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The Old Workhouse and Manager's House

The main part of the building, number 28-40, formed the old workhouse. This use dates from 1714, but the building construction implies that it was converted from a structure already on the site. It was one of the earliest small-town workhouses in England. A plaque on the front of the building has a date and initials of parish officers (probably Thomas Woodgate, Samual Newton, Francis Raven, William Skinner).

By 1770 only John Darby employed the surviving weavers from his substantial High Street house, but he went bankrupt in 1772 and turned to yarn making. He carried on employing the still numerous spinners of the area. It was he or his son who, as governor of the workhouse in 1802, organised the spinning, which was the inmates' chief occupation. This was still the workhouse occupation in 1818 and continued until 1863, thanks to a former maker of spinning equipment who combining yarn making with brush making building a substantial business. The yarn he sold to Norfolk worsted manufactures.

This old workhouse building retains on the second floor, under the roof, a long workroom that extends the whole length of the building.  It ceased to be used as a workhouse when the Board of Guardians of the Witham Union of Parishes, under the new Poor Laws, built the Union Workhouse in Hatfield Road in 1839 (later Bridge Hospital and now Homebridge Court residential accommodation). The Church Street building was then converted into seven cottages which are now administered by the trustees of Witham United Charities. Three one storey cottages were more recently added to the side and replaced a brick cart shed of the same dimensions at numbers 40A - C. Two original black and white door numbers (26 and 30) provided by the council in 1922 still exist. It is listed Grade II.

Numbers 24 - 26 were the workhouse manager's house, and forms part of a 15th century timber-framed and plastered building with a cross wing at the north end. It is also listed Grade II.

The old postcard view below shows the buildings around the turn of the twentieth century.

Sources: Janet Gyford; Heritage England; Tom Henderson; Mike Wadhams.

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