The Chiswick Workhouse

By Peter Hammond

Brentford and Chiswick Local History Journal No 10 (2001)

In the interesting article on Chiswick workhouse by Kate Moorhouse in Journal No. 8 (1999) the actual position of the workhouse was left rather vague. An old inhabitant of Chiswick in 1919 had said that it was ‘where Gudgen’s the Chemist is now’, that is no 228 High Road, roughly on the site of the present McDonald’s. This was not entirely satisfactory since ‘old inhabitants’ can be mistaken and it seemed a good idea to try to solve the problem conclusively if possible.

Initially the Parish rate books were examined to see who were the residents of that part of the High Road to the west of the Windmill public house. The workhouse does not normally appear in the rate books since it was owned by the parish and did not pay rates but fortunately in 1828 (only) it is mentioned and appears next but one to the landlord of the Windmill after the ‘house and yard’ of one George Barratt, a carpenter and wheelwright, according to the 1826-7 Directory, and before a Mr William Smith.

Sketch from map of Chiswick Great Field c1814, showing High Road and Windmill Passage; the workhouse buildings appear to be the two properties set back from the High Road on the left hand side of Windmill Passage (by permission of Trustees of Chatsworth Settlement)

This in itself does not fix its position since we do not know the size of the plots. However, the rate books before 1828 are useful here since Mr Barratt’s plot appears first in 1826. Before 1826 the first name after the Windmill plot is that of Mr Smith. Smith’s premises were obviously quite large since in 1828 they were rated at £20, as opposed to the Windmill at £19 and Mr Barratt’s at £18. Thus we can say that the workhouse was definitely somewhat to the west of the Windmill, between Mr Smith and Mr Barratt.

There matters would have rested except for the fortunate discovery last year of a map of Chiswick Great Field in the Duke of Devonshire’s archives at Chatsworth. This is dated 1814 and includes the north side of Chiswick High Road, including the area in which we are interested and illustrates well the pattern described above.

From this we can see the Windmill, next to Windmill Road with a path leading away from it onto Back Common, then to the west a large piece of empty land where Mr Barratt’s house and yard were to be, then what must be the workhouse, set back from the road as we know it to have been (it was described as ‘a tenement with a forecourt’ in the Vestry Minutes of February 1839), and then a large block of property, part of which at least was later to be owned (from 1815) by William Smith. Measuring the plan and comparing it with a modern map proves the centre of the Workhouse plot to be about 100 feet from the corner of Windmill Road, i.e. very close to the site of McDonald’s / Waterstone’s. The old inhabitant was indeed correct!

Sources Used: Devonshire Manuscripts, Chatsworth, Ms. L5217; Chiswick Rate Books, 1810-1816, 1821-1856; Chiswick Past by Gillian Clegg, 1995, p.111.

Peter Hammond is the editor of The Complete Peerage and co-author of Chiswick and Brentford in the Old Photograph Series published by Chalford Press in 1994 and 1996 respectively.


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