The Workhouse (later the Victoria National School)The former workhouse with St Peter’s church in the background
In 1673 a Brandon maltster by the name of William Brewster (of The Limes) called a meeting at the Ram Inn.
Not only was he a Quaker but he was also one of a growing number of successful business people in the town who became influenced by the new atmosphere of social conscience that had been building since the introduction of the Poor Law Act in 1601. At this meeting he put a scheme into operation that would eventually see the sum of £1600 raised to build a Victoria National School. Established 1813 two-storey chalk workhouse at Church End (opposite the Manor House or Reeve’s House [see photo below] – a door from which can be seen at the Brandon Heritage Centre). The master’s house of Ely brick was built alongside.
Brandon Ferry Town Book which records the minutes of the Vestry of the parish records the Bill of Fare for the inmates fixed on May 20th, 1729:-
Morning Noon Night
Sunday Bread and cheek Beef Bread and cheese
Monday Beef broth Pease Porridge
Tuesday Milk broth Beef
Wednesday Beef broth Hasty Pudding
Thursday Bread and cheek Pease porridge
Friday Milk broth Neats Heart
Saturday Beef broth Pease broth
The care of the “aged and invalid poor” parishioners was supervised by the appointed Trustees, the overseers of the parish and the churchwardens. The minutes for Nov. 29th 1731 record that “Jos. Burch, Caesar Life [see St Peter’s Sundial on the Church page], James Sparke, John Brewster and Richard Neve, or any two of the above, are destined and empowered to make agreement with some person for the care and management of the work of the workhouse and to settle and determine any other matters relating to the workhouse.”
That same year Mr. John Morris was appointed “physician, apothecary and surgeon for all the poor of the parish who the overseers shall think not in a condition to pay and that he shall be paid £6. 10s. yearly for his pains.” Victoria National School. Established 1813
In 1736 a town meeting was held at the Old Bull pub (now, Bromhall’s Chemist’s in the High Street) that £5 rather than £10 would be paid every half year, discharging the debt due upon the workhouse.
Then in 1742 it was decied that:-
“Everyone receiving parish relief shall upon the right sleeve of their upper garment wear a badge with B. P. sewed on. Pentalty. The allowances shall be withdrawn and the offender whipt. Penalty for overseer 20/-. Only such poor as be ill of smallpox or plague. Resolved at Vestry held this day that such persons that are in the workhouse do constantly attend divine service in their proper seat, and that all persons receiving collection do likewise attend divine service in the said seat and that the overseer do pay the collection after the divine service.”
Repairs were necessary on April 20th 1778 the principal inhabitants of Brandon held a public meeting at the home of Henry Taylor (The Ram Inn) where it was agreed that the workhouse should be “put into condition by October 4th” The Rev. Thomas Ball, John Brewster and James Denton each lent £100 at 5% interest.
Victoria National School. Established 1843On June 10th 1843 an indenture was made for handing over the old workhouse to the Minister, Churchwardens and Overseers for educational purposes. It states: “We, the guardians of the Poor of the Thetford Union under the authority for an Act to afford with the consent of the Poor Law Commissioners and with the consent of a majority of the ratepayers and owners of property in the Parish of Brandon, do freely and voluntarily and without any valuable consideration, grant and convey to the Minister, Churchwardens and Overseers of the said Parish of Brandon, all that two storey house known by the name of the Old Workhouse and also the dwelling house adjoining together with a garden containing nearly half an acre belonging to the said Parish and all the right title and interest of the said Parish of Brandon, to hold unto and to the use of the said Minister, Churchwardens and Overseers, and their successors for the purpose of the said Act and to be applied as a site for a school for poor persons in the said Parish of Brandon and for no other purpose whatever.”
