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280 to 282 The Green Cardington

Front elevation of the parish workhouse 1790 [W2/17]
Front elevation of the parish workhouse 1790 [W2/17]

280, 281 and 282 The Green was listed by English Heritage in July 1964 as Grade II, of special interest. They dated the property to 1757 when it was built as a parish workhouse by subscription. 280 and 281 have a colour washed roughcast exterior whilst 282 is brick. The roof is composed of clay tiles and the block had five rooms on ground and first floors.

Workhouses originate from the end of the 17th century, initially in larger towns and cities, the first being in Bristol. The first small town to set up a parish workhouse was Olney [Buckinghamshire] in 1714. The Workhouse Test Act of 1723 set out that in order to enter a workhouse a person had to do a set amount of work whilst here. These were not the large, grim places of the Victorian Era but, as will be seen below, small, grim places, often packed to overflowing. By the end of the 18th century most parishes in Bedfordshire had their own workhouse.

We are fortunate that three surveys of the parish of Cardington from the late 18th century survive. The first of these was undertaken in 1782 by James Lilburne. He was the parish schoolmaster and later agent for Samuel Whitbread, who owned large estates in the parish and also the sole Enclosure Commissioner for the parish. He produced a list of all the inhabitants of the parish arranged by house and hamlet [P38/28/1]. This was published, with extensive analysis by County Archaeologist David Baker in 1973 as Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume 52.

Since publication a second list has been found [P38/28/2]. It carries revisions up to the year 1789. Sadly neither of these surveys includes a map. Finally, in 1794 Lilburne produced another survey [W2/6/1-3] and this one had a map with a key showing where each house was. One can use this to plot the houses of the previous surveys and this work was carried out by John Wood of Bedfordshire County Council’s Conservation Section in October 1982 [CRT130Cardington29].

The survey of 1782 [P38/28/1/2] notes that the workhouse governor was William Cox, aged 30. His wife was Mary, aged 31. They had two children: William, aged 3 and Ann, aged 9 months. Both were later schooled at the expense of John Howard. A third child, Sarah, was born on 5th September 1784. Both William and Mary had smallpox before May 1787 and were willing for their children to be inoculated against it. The inmates are listed as follows:

  • Widow Copperwait, aged 80, died 4th October 1783;
  • Widow Bonnel, aged 80, died 14th February 1782;
  • Widow Barcock, aged 71, died 6th November 1783;
  • John Ley, aged 70, died 29th April 1782 and his 62 year old wife, Ruth, died 1st December 1786;
  • Samuel Butcher, aged 74, died 7th May 1782 and his 56 year old wife Sarah, died 13th July 1784;
  • Elizabeth Thody, aged 42, died 8th January 1782 and her bastard child Thomas, aged 1 year, 10 months, died 10th August 1782;
  • Widow Knight, aged 36, who spun linen and her children: Thomas, aged 12, a scholar who had learned to sing; William, aged 8; Lucy, aged 6 who was schooled at the expense of Samuel Whitbread I and had learned to sing;
  • Martha Bonnel, aged 36;
  • Sarah Surkit, aged 26;
  • William Hopkins, aged 26;
  • Catharine Malding, aged 21 and her bastard child Jemima;
  • Mary Saunders, aged 15, died 15th September 1784;
  • Thomas Saunders, aged 10 “belongs to Cople, lived there in 1787, in School”;
  • Elizabeth Saunders, aged 6, died 24th August 1785;
  • William Strange, aged 13 “out at service”;
  • Frances Burridge, aged 13;
  • George King, aged 4, “Sunday School and singing”;
  • Widow Pearson, aged 32, died 28th December 1785 and her children: John, aged 8 “Sunday School and Singing at Cave’s”; Esther, aged 6, who was schooled at the expense of Samuel Whitbread; Susanna, aged 3, who as also schooled at the expense of Samuel Whitbread; Egraham [Ephraim?], aged 2 “Sunday School and Sing”;
  • William Inskipp, aged 9, schooled at the expense of Samuel Whitbread, who went out into service in 1781;
  • Thomas Inskipp, aged 5, schooled at the expense of Mr. Bass and taught to sing, “farmer’s servant at Maud [Maulden?]”;
  • Samuel Inskipp, aged 4, schooled by Samuel Whitbread and taught to sing.

The following additional people were present in the workhouse on 1st January 1783:

  • William Palmer, aged 66, died 7th April 1783 and his 53 year old wife Mary, died 20th December 1783;
  • Rebecca Crockford, aged 18, died 1st September 1784;
  • Lettice Pearson, aged 33 “gone out of parish”;
  • Hannah Nottingham, aged 23, died 20th March 1783;
  • Ann Haynes, aged 26 and her bastard son Thomas , born 7th August and died 4th September 1783.

The following additional people were present on 1st January 1784:

  • Elizabeth King, aged 24, “gone out of parish” and her bastard son Thomas, born 15th November 1783;
  • Charlotte Taylor, aged 19, died 17th June 1784 and her son Thomas, aged 2 “gone to Leighton to Girl’s Mother 1784”;
  • Isaac James, aged 19, died 2nd January 1784;
  • Richard Wagstaff, aged 53 “Dead” and his daughter Margaret, aged 11;
  • Widow Clark, aged 72, died 28th February 1786;
  • John Crockford, aged 20, died 12th June 1784.

