BIRKENHEAD UNION WORKHOUSE
(St. Catherine's Hospital)
Prior to the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 individual parishes (not catholic) were responsible for providing for their own ‘poor and dispossessed’ . This Act replaced the single parish as the instrument responsible for poor law administration. In future the poor law unions were to be supervised by a central government agency successively known as the Poor Law Commissioners, Poor Law Board, Local Government Board and The Ministry of Health. These agencies mainly administered poor relief through the establishment and maintenance of workhouses. In addition they were responsible for other local government activities such as the registration of births, marriages and deaths, valuation of property for rates and sanitation services in rural areas.
Under a Poor Law Order the ‘Birkenhead Union’ was formed in March 1861 separating the townships of Bidston-cum-Ford, Birkenhead, Claughton-cum-grange, Liscard, Noctorum, Oxton, Poulton-cum-Seacombe, and Wallasey from the Wirral Union.
The Union Workhouse in Derby Road, Tranmere, was opened in 1863 and was subsequently known as Birkenhead Union Infirmary until 1934, then as the Birkenhead Municipal Hospital until 1948, and thereafter as St. Catherine’s Hospital. It was designed to hold 1,000 inmates. Separate Infirmary and school buildings were added by 1870.
The Workhouse continued as a Public Assistance Institution until the abolition of the poor laws in 1948 at which time the workhouse infirmary became a municipal hospital and control passed to the Birkenhead HMC of the National Health Service and the site became a single hospital renamed ‘ St. Catherine’s’.
The hospital has been administered by the Wirral Area Health Authority since 1974 ceasing to be a general hospital in 1982. The hospital now specialises in the treatment of geriatric and psychiatric patients.
Throughout its chequered history the ‘Union Workhouse’ and ‘St. Catherine’s Hospital’ has been served by chaplains from St. Joseph’s presbytery right up to the present day. (In the Gore’s Directory 1905 its lists ‘Very Rev. Canon O’Toole, Catholic Religious Instructor’.) Under the Poor Law Amendment Act 1868 a separate ‘Creed’ register was to be kept in every workhouse, to which all local ministers of all denominations were given a right of inspection. These registers recorded details as to dates of admission and discharge, where to, last known address, next of kin, sex, age, etc. The Parish Archive also holds its own register of catholic baptisms that took place at the ‘Workhouse’ during the early years.
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