Mount Bures Community Web Site
The Mount Bures Workhouse, Part 1.

The Victoria History of the County of Essex, states "the poor were said to be well provided for in 1670"
However, it is not known how this was achieved.

Records indicate a Workhouse existed as far back as 1797 owned by a Sarah Stedman. The property known as "Akermans" was a double tenement property for two centuries, before it was converted into one as the "Poor House"

Prior to 1797 the property was known as "Sollyers". It was renamed "Akermans" when it was the "Poor House"

In 1803 owner Sarah Stedman, surrendered the property to Charles Newman the main trustee for the "Poor House"
In 1841 it was closed and sold by the Guardians at the Sudbury Union to Mrs Mary Newman, wife of John Newman, miller.
John Newman also constructed two cottages further along the road, known today as the "Thatchers Arms".

Caroline Newman (1834 -1899), in turn bought the property from her mother, Mary Newman in 1889 after the death of her father John.
Caroline although unmarried had a son Alonzo who became a miller - his father was a publican John Goody.

She eventually died in the Lexden Workhouse of heart disease. We can only assume she had no-one to look after her locally, so her failing health destined her for the Workhouse.

Since that date it has been known as "The Town House then "The Retreat" and finally during the 1960`s, it was renamed once again as "Solliers" (spelling variation)


The average annual poor-rate expenditure for Mount Bures was one of the highest per head in the Lexden Hundred:-

1776: £27 annually
1783-5: £85 annually
1801: £448 annually, this averaged 35s 10p per head of population
1802: £169 annually
1816: £295 annually
1817: £355 averaging 26s 7p per head of population
1818 - 1832: between £412 & £661 annually
1834: £397 averaging 30s 4p per head of population

With the introduction of the "Poor Act", the residents previously under the control of the Sudbury Union, would now come under the control of the Lexden Union. Consequently when the Workhouse shut, the residents would have been transferred to Lexden, Colchester.
Later, the expenditure on poor relief was one of the highest of all the parishes in Lexden, obviously the poor here were well cared for.

The new Lexden and Winstree workhouse was built in 1836 at the south side of the London Road in Stanway. The building, which was designed by Foden and Henman, cost £6,800 to construct and could accommodate 330 inmates.

The Poor.

Poor relief can be traced back as far as the 1300`s. After the Black Death (1348-9) labour was in short supply and wages rose steeply. To try and keep this in check, several Acts were passed aimed at forcing all able-bodied men to work and keep wages at their old levels. These measures led to labourers roaming around the country looking for an area where the wages were high. Some took to begging under the pretence of being ill or crippled. In 1349, an act prohibited private individuals from giving relief to able-bodied beggars.

With the decline of the monasteries, and their dissolution in 1536, together with the breakdown of the medieval social structure, charity for the poor gradually moved from its traditional voluntary framework to become a compulsory tax administered at the parish level. This was the start of parochial poor relief.

Parish Workhouses

A Parliamentary Act in 1723 introduced the 'workhouse test' whereby a pauper would only be granted poor relief through being admitted to a workhouse. Consequently several hundred parish workhouses were set up. A parish workhouse was generally a very small establishment, often in rented existing buildings rather than specially built premises. The running of workhouses was often handed over to a `manager` who would, for an agreed price, feed and house the poor. He would also provide the inmates with work and benefit from any income generated. This system was known as 'farming' the poor.

The burden on small villages was intolerable and so it was decided by central government to review the arrangements for dealing with the homeless. Villagers were poor enough without subsiding others, who may not have lived in the parish.

The Poor Law Amendment Act (Poor Act)

In 1833 Earl Grey, the Prime Minister, set up a Poor Law Commission to examine the working of the poor Law system in Britain. In their report published in 1834, the Commission made several recommendations to Parliament. As a result, the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed. The act stated that:

(a) no able-bodied person was to receive money or other help from the Poor Law authorities except in a workhouse;
(b) conditions in workhouses were to be made very harsh to discourage people from wanting to receive help;
(c) workhouses were to be built in every parish or, if parishes were too small, in unions of parishes;
(d) ratepayers in each parish or union had to elect a Board of Guardians to supervise the workhouse, to collect the Poor Rate and to send reports to the Central Poor Law Commission;

So in 1834 "The Poor Act" came into existence which subsequently closed (1841) the Mount Bures workhouse and those in surrounding villages. These were replaced with larger purpose built establishments located at:-
Sudbury: Walnutree Workhouse (now Hospital)
Braintree: St Michaels Workhouse (now Hospital)
St Marys Workhouse, Balkerne Hill (now residential)
Colchester (Lexden Union): London Rd, Stanway, now known as St Albrights Hospital
Nayland: location unknown

Life was very grim, it was made purposefully harsh to dissuade people from seeking help. Those individuals arriving from out of the local area, were actively dissuaded from staying more than one night before being ejected and moved on.

People ended-up in the workhouse for a variety of reasons. Usually, it was because they were too poor, old or ill to support themselves. This may have resulted from such things as a lack of work during periods of high unemployment, or someone having no family willing or able to provide care for them when they became elderly or sick. Unmarried pregnant women were often disowned by their families and the workhouse was the only place they could go during and after the birth of their child. Some were publically flogged.

A census of residents in 1881 for the Sudbury Workhouse, shows this vividly. CLICK HERE
It records a child of 1 month with its unmarried mother and other elderly residents up to 91 years of age.
This makes very distressing reading, when you consider the age range.

Residents in the Workhouse dated 1861

Reubin Smith (Labourer) Aged 45
Harriet Smith 43
Alderman Smith (Labourer) 20
Harriet Smith 14
Alfred Smith 9
Abraham Manning (Labourer) 22
Emma Manning 22
Ezra Manning 2
Martha Manning 2

Residents in the Workhouse 1871

Isaac Manning (Labourer) Aged 57
Hanna Manning 41
Charles Manning 17
Mary Anne Manning 16
Caroline Manning 13
Walter Manning 6
Charles Warren (Labourer 26
Emily Warren 22

Two residents of Mount Bures were listed in the 1881 Sudbury Workhouse census:-



William CANT
Inmate Farm Labourer
Bures Mount, Essex
Inmate Domestic Servant
Bures Mount, Essex




The 1881 census for Mount Bures itself, recorded 5 paupers, two widows aged 51 and 67 and three men, two aged 57 and the other 67.

Courtesy of

Prior to the establishment of public mental asylums in the mid-nineteenth century (and in some cases even after that), the mentally ill and mentally handicapped poor were often consigned to the workhouse. Workhouses, though, were never prisons, and entry into them was generally a voluntary although often painful decision

Mrs Janet Frost, a Bures resident can remember vagrants making there way through the village traveling between the workhouses at Colchester and Nayland. Sympathetic shopkeepers, would often keep boiling water and tea handy ready for those asking for sustenance.

By the 1930`s Workhouses were officially abolished, but in reality they continued under their new name of Public Assistance Institutions or "Institutions"

With the introduction of the NHS in 1948, it surprisingly did not see the end of the "Institution"
The new management run "Hospitals" as they were now called, maintained "Reception Centres for Wayfarers", i.e. casual wards for vagrants, until the 1960s.

The Mount Bures Workhouse, Part 2

Link to the Bures Workhouse.


The Victoria History of the County of Essex
Mount Bures, its Lands and its People.
Visit Peter Higginbothams Workhouse web site at:- for a vast amount of detailed information.