Site of Conwy workhouse
Cwrt Llewelyn stands on the site of Conwy workhouse, opened in 1859. Poor people lived there and worked to help with their upkeep.
The first master and matron were William and Mary Thomas – see our page about their grave in Conwy churchyard for more. Their successors, Edward and Catherine Jones, sometimes fell out with the nurses. In 1897 nurse Mary Hannah Jones accused the matron of interfering in the management of the sick wards, to the patients’ detriment.
The land behind eventually became vegetable plots, tended by inmates and vagrants. The produce provided food and an income for the workhouse. In the 1920s market gardeners accused the workhouse of unfair competition.
In 1883 a visitor complained of poor supervision, after observing two men and two women “having a flirtation at the door of the infirmary”. A year later a man and woman who had met at the workhouse were both tried for bigamy at the same time! The trial revealed that Elizabeth Oldfield and her children had been abandoned by her first husband, forcing them to move to the workhouse. They left the institution when she wed Elias Williams, a married man. Elias was acquitted and Elizabeth received a token jail sentence – one day.
During an outbreak of scarlet fever in 1890, a large stone crashed through the roof of a children’s dormitory and landed, amid debris, by the dressing table. This was a result of blasting at the quarry on the far side of the railway.
In 1889 five vagrants travelling to Bangor workhouse stayed a night in the casual ward here. They were ordered to pick oakum (fibres mixed with tar for boatbuilding) the next morning but set fire to it because they were cold. They were sent to Caernarfon jail.
Vagrants received little sympathy. In 1927 a shower bath was proposed for the workhouse’s “tramp ward” because “tramps don’t like baths and they will keep away”!
The workhouse often served as a hospital for injured or sick non-inmates, and as a mortuary. Following the 1925 Dolgarrog dam disaster, bodies recovered near Conwy went to the workhouse as the town had no municipal mortuary.
In 1930 the workhouse became known as the St Mary’s and Dolwaen Public Assistance Institution. From 1948 to 2003 it was the Conwy hospital. The building was demolished in 2004. In 2001 a memorial was placed in St Agnes Cemetery to the Conwy workhouse paupers buried nearby in unmarked graves.
With thanks to Dr Hazel Pierce, of The History House. Sources include: ‘Paupers, Bastards and Lunatics: The Story of Conwy Workhouse’ by Christopher Draper, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2005
Postcode: LL32 8EF View Location Map
Footnotes: More Conwy workhouse people
Robert Jones moved to the workhouse from Britain’s Smallest House, where he was the last tenant. He was so tall he was known as the “Welsh giant”. In 1901 he was recorded as a 71-year-old seaman, single, living in the workhouse.
Suffragist Edith Champneys of Llandudno was elected to the workhouse’s Board of Guardians in 1903.
Children from the workhouse had lessons at the National School. In 1909 the workhouse guardians demanded an explanation after a workhouse girl who had a painful ear condition complained that a teacher had hit her on the ear.