Former Caernarfon workhouse


Ysbyty Eryri occupies the former workhouse, where poor people lived but had to work for their upkeep.

Individual parishes helped their paupers until the law changed in 1834 and parishes grouped together in “Unions”. The Caernarfon Union included parishes both sides of the Menai Strait, where ferries plied between Anglesey and Caernarfon. A site well outside the town was chosen for the Union’s workhouse, which opened in 1846 and became known as Bodfan.

Admission was often denied to people suffering cholera, diphtheria or typhoid, which were rife in the town. “Ladies of the night” were admitted but had to wash with cold water and soap first. Some tenant farmers sought admission after being bankrupted by tithes, the Church of England tax which was increasingly resented by chapel-goers.

Some of the workhouse’s food was produced by inmates. Vegetables, apples, rhubarb and currants were grown on a strip of land below Bodfan, which had its own pigsty. Inmates caught sewin and trout in the Seiont. Any surplus produce was sold in the market.

In 1892 the guardians of the Caernarfon Union opposed the appointment of a Poor Law inspector for North Wales who couldn’t speak or understand Welsh. The appointment went ahead and the guardians felt snubbed. They urged MPs to raise the issue in Parliament.

Relations between staff and the workhouse’s master and matron were so bad in 1907 that the Local Government Board investigated. It found that a nurse in Bodfan’s infirmary showed lack of respect for the matron, and that the matron’s management was poor.

A new hospital, the Eryri Infirmary, was opened here in 1914 for inmates and for any local residents who couldn’t afford medical fees. It was taken over by the military authorities in 1916. Before the first wounded soldiers arrived, 31 paupers were moved from it to the site’s “Old Infirmary” and main workhouse building. The local community decorated the Eryri Infirmary in December 1916 and sent Christmas presents for the injured soldiers, including turkeys, geese, cigarettes, games, cheques and handkerchiefs.

With thanks to Emrys Llewelyn

Postcode: LL55 2YE    View Location Map