Berkhamsted Union Workhouse

“Ragged Row”, on the corner of Kitsbury Road and the High Street, comprised of several tenements for the poor built by a charity given by Prince Charles, later Charles I. Reverend Nugent, vicar of Bygrave and resident in Red House Berkhamsted contributed towards a new building in 1831, which became known as Nugent House.

As a result of the New Poor Law of 1834, Berkhamsted was made the administrative centre of a Union comprising the parishes of Aldbury, Berkhamsted St. Peter, Northchurch, Little Gaddesden, Puttenham, Tring, Wigginton, Marsworth, Nettleden and Pitstone. The Union Guardians bought Nugent House from Berkhamsted, enlarging it in 1845, with further improvements and expansion in subsequent years.

The Union Workhouse

Berkhamsted Union Workhouse

Following a comprehensive study of the records, Rita concluded: “it is possible to get a great deal of information about the population of the Berkhamsted Union workhouse from the census. The inmates were predominately male, single or widowed and elderly, or children. Most men were labourers, reflecting the agricultural nature of the area with a scattering of a wide variety of other types of work. Straw plaiting may have kept the female population out of the workhouse.”

Rita’s article sheds light on local people who had to resort to the workhouse in Berkhamsted.  How were they treated when they got there? Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist depicts self-satisfied governors enjoying sumptuous meals while the inmates survived on meagre portions of gruel. In contrast, “Tramps’ Paradise” was the name given to the Berkhamsted Workhouse “on account of the easy duties imposed, and detention for one night only.”

Rita Jones, Chronicle, v.XII, pp.34-39