All our yesterdays - Past times from the Oldham Workhouse

Oldham workhouse
All our yesterdays - Past times from the Oldham Workhouse
27 March 2015

The Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, is holding a special heritage event on Saturday 18th April 2015, 1.00 pm in the Education Centre, The Royal Oldham Hospital.

The event is a rare opportunity to hear from local workhouse expert, Peter Higginbotham, who will explain the complicated and emotive history of workhouses and what life was really like in the Oldham workhouse. 

The talk will tell the story of the workhouses in and around Oldham, including the early parish and township establishments as well as the large Rochdale Road site which eventually evolved into The Royal Oldham Hospital. Find out what life was like for the inmates and whether they really did just live on gruel and hear about the workhouse nurse who was hanged for murdering her mother and daughter! Other topics covered will include: the workhouse buildings, admission and discharge procedures, workhouse life, labour, food, and the development of medical facilities.

A brief history

The first Oldham Workhouse was built in the early 18th century at Greenacres in Oldham and the last one which was also known as Westwood Park Institute was built on the present site of The Royal Oldham Hospital in 1851, at a cost of £13,305 2 shillings and 2 pence and a farthing!

The Oldham Royal Infirmary was opened in 1872 and provided healthcare for the people of Oldham until its closure in 1989, when it made way for the Oldham Sixth Form College.

Following the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, the former workhouse infirmary at the north of the site became Boundary Park General Hospital.  The rest of the buildings were renamed Boundary Park General Hospital Annexe, specialised in providing geriatric and psychiatric care.  

An Oldham County Borough Directory of 1956 lists Boundary park Hospital as having 390 beds and the Annexe 600.  However, the establishment of the modern Welfare State meant that there was a greater need for hospital beds. When the last forty old men and women left the Annexe in 1957 for residential care, they were seen as the last ‘inmates’ of the old workhouse.

The workhouse was known for its notorious ‘dreaded archway’ which inmates had to pass through from Rochdale Road to enter the premises.

Peter Higginbotham is a leading authority on the workhouse, probably best known for his website www.workhouses.org.uk. He is the author of a number of books on the subject including The Workhouse Encyclopedia, Workhouses of the North, The Workhouse Cookbook and A Grim Almanac of the Workhouse. He has also contributed to many radio and TV programmes such as Making History, Heir Hunters and Who Do You Think You Are?"

The Trust’s event will be held on Saturday 18th April, 1 pm at the Education Centre at the Royal Oldham Hospital.

The event is free and open to the public, staff and The Pennine Acute Trust’s Foundation Trust members. Light refreshments will be provided. Spaces are limited. To book your place contact Angela Greenwood on 01706 517302 or email ft.membership@pat.nhs.uk

Pictured: Postcard of Oldham Workhouse, Courtesy of Oldham Local Studies and Archives.