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The parish of Holy Trinity, Clapham, opened a workhouse in around 1732.

St John's Hill workhouse from the south-west, c.1913.

© Peter Higginbotham In 1841, a visitor described his experience of the workhouse: One day, while in London, I took the opportunity of driving a few miles west from Vauxhall, on the Wandsworth road, to visit the large workhouse of the Battersea district, lately erected, and in full operation under the new system.

From a bakehouse, adjoining the kitchen, there issued great baskets of wheaten loaves, steaming from the oven; and passing onwards to the cellar, I was introduced to the presence of a dozen barrels of ale and porter — Barclay and Perkins', if recollect rightly — and the contents of which seemed as excellent as any liquors of the kind I had ever tasted.

Ale and porter in a workhouse was a new feature, for which I had not been prepared, seeing that the inmates of our Scotch pauper asylums are judiciously restrained from indulging in any thing stronger than buttermilk or small beer, and that only as a liquefaction to their poor morning and evening meal.

Substantial changes and additions were made to the buildings, including a nurses' home in 1898 at the north-east corner of the site. © Peter Higginbotham St John's Hill children's ward, 1896.

The later layout of the site is shown on the 1916 map below. © Peter Higginbotham After its enlargement, the St John's site provided 32 general wards of various sizes, and 10 special rooms or wards for isolation cases.Each class of inmates — men, women, boys,and girls — occupied its respective division of the house, with an appropriate airing-ground behind.In one apartment, I found about thirty elderly men picking oakum, a very light employment; and is another place there were some men, of greater strength, working a pump which propelled water to a cistern, at the summit of the building.The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 33,090.The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-35 had been £16,519 or 10s.0d. By the end of the ninenteenth century, Wandsworth and Clapham was London's largest union, with a population of more than 350,000 — a twelfth of the capital's total.It broadly folowed the popular cruciform layout with an entrance block at the front, behind which lay the inmates' accommodation wings radiating from a central hub, with four yards for the different classes of pauper (male/female, old/young).

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