Saffron Walden Poor Law Union, Essex Genealogy

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Saffron Walden, Essex had a parish workhouse in the High Street and a further adjacent cottage was purchased in 1798 to form a bridewell or gaol. The building was damaged by fire in 1835.

Ashdon, Essex former guildhall became a parish workhouse in 1775. A Parliamentary report of 1777 recorded that the Ashdon workhouse could accommodate up to 30 and that inmates were employed in spinning yarn.
Clavering, Essex also converted it’s old guildhall into a parish workhouse in 1760 In 1782 records indicate that Clavering was paying for Thaxted to house paupers.
Newport, Essex had an early workhouse in 1709, possibly at the south side of the junction of the High Street and Wicken Road. The inmates were employed in spinning, with any income generated going towards the inmates' maintenance. A new workhouse was erected in 1799 at Bury Water Green (now 1-2 Bury Water Lane). The building, was financed by local Lord of the Manor, the Honourable Percy Charles Wyndham to provide a "common working room for the poor of Newport".
Debden, Essex had a parish workhouse on the east side of Thaxted Road.
Saffron Walden Poor Law Union was formed on 6th April 1835.
The Saffron Walden Board of Guardians met for the first time on the 13th April, 1835, at the Rose and Crown public house. They resolved that a new workhouse building was needed and set about finding a suitable location. They originally planned to buy a three-acre site in White Street Field. However, this proved to be unsuitable for the workhouse, and the Guardians' Chairman Lord Braybrooke purchased some land on the north side of Seward's End Road (later Radwinter Road) which he then leased to the Union.
The new workhouse, to accommodate 340 inmates, was built in 1835-6 to a design by James Clephan of Silso who was also the architect of the workhouses at Ampthill and Wellingborough. The construction was carried out by Messrs Bennett and Barber of Cambridge. total cost of the land and building works was £7,333. A further £1200 was required in 1841-2 for additional expenses incurred in completing the building.
In 1846, the Guardians decided to build an infirmary, washhouse and laundry in the north-east yard. Four fever wards were erected in October 1848. By this time the workhouse could accommodate a total of 400.
The workhouse later became St James' Hospital, and later Saffron Walden Community Hospital. A new hospital has now been built on an adjacent site and the workhouse converted to private housing.

Constituent Parishes

Arkesden, Essex
Ashdon, Essex
Chrishall, Essex
Clavering, Essex
Debden, Essex
Elmdon, Essex
Great Chesterford, Essex
Great Sampford, Essex
Hempstead, Essex
Langley, Essex
Little Chesterford, Essex
Little Sampford, Essex
Littlebury, Essex
Newport, Essex
Quendon, Essex
Radwinter, Essex
Rickling, Essex
Saffron Walden, Essex
Strethall, Essex
Wendens Ambo, Essex
Wendon Lofts, Essex
Wicken Bonhunt, Essex
Widdington, Essex
Wimbish, Essex


Essex Record Office, Wharf Road Chelmsford CM2 6YT. Holdings include: Guardians' minutes (1835-1930); Admissions and discharges (1916-32); Births (1836-1913); Deaths (1866-1914); Creed registers (1891-1938) Essex Record Office reference G/Sw
Title [Saffron Walden Union]
Scope and Content The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 removed responsibility for the poor from parishes (see D/P.../11-180 and transferred administration to Boards of Guardinas of the Poor. The Guardians administered groups of parishes or Poor Law UNIONs. Each UNION had its own workhouse. In 1872 the Public Health Act created urban and rural sanitary authorities, with the Guardians constituted as the rural sanitary authority for thosepars of each UNION not in an urban sanitary authority. These records are catalogued here as G/...S. The Local Government Act of 1894 replaced rural sanitary authorities with rural district councils (see D/R). The Local Government Act of 1929 abolished the Boards of Guardians and transferred their powers to the Public Assistance Committees of County Councils (for minutes of Essex County Council Public Assistance Committee 1929-1948 see C/MPa 1-22).
Many of the workhouse infirmaries continued as hospitals after 1930, continuing after the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948.
For other records illustrating the work of the Guardians see D/P.../19.
For orders, directions and declarations of Poor Law Commissioners responsible for grouping parishes into UNIONs, 1835-1837, see Q/RSw 2-5.
For catalogue of correspondence between Poor Law UNIONs and Poor Law Commission (later Poor Law Board and Local Government Board) 1834-1900 see List and Index Society vol. 56.
G. Cuttle The Legacy of the Rural Guardians (Heffer, 1934 E.R.O. Library 362.50942) provides a good account of the work of the Guardians in six mid-Essex UNIONs, together with the newscuttings he collected and used in writing the book (T/P 181).
For analysis of ledgers see Journal of the Society of Archivists II, pp. 367-369.
SAFFRON WALDEN UNION consisted of the parishes of Arkesden, Ashdon, Great Chesterford, Little Chesterford, Chrishall, Clavering, Debden, Elmdon, Hempstead, Langley, Littlebury, Newport, Quendon, Radwinter, Rickling, Great Sampford, Little Sampford, Strethall, Wendens Ambo, Wendon Lofts, Wicken Bonhunt, Widdington, Wimbish.


• Cooper, Jacqueline (2000) The Well-ordered Town: a story of Saffron Walden 1792-1862.
• Drury, John (2006) The Workhouses of Essex (Farthings Publications, Felsted)


For more information on the history of the workhouse, see Peter Higginbotham's web site:  and