Langford History Soc Crest
Langford History Society

The Langford Poorhouse or workhouse
In England and Wales, a poorhouse or workhouse, was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment. The origins of the poorhouse can be traced to the Poor Law Act of 1388, which attempted to address the labour shortages following the Black Death in England by restricting the movement of labourers, and ultimately led to the state becoming responsible for the support of the poor. But mass unemployment following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the introduction of new technology to replace agricultural workers in particular, and a series of bad harvests, meant that by the early 1830s the established system of poor relief was proving to be unsustainable.

The poorhouse in Langford still remains at the corner of Mill Lane and Church Street. Today it is two houses.

Under an Act of 1785 each parish, including Langford, had to provide a poorhouse to give shelter to the poor and if possible give them some basic employment. Life in a poorhouse was intended to be harsh, to deter the able-bodied poor and to ensure that only the truly destitute would apply.

In 1799 the Langford Overseer successfully arranged for Jane Stocks to be moved to the Royal Bethlehem Hospital in London, otherwise known as Bedlam. She was declared mad. Three years later her son was also moved to join her at a cost of five shillings for the journey by carrier.

Running the poorhouse in Langford must have been difficult or there was significant neglect and indifference. When John Ell was in charge as the Overseer in 1800 the workhouse was in a terrible condition and John had to appear in front of the Justices at Bedford to explain why. It was alleged that ‘the house was filthy, damp and crawling with bugs’. He was told to fit new windows and have the drains and water supply attended to. There were some improvements in the next 12 months but these conditions still did not reach the required standard.

John Ell as Overseer, was able to administer relief to the poor of Langford, and the records show some typical payments:
1802:    Ointment for Kilbies child’s eye  1/9d
Pair of shoes for John Potton    2/6d
2lbs of mutton for Barton          1/6d
1803:    Straw for widow Beaumont        6d
Land tax for the workhouse        2/6d
Paid three travellers                   2/0d
1804:    Paid for a piece of bed board    0/6d
Childs bed linen                                    10/0d
Sarah Breed to the infirmary       £1/1/0d
1805:    Paid John Rutt – 3 days work    4/6d
Paid Larman for coals               1d
Britches for widow Harris’s boy 7/6d

In 1806 Dr Yates, the medical officer for several local workhouses, agreed to provide medical attention to the paupers in Langford for the sum of £10 per year. This excluded midwifery and inoculations.

The Rev Montague Earle Welby of Long Bennington, Lincs, a significant landowner, improved the Langford poorhouse in 1817. On 13 November 1840, Welby appointed Richard Sabey, Samuel Norman, William Norman and Edward Horley as tenants.
Some poor folk from villages, including Langford, were accommodated in the Biggleswade Poor Law Union building when it was formed in April 1835 and as a consequence the Langford poorhouse activities ceased. There were up to 300 folk who were receiving assistance in Biggleswade. In 1881 there were four Langford parishioners who resided at the Biggleswade poorhouse: Emmanuel Kilby age 72; John Ruth age 40; John Simms age 72 and George Street age 70.

As the 19th century wore on, poor and workhouses increasingly became refuges for the elderly, infirm and sick rather than the able-bodied poor, and in 1929 legislation was passed to allow local authorities to take over workhouse infirmaries as municipal hospitals.


Langford Workhouse today
Information from The People at the Long Ford by Michael Rutt, Bedfordshire County Library, 1976; 1881 census; Bedfordshire Archives.  

                                            Contributed by John Shipman