• Title
    Workhouse Drawings Collection
  • Reference
  • Date
  • Creator
    • Wilkinson, George
    • Poor Law Commission
  • Scope and Content
    A system of workhouses to provide relief for the poor was established in England and Wales by the Poor Law Act of 1834. Although a Royal Commission found that such a system of indoor relief was unsuited to Irish conditions, the Government of the day, relying on the investigations of the Poor Law Commissioner George Nicholls, opted to replicate the workhouse system in Ireland. The 1838 Act for the More Effectual Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland (1 & 2 Vict., Cap. 56) provided for the division of the country into Poor Law Unions, each managed by a Board of Guardians, and the construction of a workhouse in each Union. Whereas different architects had been able to compete for workhouse commissions in England and Wales, it was decided that in Ireland the task of building all the new workhouses should be given to a single architect. In January 1839 the 25-year-old George Wilkinson, who had designed a number of English and Welsh workhouses, was appointed. The awarding of such an enormous commission to an English architect caused much resentment amongst the native architectural fraternity, but Wilkinson, assisted by one full-time assistant and a clerk, applied himself efficiently to his task. Designed in a Tudor domestic idiom, with picturesque gabled entrance buildings, 130 workhouses had been completed by 1847. The Fifth Annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners, May 1839, included 'the measures which [the Commissioners] have adopted for introducing into Ireland the provision of the Act of last session, for the more effectual Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland’. An abridged version of the Report containing just the contents relating to Ireland was published in booklet form also in 1839. The Appendices which accompanied the Report in both its full and abridged manifestations contained ‘Documents Issues by the Board Under the Irish Poor relief Act’. Wilkinson detailed his workhouse design in Appendix Section 9, ‘Papers as to the Providing of Workhouses in Ireland’, and Section 10, ‘Plans, &c., of Workhouses for Ireland, to contain from 400 to 800 paupers’. A second phase of construction was undertaken during the Famine. Fever hospitals were added to existing workhouses from circa 1847 onwards, and between 1849 and 1853 a further thirty workhouses were built. These were plainer buildings with a different layout. The analysis of drawing below is concerned only with the standard Tudor-style workhouses of the first phase. The Workhouse Collection includes surviving drawings for eighty-one workhouses, all located in the twenty-six counties of the Republic of Ireland, and for ealry twentieth century additions and alterations to 47 workhouse buildings. For some buildings twenty or more drawings remain, for others only one or two. Occasionally drawings are accompanied by other documents including the standard printed specification or, more rarely, items of correspondence. Many are in extremely poor condition due to the fact that the room in which they were stored flooded at some point Their extreme fragility precludes public access. Drawings While individual plans, sections and elevations, were produced by hand for each workhouse, the fundamentally uniform nature of the Tudor-style buildings which constitute the majority of Wilkinson’s first 130 workhouses allowed part of the drawing production process to be mechanised. A number of drawings for common elements were printed, some using the then relatively-new zincography process, a cheaper alternative to lithography. Plans Though broadly similar in size – Appendix Section 9 of the 1839 Poor Law Commissioners Report contained a chart setting out the dimensions of the plots requires for each size of workhouse – each site was different and so individual plans for each workhouse were produced. The plans follow the standard pattern delineated in the 1839 Report, varying only depending on the size of accommodation to be provided. Plans can deviate from each other in the sizes of the yards or location of drains etc rather than in the dimensions or disposal of the main building blocks. Ground, first and second floor plans, roof structure plans and roof plans were issued, usually on three sheets. Site and drainage plans might also be provided. Colour washes could be used on plans – grey for walls, pink for drains, cisterns etc, and yellow for timber. Elevations As with plans, elevations, though standardised, were individual produced for each workhouse, or rather hand-produced copies were issued pin-pricked from a standard template. Generally only one sheet was issued showing the front elevations of the entrance and main blocks. Elevation drawings were uncoloured. Sections Sections were also standard, and some hand-drawing sheets were issued, usually pin-pricked copies from templates. However, a large number of section drawings were also printed. Four or more section sheets could be issued for each workhouse, consisting of separate sections for various part of the building – the entrance block, the centre and wings of the main block, the infirmary, the dining hall/chapel and the laundry. Coloured washes could be used on sections – blue-grey for stone and metal, and yellow for timber. Details Some detail drawings were hand drawn, again pin-pricked copies from standard templates. These could include the chimney piece in the board room and partitions in the dining hall. Printed Drawings Printed drawings were commonly headed in block capitals ‘Union Workhouse Ireland’, with the name of the specific workhouse written in above. They were almost all ‘signed’ in block capitals Geo: Wilkinson Archt. A number were also dated. Many of the surviving examples have manuscript additions such as instructions or additional measurements. Aside from the sections noted above, printed drawings include: Interior perspective main block. Drawings for doors including the entrance block door, the door to the master’s house (central section the main block), and door to ‘idiots cell’. Drawings for ventilation towers or ‘turrets’ over the stairs of the main block, and for smaller ‘ventilators’. Drawings for windows including the various sized windows in the front and back of the entrance and main blocks, and for the dormer windows in the main block. Drawings for the privies and cesspits. Drawing for sliding iron wall vents. Drawing for the washing trays in the laundry. Drawing for bedsteads. Drawing for fire grates. Two forms of contract were printed in Appendix Section 9 of the Poor Law Commissioners Report of 1839 Other documents to be found in the collection include: Printed ‘Specification of Works’, May 1839. Revised ‘Specification of Works’, July 1840. ‘Particulars of the Fittings to be Provided for… Workhouse’. Material is listed under the following headings: Rail &c for Bedsteads, Grates and Stoves, Iron Boilers, Dressers, Waterworks, Baths, Painting (of letters on doors), and Shelves. ‘List of several Locks, Hinges, and Window Fastenings’. As the printed specification had stipulated, these ironmongery elements were sourced and supplied centrally from Wilkinson’s office. The list is divided into the following sections; Ledged and Sparred Doors, Doors to Store Rooms, Carpenter’s Patent Locks, Stock Locks, Drawback Locks, Norfolk Thumb Latches, Bolts. Wilkinson also issued printed circulars from time to time including the following; ‘Circular Relating to Frost’, 10 Jan 1841 ‘Circular Relating to the Windows for the New Workhouse’, Ireland, 18 Jan 1841 Instructions to Clerk of Works, 19 Jan 1841 ‘Circular Relating to external Doors’, 25 March 1841 ‘Circular Relating to the opening Lights of the windows of the Workhouses’, 25 Jan 1841.
  • Exent
    c. 1,300 drawings and 20 reports
  • Physical description
    Rolled drawigns on paper
  • Language
  • Archival history
    The drawings are the property of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and were transferred to the Archive in 1985 on extended loan.
  • Level of description