The Poor House

The Original Poor House

For some in Bitton Parish – the elderly, chronically sick, abandoned wives, unmarried mothers-to-be or orphaned children – there was no alternative but to enter the poorhouse. The conditions there were intended to act as a deterrent, with relief provided to those who were desperate enough to accept the regime. It still exists today as a private house on the High Street, adjacent to what were a pin factory and the Constable’s House with ‘Lock-Up’. Prior to 1834, under the Old Poor Law, the primary responsibility for poor relief was placed with the parish, but the running of the workhouse was put out to a contractor who would feed and house the poor. In exchange he would benefit from the income of the inmates’ work, a system known as ‘farming’ the poor.

The Union Workhouse

After 1837, the workhouse of Bitton was combined with nineteen other local parishes into the Keynsham Union Workhouse. There were 183 inmates in September of 1841 and many others who called at the door for assistance. The austere building had eight foot high stone walls and stone flagged floors without covering, all designed to deter people from wanting to enter the workhouse. Corduroy trousers and boots were provided for the men and long skirts and striped aprons for the women. On arrival new inmates were cleaned up, especially those suffering from ‘the itch’. Women were separated from the men even if they were married couples. Louisa Clark and her husband Edwin, a carpenter from Corston had five of their children in the workhouse and some women had many illegitimate children there. The workhouse was renamed ‘Clements House’ in 1930 until it became Keynsham Hospital in 1948 as part of the newly founded National Health Service, and since demolished in 2007.

The Lock-Up door today; Photo courtesy Marleen Gallop
The Lock-Up door today; Photo courtesy Marleen Gallop
The Poorhouse as it appears now in the High Street Bitton
The Poorhouse as it appears now in the High Street Bitton

The Lock Up

The Kingswood Heritage Trail records 154-162 High Street as a 2 storey terrace built by 1767. Nos.160 & 162 being identified as the Constables House & Lock Up. Arched doorways are still evident in some cottages which linked to the Poor House/Pin Factory.

Between 1597 and 1835 public responsibility for looking after the poor rested with each individual parish, whilst the constable was responsible for all those “passing through” with a pass or letter of request. These were issued by a JP stating why they needed to travel/why destitute or needing help. Constables were asked to “help with lodging in convenient time” and then to see them on their way to their home Parish. Bastardy was another issue, and unmarried mothers were apprehended and held until the father was found and they were married. Putative fathers were not always successfully arrested.

Moses Batt and William Long were Constables in 1815. Two constables truncheons are known to have existed: one inscribed GR111 1817 was housed in Gloucester Museum and a further in private ownership inscribed GR1V Hamlet of Bitton (1820-30)

The principle use of Lock Ups was 1790 -1810 and survived until 1840. The 1843 Tythe map shows that the Bitton Lock Up was unoccupied. (the County Police Force Act came into being in 1839). Reportedly only 500 remain in the country.