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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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Kingsbridge Union  Workhouse in the 19th Century
Kingsbridge Union Workhouse in the late 19th century


In the 17th and 18th centuries, each parish was left to provide for the needs of its poor people out of its own resources. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act created a system of Poor Law Unions across the whole of England and Wales and for the purposes of more effective administration, groups of parishes were created around a central point. To civil servants and local politicians, this may have have made good sense but to many poor or old or handicapped people, this presented the additional hardship of permanent removal to a place many miles from their birthplaces, relatives or friends.

The prevailing attitude of the times was that if you needed to turn to a Workhouse for support, then you must have brought it upon yourself through irresponsible or sinful behaviour - an idea which prevailed well into the 20th century. There are many people still alive who were brought up to view having to turn to the Workhouse as a terrible social stigma; the reason you can still find echoes of these old attitudes is that the Poor Law Unions survived intact until 1930 when the system was brought under the control of local councils. A world war put a stop to any further talk of change and even in 1948, when control passed  to the government through nationalisation and a separate benefits system was set up, the ancient buildings, with all their connotations, were kept in use by most of the new local health services. Some are still in use today.



The Kingsbridge Union comprised 26 parishes - some, like Buckland Tout Saints, were very small - others, like Kingsbridge had comparatively large populations. The Kingsbridge Workhouse complex stood on the north side of the town in the parish of Churchstow. It was built in 1837 to accommodate 350 paupers which included those with mental illnesses and people with disabilities which prevented them from supporting themselves. A Master and a Mistress were responsible to an elected Board of Guardians for the day to day running of the establishment.

Aveton Gifford Malborough
Bigbury Modbury
Blackawton Ringmore
Buckland Tout Saints Sherford
Charleton Slapton
Chivelstone South Huish
Churchstow South Milton
Dodbrooke South Pool
East Allington Stoke Fleming
East Portlemouth Stokenham
Kingsbridge Thurelstone
Kingston West Alvington
Loddiswell Woodleigh


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