The Axbridge Poor Law Union came into being in 1836. It was governed by a Board of Guardians, representing the 38 parishes of the Union.
Axbridge, Badgworth, Banwell, Berrow, Biddisham, Blagdon, Bleadon, Brean, East Brent, South Brent, Burnham with Aston Morris, Burrington, Butcombe, Chapel Allerton, Charterhouse, Cheddar, Christon, Churchill, Compton Bishop, Congresbury, Hutton, Kewstoke, Locking, Loxton, Lympsham, Mark, Nyland with Batcombe, Puxton, Rowberrow, Shipham, Uphill, Weare, Wedmore, Weston-super-Mare, Wick St Lawrence, Winscombe, Worle, Wrington with Broadfield.
Later Additions: Brent Knoll, North Highbridge, South Highbridge (from 1896).
(Note: South Brent at that time, is the area we now call Brent Knoll. Its possible that the name Brent Knoll replaced South Brent in the Union records in 1896. when it came into everyday use? .JR).
The population within the Union of parishes at the 1831 census had been 28,794 with parishes ranging in size from Nyland with Batcombe (population 52) to Wedmore (3,557).
A number of poor East Brent individuals and families were forced to enter the Axbridge workhouse.
(You can find a list of these here in a PDF file or MSword)
The Parish poor and the Workhouse
I am indebted to Pat Hase of the WSM Family History Society for her help.
Before the welfare state as we know it. The poor of the parish no matter what the circumstance, had a very harsh existence. And in some places to this day, being poor or needy sometimes carries the stigma of the situation being the person’s own fault. Previous to the reign of Elizabeth 1st the poor and needy would have had to beg or rely on the charity of their friends and neighbours for survival.
There could be any number of reasons that could lead to a person or family being reliant on the charity of the parish, and possibly end up on relief or in the local Workhouse. Often brought about by events over which they had no control, such as being physically or mentally unable to work. Or the older generations who had become infirm or senile etc and were unable to care or provide for themselves. There are also many instances of individuals recorded in workhouse and pauper records as being blind, lunatic or idiot etc.
In a rural area such as ours where agriculture was the main occupation, work would have been very low paid and seasonal. A bad crop year or an epidemic would be devastating to the livelihood of farmer and worker alike. Many Ag. Lab’s and indeed farmers have been forced onto charity relief or the workhouse.
Until the coming of the railways in the mid 1800's, Which brought other work possibilities to our region and also a means of being able to travel and migrate to work in other industries etc. Most males in our area would have been employed on the land.
Most of the girls would have become domestic servants or similar, working in the households of local farms, estates, landowners and businesses etc.
Many of these young and not so young girls might become unmarried mothers which was a serious offence against the one sided moral code of the times and was regarded as bringing shame onto the family. (It was not unknown for a member of the local gentry, squire or even a vicar to father children by their housekeeper)! This would quite often mean the poor girl or woman was banished from her family and sent away to where she was not known and could perhaps pretend to be a widow. Or she could easily be turned out into the street and possibly end up in the workhouse. Many single women and girls are recorded giving birth in the workhouse.
The Axbridge Workhouse. circa 2000.
The Axbridge Union workhouse was erected in 1837 at the south side of West Street in Axbridge. The Poor Law Commissioners authorised an expenditure of £4,496.17s.6d on construction of the building which was intended to accommodate 250 inmates. It was designed by Samuel T Welch who was also the architect of workhouses at Wells and Clifton. The workhouse became officially known as Axbridge Poor Law Institution.
Initially, workhouse medical facilities were often minimal and were sometimes under the charge of a local doctor,
The majority of inmates were undernourished or infirm etc. so gradually hospital and isolation wards were added. Later these facilities were made available to the general public and became the local Hospitals and Infirmaries for the area.
A separate Infirmary block was added to the Axbridge Workhouse in 1903. The workhouse was in use until the 1930's The workhouse buildings later became St Johns Hospital. The Hospital closed in 1993 and has now been converted for residential use.