Re-living nightmare of the workhouse

The workhouse and its grounds at Howbeck House, in Hartlepool. Photograph courtesy of Hartlepool reference library
The workhouse and its grounds at Howbeck House, in Hartlepool. Photograph courtesy of Hartlepool reference library

IT was an atrocious place which no-one wanted to be associated with.

But unfortunately, the workhouse was a place in which many people lived – even though they would have chosen not to.

It was the scourge of society and shaped the lives of many Hartlepool families.

And in a talk to be given next month, the workhouse will be explained in more detail.

Local historian Jim Nicholson will be speaking on the topic at the Central Library in Hartlepool on Thursday, November 15, at 7.30pm.

Entry to the event is free and light refreshments will be provided.

In the meantime, library officials Sandra McKay and Diane Marlbrough provided Family Roots with some of the facts about the workhouse.

Diane told us: “The workhouse was a place that people wanted to avoid. It was deliberately made to be as unpleasant as possible so that people didn’t think it was an easy option.

“Families who went there were separated so that each member of the family was in a different part of the workhouse. They would be given menial pieces of work to do and it was a very strict regime.

“There were no benefits in those days. If you could not support yourself, you went to the workhouse and they made it as unpleasant as possible for you.”

Hartlepool had a workhouse on the Headland in the early 1800s. It later became the site for St Hilda’s Hospital, and later still became a park.

Later in the 1800s, a body called the Hartlepool Union was formed, representing more than 16,000 people.

By the 1860s, Hartlepool had a new workhouse built in Holdforth Road, on the site where the University Hospital of Hartlepool now stands.

Jim’s talk, said Diane, would concentrate on the fate of children who lived and worked in the workhouse, looking at the institutions in both Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.

And Diane and the Reference Library staff are hoping that this event will become the first in a series of talks on local history.

She added: “We hope to run a series of local history lectures. We are trying this with the Family History Society to have a regular night.

“It is open to their members and to anyone else who wants to come along.”

For more details on the library talk, call (01429) 272905.

● Are you an avid genealogist? Would you like to share your fascinating findings with the Hartlepool Mail?

Give us a call and tell us more about your own personal look into history.

Contact Chris Cordner by writing to him at the Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX, via email to or by calling (01429) 239377.