The following additional people were present on 1st January 1785:

  • Hannah Palmer, aged 25, died 6th March 1786 and her bastard son Samuel, aged 6 “out of parish” and bastard daughter Sophia, born 20th May 1785;
  • Thomas Pike, aged 15, “Sailor”.

The following additional people were present in 1786:

  • William Chapple, aged 27;
  • John Huckle, weaver, aged 45, “Eloped in 1786” and his wife Ann, aged 43 and children Elizabeth, aged 15, Sarah aged 12, Ann aged 11, Mary aged 8 and Frances, born a Cople on 1st February 1786.

On 20th June 1787 Ann Blinco, aged 18 “came into the House with Child and was delivered of a ded [sic] Child 13th September 1787 and died herself 26th September 1788”.

Ground plan of the parish workhouse 1790 [W2/17]
Ground plan of the parish workhouse 1790 [W2/17]

A plan of the parish workhouse made in 1790 [W2/17] shows that it comprised three downstairs rooms. The work room measured 20 feet across and is now 280 The Green. The kitchen measured 21 feet across and is now 281 The Green. The back kitchen measured 20 feet across and is now 282 The Green; this room included a pantry in the corner. Stairs up to the first floor lay in both the kitchen and the back kitchen. Each room was 18 feet deep.

A report on the Cardington Poor House and its Inhabitants was made on 10th January 1808 [W1/767] and read as follows: “The House is kept properly aired, and cleanliness is constantly observed in it, as well as in the persons of its inhabitants. The beds, bedding, furniture, clothes, etc are in tolerable supply and are kept in comfortable condition by the Matron. The inhabitants are plentifully supplied with good provisions and every attention paid them that their situation requires”. The matron was identified as Ann Webb and the paupers were:


  • William Wells, 84
  • William Urin, 81
  • William Watts, 71
  • George Allen, 70
  • John Castle, 69
  • William Newman, 68
  • Samuel Brown, 61


  • Martha Castle, 76
  • Elizabeth Waterfield, 75
  • Sarah Surket, 55
  • Mary Moore, 48
  • Elizabeth Bason, 40
  • Elizabeth Case, 39
  • Ann Castle, 37


  • Thomas Cox, 12
  • George Thorogood, 10
  • Joseph Thorogood, 8
  • Abraham Case, 8
  • William Church, 6
  • William Bason, 6
  • William Case, 3
  • Joseph Edwards, 3


  • Elizabeth Case, 11
  • Mary Purser, 10
  • Mary Church, 10
  • Charlotte Case, 9
  • Line Case, 6
  • Hannah Church, 5

Total in the House: 1 matron, 7 men, 7 women, 8 boys, 6 girls, 29 in total – a lot of people in a comparatively small structure which today makes just three homes.

Some other boys and girls from the Poor House were sent out to work in service and were provided with clothes by the parish, which were washed and mended in the house. Those sent out were:

  • William Chapel
  • Benjamin Cox
  • John Purser
  • John Case
  • John Bason
  • William Mills
  • John Newell
  • Ann Geary
  • Sarah Geary.

The era of the parish workhouse came to an end in 1834 with the Poor Law Amendment Act. This set up Poor Law Unions, groups of parishes which all sent their poor to a large workhouse within the union which, in the case of Cardignton meant Bedford. These are the places which have entered folklore as soul destroying prisons where old people often went to die. They were abolished in 1948 with the introduction of the Welfare State. Many parishes sold their workhouses in the years following 1834 whereas the Whitbread Estate chose to retain the buildings in Cardington, presumably switching over almost immediately to using them as tenant housing. 

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Cardington, like most of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting 280 to 282 The Green [DV1/C116/98-100] noted that the former workhouse was now three cottages owned by the Whitbread Estate.

Number 280 was occupied by Mrs. Lucy Williams who paid £6/10/- per annum in rent. She ran the village post office. Her private accommodation consisted of a living room and scullery with two bedrooms upstairs. From the mid 19th to the mid 20th century various directories for the county were published every few years. These offer a snapshot of important residents and trades people in each parish. The following list of postmasters and mistresses is taken from directories held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service:

  • 1885-1910: Samuel Church;
  • 1914: Miss Emily Church;
  • 1920-1924: Lucy Williams.

No post office is listed in Cardington in Kelly's Directory for Cardington of 1928, nor in any subsequent directory, the last of which was published in 1940. An Ordnance Survey map of Cardington of 1970 does show a post office in the village but, by that date, it was at 317 Cople Road.

Number 281 was in the occupation of H. Mayes who did not know the rent he paid! His accommodation comprised a living room and kitchen downstairs with two bedrooms above. F. Wakefield lived at Number 282 and paid rent of £5/4/- per annum for a parlour, a kitchen and two bedrooms above.

280 to 282 Bedford Road Christmas Eve 2010
280 to 282 Bedford Road Christmas Eve 2010