The York Poor Law Union
The York Poor Law Union was formed in July 1837 and originally consisted of 80 parishes located in the City of York, as well as some parishes in the North Riding, the East Riding and The Ainsty (West Riding). By the later nineteenth-century the number of parishes in the Union had grown to 83, consisting of 40 parishes in York City, 23 parishes in the North Riding, 14 parishes in the East Riding, and 6 parishes in the West Riding. By the end of Union in 1929, the number of parishes had increased again to 87. The geographical area under the administration of the York Union was approximately 103 square miles and comprised the non-industrialised urban town of York and the surrounding rural/agricultural belt.
The Union was administered by a Board of Guardians made up of elected and ex-officio representatives from the constituent parishes. They met weekly, later fortnightly, in their offices at No. 1 Museum Street, York. During the nineteenth century a committee structure developed to assist the Guardians in the administration of the Union and Workhouse. The Guardians' primary responsibility was to supervise all aspects of poor relief, which included the building and management of a workhouse. However, over the course of the nineteenth century the Guardians also accrued the following non-poor law responsibilities:
-assessment and valuation of properties for the purpose of collecting the poor rate (1862-1925)
-school attendance (1876-1902)
-vaccination (from 1840)
-registration of births, marriages and deaths (from 1837)
-rural sanitary authorities (1875-1894)
In 1894 the York, Bishopthorpe, Escrick and Flaxton Out-Relief Unions were formed for the purpose of administering out-relief. The York Out-Relief Union was responsible for administering out-relief for the York City area. The Bishopthorpe Out-Relief Union was responsible for administering out-relief in the area of the York Union that lay in the West Riding; the Escrick Out-Relief Union was responsible for administering out-relief in the area of the York Union that lay in the East Riding; and the Flaxton Out-Relief Union was responsible for administering relief in the area of the York Union that lay in the West Riding. All four out-relief unions were part of the York Poor Law Union, otherwise known as the Joint York Union. Members of the four out-relief unions also sat on select committees of the Joint York Union for the purposes of administering indoor (workhouse) relief for the whole Union.
Poor Law Unions in England and Wales were abolished in 1929 and replaced by new administrative bodies called Public Assistance Committees. However, the Poor Law itself continued as the principal system of providing welfare until 1948 when it was abolished with the introduction of the National Assistance Act. During the period from 1930 to 1948, York's Public Assistance Committee continued to administer the Poor Law in the York City area and carried out the functions previously performed by York's Board of Guardians, including the running of the City Institution (formerly the York Workhouse). For this reason, the records of the Public Assistance Committee were amalgamated with the records of the York Poor Law Union. Note that areas of the York Union that lay in the North, East or West Ridings became the responsibility of the Public Assistance Committee for the relevant county in 1930.
The York Workhouse
The York Poor Law Union initially took over the old workhouse in Marygate (later the premises of the Post Office Employees Social Club), which had been established by a number of the city parishes. However the Poor Law Commissioners in London considered the Marygate Workhouse not fit for purpose, as it was already overcrowded and unsanitary. In addition the building did not allow for the segregation of inmates. A new workhouse, located on Huntingdon Rd, was completed in 1848. The building, designed by local architects JB and W Atkinson, could accommodate 354 inmates and included separate wards for women, men, children, 'idiots', the sick, and the aged. Over the course of the nineteenth century the workhouse evolved into a home for the elderly and infirm, and included sick wards and trained medical staff. In the 1920s, in an effort to reduce the stigma surrounding the word 'workhouse', it became known as the City Institution (or simply The Institution). In 1930, when the York Poor Law Union ceased to exist, it became a Public Assistance Institution (but was still known as the City Institution, or the Institution and Infirmary). Between 1939 and 1941 some of the infirmary wards of the Institution acted as an Emergency Medical Services Hospital to accommodate the wounded military.
In 1947 the workhouse buildings were renamed again as The Grange, and what had previously been known as the Infirmary was called the Grange Hospital. In 1955 The Grange Hospital became St Mary's Hospital, while buildings known as The Grange continued to offer welfare accommodation. By the 1970s both The Grange and St Mary's had closed, and in the 1990s the former workhouse buildings were converted into student accommodation for St John's University.