Work began on the imposing stone façade 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 (over £1m in today’s money). As a Union Workhouse, it was paid for by and took inmates from 35 parishes. 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. In the 1920s, after an appeal from expectant mothers, the Guardians who ran the workhouse agreed to call it Babington House, so that ‘workhouse’ did not appear on children’s birth certificates.
From the end of the First World War, Babington House effectively worked as a hospital, as fit and able people found 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 not wishing to permanently enter the workhouse.