The forthcoming production of the musical Oliver in the town has brought to mind Wellington’s own workhouse, which stood in the centre of town just off North St. Had young Oliver Twist ever seen this imposing building, the boy would have understood its function instinctively.
Wellington Workhouse was the first to be built after the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which ordered that every area in England and Wales should have a purpose built place to house the poor. It was an imposing building with a central block and two wings. Men and women had to live separately and only infants could stay with their mothers; older children were cared for in a different part of the building. When the children were old enough they were sent out to work or apprenticed.
The Workhouse took in the poor of Wellington and eighteen surrounding parishes, known as the Wellington Poor Law Union. It was run by a Board of Guardians. These were influential people from the each of the parishes in the Union. They decided on the work done by the inmates, the allowance for food and appointed the Master and Matron who had the day to day responsibility for running the place.
Breaking stones for road building and repairs was one of the tasks for the men, while the women cleaned, sewed and cooked. The names of the inmates of the Workhouse can be found in the censuses for Wellington and the names of the members of Board of Guardians and the Master and Matron are published in the town directories of which the Wellington Museum has a good collection.
Workhouses were closed after 1930 and the Wellington one became a known as The Lodge, a home for the elderly. The original building was demolished in 1973 and replaced with the development of council owned retirement flats and bungalows known as Lodge Close. The gates of the old Workhouse can still be seen in North Street just behind the bus stop. Northfield Lodge was the registry of the Workhouse and stood within its grounds.
The same Board of Guardians administered an orphanage which was in Mantle St and was open until the 1960s. The museum has very little information about it but would like to hear from anyone who has memories or memorabilia involving the Wellington Orphanage.