Serving the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet




Workhouse in Wormingford


Although nothing to do with Bures, this gives some indication of life in the Workhouse.

The Wormingford Workhouse

1601 The first poor law bill was passed. Each parish was required to build an habitation for indigent and infirm cottagers on any waste or common land. .

In compliance with the Poor Law Act 1601, Wormingford's workhouse was
built on the scrub and heath land on the top of the hill. It consisted of two lath and plaster cottages attached to a three-storey wooden structure made of Essex boards and weather proofed with tar. (This was probably added at the end of 1600s.)

The workhouse had fifteen rooms including a buttery, a coal house, spin house and eleven apartments for indigent paupers.

Two Overseers of the poor were elected annually to serve for one year. They were chosen from amongst the substantial householders and their duties were compulsory and unpaid.

They appointed the Workhouse Master.


Wormingford Poor Law Records were well kept owing, we hope, to the quality of the men and women who served as Overseers rather than the threat of gaol.

In 1765 and 1766 extensive work was carried out on the town house and parish house, perhaps both names for the workhouse
The Black House is also mentioned, possibly The Workhouse,

In 1776:- the workhouse master was paid 20s a week for 13 inmates, from which he was to provide food, lodging, and clothing; he could take earnings from any who went out to work.

1777. William Rose. Agreement. 'I agree to take the poor of Wormingford under my care for the yearly salary of £2. Small pox, midwifery and fractures included.'Destitute children were apprenticed, in a transfer of liability, to any person willing to take a child in return for work.

1787 "Was agreed with Mr Henry Wright of Arlesford to keep and maintain the girl Phil Marshal for the term of one year and find her with clothes and leave her as well clothed as she is at this present time, to have one pound, one shilling for that purpose, signed Henry Wright."
Boys were apprenticed to oyster dredgers at Wivenhoe and Brightlingsea.
A job that did not appeal to one boy.

1st Feb. 1780 "Sirs I write to inform you that John Townsend left me last Wednesday night and I expect he is come home placing himself in the worst situation he could by pulling off his working clothes and pulling them on he never had on before since he was bound and if his. I hope you will not encourage him but send him home with a note of any complaint signed John Fleming. Brightlingsea."
Boarding out was a form of outdoor relief. Sums of money varying from one shilling and ninepence in the early years to fourteen shillings and ninepence per month in the later years were paid to any person taking an infirm man or woman into their home.
The Overseers were also liable for any poor relief paid to one of their parishioners in another parish. There is no record as to how those payments were made. Perhaps an Overseer paid a social visit on a neighbouring Overseer and settled the dues then.

1780:- Destitute children were cared for and placed in jobs. The girls as servants to neighbouring farmhouses, cripple boys were apprenticed to cobblers and others to the Colchester Oyster Dredgers. The latter not always welcomed by the boys.

Here is a letter presumably from one of the employers of a boy who had absconded:+
"Sirs, I write to inform you that John Townsend left me last Wednesday night and I expect he is come home placing himself in the worst situation possible by pulling off his working clothes and pulling on them he had never had on before since he was bound and if he is I hope you will not encourage him but send him home with a note of any complaint"
John Fleming. Brightlingsea.

1789 and 1798:- Numbers in the workhouse ranged from 13 to 19,
Provisions included brandy and brimstone in 1790, beer and sugar for the old people in 1791,

In 1795 the workhouse master was allowed 1s. 9d. a head

1799 and 1808: numbers ranged from 18 to 25.

1779 "It was agreed for the said Thomas Legget to find the poor of the above parish with eating, drinking and clothing... and the partys agree that the Parish is to have the use of the great room called the bam every Sunday to keep school for the poor children, signed Thos Legget."

1794 Pass for a discharged seaman to return home, endorsed with amount of relief paid at various places on route from London.
To Justices of Peace to permit bearer Abraham Griggs, late seaman on board H.M. Skip of War Sandwich, peaceably and quietly to pass into the parish of Wormingford that appears, on his oath, his last legal place of settlement, without lett hindrance or molestation. He demeaning himself orderly and not exceeding the space of 6 days and keeping the direct roads and not staying more than 12 hours in one place. 25th Feb. 1794.

