History of the Union Workhouse

In 1776 the combined parishes of Mitford and Launditch bought Chapel Farm at Gressenhall to build a ‘house of industry’ for the poor.

In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act led to the transformation of the house of industry into a workhouse. The aim was to keep costs low by making life for the paupers so unpleasant that people would do everything they could to avoid having to live there. 
 
A new system of classification separated men, women and children. Work included breaking stones, pumping water, carting gravel and oakum picking for men and domestic chores in the kitchens, laundry and female wards for women. The only benefits were the health care and education.

Cherry Tree Cottage & Village Row

The strict separation of families lasted less than twenty years.  In 1853 the elderly married 
couples’ ward was built. Well-behaved elderly couples were allowed to live together in one of six small rooms.  
 
One remains as Cherry Tree cottage and today is displayed as a 1930s cottage with a cottage garden of carefully tended vegetable plots, herb bed and lavender walkway. 
 
In 1835 to 1836, three cottages that housed pauper families, adjacent to Cherry Tree were demolished to make way a nursery, a ward for unmarried mothers and schoolroom. 
 
Today these buildings house Village Row which shows how the blacksmith, seedsman, grocer and postmaster served a rural community around 70 years ago.

Voices from the Workhouse 

The history of the building is explored in our new galleries. “Voices from the Workhouse” is a three-year Heritage Lottery Fund project which is transforming the museum displays, to tell the stories of the actual people who lived and worked in the workhouse. 
 
The workhouse closed in 1948. After a short period of time as a home for the elderly, Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse opened as a museum in 1976. 

Timeline detailing the history of the workhouse.