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The plans were revised in January 1867 to add an extra storey to the infirmary, adding £430 to the price. Two nurses were on duty at night-time, and pauper assistance was confined to activities such as cleaning and bed-making. In 1909-11 an additional infirmary block was added at the north of the site for up to 150 aged, infirm and convalescent patients. All the inmates were transferred to other workhouses in the area, and the infirmary patients moved to Grovelands School nearby. The cross-shaped main building contained an administrative block, wards and cells, together with a labour yard and labour master's house. The hospital finally closed in 2005 and the buildings have been demolished except for the gatehouse and board-room.
The total cost, including furniture and fittings, was in the region of £14,000. In addition, a new board room, administrative block and master's house were added. Within six weeks, the workhouse was transformed into the Reading Number One War Hospital which, linked together with more than twenty other auxiliary hospitals in Berkshire, constituted one of the country's biggest war hospitals. In 1849, the Reading Union joined with the neighbouring Wokingham Union to form the Reading & Wokingham School District and operated a residential school for pauper children at Gargrave until the early 1900s.
Eden, in his 1797 survey of the poor in England, reported of the St Mary's workhouse that: The Poor are chiefly maintained in a workhouse, erected about 20 years ago, for £1,400, of which £650 has been paid off. The parish has a standing overseer, who, it is generally observed, keeps down the rates more than officers elected annually. Tea is generally used here, twice a day, by the Poor; the other part of their diet is, principally, the best wheaten bread, and occasionally a little bacon; it is seldom sufficiently boiled, and is thought to give them the sallow complexion which is much observable here.
It seems a comfortable and convenient lodging for the Poor, but not always sufficiently aired. Reading Poor Law Union was formed on 10th August 1835.
The lodging rooms contain 2, 3,4 beds apiece, made of flocks and feathers. If they require more they are usually taken into the house. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 15 in number, representing its 3 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one): Berkshire: St Giles, with Whitley (5); St Lawrence, Reading (5); St Mary, with Southcot (5).
In 1639, the workhouse was reorganised to provide training and employment for fatherless children. Twelve persons belonging to this parish are in different almshouses, and receive from 7d. It is not uncommon for a healthy young fellow, who has ample means of supporting himself and family, to request the parish to pay for the midwife for his first child.
common stock to be employed and bestowed in trade of clothing, either in making of coloured cloathes, or whites, as the time shall require; and also in working of Wooll, Hemp, Flax, Iron, grinding of Brasill woods and other stuffes for Dying, or otherwise, as...
shall seeme convenient for the employment of poore people, and for the preservation and encrease of the said common stocke.
The accommodation was required to house 106 males and 95 females, including 102 aged and infirm, 76 able-bodied, 13 infants, and 10 imbeciles and epileptics. Following a visit to Reading, the commission's report gave the establishment a glowing report. Reading Workhouse as War Hospital, c.1915 © Peter Higginbotham. Following the closure of casual wards at Windsor, Easthampstead, Maidenhead, Wokingham, and Henley, a brand new casual ward was opened to the east of Reading at Woodley, near the junction of the Reading and Bath Roads where Norwich Drive now stands.
The infirmary was to have male and female wards each with 13 beds, a three-bed and a four-bed itch ward (for scabies), two bedrooms for dirty cases, and a lying-in room for three women and three infants. The winning design was by a Mr Woodman, and building began in April 1866. A new infirmary was added at the west of the workhouse in 1892 and the old infirmary became a female residential block, with the old workhouse being used entirely for males. Unlike many other workhouses reviewed by the commission, Reading had a modern infirmary and a well-resourced nursing section which included a sister, four nurses, and two probationers. Reading Workhouse - 1911 Aged and infirm block, c.1915. Reading Workhouse - 1911 Aged and infirm block, c.1915. On March 1st 1915, the War Office requisitioned the Reading workhouse for use by the military authorities. The new Woodley Institution was officially opened ion 27th March, 1931.