Abraham obviously impressed the village favorably because, a year later, the parish combined with two other parishes to raise a bonus of £25 for three able bodied landsmen to be trained and serve in the Royal Navy,
An interest in general education appeared toward the end of the eighteenth century

1799:- A later agreement indicates an interest in education.. Thomas Leggett ". . . agree that the Parish to have the use of the great room, called the barn, every Sunday to keep school for poor children."

Three spinning wheels bought in 1801 formed part of the total of 11 in 1802, and although 4 more were bought in 1815 and 6 in 1818, none was listed in the spinhouse in 1825. There was a pig sty in 1802

1809 and 1814. Numbers increased from 5 to 13

1811 and 1813; allowance rose to 4s. a head
1811:- A straightjacket was purchased
1814:- Old and infirm persons often had their goods sold up to pay off their debts and were then boarded out at the expense of the Parish.
Inventory of Goods of Samuel . . . For rent dew £2,15s,0d. In Keeping Room
2 towels. 3 chares. 1 Harm ditto. 1 Kneading Trought. In Kitchen
Hedge form. 1 pale. 1 boyler. Up Stayers.
1 Featherbed. Bed stradles and hangings. 1 Bolster. 2 pillows. 1 pare of sheets. 1 Blanket.

The Flannel Act was passed by Charles II to help the woollen trade and a wit wrote: Since the living could not bear it, they should be forced when dead to wear it.
Certificate of Hannah Laysell: "Maketh oath that Susan of ye said parish lately deceased was not wrapped up or buried in anything but was made of sheep's wool only according to Act of Parliament for burying in Woollen'"

1815 and 1816:- Pork, cheese, potatoes, onions, flour, mutton, bacon, cabbage, milk, oatmeal, green tobacco, and beer were issued

Inventory 5th May 1825
Straw, flock and feather beds in use.
The workhouse had fifteen rooms including buttery, spin house, coal house and eleven apartments for indigent paupers. A large garden, worked by the inmates, supplied it with vegetables and fruit; and well stocked hogg-styes pork and bacon. A combined barn and backhouse equipped with a fine bread oven and large brewing copper, provided bread and ale for the inmates and for those on outdoor relief.

They gathered at the door of the backhouse at certain times to collect their portions. (Long after the closure of the workhouse and the conversion of the building into cottages, such was the pull of custom, men and women on outdoor relief continued to gather, once a week, before the old backhouse door to meet the travelling Relieving Officer who gave them the relief- one shilling and a voucher for a quartern loaf, per person.

Pauper bread at that period was baked by a local baker under contract and 'as white as white and hard as hard.)
The workhouse admitted the old, the destitute and whole families of children on the death of the mother. The father was expected to work for the family but some of the men found the burden too great to bear and disappeared. Husband and wife were not separated and the families were kept together until a boy or girl was old enough to place in work.
The workhouse community was crowded into a number of small rooms and the timber building was not solid. Spaces between the rib beams, rilled in with twigs and plaster, were so thin friends in adjoining rooms conversed in whispers through the walls. Rooms had thick wooden latches fixed to the inner side of their doors. These were controlled by a cord threaded through a hole in the door, pulled inside, the latch was a bolt defying all intruders. One door had the latch upon the outside and accompanied by a strong iron staple and a tapering peg on a chain.

Once the cord was pulled outside and the peg in place the room was a prison cell.

