by Bernard Fleming
Brindle workhouse was originally set up by the parish, using a small, converted, catholic ‘mass house’ that had been confiscated from the Gerrard family after the 1715 rebellion of Lancashire catholics. By 1745, the overseers had contracted with 15 other parishes to take their poor off their hands for a fee, and a ‘large, roughcast edifice’ had been constructed to house them. The number of paupers in the workhouse continued to expand until by the early 1800s 80 townships were recorded as sending their poor there – ‘a general receptacle for pauper lunatics and the idle and refractory poor’. At its peak, Brindle workhouse housed between 200 and 300 paupers in harsh and wretched conditions and despite a number of scandals and attempts to have it closed down by local Magistrates of the Peace, it remained in operation and was eventually, reluctantly absorbed into the Chorley Poor Law Union in 1843.
Conditions improved somewhat – “inmates…, to the number of 111, were on Christmas Day made the objects of the kind benevolence of the Guardians of the Poor … The humble party expressed their strongest sense of respect and thankfullness to the kind donors by whose bounty their hearts had been so gratefully gladdened.” Despite this, conditions were still harsh and Brindle workhouse made the national press at least twice in the late 1850s and ’60s, with sensationalized accounts of brutal deaths that resulted in prison sentences for workhouse staff. Even in its last decade there were records of inmates “being restrained by leg locks …. preventing his escape over the walls.”.
The workhouse closed over the Christmas break at the end of 1871, with the paupers being transferred to the new workhouse at Eaves Lane in Chorley. Much of the stone seems to have been sold off, though it was possibly the biggest building in the parish for much of its 150 years existence.
The workhouse site took in the ‘pen’ at the end of Top o’ th’ Lane cottages and the ‘paddock’ behind it, and held a large building – originally probably cross shaped but seemingly replaced around 1844 by a larger, more complex, ‘J’ shaped building. Of the few remaining buildings, it is possible that part of a house over the road may have been the original ‘mass house’ and the one remaining building on the main site could be the workhous’s ‘dead house’, where the bodies of paupers would have been stored waiting to be buried in the various nearby churchyards.
Some exploratory archaeology has been carried out but we hope to do a more thorough exercise in the forseeable future. The site is commemorated by a small plaque set into the western boundary wall.
For further information, contact Bernard Fleming via the Brindle Historical Society Contact Us page.