The trouble with being an avid local postcard collector is the fear that by letting something pass you by you may never see it again. That happened with a great real photo c 1905 postcard of Trinity Hospital when the most part of it was the Union Workhouse. The image I have shown above is a much later view after the workhouse had gone. I never did see the earlier image again.
The Taunton Poor Law Union came into existence in 1836. This was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, fifty one in number, taken from the twenty eight parishes that were included in the Union. Trinity replaced two other workhouses in Taunton. Both closed in 1837. St Mary’s workhouse at Church Square served as Taunton’s first police station until 1840. The other workhouse was St Jame’s workhouse dating back to 1735 and situated in East Reach. It appears that the first Taunton workhouse (a somewhat less congenial entity than an almshouse) was built in 1626 run by Marmaduke Coram later keeper of the gaol. It seems possible that this workhouse was at North Town and demolished in 1746.
The Trinity workhouse was built near Holy Trinity Church in 1837. It was constructed on the standard hexagonal plan introduced by The Poor Law Commissioners. The architect was Sampson Kempthorne.
Additionally a two story infirmary block was built next door (the now surviving part). The original design catered for 400 occupants. Clearly conditions at the workhouse were not good. In 1849 a cholera outbreak was blamed on the poor ventilation and food though the Guardians denied this.
A public inquiry followed in 1899 when the master and matron were dismissed for cruelty to the inmates and the serving of “stinking food”. No doubt those in such a position could find ways of cutting corners to make money for themselves. David Lloyd George said “Four spectres haunt the poor. Old Age, Accident, Sickness and Unemployment. We are going to drive hunger from the hearth. We mean to banish the workhouse from the horizon of every workman in the land”.
Lloyd George was instrumental in setting up the modern welfare state which ultimately saw the end of the workhouses. Taunton workhouse closed in 1929 after becoming Taunton Poor Law Institution in 1912.
From 1930 it became Taunton Public Assistance Institution. With the coming of The National Health Service in 1948 it became Trinity Hospital. It is now residential accommodation but still bears the engraved stone “Taunton Union Workhouse 1837” One other reminder of the old Union workhouse “Union Street” has long gone as it was renamed “Trinity Street”.
By Nick Chipchase