Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: August 04, 2017.
Webpage updated: August 04, 2017




The four-acre Speccott's Field, near the almost new Borough Prison, had been  purchased for a modern replacement of the overcrowded Plymouth Old Workhouse in Catherine Steet and at 11am on Tuesday March 16th 1852 the foundation stone was laid by none other than Mr William Truman Harris, the Governor of the Corporation Guardians.  A procession was formed at the Old Workhouse and wended its way through Old Town Street, Tavistock Road, Park Crescent to Speccott's Field.

It transpired that the Governor had previously objected to the erection of a new workhouse because the Guardians were much in debt and he felt that the existing workhouse in Catherine Street could be extended.   However, after visiting many such establishments in both England and Ireland, he had withdrawn his objections.

Before laying the foundation stone, the Governor placed in a cavity in the stone a bottle which contained written on parchment, the names of the Guardians at that time, and the current coins of the realm, from the half-crown down to the fourpenny-piece.  After Messrs Arthur and Dwelly had guided the stone into place, Mr Harris hit it several times with a mallet and then examined it by means of a plummet and square before declaring it well and truly laid.

The Mayor then spoke about the Guardians and the poor in general, which drew only a 'murmur of applause'.

Afterwards 60 to 70 guests sat down to dinner at Radmore's Globe Hotel in the centre of Plymouth.  In celebration of the event, the bells of Saint Andrew's Church rang continuously from early dawn until dusk.

On Monday October 17th 1853 the new cooking apparatus that had been installed by Mr P Marshall, of Treville Street, Plymouth, was put to the test.  Several large joints of meat were cooked, some baked, others boiled, and all present were pleased with the results.  Mr Marshall was duly congratulated upon his work.

Formal opening was on Tuesday January 3rd 1854 but 380 inmates had already been moved there from the Old Workhouse.  The cost of erection and fitting out was said to be about 10,300 although another source reported it to be 12,500.  Also present at the opening were Mr W T Harris, the Governor of the Board of Guardians; the Reverends J Hatchard, H A Greaves, and W Hocker, the latter being the Chaplain of the adjacent Gaol; Doctor Stevens; and Messrs J Barnell, Channing, Ryall, Toms, E Brown, Randall, Ash, Easton, Marshall, and White.

The workhouse was built by Mr Robert Stitson, who had recently built the Devonport Workhouse, and the architects were Messrs Oswald C Arthur and W Dwelley & Son.

At the front of the site were the offices and Board room, some 250 feet in length.  Behind that was the main three-storey block providing accommodation for 700 inmates.  Attached to this was a spacious dining room and chapel, 60 feet by 30 feet, fitted with tables and benches, and with a pulpit at one end for the celebration of Divine worship on Sundays.  At the back of the dining hall was the kitchen, which had been fitted out with the most efficient cooking apparatus of the day by Mr P J Marshall, of Treville Street, Plymouth.  There were two monster ovens capable of roasting an unlimited amount of meat, and six large copper boilers for steaming vegetables.  The cooking was performed by steam generated by a large boiler capable of holding 200 gallons of water.

Other principal buildings on the site were the hospital, which included lunatic and fever wards, and accommodation for a number of aged, married couples.  There were extensive gardens attached, which one year produced 20,000 leeks and 11,000 cabbages.

At 1pm on the previous day, Monday January 2nd, those of the inmates who were not confined to their dormitories, numbering about 320, were treated to a special dinner consisting of roast and boiled beef and mutton, followed by plum pudding and ale.  The Guardians and visitors acted as carvers.   The puddings were supplied by Mr W H Rowe, baker, of Treville Street and were said to weigh upwards of 400 lbs.

About forty Guardians and guests sat down to a dinner at the Globe Hotel on the Tuesday afternoon, at which the Governor, Mr W T Harris, presided, with Mr Swinburne as the vice-president.  After the usual loyal toasts, the event went on into the evening.

The Board of Guardians' offices were in the building at the junction of Longfield Place and Greenbank Road, called Freedom House.

Under the Local Government Act 1929 the Board of Guardians was abolished and their functions were transferred to the county borough councils the following year.

The Plymouth Workhouse was converted into the City Hospital under the instigation of Labour councillor Mr Herbert M Medland.  This later became the Plymouth City or Freedom Fields Hospital.