chapter  3
16 Pages

Inside the Workhouse

The deterrent and disciplinary functions of the New Poor Law were embodied in the design and structure of the large new workhouses that guardians were encouraged to build. The spectacle of large efficient prison-like establishments, it was thought, would create confidence among poor law personnel and strike terror among the able-bodied population. In short, the architecture of the workhouse was meant to represent the new approach to relief provision. Model plans, drawn up by Sampson Kempthorne, * were issued by the central authority for the guidance of boards of guardians. Kempthorne presented alternate designs for a two-or three-storey general mixed workhouse. The first, based upon a modified Panopticon" principle, included a Y shaped radial structure enclosed within a hexagonal boundary wall. Paupers were housed in two-or three-storey wings with day rooms on the ground floor and dormitories above. Kitchen, dining hall and chapel were accommodated in a third wing; work rooms were placed around the perimeter wall. The master's apartments, located at the centre, provided, if not for the inspection of the whole establishment, then for a view of the exercise yards that separated each of the wings. Most preferred among poor law authorities in England and Wales was Kempthorne's cruciform design. Here the walls around the workhouse assumed the shape of a square, divided up by two-storey blocks of buildings forming a plus sign; an additional wing at the front included the waiting hall, the board room and the porter's lodge. The cruciform structure, which had accommodation for between two and five hundred inmates, was readily adaptable and considerably cheaper than alternative designs. All plans for the workhouse system, however, possessed a prison-like severity; all provided for the isolation of paupers behind high walls, all had gates, locks and clocks and all expressed a new form of bureaucratic management and order [108, 134].