The Workhouse

It has been some time since I last posted anything, mainly due to holidays but also because I wanted to gather as much information as possible about this topic.

As with most towns Pickering used to have a workhouse and although there is no evidence of it left today I thought it would be interesting to look into the history. Unfortunately, I have not been able to discover as much as I would have liked but I thought it best to put pen to paper, as it were, and publish something.

Pickering had a workhouse of sorts in the late eighteenth century. Its location is usually given as Undercliff. This area of town still remains and is mostly a row of cottages tucked under the cliff below the castle and opposite the train line heading north to Whitby. I’ve tried searching old maps for clues as to where the workhouse was but I’ve been unsuccessful. I am assuming it may have stood on land to the west of the road which is now occupied by the train station and its associated yards, lines etc. Undercliffe now refers to the stretch of road from the junction of Park Street and Castle Road stretching north out of the town. However, names do change. I have discovered that what we now know as Park Street (no idea why it is called this) was once Bakehouse Lane. Little is known of the inhabitants of this workhouse (or poorhouse) but it was probably quite small.

A Poor Law Union was established in Pickering at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria and a new building was erected to the north-east of the town on Whitby Road. It was officially opened in 1838 and if we look at the census of 1841 we find that Richard (from Pickering) and Ann Spaven were the master and matron of the workhouse and they had an assistant called Elizabeth Lyth. They appeared to have just forty-four residents at that time ranging from infants to a man of 90 years of age. The Spavens remained there for some time but by 1861 George (from Marton) and Sarah Ward had taken their place. There are now only twenty-four ‘inmates’ listed on the census, age range four months to 79 years.

Moving on a further twenty years and Francis (from Birdsall) and Mary Maul are in charge of fifty-two inmates with ages ranging from five months to 83 years. Just ten years later and Robert (from Pickering) and Mary Simpson are ensconced there. Sixty-nine inmates reside there too (one month to 87 years). Our final peek at the census, in 1911, shows Burton (from Osmotherley) and Mary Holmes in charge of sixty-eight inmates with ages ranging from three months to 93 years.

The majority of the inmates throughout this period are from Pickering and its immediate area though there are some from as far away as Scotland. Many of the surnames are familiar and no doubt it is their descendants that still live in the town.

Whilst the workhouses were meant for those that could not afford to support themselves financially it appears they were often used as a convenient place to keep people for a variety of reasons. Most workhouses had an infirmary wing, Pickering included, and these were sometimes used by local doctors in place of a hospital (which would have been few and far between and expensive).  A report in the Whitby Gazette on Saturday, 25th December 1886, gives an example of the workhouse being used in place of a hospital.

Singular Affair.

A man named John Charles, a labourer, of Thornton, is now lying at the Pickering Workhouse in a serious condition, brought about by peculiar and suspicious circumstances. The poor fellow, it seems, was suffering from an infectious skin disease, and he applied to a local chemist and druggist, who sold him box of ointment. The application not proving efficacious, Charles says he went again and was supplied with some medicine. He, however, became so much worse that Dr. Robertson, of Thornton was called in, and recommended the sufferer’s immediate removal to the Pickering Workhouse. Since his reception there his condition has become so serious that his deposition was taken before Major Scoby, and Captain Mitchelson—the Guardians, the Superintendent of Police, and the chemist’s assistant being also present, and the latter cross-examined the expected dying man. Charles was in an extraordinary condition at the time, his skin having peeled off his body, some portions of which were enormously swollen.

A further article in Shields Daily Gazette reports that Mr Charles died on 11th January 1887. The attending doctors told the coroner that they were unaware of any drug or combination of drugs that could cause this effect so he returned a verdict of death by natural causes.

The other use of the workhouse was in place of a prison or place of detention. Another newspaper article, York Herald, Wednesday, 10th February 1892, tells a tale of a young man.

An Incorrigible Pickering Youth Liberated.

The Pickering police have recently had some trouble with a lad named Bointon, aged 11 years, who, after being charged with stealing certain moneys from the shop of a local confectioner, was remanded to the Pickering Workhouse, and while there he proved incorrigible and succeeded in effecting his escape. After recapture he was lodged in the custody of the police. On being brought up on remand the magistrates ordered Bointon’s removal to the York Industrial School for a period of three years. Strange to say, however, before the expiration of a week the lad has been brought back to Pickering with the message that he was incurable, and so James, instead of receiving the punishment ordered by the justices, is once more enjoying the company of his old comrades.

It seems the workhouse could be used for anything the community required.

In the 1930s the workhouse finally closed and became a children’s home.

There were several advertisements for workers in the children’s home, one appeared in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer on Friday 22nd March 1935 and ran as below:


Applications are invited for the following appointments



(c) BOYS’ ATTENDANT (resident or nonresident).

The Committee require two officers for duty at the Pickering Children’s Home, but have not yet determined whether the Male Officer shall be the Superintendent or the Boys’ Attendant. They therefore invite applications from married couples for the positions of (a) Superintendent and Matron. They also invite applications from single persons for the posts of (b) Matron and (c) Boys’ Attendant. It is not yet decided whether the latter officer shall live on the premises.

