The Cleveland Street workhouse in London, UK, built between 1775 and 1778, still stands after 235 years as an intact workhouse.
The buildings have been used since the 1770s to care for London’s sick and poor. The workhouse was initially built by the parish of St Paul, Covent Garden. Permission was sought to use the site as a burial ground for the parish. The ground was consecrated in 1790 and never deconsecrated.
The majority of the paupers admitted to the workhouse were infirm, with less than 8% able-bodied. Original documents show there may be thousands of human remains buried below the surface at the back going down twenty feet deep.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was connected to the Cleveland Street Workhouse in several ways and through most of his life. His family lived for years near the workhouse. It’s likely that the Cleveland Street Workhouse was the institution which inspired his book, Oliver Twist..
In 1836, the catchment area was enlarged and the workhouse became independently managed, entrusted to the Board of Guardians of the Strand Poor Law Union.
This began the first of a long series of name changes
•St Paul Covent Garden Workhouse or simply Covent Garden Workhouse
•Strand Union Workhouse
•Central London Sick Asylum
•Cleveland Street Infirmary
•Middlesex Hospital Annexe
•Middlesex Hospital Outpatient Department
In 1853, the philanthropist Louisa Twining (1820-1912), of the Twining tea merchant family, began her influential campaign to improve workhouse conditions after a visit to an elderly nurse of her acquaintance at the Cleveland Street Workhouse.
After 1876, the buildings were readapted and it became one of London’s first workhouse infirmaries. The appalling conditions were changed until it became a role model for other institutions. In 1926, the buildings were incorporated into the Middlesex Hospital. The buildings are an example of a purpose-built Georgian workhouse which served the sick and poor of London for over 200 years.
Yet just a few months after the Georgian era workhouse achieved a Grade II listing, the residents entrusted with responsibility of keeping the site occupied and secure were asked to vacate and a petition started to save the historic workhouse.