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The mayor and burgesses were to purchase: a faire plot of ground within the said towne...
and thereupon shall erect and build a strong house of Bricke fit and commodious for setting of the poore on worke therein; or else shall buy and purchase such an house, being already built, if they can finde one alreadie fitting, or that may with a reasonable summe be made fir for the said use; the same house to have a faire garden adjoyning, and to be from time to time kept in good and sufficient reparations by the said mayor and burgesses for the time being for ever.
Eden, in his 1797 survey of the poor in England, reported of the St Mary's workhouse that: The Poor are chiefly maintained in a workhouse, erected about 20 years ago, for £1,400, of which £650 has been paid off. The parish has a standing overseer, who, it is generally observed, keeps down the rates more than officers elected annually. Tea is generally used here, twice a day, by the Poor; the other part of their diet is, principally, the best wheaten bread, and occasionally a little bacon; it is seldom sufficiently boiled, and is thought to give them the sallow complexion which is much observable here.
It seems a comfortable and convenient lodging for the Poor, but not always sufficiently aired. Reading Poor Law Union was formed on 10th August 1835.
The infirmary was to have male and female wards each with 13 beds, a three-bed and a four-bed itch ward (for scabies), two bedrooms for dirty cases, and a lying-in room for three women and three infants. The winning design was by a Mr Woodman, and building began in April 1866. A new infirmary was added at the west of the workhouse in 1892 and the old infirmary became a female residential block, with the old workhouse being used entirely for males. Unlike many other workhouses reviewed by the commission, Reading had a modern infirmary and a well-resourced nursing section which included a sister, four nurses, and two probationers. Reading Workhouse - 1911 Aged and infirm block, c.1915. Reading Workhouse - 1911 Aged and infirm block, c.1915. On March 1st 1915, the War Office requisitioned the Reading workhouse for use by the military authorities. The new Woodley Institution was officially opened ion 27th March, 1931.The lodging rooms contain 2, 3,4 beds apiece, made of flocks and feathers. If they require more they are usually taken into the house. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 15 in number, representing its 3 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one): Berkshire: St Giles, with Whitley (5); St Lawrence, Reading (5); St Mary, with Southcot (5).In winter generally about 80 or 90 persons in the house. Diet in Workhouse: Breakfast—Sunday—Bread, cheese and beer; Monday and Friday—Bread and broth; Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday—Milk pottage; Thursday— bread and cheese. The population falling within the union at the 1831 census had been 16,042 — 5,112 in St Giles 4,048 in St Lawrence, and 6,882 in St Mary.The first inmates were admitted in August 1867 and by the end of the year the paid medical staff consisted of a nurse at a salary £20 per annum, an assistant nurse, and a nurse for the idiots and imbeciles. Reading then adopted the 'scattered homes' system for its pauper children, setting up a number of homes around the town, including: 82-84 Crescent Road; 'Camarra' and 'Rosemont', King's Road; 109 London Road; 11-13 Milman Road; 59 Queen's Road; 23-25 and 40 Russell Street; 'Wilson' and 'Clifford', South Street; and 'Ashberry' and 'Sutton', Southampton Street.A receiving home for new admissions was based at The Beeches, 109 London Road, Reading.