In 1832 the cholera epidemic increased the need for workhouse accommodation in Bristol. At this time there were 600 people seeking existence in the cramped premises of St Peter's Hospital - many of them died in the dreadful conditions in this hospital situated between St Peter's church and the Avon on what is now Castle Park. The former French Prison at Stapleton was bought for £2,000 from the Government and converted into a workhouse.
A workhouse provided lodging and just enough food to survive. Shelter and food were provided in return for work in the workhouse.
In 1854 an amendment to the Poor Laws was passed in Parliament. At the insistence of the Bristol Incorporation for the Poor that body kept its special powers and privileges which they had held historically under special Acts (the local Act of 1696 had set up the Board of Guardians). These local privileges were finally lost in 1857. One effect of the Amended Act was to constitute the "Clifton Union".
This Union brought together several rural Parishes: Clifton, Westbury, Horfield, St James and St Pauls and the out-parish of St Philip. The Bedminster Union was also formed. Before this time each Parish had provided relief for its poor in its own way - generally in a very bad way.
As Latimer recorded:
In June 1835, Mr. C. Mott, Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, visited St. Phillips Workhouse on Pennywell Road, Easton. He reported, "I was ill prepared to find a Parish of nearly 17,000 inhabitants, expending nearly £6,000 for the support of the poor, and immediately adjoing one of the most cleanly and well ventilated establishments in England (St Peter's Hospital), such a disgraceful instance of neglect and mismanagement. The state of the workhouse was filthy in the extreme; the appearance of the inmentes dirty and wretched. There was no classification, men, women and children being indiscriminately huddled together." A dismal filthy room as dirty as a coal cellar, contained a poor distressed lunatic as dirty as the floor, clothed in rags, and with feet protruding from his shoes. The poor creature had nver quitted the den for years. Another room contained a young lunatic, almost in a state of nudity, who had been detained there for four years.
Two Loxton Drawings: Cottage Homes, Downend, c1900.
(Our thanks to Bristol Library Service for permission to reproduce these drawings)
Due to the extension of Bristol's boundaries in 1897 there was an affiliation of the Poor Law Unions of Clifton and Bedminster and the Board was reconstructed. this reorganisation took place on April 1st 1898. Major George F. Rumsey, who had been Chair of Barton Regis, was elected as Chair of the new body.
At this time 11,096 people were under the care of Guardians in orphanages, asylums, special schools, workhouses or in their own poverty stricken homes. In 1898 there were over 500 children living in the City's workhouses. Conditions were so bad that a scheme of building 'scattered homes' and homes for boys who were involved in industry/apprenticeships was initiated. The 'scattered homes' were built at Downend - The Downend Cottage Homes. Numbers of children accommodated declined - partly due to fostering - and by 1948 only the Crescent, Downend Homes, remained. As a further consequence of the City's eastward extension a number of Doctors, including Dr W.G. Grace, Easton's local doctor and surgeon resigned in protest.
The Eastville Institution was built in 1847 by the Clifton Union at 100 Fishponds Road. The Clifton Union was later divided and the Eastville area became known as the Barton Regis Union. It was assimilated into Bristol Union in 1898.
In September 1920 sick patients chargeable to the Guardians in the Eastville and Stapleton Institutions were transferred to Southmead Hospital in line with the new schemes which were being put in place. Southmead Hospital had been started just before 1898.
After World War II the Workhouse had become an Old People's Home. It was finally demolished in 1972. Where the Workhouse once stood there is now the development of Maypark.