The Hundred Parishes – Sept Update

Shalford is a member of The Hundred Parishes 

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In these strange times we have seen people unable to attend their place of work. Many have been supported by a furlough scheme. Over the years, governments have taken various steps to care for the poor and those unable to work.

The Act for the Relief of the Poor of 1601 made parishes legally responsible for parishioners who could not work. Most assistance was given as “outdoor relief”, meaning financial help but with people able to remain in their own homes.

The Workhouse Test Act of 1723 obliged anyone seeking relief to enter a workhouse operated by the parish. Sometimes the parish used an existing building, whilst others were constructed especially. Several of these buildings have survived, generally as private houses, including those at Ashdon, Clavering, Finchingfield, Newport, Sawbridgeworth, Stanstead Abbotts and Stansted Mountfitchet. We would be interested to learn of others.

Under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 individual parishes were grouped together in a Poor Law Union which was responsible for constructing and operating a central “Union” workhouse for the larger area. Many of these much larger buildings survive and have been re-purposed.

Great Dunmow‘s Union workhouse has changed very little in external appearance since it was built in 1838 at a cost of £8,000 to house 350 inmates. One of the architects, George Gilbert Scott, was a prolific workhouse designer who later designed the Albert Memorial and St Pancras Station.

The Union workhouse at Buntingford was built in 1836 to house 160 people from 16 surrounding parishes. It closed in 1933 and has since been converted into private houses and apartments.
Linton built its workhouse in 1837 in Symonds Lane to accommodate 230 inmates. Today it is a retirement home.

Saffron Walden’s workhouse, built in 1836 for 340 inmates, became a hospital and is now apartments.

Life in the workhouse was hard; families were split, husbands separated from wives and parents from their children – a stark contrast to today’s benefits systems.

What you have been reading so far is a slightly extended version of the article which has been submitted to parish magazines for their October editions. The article was written by my wife, Janice – although it went out under my name as a ‘responsible’ trustee. I’m forever grateful for Janice’s unsung support in so many aspects of this engrossing ‘project’ to broaden knowledge of this fascinating area. If any other member would like to put together a 300-word article about some aspect of the Hundred Parishes I would love to hear from you.

I hope you have been able to try out one or more of the new walk routes that we have been adding to the Society’s website, There are now 30 routes under the “Other Walks” section and the list continues to expand.

The walks are really quite varied: a reminder of the wealth of heritage, attractive countryside and quality footpath network to be discovered and re-discovered across the Hundred Parishes. Several routes pass former workhouses and remind us that life has not always been as it is today.

At this time of year, the hedgerows are full of fruit, including blackberries, sloes, plums and gages, so do take a bag or container – but watch out for wasps who also like ripe fruit !

Ken McDonald, Secretary.

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