Extract from Discovering Old Huddersfield (1993-2002) by Gordon & Enid Minter
On the left hand side of Blackmoorfoot Road, St. Luke's Hospital has its origins in the Crosland Moor Workhouse and the original tall Victorian buildings of this institution are easily recognised.
Until fairly recent times, poverty was generally regarded as avoidable and paupers, vagrants and the helpless poor received little understanding and less sympathy. From 1494 able bodied vagrants could be punished by whipping, the loss of an ear or even by hanging and from 1547 they could be branded on the cheek with the letter V (for vagabond).
In 1572, parishes were empowered to elect an Overseer of the Poor who was responsible for administering charitable funds. Twenty-five years later, the Overseer was allowed to levy a Poor Ley (rate) which was used to provide minimal outdoor relief.
The General Workhouse Act of 1723 required parishes to build small workhouses for those unable to benefit from outdoor relief and eventually there were some two thousand of these in England, including five in the Huddersfield district, at Lockwood, Birkby, Kirkheaton, Honley, Golcar and Almondbury.
The next significant move came with the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 which was designed to remove from the community all those who were unable to support themselves, by refusing them outdoor relief and admitting them to the workhouse. Following the Act, parishes were grouped together in new Poor Law Unions and elected Boards of Guardians were made responsible for the day to day management of poor relief. Large new workhouses were built where conditions were unpleasant enough to deter all but the most desperate. Sadly there were many such and although it was not deliberately intended that the workhouse regime they had to endure should be a punishment for being poor or sick or old, inevitably with its segregation of sexes, separation of families, institutional clothing, meagre food and rules of silence, this is precisely what it turned out to be.
The Poor Law Amendment Act was fiercely opposed in the north where it was not implemented until 1837. Even after that date opposition continued, as northerners considered that they knew well enough how to treat their own poor. Locally, for instance, when the parishes of Almondbury, Huddersfield, Kirkburton and Kirkheaton were formed into one large Poor Law Union there was real fear that the poor, the aged and the infirm would be shut up for ever. Poor Law Commissioners who visited Huddersfield in 1837 were give short shrift and meetings of the local Board of Guardians were faced with vociferous and unruly demonstrations. Such strength of feeling could not be ignored and for many years after 1837 the old system of outdoor and indoor relief continued in Huddersfield and other northern towns.
The move towards large centralised Institutions, however, proved unstoppable and on 30th April 1869 the local Board of Guardians met to consider estimates for the erection of a new workhouse on a fifteen acre site at Crosland Moor. Among the tenders accepted were those of A. Graham, mason, £10,382, Fawcett & Sons, joiner, £4,927 and H. Garton, plumber, £1,395. The total estimated cost was £20,208.10s.0d.
The corner-stone of the workhouse, which consisted of a vagrant's ward, an infirmary and a school, was laid by the Chairman of the Board of Guardians, Mr. J. Wrigley, on 7th July 1869. After the opening ceremony on 9th August 1872, arrangements were immediately made to close the old workhouses at Birkby and Kirkheaton.
As time went by, attitudes towards the plight of the poor eased. In 1913, workhouses were renamed Poor Law Institutions and in 1929 the term pauper was officially abolished. From that time, local authorities were encouraged to convert their workhouses into hospitals and infirmaries and in 1930 responsibility for the Crosland Moor Institution was transferred to the Corporation. One of their first moves was to change the name to St. Luke's Hospital although it was to be another four years before its facilities were made generally available. Since then, through many changes of function and status, St. Luke's has cared for those who would previously have been oppressed.Between January 1953 and October 1972 the running of St. Luke's Hospital was in the capable hands of the Matron, Miss Ellen Simpson (later Mrs. A. Ramsden) who will be remembered with affection by any of our readers who met her whether they were patients or members of staff.
The footprints of the main buildings of the Workhouse (based on the 1906 O.S. map) are shown below. As St. Luke's hospital, the site was gradually expanded until the 1960s when most of the original buildings were then demolished to be replaced with more modern facilities. The hospital was closed in 2011 and work on completely clearing the site was underway by 2015.