Cleveland Street Workhouse

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Template:Infobox building The Cleveland Street Workhouse is a Georgian property in Cleveland Street, London built between 1775 and 1778 for the care of the London sick and poor under the Old Poor Law. The building remained in operation until 2005 after witnessing the complex evolution of the healthcare system in England. After functioning as a workhouse, the building became a workhouse infirmary before being acquired by the Middlesex Hospital and finally falling under the NHS. It the last century it was known as the Middlesex Hospital Annexe and the Outpatient Department. It closed to the public in 2005 and it has since been vacated. On 14 March 2011 the entire building became Grade II Listed.


The Cleveland Street Workhouse was built on an H plan on the eastern side of Cleveland Street between 1775 and 1778 by the parish of St Paul Covent Garden, on land leased from the Bedford Estate. The construction of the building resulted from the intercession of the Duke of Bedford’s steward Robert Palmer, who together with Duchess Gertrude planned and realized the construction of Bedford Square and Gower Street.

The original Act of Parliament was obtained in May 1775. The building was initially designed to accommodate 200 paupers, but the plan was modified prior to construction to accommodate a greater number.

Construction began that same year and by 1778 the building was already completed and fully occupied. Shortly afterwards, permission was sought from the landowner the Duke of Bedford, to use part of the site as a burial ground for the parish, as authorized by the Parliamentary Act. The ground was consecrated in 1790.<ref name="SurveyOfLondon">Survey of London. Volume 36, p. 61</ref>

That same decade the church of St Paul's, Covent Garden, which was built by Inigo Jones in 1631–33, was renovated (following a fire) by the eminent architect Thomas Hardwick. Hardwick was a famous church architect: he restored Sir Christopher Wren’s St James, Piccadilly and re-built George Dance the Younger's St Bartholomew-the-Less in West Smithfield (1823–25), and he is also famous for designing the church of St Mary the Virgin at Wanstead (completed in 1790 – Grade I listed), St John's Church in St John's Wood High Street (1813–14) and the church of St Mary in Marylebone Road (1813–17), arguably his most notable work. In 1796, the trustees in charge of the restoration work of the church at Covent Garden employed Thomas Hardwick to design a new infectious ward and a new infirmary, built in 1802 and 1819.<ref name="SurveyOfLondon"/>


In 1829 the workhouse became independently managed and in 1836 it was entrusted to the Board of Guardians of the Strand Poor Law Union. This was the first in a long series of name changes: over the course of its history the building has been known as:

  • St Paul Covent Garden Workhouse or simply Covent Garden Workhouse
  • Strand Union Workhouse
  • Central London Sick Asylum
  • Cleveland Street Infirmary
  • Middlesex Hospital Annexe
  • Middlesex Hospital Outpatient Department

Despite its many names, the core function of the building has remained unaltered over more than two centuries: the vast majority of the paupers admitted while it was a workhouse were infirm (fewer than 8 per cent were able-bodied). When the workhouse facility was relocated to Edmonton (1876), the building served as an asylum for the mentally ill, before becoming an infirmary. It was finally incorporated into the Middlesex Hospital in 1926, which came under the management of the NHS in 1948. Even during the workhouse era the core function was to tend and care for the sick and infirm, since ill-health and infirmity was the main cause of pauperism. The building represents a unique example of a purpose-built Georgian workhouse that has remained in service to the sick and poor of London for more than 200 years.

An account of the appearance of he building in 1856 by its medical officer Joseph Rogers survives, matching the appearance of the building in modern days: Template:Quote

UCLH NHS Foundation Trust in 2010 proposed the building's demolition in a planning application (and conservation area consent) submitted to Camden London Borough Council to replace it with a large building mixing private accommodation with commercial space. However adjoining Westminster City Council raised objections on three grounds on 2 December 2010.Template:Efn

The Cleveland Street Workhouse is of particular importance in light of the fact that Charles Dickens is known to have lived nearby in what is now 22 Cleveland Street. Dickens lived there as a young child between 1815 and 1816, and then again as a teenager in 1828–1831. His residence in the street has led to the suggestion that the nearby workhouse was probably the inspiration for Oliver Twist.


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