Former Abergavenny workhouse, Hatherleigh Place, Abergavenny


Former Abergavenny workhouse, Hatherleigh Place, Abergavenny

These buildings are the surviving parts of the Abergavenny Union Workhouse, built in 1837-38. Poor people lived here but had to work for their upkeep.

Abergavenny Electrics and other businesses occupy ancillary workhouse buildings. The taller building behind was the entrance block. Behind that were dormitories for men and women, and workplaces arranged around open exercise squares. The workhouse closed after the Second World War.

Local parishes helped their paupers until the law changed in 1834 and parishes grouped together in “Unions”. Abergavenny workhouse was designed for 150 to189 inmates but it often held more. In 1849 the western parishes established their own workhouse, relieving the numbers a little. Children living here attended local schools. See the footnotes for some of the inmates’ stories.

An inspection criticised the workhouse in 1866 for not separating off longer-term inmates from new entrants, who often arrived with infectious diseases or lice. Extra buildings were provided for “casuals” (tramps) and the sick.

A 1910 report said the workhouse accommodation was “totally inadequate”, sanitation was poor and the buildings were damaged by decades of vibrations from trains shunting in the railway yard to the east.

Breaking rocks was a common task for inmates, but not all of their work was on site. In 1848 some were sent to sweep Abergavenny’s streets three times a week, in an attempt to rid the town of its reputation for being “one of the filthiest places in England”!

Each workhouse was overseen by a board of guardians. In 1878 Ellen Fielder (nee Callow) joined Abergavenny’s board – the first “lady guardian” elected in Wales. Born in County Cork, Ireland, she lived with her husband and family at Triley Court, Llantilio Pertholey, and later as a widow at The Priory in Abergavenny.

Soon after being elected, Ellen raised formal complaints about sick inmates’ treatment. She improved standards of care and enabled “lady visitors” to inspect the facilities, although the workhouse master disapproved. Controversially, she arranged for inmates to receive snuff and tobacco.

Inmates sometimes had outings to Abergavenny Castle for a meal, paid for by hostelries like the Angel Hotel or the Greyhound Inn or by Mrs Crawshay Bailey, wife of a wealthy industrialist. The inmates also danced in their clogs and played music.

With thanks to Gill Wakley, of Abergavenny Local History Society, and to Women’s Archive Wales

Postcode: NP7 7RL    View Location Map

Website of Abergavenny Electrics – domestic and commercial electricians

Footnotes: Some workhouse inmates

Many destitute mothers came here with their children after being deserted by their husbands. For example, in 1905 gardener William Morgan was jailed for desertion and cruelty, two years after leaving his wife Mary and their five children. The NSPCC praised Mary’s resilience and said the children had “greatly improved” since their father’s departure.

In 1900 labourer Samuel Morgan, 59, moved to the workhouse after being injured by a horse named Bumper at his workplace, the Blaenavon Coal Company’s colliery. He died here of paralysis three weeks later.

In 1919 an MP said in the House of Commons that soldiers who had served in the army in the First World War were living in Abergavenny workhouse. He said it was shameful that they were having to tramp around the country looking for work.