A Place of Last Resort – A History of the Fordingbridge Workhouse

Fordingbridge book photo

The Fordingbridge Workhouse Project began in 2009 when a trustee of the Fordingbridge Museum mentioned several questions that merited further study. A committee was formed led by our chairwoman Janet Brown and we began looking for information. We were dependent on secondary sources, newspaper reports and local photographs. We put it together and showed it at an open day at Salisbury Museum.

We were then distracted by other local projects but in 2018 we reformed the committee and started searching further. Sue Warnock did a great deal of research in the newspaper archives and I covered the background legislation, census returns, which are very useful for establishing the ages and former occupations of the inmates, and other areas.  We visited Hampshire Archives and found that there were not many documents there. We had hoped to find the log books for the Union Workhouse. The register of deaths which we’d hoped would give us some insight into the medical problems facing the inmates, is sealed as it carried on until 1948 when the Workhouse became part of the NHS.  We did find the original blueprints for the new workhouse built in 1886, with all of these plans, even for the excellent drainage system which has proved of great interest.

Helen Coote and Katie Gregory joined us with their expertise in marketing and publishing which was incredibly useful as we started to put the research into book form. This took many drafts and a lot of re-writing and there were many references to be checked and followed up.

Helen had worked hard to secure grant funding for the publication and she and Katie led the team liaising with the publishers to get the book printed, including colour pictures and newspaper clippings. We finally launched the book at the meeting of the Society on 14th November, 2022.

Sales are slow but steady and we have had some good reviews. We recently installed an exhibition of photographs and other items in Fordingbridge Museum which has brought interest and some new information including a photo of the pig pen from the original workhouse, as it is now, details of the sale of some of the land from the first workhouse and the framed letter of thanks to a retiring Chairman of the Board of Guardians dated 1865.

It has been an interesting project and we found out a great deal about our town as well as about the national picture regarding care of the poor. We uncovered many stories about local people and the place of the Workhouse in the life of the town, stories of suicide, breaking into the Workhouse, the lives of some of the inmates and the problems posed by some unwilling inmates who preferred prison. Newspaper reports were the source of most of the human stories. The site remains the centre for medical services in the town although the remaining buildings have recently been converted for residential use. It is still a very important place in Fordingbridge and it has been a fascinating project to uncover its history.

Author: Wendy Cracknell

Bio: Wendy studied history at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg and has retained her interest since moving to England in 1970. Wendy’s main interests have been political/military history but the opportunity to do research into local history was a new challenge which she has enjoyed.

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