In 1832, a Royal Commission recommended changes to the Poor Law of 1601 which had become less relevant with the industrial revolution and an increase of population from 4 million in the sixteenth century to over 14 million by 1834. To comply with the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the parishes around Ledbury grouped themselves into a Union and the Ledbury Poor Law Union was set up on 2nd June 1836, overseen by an elected Board of Guardians made up of representatives from the 22 constituent parishes:
Ashperton, Aylton, Bosbury, Canon Frome, Castle Frome, Coddington, Colwall, Donnington, Eggleton (Township of Bishop's Frome), Ledbury, Little Marcle, Mathon, Munsley, Much Marcle, Parkhold (Township), Pixley, Putley, Stretton Grandsome, Tarrington, Woolhope, Yarkshill.
By 1900 two further parishes were added, Eastnor and West Malvern, and Parkhold changed to Ledbury Rural.1
The Union Workhouse was built in 1836 on what was Union Lane, now Orchard Lane with a project budget of £3,970. The architect was George Wilkinson who designed other workhouses at Leominster, Bromyard and Weobley. His design was cruciform with an entrance block at the front and four accommodation wings connected by a central block. Between the wings were yards so the different categories of pauper could be segregated - Aged and Sick / Children / Able-bodied females / Able-bodied males. It opened in 1837 to house 150 inmates.
All paupers who could not support themselves and were unable to take part in Outdoor Relief were to be admitted to the workhouse. [Outdoor Relief was paid to labourers whose wages were too low for them to support either themselves or their families. It was usually paid as a wage subsistence, with a man’s wage packet being made up to a certain amount depending on the current bread prices and the size of his family. It might also be paid as a bread allowance] If a man was forced by his circumstances to join the Workhouse he had to take his family in with him. Upon entry he, his wife, and their children would be split up and sent to the separate areas of the Workhouse. The family would only be reunited when they chose to leave. This regime was designed to be a deterrent to the acceptance of their situation by the poor.
The population within the Union area at the 1831 census was 11,973 and the average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1834-36 was £5,678 or 9s.6d. per head of the population. In 1871 the population had increased to 13,1022 but by 1891 had dropped to 12,613.
After workhouses were formally abolished in 1930, it was renamed as a Public Assistance Institution under the name ‘Belle Orchard House’. Uniforms were no longer worn and ‘residents’ were free to come and go. In 1948 it became an old people’s home and today the building’s central block and inner cross-ranges have been demolished. The remaining buildings have been converted into residential accommodation under the Belle Orchard House Residents Association.
The 1881 census records that the staff were: Henry Morgan - Union Master, Mrs Fanny Morgan - Workhouse Matron (with their sons Ernest,
Archer and Frederick), Elizabeth Morgan - Workhouse School Mistress, Charles Guy - Porter and Jane Bevan, Nurse and the Morgans were
still there in 1900 1.
There were over a hundred ‘inmates’ in 1881 and they came mainly from Herefordshire but also included vagrant Irish labourers. There were a several mentally disturbed people, bluntly described as ‘Imbeciles’, widows and widowers, a large number of agricultural labourers and a few young orphans who were taught at the workhouse. The bold names are those born in Ledbury (Ledburians).
John Adams, Charles Ainsworth - musician, Charles Arkell, Stephen Aston, John Bannester, Sarah Barrett, William Barrett, William Barrett from Bosbury, George Bates, William Bird, John Bishop, Alice Box, Anne Box, Sarah Box, William Brown, Harriet Bruton, John Bruton, Mary Buckell - agricultural labourer from Bosbury, John Burlton, Anne Chamberlain and her daughter Elle, John Chamberlain, John Cook, James Davies, William Davies, William Davies, Eliza Day, Mary Dobbs, Mary Dobbs, Thomas Dutson, Frank Eacock, Samuel Evans, Edward Fincher, Fanny Fryer, Sarah Gough, Elizabeth Green, William Green, Eliza Griffiths, John Griffiths and his wife Kate, Thomas Grossenor, George Hallard, James Harding, Caroline Hartwell, John Herbert, William Hill, Harriet Hoare, Charles Hodges, Abigail Holland, Ellen Hope, Henry Hope, Elizabeth Huges and her sister Hannah, Esther Humphries, Ann Jarvis, Charles Johnson and probably his brother, Stephen Johnson, George Jone, Ester Jones, Frederick Jones. James Jones, John Jones, May Jones, Thomas Jones, William Jones, James Kelly, George Kimbley, John Lewis, Mary Lewis, John Llewellyn, Ellen Lloyd, James Lloyd, Mary Lloyd, Harriet Mason, John Masters, Matthias Matthews - farm labourer from Bosbury, James Mitchell, Margaret Morris from Bosbury, William Morris, William Morris from Bosbury, Samuel Mowden, Emily Napper, Sarah Jane Napper, Edwin Pardoe, Emma Parry, George Parry, Olive Parry, John Pritchard, Elizabeth Proberbs, Joseph Proberbs, Robert Pullen, John Reed, Alfred Rosser, Hannah Rosser, Lucy Rosser, Sebastian Rosser, Susan Smith, William Smith, Eliza Taylor, Beatrice Vaughan, Frances Vaughan, Thomas Warner, Catherine Watkins, Richard Watkins, Arthur Whittal, Anne Williams, Frederick Williams, Henry Williams, John Williams, Margaret Williams, Mary Williams, Thomas Williams, William Wingate, Louisa Yeomans
1 Rossbret UK Institutions Website at:
2 Genuki, Littlebury's Directory 1876-7 at:
Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record
Herefordshire Record Office, Harold Street, Hereford
The Workhouse - Peter Higginbotham http://www.workhouses.org.uk/