By Lydia La Strode
The residences that today comprise Stone Manor on Bisley Road belie the painful history of the rugged stone buildings that contain them – for this was once the Stroud Union workhouse.
Long before state benefits were dreamed of, those unable through ill-health, ill-fortune or old age to support themselves would reluctantly enter, through its doors, an existence that at least gave them shelter and a subsistence diet. But the shame and stigma of being an inmate went deep. Admittance to the workhouse was a prospect, wrote Laurie Lee in Cider With Rosie, ‘abhorred more than debt, or prison, or beggary, or even the stain of madness’.
Designed by architect William Mason, the workhouse was built in 1836-40 to replace a number of smaller parish institutions, following the passage of 1834’s Poor Law Amendment Act. Its construction budget was £10,610 – an enormous sum. It could house up to 500 souls, though it seems to have generally held around 300: the physically and mentally ill, orphans and abandoned children, people with disabilities, the elderly infirm and unmarried mothers.
Inmates wore uniforms and lived in separate ‘wards’, divided by gender, age and fitness for work, so that married couples, families and mothers and their children (over the age of two) were separated, causing untold anguish. A ‘casual ward’ was available for vagrants to spend the night, probably on a bed of straw and with a bucket as sanitation. The 1881 Census* provides a poignant glimpse of the workhouse’s population.
Closed in 1930, the cruciform set of Victorian buildings went on to house British and later American troops during WWII, before being bought by developers in 1979 and turned into flats. Today’s residents live there in comfort and wellbeing unknown to their predecessors: a strange but somehow encouraging twist of fate.