Llanfyllin workhouse

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Unusually, this former workhouse is open to visitors. It’s maintained by volunteers from a local trust.

It was built in the late 1830s to house the paupers of over 20 parishes. They worked for their upkeep. The master and matron, usually a married couple, lived in the octagonal central section, where they could observe the four courtyards (for men, women, boys and girls) and directly enter each accommodation wing.

Photo of Llanfyllin workhouse when derelictA board of guardians oversaw the workhouse’s operation. The first chairman was Jamaica-born Martin Williams, who had bought an estate near Llanfyllin and was said to be kind to the paupers always. His family had owned slaves and sugar plantations. After Britain abolished slavery in 1833, members of the family were awardees in compensation claims for the release of 320 slaves. The slaves received no compensation.

In 1841 65% of the 133 inmates here were children. In 1846 the workhouse’s school was found to outperform other local schools.

Many children were born here, often to unmarried mothers. In 1896 Charlotte Jones, aged 13 months, died in the workhouse while her parents awaited trial for neglecting their four children. Charlotte was naked and severely malnourished when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children inspected the family’s filthy and smelly cottage.

Photo of David Davies, the Dartmoor ShepherdIn 1840 the inmates’ diet was porridge or gruel, bread, soup and rice pudding, with meat twice a week and salt herring once a week. The meat was cut to once a week in 1843 by order of the guardians, eager to reduce the tax burden the workhouse placed on local ratepayers. The food improved in later decades. In 1909 Lord Powis sent the inmates some of the pheasants from his game shoot, where the guests had included the Prince of Wales.

One inmate in the 1920s was David Davies, the “Dartmoor Shepherd” (pictured). He spent more than 50 years in prison for thefts, often from churches. Home Secretary Winston Churchill arranged his release from Dartmoor prison in 1910, but he soon returned to thieving.

Actor Ryan Davies moved here in the 1930s aged 10, when his father became the master. He’s best known as half of the Welsh-language comedy duo ‘Ryan a Ronnie’ and for his role in the 1972 Under Milk Wood film.

The workhouse was modernised by Powys council in the 1960s, when it was mainly a home for elderly people. It closed in 1982 and had become derelict before the trust bought it in 2004. The pre-restoration photo shows the boys’ yard and broken windows.

Postcode: SY22 5LD    View Location Map

Llanfyllin Workhouse website – visitor information and more history