An Act of Parliament is passed in the reign of George III for the provision of a workhouse for the poor in the parish of St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. This Act authorised the parish vestry to levy a special poor rate in order to build a workhouse.


The workhouse is completed.


Part of the northern side of the site was laid out as a pauper burial ground which was consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1778.


By the early 1860s it was considered that the workhouse buildings were in a poor condition and overcrowded. By December 1861 a building committee was appointed to investigate the need for a new workhouse. It reported to the Trustees that, 'the fact of its having been declared unsafe by one of the most eminent surveyors of the day, renders immediate action imperative'. The Building Committee went on to recommend that the existing site would be the most suitable for a new workhouse with the additional acquisition of a piece of land between the back of the workhouse and the Unicorn Public House, on which were six cottages. It was considered impracticable to retain any of the existing workhouse buildings. Provision was to be made for an infirmary which was to be 'altogether detached from the main building' but have easy access from any part of the workhouse.


Plans and estimates for the scheme were submitted to the Poor Law Board in June 1862.


After settlement of a protracted and acrimonious dispute which arose when the charity commissioners laid claim to the site on which the existing workhouse buildings stood tenders were invited for the construction of a new workhouse. The contract was awarded to Messrs Perry and Co, of Stratford, London to the sum of £47,750.11. A discount to the Trustees of £3,000 was agreed by making an allowance for the contractor to re-use building materials from the old workhouse. This re-use of building materials and the fact that the Building Committee reported in 1861 that it was not considered possible to retain any of the existing buildings would suggest that none of the earlier workhouse was left standing above ground when the new workhouse was built. Work had commenced before May 1863. In that month the contractor temporarily stopped work because a number of inmates had not been moved out of the old building and because the Trustees had been unable to purchase the six cottages. The purchase of these cottages were to form the entrance to the workhouse. The Building Committee subsequently recommended the purchase of cottages in Reeves Place, involving only a minor alteration to the plans. The new plan, following this purchase, allowed for an additional entrance into the building from Nuttall Street. By the end of the year the early stages of the workhouse/infirmary had been completed. This included the Parish Relief Office, the Boardroom and some of the ‘imbecile’ and sick wards in a block fronting Hoxton Street to the west. The Parish Relief Office bears the date 1863.


The workhouse buildings comprising the main block on Kingsland Road and a centre and East block were completed in early 1866. The main block housed accommodation for women inmates, admin offices, dayrooms and a dining hall which also functioned as a Chapel.


Additional land was purchased at Reeves Place14 on which to build an Infirmary and Dispensary.15 The Board of Guardians in undertaking this were responding to the provisions of the Metropolitan Poor Law Act (1867) which established the Metropolitan Asylums Board. The Act laid a duty on Boards of Guardians to provide a dispensary for the pauper sick and to separate the infirmary from the workhouse to provide treatment and care for the sick.


Designed by William Lee, Gresham buildings, the work was begun in March 187116 and completed in October 1872. The design included raising the height by two storeys of adjoining buildings, which included the Parish Relief office fronting Hoxton Road and a building behind this which might be identified with an earlier Infirmary. The Builder (1871) in describing the new infirmary buildings noted: 'The Doctors rooms, also rooms for Matron and assistants, and convalescent rooms for men and women are provided on the upper floors by raising the existing adjoining buildings.' The contractor was Messrs Hill, Keddell & Waldram at a cost of £11,000.


An five-storey annex to the infirmary was built in the north-east corner of the site fronting Nuttall Street and immediately to the east of St Columba’s church.


The 1893 Ordnance Survey map shows further buildings erected on the site to the east of the infirmary annex. That on the southern side of Nuttall Street is identified on the 1929 LCC Plan as Nurses Home No 2. The description identifies it as of four-storeys, converted in 1921. The plan
states 'originally built as a Casual Ward 1889. Remodelled 1922'. In 1889 St Leonard’s Infirmary established a Nurses Training School and this block was possibly built in response to that. Its construction would have necessitated the purchase of land and demolition of houses on Nuttall Street. The key to the 1929 plans shows the building as part of the then Hospital (former Infirmary). A further building, of slightly smaller scale, is erected at this time to the immediate south of the Nurses Home. The 1929 Plan shows this as the Women's Receiving Block. A brief note identifies it as having two-storeys. It forms part of the Workhouse as does a smaller block built
during this period to the south of the Hospital annex. This is shown in 1929 as the Men's Receiving Block, of two-storeys and which formed part of the Workhouse. The erection of the Women's Receiving Block would have necessitated the purchase of land and removal of houses in Reeves Place along the northern boundary of the workhouse. The workhouse/infirmary boundary itself migrated north at this time and the remaining houses in Reeves Place were removed to accommodate this expansion of the site. The Men's Receiving block appears to be built wholly within the original workhouse curtilage. During this period a laundry building is built at the eastern end of the main workhouse building. This on the 1929 plan is shown as part of the hospital, but at that time serves both institutions. The plan notes that the laundry was re-modelled in 1919.


A nurses home of five-storeys is built to the west of the site bordering the south side of the main Infirmary entrance on Hoxton Street. It was built presumably partly in response to the establishment of the Nurses Training School in 1889.


The only significant addition at this time is the appearance on the 1916 Ordnance Survey map of a mortuary building fronting Reeves Place. The date of building is unknown but post-dates 1898 at which time it is not marked on the O/S map.


A German bomb destroyed three blocks of flats - Horner House - on the north side of Nuttall Street. The blast so badly damaged nurses home No 2 and 2 Block (formerly the annex) that they had to be demolished.


On the site of the demolished nurses home and annex, a nurses’ tennis court was built which was found to be 'an immense asset', adding a 'pleasant contrast to the extremely drab surroundings'. By this time the Women's Receiving Block had has been replaced with a building of considerably smaller scale.


An area abutting virtually the entire length of the site’s southern boundary, and including Lynedoch Street and Ely Place, was redeveloped. The redevelopment includes extensions to the northwest
part of the former East Block, and also its southern end and as an ‘infill’ between it and the main workhouse building. Two new buildings are built in the southeast corner of the site. To the north the site of the tennis court, and slightly later formal garden is replaced by a building and the Men's Receiving Block has been removed.


Part of the Hospital was demolished. A number of early buildings were pulled down. These included significantly the Centre block which formed part of the 1866 workhouse buildings, and William Lee’s 1872 Infirmary Building, with the remodelled Parish Relief office. The office retains its facade but the remainder of the site of the Infirmary is redeveloped.

From historic buildings research written by XXXXXX, Fielden and Mawson

This page was added by David Francis on 28/09/2009.

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