The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was responsible for the erection of 554 new workhouses throughout England and Wales. The Report of the Royal Commission into the administration of the poor laws had recommended the separation of inmates into different groups:
- aged and/or infirm men
- aged and/or infirm women
- able-bodied males over the age of 13 (increased to 15 in 1842)
- able-bodied females over the age of 13 (increased to 16 in 1842)
- girls between 7 and 13 years
- boys between 7 and 13 years
- children under 7
The minimum number of groups was deemed to be four. Consequently, it was necessary for workhouses to be built that allowed for the total separation of these groups. The most influential designer of workhouses was Sampson Kempthorne. He produced plans for both a cruciform and a Y shaped building that created separate wings and yards.
Kempthorne's idea of a central hub from which the workhouse master could see the entire workhouse is reminiscent of Jeremy Bentham's "panopticon" design for prisons. The similarities between the two types of institution are remarkable, except that prisoners probably were treated better than workhouse inmates.
Last modified 12 November 2002