The salaries attached to the appointments are:

SUPERINTENDENT and MATRON Up to £250 per annum for the Joint appointment, according to qualifications

MATRON Up £125 per annum, according to qualifications

BOYS’ ATTENDANT (resident): £60-£80 per annum.

BOYS’ ATTENDANT (non-resident): £125 per annum.

The resident officers will be allowed board and lodging, and all are superannuable.

Applications, in applicants’ own handwriting, stating age, present and previous occupation and experience, and when able to commence duty, accompanied by copies of not more than three recent testimonials, must be sent to the undersigned not later than 30th March, 1935. Previous Poor Law experience not essential. Application forms are not provided. Applicants will be required to undergo such medical examination as the County Council may direct. HUBERT G. THORNLEY. Clerk of the County Council, County Hall, Northallerton. 6th March.

In the 1939 register the matron is listed as Blanche Parnaby with her assistant Kathleen Broadbent and two childrens’ attendants, Margaret McLoughlan and Dora Teasdale. Due to the privacy laws relating to this register it is impossible to tell how many children were living there at the time.

Later still the workhouse was demolished and in its place there is now an older people’s home.

It is difficult to imagine what it was like living in an institution in those times but we can be assured it was generally grim. If you want to visit a workhouse museum to perhaps get a better idea of life there I can recommend two that I have visited.

Ripon Workhouse Museum

The Workhouse, Southwell (National Trust)

Let me introduce …

Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983). I discovered Mr Pevsner quite late in life and I wish I had got to know him earlier. Who is he? He was a German born architectural scholar, probably best know for his county guides of England. Each guide covers a county, or part thereof, and lists all the building of interest in each town and village. There were 46 volumes in his Buildings of England series and I am the proud owner of several of them. Although dated the information they contain is still relevant (as long as the building he describes still exists).

I find his writing to be interesting and amusing, he doesn’t pull his punches if he doesn’t like something. Take my town of Pickering, North Yorkshire: he describes the primitive methodist chapel as “In a terrible Italianate style”1. Whether you agree with him or not depends on your views on architecture. The offending building is shown below for your perusal.


Regardless of Mr Pevsner’s views the books are useful for the buildings they list, the descriptions are accurate and his views can easily be ignored if you wish. His entry for Pickering spans over four pages, he describes in detail the church with its fifteenth century wall paintings and then the castle is dealt with in some detail. Several other buildings within the town are given short but detailed entries. However, he ends the section on Pickering with, “Pickering town is not architecturally rewarding.” I have to disagree with him, as I often do, but his books do give much more detail than would normally be found in local guide books for visitors and as such will remain on my bookshelves as reference tools.


1 Pevsner, N., (1966) The Buildings of England BE29 Yorkshire: The North Riding, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books

Enriching the list

I’m sure most of you have heard of listed buildings, those structures that have been deemed interesting or important to our heritage and have therefore been offered some measure of protection. Did you know you can view the listed buildings on the web? Historic England maintain the list and web presence and it is free to access. You can search for a particular structure or area or use the map to zoom around and see which buildings are listed wherever you wish.

A lot of the listings are quite old and may be a little out of date. Most of those in my area were listed in 1975 and the information has been transferred from the old manual listing system into the current accessible database. What makes it more interesting is that you can add to it. Yes, you can request listing for a building but I mean here that you can add to an existing listing. They call it ‘Enrich the List’, by registering on their site you can add information or photographs to any of the currently listed structures.

Many of the shops and other buildings in my town centre are listed and I have started to add photographs to the list as part of a photographic project I set myself some time ago.


The listing gives a good description of each building and shows its location on a map. I find it interesting to read about the architectural features of each building, my knowledge is increasing with each new building I view. For example, in the image above the white blocks of bricks down the edge of the building are referred to as ‘brick rusticated quoins’. The vertical posts either side of the ground floor window are ‘pilasters’, this used to be a shop window. The bay window is referred to as ‘canted’ because the sides are at an angle.


In this photograph the upper left bay is called a ‘rectangular modern oriel semi-dormer of 4 lights’.

I find it all fascinating and look forward to adding more to the list in the coming months. Take a look at the web site yourself and see what you might discover about the area where you live. Who knows, you too may feel the urge to Enrich the List.

Date with a Dove

Richard Baines – North York Moors National Park Turtle Dove Officer Was Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, a birdwatcher? As she sat about looking pretty with doves fluttering around her feet maybe she wondered when Turtle Doves would arrive back in Yorkshire from Africa that year! Valentine’s Day has long been associated with doves, […]

via A Date with a Dove — The official blog for the North York Moors National Park

This year I intend to see at least one Turtle Dove. I’ve been meaning to do it for some time but never got around to it, this year will be different. I am lucky enough to have them frequent this area each year and I may even have seen one without realising it, but I’m going to make a special effort to see them and, hopefully, to photograph them.

The blog post above is from the North Yorks Moors National Park and they have a Lottery funded project looking at these birds. I am going to try to attend one of their lectures and then head out to some of the well-known spots for sighting them. If I am successful I hope to report back here. Sorry, that should be WHEN I am successful.