Workhouse to war

It’s impossible to separate military history from social history; each acts as a major dynamic on the other and this relationship is often seen when researching individuals who served in the Green Howards.

Volunteer, Steve Erskine explores the life of Walter Ernest Tubb who served as a Porter in the Richmond Union Workhouse before enlisting into The Yorkshire Regiment (as the regiment was called at that time) on 26th January 1915…

Tubb served with the 12th (Teesside Pioneers) Battalion and saw service in France before being evacuated to hospital suffering from severe arthritis in both knees and from a serious tachycardia, an irregular heartbeat.

Men of 12th Bn Yorkshire Regiment, the Teesside Pioneers, identified by the cross pick and shovel collar badges, at Newcastle in July 1915.

He was discharged from military service on 2nd November 1918 and assessed for a military pension.  20122 Lance Corporal Tubb was awarded a pension of 13 shillings and 8 pence (roughly £40 in today’s money) for 36 weeks, then 11 shillings for a further 13 weeks when his condition and eligibility would be reviewed. His file does not show the outcome of the review.

Various Richmondshire parishes had their own Poorhouses before the Richmond Poor Law Union was instigated on 24th February 1837. Richmond Workhouse was designed by local Architect, John Foss and was built on the site of the local gaol, the new building incorporated the ‘House of Correction’ and was situated at the end of Victoria Road where the mini-roundabout filters traffic onto Reeth Road.

Such was the need, the workhouse was expanded in 1842 to include a fever hospital and what were termed ‘Vagrant Wards’, later additions included 4 Water-Closets in 1847 and ‘Vagrants Cell-Block’ in 1889. The Institution was run and managed by a Board of 48 ‘Guardians’. The 1881 Census shows the place being run by Thomas and Esther Wilkinson, with help from a servant, Mary Etherington. The Census also lists 52 ‘inmates’, mostly locals but with a smattering of natives of Ireland and Wales, plying trades such as ‘Char woman’ , ‘Licensed Hawker’, Shoe-maker, Tailor and a few poor wretches listed as ‘Vagrant’, ‘Imbecile’ or ‘Wandering Lunatic’.

Walter was born in Faversham in Kent on 19th March 1891 and by 1911 he had made his way to Hartlepool where he had already fallen into the Workhouse System, his employment being listed as ‘Barber with the Hartlepool Board of Guardians’, by 1914 he had become a Porter at the Richmond Workhouse. Not long after he enlisted he was struck down by Scarlet Fever and was treated in the Workhouse Infirmary, the local hospitals being full.

After the First World War Walter moved to York with his wife Elizabeth, who he had married in Hartlepool in 1914. By 1939 he had become an Assistant Station Master with the LNER and did his bit during another war, as an Air Raid Precaution (ARP) Warden on the Railway.

As late as 1930 Richmond Workhouse was taken over by the North Riding County Council who ran what they called the ‘Public Assistance Institution’ catering for the sick, the elderly and single-mothers. In 1961 it became a hostel for the elderly and in 1968 the buildings were renovated to accommodate a new old people’s home. A modern housing complex now stands on the site.

Walter died on 12th April 1972, a long life lived, in peace and war, one of a generation that did what they did without the kind of social safety net we take for granted today.

Volunteer researchers help us tell stories like that of Walter Tubb.