JOHN HOARE'S FAMILY HISTORY
Brighton Workhouse 1822
last updated 4/3/2006 reformatted 1.2012
From a plate published in 'Illustrated History of Brighton' by John Ackerson Erredge, published 1862
'Brighton Workhouse, Church Hill, Brighton, Sussex (above the graveyard of St. Nicholas' Church)
The inscription over the main door reads -
The layout of the 1822 workhouse can be seen from this map. It had apparently not changed appreciably from the time of building. The replacement on Race Hill had been delayed by difficulties with the water supply, but had come into use a year before the time of publication of this map - in a map published a year later, the building has vanished.
There was accomodation for 600 inmates, and accomodation was divided into four accomodation sections, each with its own yard, plus the central section -
The Northern wing housed wards fifty feet measuring by twenty five feet, for males not capable of hard work, with sleeping rooms, eating rooms, sick rooms, and a boy's school.
Next were apartments for females, including the sick, lying-in women (following childbirth), children, and all females not capable of hard work
The central section housed the entrance hall, and administrative area. Behind it were the kitchen, wash house, brew house, bake house, and laundry
Next were apartments for males able to work, the upper floor being sleeping rooms, while the lower floor contained workrooms, a school room, and an eating room.
The Southern wing contained sleeping rooms, a school room, and an eating room. It's yard contained a corn mill, a whiting manufactory, and workshops for dressing flax, carding wool, etc.
The inmates ground their own flour and made their own clothes, as well as making such items as whiting (or 'whitening' - ground chalk used for white-washing, etc.), ropes, cords, doormats, rugs, and sacking.
Contemporary descriptions suggest that there was much local pride in the facilities, but with the rapid growth of the town it was recorded as being too small by 1848. A suitable site for a new workhouse was found at Elm Grove, but progress was unusually slow, with particular difficulty with the water supply, and the new site, known as Race Hill Workhouse, wasn't occupied until 1865.
The Cheesman family were members of the Directors and Guardians of the poor for most of the life of this workhouse. One recorded scandal took place in 1838 when they were found to be eating rather too well at Board meetings. According to a Erredges 'History of Brighthelmston' published in 1862 the menu included 'John-Dorees, salmon,lobsters, Norfolk squab pie, poultry, joints in profusion,red and white wines by the dozen and spirits by the gallon, cigars by the box, and snuff by the pound'. The table furnishings were reported as equally lavish.
It may be of interest that The National trust has restored the workhouse at Southwell, near Nottingham, and it is now open to the public. It dates from a couple of years after the Brighton workhouse, and according to published figures could only accommodate 150, as opposed to the 600 of Brighton, but is built along very similar lines, and reflects the mood of the nation at the time. The fact that the Southwell Workhouse is considered revolutionary suggests that the Brighton Workhouse was even more so.
The other side of the coin can be seen on the website for Charles Allcorn, one of the inmates of the workhouse in the 1850s.