The building had neither corridor nor passage but it was possible to walk from one end to the other via communicating doors on both the ground and upper floors. Windows were small and the majority did not open. The few that did came in two types. Small glass panes in iron frames held open by long metal hooks and larger panes in wooden frames closed by slipping a tongue of wood into position at the base of the window. A complete and burglar proof lock.
The main door had a large heavy lock and matching key. This was inserted upside down and turned anti-clockwise 'to fool they burglars'. Beside the door the red and yellow brick floor was worn into two giant footprints made by generations of doorkeepers.
1837. Wormingford workhouses were closed and replaced by a large Union Workhouse at Stanway.
The new workhouse cost £6,000 to build. It was built in red brick with four projections from a central office and had room for 300 paupers- A master and matron were employed to run it and was governed by a Board of Guardians made up of one or two elected members from each parish.
The building was given the name St Albrights from a neighbouring church but was always known as the Union or Spike Island, the Spike, i.e. the last place at the end of life's turnpike, and was regarded with a dread amounting to terror by the villagers-

The Old Wormingford Workhouse, a two storey Tudor beam and plaster building with a three storey extension of tarred wood, was sold and converted into four dwellings.

William Fowler, carrier and postman, lived in the two storey end house and it became the first Post Office.
His widow married a Mr Death who with another man were the last two to be transported to Botany Bay. Ostentatiously for sheep-stealing but: -
A group of workmen struck for more pay, tenpence a day instead of ninepence, when working on a hill on the Colchester Road. The two men who were deported were the leaders of the strike. The hill is still known as Tenpenny Hill.

Death's wife, known as Mrs Fowler-Death was allowed to continue as Post Mistress

1930 T. Eustace-Smith, the then owner of the old workhouse, removed the roof tiles and used them to roof Parsonage Hall, Bures, the home of his daughter and son-in-law Doctor and Mrs Wood

1938:- It would appear that Dr Thomas Wood of Parsonage Hall owned this property prior to 1938.
A copy of conveyance dated 4 January 1938 reveals:-

Thomas Wood of Parsonage Hall, Bures St. Mary, M.A., Doctor of Music and wife St. Osyth Mahala Eustace Wood to Annie Drucilla Longpre, wife of Gaston Rodolphe Longpre of Tudor Walls, Bures St. Mary
Piece of land with three cottages (formerly five tenements) thereon, known as the Old Workhouse, situate next to the Queen's Head Inn in Bures Road, Wormingford, in occupations of Cook, Farnham Smith and Mrs. Tilley


Latest information from Andrew Ross in Scotland (12/11)

Hello. I am a descendent of John Death (1816?-1872) and Sarah Fowler (1818?-1891) who used to live/work at the workhouse/post office in Wormingford (they're my great, great, great grandparents, and my grandmother was a Death).
I was very interested to read your history of the workhouse and very pleased to see a photo of it as I've never been there.

The 1837 entry has provided some information that I did not know (particularly about the workmen), however I do not believe that [John] Death married William Fowler's widow.

In the 1841 census the following were living together in the workhouse- William Fowler (aged ~65, agricultural labourer), Sarah Fowler (~60), Mary Fowler (~40), William Fowler (~35), John Death (~20) and Harriet Fowler (~5). John Death (aged 23) married Sarah Fowler (aged 25, Spinster) on 16/07/1841.
In the 1841 census there's a Sarah Fowler (aged ~20) residing at nearby Woodhall, which I assume is the one he married. John Death went to trial twice in 1848 and was deported on 14/03/1851.
In the 1851 census William Fowler (79, Labourer), Sarah Fowler (72) and William Fowler (46, Postman, unmarried) were still living in the workhouse, along with grandson's Frederick Death (8) and William Death (5, my great, great grandfather).
Meanwhile Sarah Death (33) was a House Servant at a residence near the Church House (can't make out the full address on the census return, but it's something Gardens). Her parents (William and Sarah) both died in 1858.
In the 1861 census she is the Housekeeper at the Post Office living with her brother (William) and sons (Frederick and William). I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who has any historical documents related to my family.

(1) Wormingford by Winifred Beaumont
(2) "The Victoria History of the Counties (Essex) of England, Vol X" by the University of London.

(3) 1938 reference -SEAX County Records Colchester
(4) Essex County Records Office
(5) Andrew Ross Scotand