Madness Monday – The Workhouse Blues

Missing records which could help in piecing together an ancestor’s life can be particularly maddening.

In my case it is the workhouse records for Guisborough Workhouse in North Yorkshire.


I found my Great-Great Grandfather Robert Richardson was a resident of the workhouse in the 1861 census.

Here he is with his older brother John:




I contacted Middlesbrough Archives and they very kindly sent me copies of the entries in the workhouse register that mention Robert, John and their sister Mary Jane:

John Thomas & Robert Richardson are admitted to Guisborough Workhouse on July 8th 1858.  They are admitted by order of the Board of Guardians and charged to Liverton Parish.
On August 24th 1858 they are discharged from the Workhouse – taken out by their father.
John Thomas, Robert & Mary Jane are admitted to the Workhouse again on October 21st 1858, all charged to Liverton they are described as ‘very dirty.’
Mary Jane is taken out of the Workhouse by her father on 20th November 1858.
On March 27th 1859, John Thomas is discharged under his own charges, then appears to go straight back in again ‘transferred from Liverton’ on the same day!
On June 21st 1859, John Thomas & Robert are again taken out of the Workhouse by their father.  John is under his own charges & Robert is charged to Liverton Parish.
But July 5th 1859 sees both boys readmitted to the Guisborough Workhouse by the Relieving Officer.  As above, John is under his own charges & Robert is charged to Liverton.

Robert next appears in the 1871 census, as an apprentice joiner to Thomas Armstrong in West Gate, Guisborough;


Unfortunately the workhouse registers for 1859 to 1866 are missing, so I have no idea of what happened to Robert and his siblings between 1861 and 1871 and the terms or circumstances of his apprenticeship. There are no apprenticeship papers either!
But I do know he was very successful in his trade a a joiner; eventually owning his own business in Nottingham & looking very well-to-do!




© Caroline Cox and Caroline’s Chronicles. 2011 – current year

3 thoughts on “Madness Monday – The Workhouse Blues

  1. If John Thomas is discharged under his own charge, but continues to return to the workhouse, is that an indication that he could not find work outside of the workhouse? I'm not very familiar with how the workhouses operated. Just curious!


  2. Hi Heather, thanks for your comment.
    John Thomas was only eight years old in 1859, so I think he may possibly have been spending some time with his family. Workhouses were segregated into men, women & children & it wasn't uncommon for parents & spouses to discharge themselves for a day just so they could see each other. The Richardsons were quite a large extended family by this time, Mary Jane was living with her grandfather in the 1861 census, so it's possible they tried to keep in touch.
    This is an excellent website about workhouses; a fascinating, but brutal piece of the past.


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