Report - - Stockport Union Workhouse - Stockport 03/2014 | Asylums and Hospitals | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Stockport Union Workhouse - Stockport 03/2014


Choose life, choose tunnels
Regular User
Stockport Union Workhouse a.k.a St Thomas’ Hospital


General workhouse history

Workhouses, known loosely as spikes and grubbers, were born from a piece of legislation called the Poor Law Act of 1388. This placed restrictions on the movements of labourers, beggars and those who were unable to support themselves. In time, this restriction led to the state becoming responsible for the poor.
The term “spike†is thought to have been derived from the tool used for picking oakum which is the combed product of tarred fibres to be used as a sealing medium. The term grubber was used to describe someone who undertakes hard and often dull laborious work.

By the early 1830s the system was proving to be economically unsustainable due to local administrators being under pressure to keep expenditure low. The New Poor Law of 1834 was drafted and attempted to discourage the aid for anyone who refused to enter the workhouses.
To keep the expenditure down, outdoor relief was limited in favour of indoor relief in the form of accommodation, food, education and health care. However this had the negative effect, as it became more expensive to support the inhabitants of the workhouse.

The lack of skills and general awareness of some people who entered the workhouse were exploited by the authorities and in exchange for housing, they were tasked with jobs such as stone and bone crushing amongst other unskilled tasks. The higher skilled task of baking was a common form of employment. All but twenty three workhouses had a bakehouse which were supplied flour ground from corn in hand-mills by the paupers.

The main staple of food was bread, served frequently with tea and butter for breakfast, soup or broth for lunch; it was also served as a substitute for potatoes with beef, mutton or pork. For supper it would be served with cheese or butter. When bread was offered as outdoor relief to the paupers, it was common knowledge that the bread contained sawdust, suspicions raised by mysterious transactions and invoices.

As the 19thcentury approached, the workhouses became more of a refuge for the sick and elderly as opposed to the more able bodied poor. This lead to the 1929 legislation that allowed authorities to transform workhouses into municipal hospitals. The last of the workhouses and the remnants of the Poor Law disappeared with the generation of the National Assistance Act of 1948

History of Stockports workhouse

When Daw Bank workhouse, built in 1812, became too small, the union built and opened Shaw Heath workhouse on Christmas Day 1841, designed by a Mr Henry Bowman. The main building being four stories high built with red brick.



It housed approximately 600 people with yards sectioned out for men, women, boys and girls.
At either end of the wings were schools for the children. Sadly, due to the trade depression, overcrowding led to these rooms being taken over and turned into further wards for the old and infirm.


On the upper floor is an unusual clock tower, containing a clock mechanism that drove three faces, one overlooking the front of the workhouse, and two others each facing into the individual adult yards. The power being sourced from a pair of cast iron drop-weights in suspension from the upper floor to the basement. The mechanism was removed several years ago. The bell remains in the tower, out of reach.

Clock Views 2007

Clock Views 2014

Clock Cables

Clock Weights and Stone Slab

The floors of the main building were connected by concrete stairs with iron rails, overhead bars were put in place to stop people jumping or falling down the central well.


At the front gates, visiting lorries would be weighed prior to entry to check against invoices.

The bottom two floors under the clock were Master R G Hankins and his wife, the Matron’s, private quarters. The garden in front of the clock was the Master’s private area with a greenhouse and summer house.

Families and individuals were separated accordingly into groups. The male and female able bodied were put to work in the laundry, bakery, wood yard and sent on deliveries to local businesses.
The chronically sick, mental and casual people were trusted with less demanding tasks, such as catering for the floating population of tramps who wandered from town to town.
The children were sent to cottage homes around the town and families were allowed to meet once a week on Saturday.

A single GPO telephone line was installed and served the whole workhouse. This consisted of a small brown box with a single earphone on the end of a lead. Operation was to set the pointer on the desired stud and with a vigorous turn of the handle, a hopeful connection would be made.

The Luddite riots of 1842 were brought on partly because of a widespread manufacturing slump. The workhouse became a target of an attack by a group of unemployed workers. It was reported that a mob forced the entrance and helped themselves to bread and money, amassing 672 loaves and £7 in copper.

Up until its final demise in 2003/2004, many modifications to the site took place; buildings were added and modified to serve the demands of the system. The building of a new office was completed in 1905. In keeping with the main workhouse, it is constructed from red brick, stone trimming and contains a floating stone staircase with an intermediate landing.



The visit

With Alley having already visited the site a few years back, it was decided we’d play out up-top and stay clean for once! Ninja M, Alley, a non member and I visited briefly back in Feb, unfortunately the trip was cut short. Fast forwards a few weeks and after a bit of research in town, myself, Alley and SLG decided we’d have a look around the place to cure our curiosity and to see what effect time has taken over the years. Aside from the main workhouse which was mid-way through development, the remaining site is a sad crumbling wreck. For me, the recent additions to the site can crumble away, but it’s sad to see a building with all its associated history disappear under my nose. I appreciate it isn’t most people’s cup of tea and on the face of it, it’s a just rooms and corridors full of junk, but having spent time researching, you can strip back the present scars and stand there with a vision of what is was like when the workhouse was functional.

Main workhouse

Top room 2007

Top room 2014



Rehabilitation building





Rooftop Glass

Broken Dome

General rehab unit

Ashlea 2007

Ashlea 2014

Stained Glass 2007

Stained Glass 2014






Credits to Douglas Brown (Kings College London) and Mr Cyril Gillham, who was a clerk employed by the Master (entering the workhouse in 1933 on an impressive wage of £45 per year).


One-Man Urbex Art Army
28DL Full Member
Brilliant stuff, I bet there's not many that (relatively) intact left now. Another fine piece of poor people's history going to shit (the asylums, workhouses, pubs and factories never seem to get the same attention from English Heritage etc as the mansions, churches and ruined abbeys do they?).


Picture of Stealth
28DL Full Member
Great report and a cracking set of images... the lit-up bath is the tits! Nice work, mate!


Choose life, choose tunnels
Regular User
Thanks for the nice comments :)

It's been done numerous times before, but we tried capturing it a little differently with some unreported history thrown in. At least it's off my list.

Cheers, FishFingers ;)

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