Workhouse infirmaries

Photo:Hackney Workhouse Infirmary, 1993.

Hackney Workhouse Infirmary, 1993.

© National Monuments Record

Photo:Casual ward at the St Leonard's Workhouse, 1992.

Casual ward at the St Leonard's Workhouse, 1992.

© National Monuments Record

Gateways to death

In the mid- to late-1700s both the parish of Shoreditch and Hackney opened workhouses providing shelter for the poor. Workhouses were not prisons – the inmates were allowed to come and go – but they were terrible places with many inmates sick or infirm. By the mid-19th century both the Hackney Union Workhouse and Shoreditch Workhouse had built separate infirmaries to try and isolate sick inmates and prevent the spread of infectious disease – cholera, smallpox and fever were very common diseases. During the Victorian period there was little in the way of effective treatment or cure with many inmates dying. Infirmary staff were not trained as nurses but perhaps the availability of water, food and a bed marginally improved your chance of a full recovery. In the 20th century both of these workhouse infirmaries developed into Hackney Hospital and St Leonard’s Hospital.

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This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 27/03/2010.

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