Sheffield Workhouse

The records of Sheffield Workhouse were destroyed in the bombing of Sheffield during the Second World War. However using archive material, newspaper reports and the remaining Guardians minutes from 1890, this book reveals the full story of this feared local institution. Famously contentious, the Sheffield Board of Guardians often went against the wishes of the Local Government Board, and even of their own workhouse staff. Meanwhile whilst battles raged in the Boardroom, the paupers of Sheffield struggles to survive inside the bleak walls of the various city workhouses, where overcrowding, hunger and disease were ever present. Some of the more fortunate (and perhaps less scrupulous) paupers, however spotted loopholes in the system – and exploited them to the limit. Now, for the first time, the long forgotten lives of the staff and inmates who spent their days in these dread institutions of the past are explored. Concentrating on the fascinating history of Sheffield main workhouse, which moved from West Bar to Kelham Street and then to Fir Vale, as well as on the strange and wonderful history of the city’s workhouse schools and farms, Sheffield Workhouse will captivate residents and visitors alike.

Chapter List

Chapter One:               The Early Workhouse

Chapter Two:              Overseers and Relieving Officers

Chapter Three:            Kelham Street and Fir Vale Workhouse

Chapter Four:              Guardians of the Poor

Chapter Five:              Hollow Meadows and Doe Royd Farms

Chapter Six:                Pitsmoor Schools

Chapter Seven:            Medical Officers of Health

Chapter Eight:             Masters and Matrons

Chapter Nine:              Children in the Workhouse

Chapter Ten:               Scattered Homes

Chapter Eleven:          The Dark Side of the Workhouse

Chapter Twelve:         Imbeciles and Lunatics

Chapter Thirteen:        The Workhouse Inmates

Extract from the book

The Dark Side of the Workhouse


On Saturday 12th March 1864 the Kelham Street workhouse was needed to store 124 bodies of people who had been killed in the Sheffield Flood. Just after midnight on Friday the 11th March the newly built Dale Dyke dam burst sending thousands of gallons of water down the Loxley and the Don Valley and into the town of Sheffield itself. Houses and factories were swept away leaving a trail of destruction and death in its wake. The water had flooded into the rooms of the workhouse on Kelham Street and the massive gates and barred doors had been forced open by the impact of the water. In some rooms the water had risen to the height of several feet. The flood had been spotted by a man in charge of the boiler house. He roused the officers by whistling and shouting and took his place on the roof of the building. Twenty able bodied men were roused and sent across to rescue the paupers from the two wards in the most critical places. They were containing children suffering from measles and small pox and the female venereal wards. The flood by this time had risen to the underneath of the beds, but no lives were lost from the workhouse and the rescued paupers were removed to the upper part of the female hospital. The bodies of those who had been drowned started to come in about 3am and continued over the next few days. Of the 124 bodies recovered there had been 69 males and 55 females and children. 102 of these bodies had been identified and 23 were still unclaimed the following week. The 124 bodies of the people who had died in the flood were collected at the workhouse and they were cleaned and laid out for friends and relatives to claim. It was reported that 68 bodies were removed by relatives and 56 were interred at the expense of the union. Several of the guardians upon hearing of the disaster made their way to the workhouse in order to deal with requests for relief and in giving advice to those who had lost relatives or friends. The guardians worked tirelessly from the early hours of Saturday morning to Tuesday evening. The chair reported that he had been one of the first guardians on the scene and that every officer and pauper that had been involved ‘performed their duty in the most admirable manner’. He also praised the work of the master Mr Westcoe and the matron Miss Day for the tireless way in which they had acted during this terrible catastrophe.

4 thoughts on “Sheffield Workhouse

  1. Hi, I have found a list of inmates in the Ecclesall Brierlow Workhouse on the 1881 census . Could you please tell me if there is a list for the Fir Vale Workhouse for the same year. I don’t seem to be having much luck in my search.

  2. Hi, my ancestor William Austin Smith was resident at Pitsmoor Workhouse in 1891, and died there on 22nd April that year; any tips on how I can possibly learn more? Thanks!

  3. Hi Karen,
    Good to hear from you.
    I think your best bet is to go to the Sheffield Archives on Shoreham Street, the staff there are most helpful. Check before you go as they are only open three days a week at the moment.
    They also have a study guide to looking at local workhouses online at

    which is very helpful and points you in the right direction.
    Good luck

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