Workhouse Changes

By kind permission of John King, Author

The pattern of events in Grove Park had not been particularly extra¬ordinary in the opening weeks of the war, but September was to bring a most profound change. It concerned the Greenwich Union’s Workhouse in Marvels Lane. The Workhouse had been completed in 1902, but was not occupied until 1904. It had accommodation for 816 inmates, but was always under-occupied due to changed social conditions. The building itself was quite elegant for a workhouse and the Local Government Board had received a Diploma of Merit when its plans had been exhibited at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1900. During its ten years of operation as a workhouse, the institution successfully integrated into the community of Grove Park, Samuel Luffman also acting as chaplain.

In September the workhouse was only half full, there being a total of 400 inmates. The gross under-utilisation of the accommodation coincided with an accommodation problem of the Army Service Corps, the part of the army which provided its transport and supplies. At the outbreak of hostilities, the ASC was slowly converting to motor transport, which was still in its early days, and expansion was immediately necessary. After the despatch of the British Expeditionary Force in August, it was quickly realised that the resources fell far short of requirements. In particular there was a need for means to deal with motor vehicles and a vehicle reception centre, together with stores and repair shops; and to train recruits and mobilise them. Aldershot could not carry out all these functions.

How Grove Park came to be selected requires more research, but the records of the Greenwich Board of Guardians reveals that the Board’s Clerk at Greenwich, W G Cornish, received a telephone call on 8 September from General S S Long, the Director of Supplies and Transport at the War Office, enquiring about the number of vacancies at Grove Park and asking if the whole building could be handed over to the military. Cornish replied that it would require serious consideration and subsequently telephoned the relevant government department, the Local Government Board, where Inspector Oxley told Cornish that the War Office had already been making enquiries. In the afternoon Oxley called Cornish to say that no further action should be taken and that he had told General Long that the Greenwich Board would do nothing except through his department. Two days later, on 10 September, representatives of the War Office visited Grove Park and told the Master that it was proposed to approach the Local Government Board. On 11 September, Oxley telephoned Greenwich to ask if the Guardians would consent. The Guardians met the following day. They felt unable to withhold consent! The War Office required vacant possession in two days’ time, on Monday 13 September if possible! In the event the change¬over took place ten days later. A detailed report of these developments also appeared in the Kentish Mercury.

The inmates were subsequently dispersed to other workhouses where there were vacancies. About a third went to the main Greenwich Workhouse — later St Alfege’s Hospital and later still to be rebuilt as the Greenwich District Hospital. Others went to Fulham’s Belmont Workhouse at Sutton.

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