Site of Holyhead workhouse, Valley
The Garth y Felin houses stand on the site of a workhouse, where poor people lived but had to work for their upkeep. The workhouse was a cottage hospital from the 1940s to 1990s. The aerial photo, courtesy of the Welsh Government, shows the former workhouse in 1957.
Each parish supported its own paupers until the law changed in 1834 and parishes grouped together in “Unions”. For decades, the Holyhead area had no workhouse of its own. In 1853 Holyhead Union’s guardians of the poor voted narrowly to erect a workhouse, but there were cost concerns. In 1866 a local newspaper said most of the guardians “persistently and stupidly refuse to sanction” a workhouse for an area with an unusual number of paupers and “imported casuals”. (Many homeless Irish people travelled through the port.)
Tenders for building the workhouse were invited in 1868. In 1869 local couple Edwin and Hannah Foulkes were appointed the first master and matron. They lived in the caretakers’ quarters with their baby son.
The workhouse had its own school and teacher. In 1879 there were 32 child inmates. Many children came to the workhouse to escape extreme poverty or neglect. In 1899, for example, John and Jane Jones of Llanfachraeth were charged with cruelty to their children, found in “filthy condition”. John was jailed for a month and the children were sent to the workhouse.
One woman left the workhouse to marry Aberffraw’s parish clerk in 1900. A month earlier, with the guardians’ consent, he had inspected the female inmates to choose a wife!
Thomas Powell Roberts, who spent his childhood in the workhouse, published a short autobiography in 1992. He was born in Llanddeusant in 1915 and admitted to the workhouse as a newborn. Once he was old enough, he scrubbed floors, emptied toilets and collected stones from the school yard. A nit nurse regularly visited the school.
Thomas went to hospital in Gwalchmai after contracting diphtheria aged 11. He returned in a Red Cross ambluance that had belonged to the army. He was a good singer and represented the workhouse when the National Eisteddfod was held in Holyhead in 1927. Aged 14, he was sent to a Liverpool mental institution, which felt like a jail to him. After five years there, he wrote to the Valley workhouse matron and was moved to Ruthin workhouse in 1933.
Postcode: LL65 3FA View Location Map