Marygate, north-west side, with the site of the Marygate workhouse on the far right. Photo @ Gordon Hatton, originally posted on the Geograph website, with an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence.

The earlier workhouse in York, in other words the predecessor of the York Union Workhouse, was founded in 1768 just outside the abbey wall and in a former cotton factory, at approximately no. 26 Marygate. By the 1840s it was housing about ninety inmates. The site was inadequate to the demand for relief, and contemporary sources also record that it

was grossly insanitary. The courtyard was "a permanent reservoir of foul air" and the privies "without exception in an offensive state" with an open cesspool in the girls' yard. The premises generally were unventilated and overcrowded. Most of the inmates were "children, the aged and infirm and persons of weak mind""; many, if not all, were diseased and children associated "in the infectious wards with adults labouring under syphilis and gonorrhoea." It was to be feared that "the association of the insane and idiotic men and women with young females and children of both sexes has a prejudicial effect on the minds of the latter." The paupers were said often to tease the idiots "as a pastime." [Tillott]

The Marygate site was auctioned in July 1849, "having been recently effectually drained" (Yorkshire Gazette, 30 June 1849: 4). It was certified as an Industrial School in 1858.

The Influence of Prison Layout

Ordinance Survey map showing the site and layout of York Prison, with thanks to the National Library of Scotland.

From the 1830s, York had had a prison beside Clifford’s tower with a radial segregated plan. It was so arranged that, as shown above, the motte and stone keep were included within the encircling walls of the prison, though they had no function in the prison. This site was in use from about 1835 to 1929. It had, it seemed, some influence on the ideas about how a workhouse should be run and arranged. Over the years, various changes were made to the Marygate workhouse on the other side of town, to provide it with workshops, etc. Still, the basic ingredients missing, which would be duly included in the Marygate workhouse's replacement (the York Union workhouse), were the network of dividing walls separating the various classes of inmate, and the provision of segregated exercise yards. The advert for the competition for the design specifically stated that the new workhouse was intended to house 300 paupers, and to be "arranged upon what is called the Six Class System" (Yorkshire Gazette, 20 November 1847: 4). What was now required, it seems, was a workhouse with divisions into classes, along the lines of the prison system.

Related Materials


Tillott, P. M., ed. "Modern York: Local Government 1835-1902." A History of the County of York: The City of York. London, 1961. British History Online. Web. 22 January 2021.

Created 22 January 2021