructed and renamed "Castle Cot".

In 1869 a new block was added for the male sick.  An isolation hospital was also erected but this turned out to be a "white elephant" and it was subsequently merged into the new infirmary.

A new Board Room and a Porter's Lodge were provided in the 1890s, which required the demolition of the Receiving Wards.  This cost around 1,200.

During the time that Mr Preston Thomas was the General Inspector of the District the old casual wards were condemned and plans were drawn up by a Major Clark for the new buildings, the construction of which was commenced by Messrs Allen and Tozer of Saint Budeaux in the summer of 1901.  The new wards were opened in 1902 at a cost of some 1,935.

By 1906 it had apparently become clear that the old sick wards, with just one nurse, were totally inadequate.  Major Clark drew up plans for a new infirmary, which also involved alterations to the isolation hospital, and these were in due course approved.  At a meeting on June 21st 1907 it was decided to award the tender for the construction to Messrs Stevenson and Company, of Plymouth.   It was expected to cost 2,427.

On September 30th 1908 a new 40-bed infirmary was opened by the chairman of the Board of Guardians, Mr W J Crossing, after which it became known as the Plympton Saint Mary Poor Law Institution.   The staff of the infirmary was doubled and eventually increased again so that by 1930 there was a head nurse plus three assistants.  One nurse was always on night duty.  A new washhouse was provided in 1910.

In 1910 the Local Government Board decreed that all children, except infants and infirmary cases, should be removed from workhouses.   Two houses at Crownhill were at first rented and later purchased and the children were moved there on January 25th 1912.

From Tuesday April 1st 1930, the date the Local Government Act 1929 came into force and the Board of Guardians was disbanded, it ceased to admit the poor, elderly or infirm guests that it had taken as a workhouse and it was renamed the Plympton Public Assistance Institution.  This is where unmarried mothers, vagrants and the mentally ill usually ended up.

The Plympton Saint Mary Union Workhouse was demolished in 1974.  Plympton Hospital now stands on the site.