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UK Hexham Union Workhouse and Hospital, Hexham - February 2017

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History

The first written record of a workhouse in Hexham, which was more of a prison by contemporaneous standards, dates back to 1777. It was a relatively large establishment for its time as it was capable of housing up to fifty-five inmates. In the report it is noted that the governess was named Mrs. Hutchinson, and that she supported every pauper at the weekly rate of two shillings and six pennies (approximately twelve and a half pence in today’s currency) per head. However, following the founding of the Hexham Poor Law Union in 1836, a new Hexham Union workhouse consisting of three parallel two-storey buildings was constructed in 1839, by J. H. Morton, on the south side of Dean Street. Like most other workhouses, the daily regime was brutal and the establishment was feared by those outside of its walls (this was to deter able-bodied people from applying). Everyone, regardless of age or sex, was required to work, doing jobs that would often lead to exhaustion and ill health. What is more, the food, uniform, medical care and education tended to be inadequate, and once incarcerated inside the workhouse families were often split up and punished if they attempted to communicate with one another. 

The Hexham Union workhouse underwent major alterations and refurbishment in 1863, when detached schools were built. Conditions for children gradually began to improve from this point on, with an 1866 report noting that ‘the boys dig and plant the garden; the girls sew and knit’. Further development between 1880 and 1883, at a cost of £8,000, saw the construction of an administration block, a Master’s house, a dining room (the room with the murals from 1885 which may be attributed to E. Swinburne) and sick wards on the eastern end of the site. Standards within the accommodation blocks were improved, although people were still separated and divided into various classes of ‘inmate’, and the capacity was increased to accommodate 300. The finely carved stonework of the Master’s house, which is positioned just above the entranceway, still exists today. 

After 1930, the workhouse became Hexham Public Assistance Institution, following the abolishment of the workhouse system. As with a large number of workhouses at the time, Hexham workhouse became more of a refuge for the elderly, sick and infirm, rather than the able-bodied poor. In other words, it became a kind of municipal hospital. Nevertheless, during the Second World War part of the site was appropriated for military administrative use. After the war, though, in 1948, the site became part of Hexham General Hospital, and was used as a hospital up until 2004, when new modernised buildings were opened nearby. The hospital continued to use part of the site to store equipment and paperwork, but the rest was sold to Helen McArdle Care Ltd. and later leased to The Therapy Centre in 2013. Today, however, all of the buildings across the site have been abandoned. Since they were rendered derelict at different stages, some parts of the site have deteriorated badly on account of vandals, metal thieves and water damage. 

As things stand, local residents have launched complaints surrounding the poor condition of the site. Some have called for the former workhouse to be demolished as it is said to pose a risk to the general public. So far two serious plans have been proposed: one by Lidl who are interested in demolishing the site to provide space for a large supermarket, and a second by a housing company that promises to build affordable homes and private residential units for elderly people. It is rumoured, however, that the council are open to further ideas, particularly ones that look to salvage some, if not all, of the former workhouse site. 

Our Version of Events

After hearing about a potential explore over in Hexham, we decided to go take a look. Assuming it was going to be an average sized site and that we’d be able to cover it in a few hours, we headed over late one evening after a bit of tea (not the drink). As it turned out, though, the explore was a former workhouse, so it was fucking huge. It was also a bit like a maze trying to work our way through the buildings because we had to content with locked doors, boarded windows and lots of discarded shit lying all over the place. This meant we didn’t have time to wander round the entire thing on our first visit, so we finished it off on a second trip a couple of days later. 

At first, despite being satisfied with the age of the building, the old workhouse proved to be a bit of a shit wander. The first few rooms we poked around in were beyond stripped. For example, even the floorboards in the corridors seemed to have been knicked! But, things started to improve once we stumbled into the middle section of the building which, as records suggest, was part of the new 1883 development. From here on in there was plenty of stuff to take photos of. We entered the dining room first and quickly discovered the old murals on the wall to our right. As for the rest of the room, it had been transformed into a medical records room, according to the sign on the door. 

From the dining room, we found we had to traverse across part of the roof, which was a bit of a sketchy experience as the whole thing was covered in ice. This was the only way to reach the third part of the site though. The other route was blocked by a room brimming with old zimmer-frames, mattresses, chairs and other bits of medical equipment. It’s no wonder the NHS have shortages – half of Britain’s medical apparatus is in that room. Anyway, back to the explore. We skated our way across the roof to reach a smashed opening on the other side. It led into a stairwell, and since we were quite high up from the steps we had to lower ourselves inside and drop in. 

The building we’d entered was noticeably different from the rest of the site, in the sense that it was fairly modern and had clearly been refurbished in recent years. But, before we could take in the surroundings any further, the pair of us heard something. It was the subtle sound of a ‘beep’. Then, two seconds later, it suddenly went ballistic, even though we’d not moved from where we were stood and couldn’t see any motion sensors. A little confused, we proceeded down the stairs to find out what the fuck was going on. As it turned out, the alarm must have been triggered by the last visitors – the fuckers who appeared to have walked around smashing the place to bits – and it seemed that no one had turned up to sort it out. The alarm continued to go off sporadically the entire time we were there anyway; it would randomly stop, then start again regardless of whether we walked past a sensor or not. What we did find amusing in all of this, though, was that the previous visitors to the site had tried to cover up some of the sensors with pieces of paper and leaflets, presumably to stop them from being detected… 

We spent less time in the alarmed section that we would have liked, but we did manage to get around the entire thing without anyone turning up. So we felt pretty successful in that respect. After that, however, we made a hasty exit, just to be on the safe side. We exited the same way we managed to get in, and to finish off decided to get a couple of external shots. And just in time too, or so we thought, since the police decided to rock up. Nevertheless, as it turned out they didn’t seem to be after us. Later, after having a chat with a local, we learnt that police presence has been increased in the area because of vandal and thieves and subsequent complaints from residents. So, rather than attending to the alarm, they were probably just doing the routine rounds to keep the local populace happy. 

Explored with Meek-Kune-Do. 
 

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Quite an interesting history this place & not somewhere I've seen before either. Some really nice parts of it & those corridors are very hospitaly. 

 

Nice work! 

 

:comp: 

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