From “Brandon Notes” by B. A. M. Lingwood we discover that the workhouse had reverted into the hands of the Lord of the Manor in 1778, at that time Rowland Holt, Esq., due to a “want of Feoffees”. In turn he released it “by the hands of his steward to certain Feoffees at this time” then 28 years later “an agreement was made between the wardens, overseers and Benjamin Webber to pay him £150 per annum for five years to keep and clothe the inmates of the workhouse, he to have all profits from their work.” However, following the formation of the Thetford Union, when Brandon’s paupers were sent to Thetford, the workhouse was left empty thus leading to the indenture being enrolled in Her Majesty’s Court of Chancery on 14th July 1843. Lord Wm. Powlett, J. Angerstein, Tyrrell Garner and John Wright joined the Minister, Wardens and Overseers as managers of the school.
Chimney between Old Workhouse and Masters House next door In 1878 a new school was built on Market Hill on the site of the old Grammar School, but even so, the Old Workhouse continued as a Board School for the education of the children from the Town Street side of town. In addition the church Sunday School was held there until 1911 when it moved to the Church Institute (built in 1909).
Then, in 1913, the Town Street children finally moved up to the Market Hill school and the old building was empty once more. It stayed that way for another seven years until 1920, when the Recreation Club was formed and the old school became its headquarters.
In 1935 the Ministry of Education scuppered the Church Council’s plans to turn the building into flats, pointing out that the deeds precluded this. And on 24 Jan 1936 an agreement was reached to let the old National School premises to Brigadier General Henri G.J. de Lotbiniere on behalf of Brandon Recreation Club.
The overseers were succeeded by the Parish Council after the war and two representatives were appointed to the trustees. But a 1948 Act of Parliament saw the old school handed over to the Church of England’s Diocesan Board of Finance on the grounds that it had once been a church school. This met with stiff oppostition from the town and it was pointed out that the Trustees were officials of the Vestry making the executive committee a parish rather than a church concern and so making it a Council school between the years 1873-1912. In addition no Sunday School meetings had been held there after 1911. But the buildings remained under the control of the Diocesan Board of Finance until 1951 when they lent Brandon Church Council the money to buy the adjoining master’s house and turn it into a home for the verger. They held on to the Old Workhouse/school building and with history turning full circle it was let to the Ministry of Labour and National Service to be used as an Employment Exchange.
A couple of years ago the western end of the building collapsed after being hit by lightning during a violent thunderstorm and had to be completely rebuilt. If anyone knows the exact date of this calamity or has any newspaper reports about it I’d be pleased to hear from you.
Stone marking site of Curtis Almshouses Alongside the church wall and almost directly opposite the Old Workhouse were the Curtis Almshouses.
White’s Suffolk Directory for 1844 tells us:-
“In 1675, ANN CURTIS gave a cottage, containing five rooms, and a small garden, in trust for the use of the poor of Brandon. These premises are occupied, rent-free, by three poor families, and were rebuilt, in 1840, at the expense of the parish.”
The site is now part of a modern complex of sheltered housing units for the elderly.
This complex also extends over the site of Manor House Farm which lay just behind the Curtis Almshouses and was, at one time, the Reeve’s house.
The Reeve’s House
Edward BALDING – farmer – Manor farm (1883 Kelly’s Directory)
Frederick Charles PAINE – Fen House
land agent to Richard GARRETT esq. (1883 Kelly’s Directory)
Daniel Richards GARNER-RICHARDS wholesale game dealer (1883 Kelly’s Directory)
Odden Frederick READ – solicitor (1883 Kelly’s Directory)
William ROLPH – farmer, High fen (1883 Kelly’s Directory)
Old photo of the Victoria Avenue when the old trees used to stretch past the cinema and to the top of the High Street. Unfortunately the trees in this section became diseased and had to be replaced. The Victoria Avenue – planted to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – seen here in early spring
William WILSON – farm bailiff to William & Gorthorpe Musgrave – Hiss Farm (1883 Kelly’s Directory)
Arthur Henry Lee BARBER – Lime Tree House (1883 Kelly’s Directory)
Henry BROOK – North Court Lodge (1883 Kelly’s Directory)