About Rochford Union Workhouse (HT)
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Union Lane leads into the site of Rochford Hospital. Rochford hospital has been serving the local communities since the 1930’s and is currently a Community and Mental Health Unit for the area. But that was not always the case.
A purpose-built structure was constructed in 1837 on the northside of West Street, for a grand sum of £5,000, but it wasn’t planned as a hospital! This was a Workhouse, providing rudimentary accommodation for up to 300 inmates from the Rochford districts.
Families, though few, were separated in the Workhouse, men in one area, women and children in another. The infirm and disabled were cared for in the infirmary, whilst the able bodied were put to work serving the community. Typical employment consisted of charwomen, maids, or for men and women, picking oakum.
Oakum, the ropes once used on ships, were cut in to smaller pieces and the thick tar removed by being hit repeatedly with a hammer; it was hard work and monotonous. The pieces then had to be separated and the fibres picked apart. It was unpleasant work, often leading to blacked sore fingers.
In 1858, a Chapel was added to the building. Up until then, the inmates had a special pew in the local church where, dressed in their Workhouse uniforms and in full view of the community, they were objects of humiliation and a deterrent for others.
In 1901, new blocks were added on the east of the structure, a new infirmary was built for females, and the old one used for men only. In 1912, extensions of a dining hall, kitchens and a laundry were added. In 1916, the military used the infirm block of the workhouse to house German prisoners of war.
It was during the 1920’s that the infirmary first became known as Rochford hospital. A nurses’ home was built, as was a new mental health block. During the 1930’s the Workhouse was transferred to the ‘Public Assistance Committee’ and renamed ‘Rochford House’. Southend’s Public Health Committee took control of, and officially renamed the hospital as ‘Southend Municipal Hospital’, which later became ‘Rochford General Hospital’.
Much of the hospital was demolished in the early 1990’s when most services were transferred to Southend Hospital, although the Community and Mental Health Unit remains active at Rochford. Some parts of the hospital couldn’t be demolished as they were Grade II listed buildings. Instead, many buildings were converted for different uses – the old hospital boiler house was redeveloped into flats and other buildings were turned into private or sheltered homes and a day care centre for elderly people.
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