Foundling Hospital

The original Foundling Hospital was built in 1760 by the Thomas Coram Foundation to the design of a local man Thomas Farnolls Pritchard (1723–1777). (Pritchard also designed other fine buildings in Shropshire and later surveyed and designed major bridges in the area). It took five years to complete the Shrewsbury Foundling Hospital which was intended for the reception of children from the original Foundling Hospital in London. The building alone cost the Foundation £12,000 in 1760, along with some 21 acres of land acquired in different lots between 1759 and 1761 which cost £1,640 in total.5 The Governors also held a lease from the Corporation on an adjoining area of Kingsland for 99 years from 1758.

At one time there were more than 400 orphans over six years of age in the Foundling Hospital under the care of the Governor, Matron, Chaplain, Schoolmaster etc. The Foundling Hospital provided for their maintenance and education. Child labour was the norm in England at this time, so the children were expected to work. Their employment in carpet manufacture was described as “a success” as early as 1761. It is not known how hard the children had to work nor under what discipline, but it was not till 1834 that it became illegal to employ a child under eleven for more than 9 hours a day!

However, the Foundling Hospital went into decline when the Parliamentary grant via the London Managers ceased in December 1771, and the Foundling Hospital finally closed in December 1772. For a time thereafter, one part of this large building was used as a woollen factory by James & Thomas Baker, and other parts were let as summer residences to people in the Town. It seems likely that the 18th Century Dye House (which still exists next to the School Boathouse) was built around this time. In 1781, the Government requisitioned the building to house Dutch prisoners captured in the brief war with Holland – anecdotal accounts suggest it may also have been used for French prisoners captured in American War of Independence.

House of Industry (Workhouse) and Asylum

The old Foundling Hospital and the adjoining 21 acres changed hands again in 1784 when it was bought for £5,460 by the Union of Five Parishes of Shrewsbury and Meole Brace for use as a Workhouse (House of Industry).5 The House of Industry opened in December 1784, and according to Archdeacon Owen, its regulations became “a model to almost all succeeding institutions in the Kingdom”. Table 2 summarises the population of the Workhouse between 1800 and 1871. Table 3 gives a summary of the able-bodied in 1831, while Table 4 shows the age structure of the workhouse population in 1841. There is no obvious explanation for the variations in the Workhouse population.

Table 2.
Table 2

There was a substantial number (368) of people in the Workhouse in 1800, 34% of whom were under 12 years of age. In 1819, Richard Beacall (the Governor of the House of Industry) and George Wellings (Clerk to the Director of the United Parishes) were convicted of embezzlement.6 The effect of this on the finances and viability of the House of Industry is not known at present. The effect of this on the finances and viability of the House of Industry is not known. In 1826, to pay the debt in obtaining a new Act and other expenses, the Guardians sold 5 acres 3 rods 26 poles for £1,500 to John Beck Esq., leaving them with 15 acres 1 rods 20 poles. By 1831, numbers were clearly in decline with 117 inmates. A meeting of the Directors of the Poor House and Guardians of the Poor in 1831 shows concern about a fall-off in rents received, from a total of £371 in 1828 to £153 in 1830 – the greater part of this being due to the complete loss of rent from the Infirmary for using part of the Workhouse.

Table 3. Data from the 1841 Census. (In 1800 Archdeacon Plymley noted that 65 of the 178 males and 80 of the 190 females were less than 12 years of age.)
Table 3. Data from the 1841 Census. (In 1800 Archdeacon Plymley2 noted that 65 of the 178 males and 80 of the 190 females were less than 12 years of age.)

By 1841, the numbers had fallen to 79 (35 male; 44 female), 14% of whom were under 15, and 41% over 60. The Workhouse male paupers ranged from two months to 85 years in age. They included a watchmaker (age 25), a writer’s clerk (age 30), a cabinet maker age (age 30) and nine labourers (seven of whom were over 60). In this Census, James Jacobs age 65 was Governor of the Workhouse. Another scandal befell the Workhouse in 1844 when a female pauper was found to be pregnant and she alleged Mr Jacobs to be the father. An inquiry7 heard that she was of dissolute character and had repeatedly allowed a male pauper to sleep in her apartment and that the latter was “drunk in the middle of the day, a very great irregularity, — ought not to have been permitted.” The Directors concluded that Mr Jacobs was entirely innocent of making the pauper pregnant, but that it was high time a stop was put to the system of management which could give rise to such complaints. A public notice on May 23 announced that Mr Jacobs had been given three months’ notice a week previously. Mr Shaw (a brazier of Mardol Head) and his wife were then elected as Master and Mistress of the House of Industry.

Table 4. Data from the Report of the Committee to the Guardians of the Poor of Shrewsbury United District (1831) in Watton Volume IV 318A.
Table 4. Data from the Report of the Committee to the Guardians of the Poor of Shrewsbury United District (1831) in Watton Volume IV 318A.
By the 1851 Census, the Workhouse had 45 male and 32 female inmates, but by 1861 the Workhouse population had increased to 360 inmates and in 1871 the Workhouse had 111 male paupers and 63 female paupers. Despite use of part of the building as a private asylum, the Poor Law records related that The House of Industry was too large for the number of paupers found in the small Union, and presumably the viability of the whole Institution was in jeopardy. In July 1871 the Shrewsbury Union merged into the Atcham Union, and in 1875 the building was closed.

By the beginning of the 19th Century, large numbers of pauper-lunatics and idiots had accumulated in the workhouses. Shrewsbury House of Industry first obtained a licence to operate a lunatic asylum within the Workhouse complex in 1821 and there were eleven lunatics confined there in 1826. John Jacobs (the Governor of the House of Industry) appeared to have taken over the licence to run a private asylum in the East wing in 1835, with Frederick Roberts as Superintendent in 1841. The 1841 Census recorded 52 men and 41 women at the Asylum, and there were 15 staff between the Workhouse and the Asylum.

The standards in Kingsland were unsatisfactory, indeed the whole establishment was judged unsuitable for the reception of lunatics in 1850.8 Kingsland Asylum was one of only three provincial licensed houses named as especially defective – “The gutters, privies and airing-courts were dirty and offensive, the drainage deficient, the walls damp and the clothing and bedding filthy and inadequate”. This may have contributed to outbreak of Asiatic Cholera in patients in the Kingsland Asylum in the 1849/50 epidemic. It is not clear whether the standards improved after 1850. There were 37 male and 30 female patients in 1851, but by 1853 the Asylum was closed.

Next chapter: The Ferries


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