This is part of a heritage trail around Belper, taking in some of the key historic areas, and talking about some of the people involved in the development of the town. You can find a map of the trail, and information on where to find interpretation boards containing more details on the town and its history at www.derwentvalleymills.org/belper.
Work began on the imposing stone buildings of the Belper Union Workhouse (now Babington Hospital) in 1838, using stone from a quarry only half a mile away. It had been designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, during his early architectural partnership with William Bonython Moffatt and cost £8,700 to build. All told, including land purchase and furnishings, total outgoings were between £11,000 and £12,000 (over £1.2m in today’s money) making it among the most costly workhouses built during the early phase of workhouse construction. As a Union Workhouse, it took inmates from 35 parishes, who moved in from September 1840. The building is little changed – you can still see the separate exercise yards for men and women, on either side of the main entrance. At the birth of Queen Victoria’s first son in 1842, inmates received roast beef and the children had half a pint of ale each – a far cry from the harsh regime they usually endured. The name Babington House was adopted in November 1904 at the suggestion of the clerk Joseph Pym. It followed a request from the Registrar with regard to birth certificate details, and an appeal from inmates not wanting ‘workhouse’ to appear on children’s birth certificates.
For much of their history, the buildings effectively worked as a hospital, as fit and able people tried hard to find alternative sources of assistance to the harsh workhouse discipline and segregation of families, with men separated from their wives and children. Changes to the Poor Law saw the conversion of the buildings into Babington Hospital in the 1930s, with a new nurses’ home built on the south side. The Poor Law was abolished in 1948.
The porter’s lodge by the roadside also hosted at one time a ‘tramps’ ward’ for people of no fixed abode. They were not released until they had completed a set task, usually breaking stones; during a period of several years the rules demanded their work should last a full day and they therefore stayed 2 nights before being let out. It was a deliberately harsh regime.