Image courtesy of Cambridgeshire Collection
The oldest surviving building on Mill Road
The Cambridge Union Workhouse, opened in 1838, is the oldest surviving building on Mill Road. It was built as a result of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the only state provision at that time for people in need. The workhouse became a place of shame, as the ‘pauper’ or ‘inmates’ were considered by society to be idle, work-shy, and morally weak.
A place of shame
You went to the workhouse if, for example, you were a widow with no means of supporting your children; a man who lost his job and was penniless; an unmarried woman about to give birth; an orphan. Once there, the regime was harsh and prison-like. On arrival, families were split up, men in one half, women in the other, adults separated from children, and no contact allowed.
The mens infirmary, with the matron, Mrs Hosegood. Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Collection, I.EA.J8 9597.
in 1879, new buildings were constructed along the Mill Road frontage for ‘tramps’, people of no fixed abode. Tramps queued on the pavement, were admitted around 6pm, given a piece of soap for washing, night clothes, a meal, and a bed for the night. after breakfast, they were required to do four hours’ work, usually breaking up stones, and sent away. These tramps were forbidden to return for several days, and so walked to the next workhouse.
Image courtesy of Ann Horn
Change and Development
All workhouses closed in 1930, and the building became the County Infirmary. In 1939 it was used as a wartime emergency hospital, receiving the first wounded soldiers from Dunkirk in June 1940, and also victims of the London Blitz. When the NHS was formed in 1948, it became the Cambridge Maternity Hospital, where many local people alive today were born. In 1983, when the new Rosie Hospital was built, it was redesigned as sheltered accommodation for the elderly, openings its doors in 1988 as Ditchburn Place.