The Poorhouse as it is in 2004, from the canal towpath


Prior to the 1834 Poor Law Act, when the parish was responsible for the maintenance and support of its own poor people, there had to be some form of shelter for those without homes or for those unable to care for themselves. Todmorden district had such places, known locally as Poorhouses. Each township maintained its own. There was one at Carr Green in Langfield, one at Blackshawhead in Stansfield and one at Gauxholme in Todmorden. This last one could be said to be fairly representative of them all.


These parish poorhouses were normally small buildings that had previously been cottages or farmhouses, and were rarely purpose built. The inmates were small in number and were free to come and go as they pleased. They lived as a family in most cases, and a trusted inmate in return for a small wage would look after the building. Food and clothing were provided, as well as a bed and a roof. The inmates were encouraged to work if this was possible and the children were apprenticed to local businessmen and taught a trade. They were actively encouraged to attend religious services and bible readings, and were taught how to keep clean and be well mannered. Many were known as "Pauper Palaces".

It seems from contemporary reports that during the 1780's only 11 or 12 persons were receiving relief regularly in the township of Todmorden & Walsden, and they were on "out relief" and not requiring accommodation.

Todmorden & Walsden acquired its own poorhouse at Gauxholme in 1801. The Select Vestry decided that a house belonging to John Sutcliffe and John Shackleton should be rented for 18 guineas a year and converted to a poorhouse. The owners were asked to make the house suitable for its purpose. Three Overseers were appointed for the first year. They were Anthony Crossley of Todmorden Hall, John Crossley of Scaitcliffe Hall and Joshua Fielden of Waterside, they being "substantial Householders of the Township". It was agreed that the Overseers should purchase 10 cast iron beds at or near 2 guineas each as they were better than wooden ones. Each bed was to have a straw matress, 2 blankets, one sheet, one bolster and one woollen quilt. The house was to have "all kinds of furniture proper for a house" and "cloath and linen and other apparel for clothing the Poor" was to be purchased. The job of Overseer was unpaid until at least 1814 when Heptonstall began to employ a paid Overseer at an annual salary of £20 to £30.

Gauxholme Poorhouse was a three storey building, built right into the rocky hill side at the foot of the road to Pexwood. The middle floor only was used as a workhouse. The upper floor was used as a preaching house and sometimes a Sunday School. Here you can see the original steps leading to the upper floor. The door in to the middle floor is now a French window.

Later in 1801, at a lay payers meeting, it was resolved that a number of children in the poorhouse at Gauxholme would be apprenticed to Mr. Hudson, cotton mill, Gauxholme, to work normal times and hours, but not to work in the night. Ellis Hartley to be employed to teach those children not employed, and on Sundays he shall teach the apprentices to read etc. However, it was further resolved that persons being given relief should wear a badge in either red or blue cloth with the initials T.W.P. on it. (Todmorden and Walsden Pauper). This applied to those receiving "out-relief" as well as the inmates.

The following year, 1802, the governor of the workhouse, Eli Fielden, had refused to permit the paupers to read the Bible and hindered their attending morning and evening prayer. The Overseers gave him a month's notice to quit and they appointed Eli Baron as governor and Mary Crowther as governess. Later, there was a Sunday school at which John Greenwood of Watty (John o' Dan's) and Joshua Fielden junior of Waterside acted as Superintendents on alternate Sundays.

One of the first inmates in the new poorhouse was Luke Jackson. An article in the Halifax Journal of 13th. February 1802 reported his death as follows:

"Died on Sunday last in the workhouse at Gauxholme, Luke Jackson, who was born March 12th 1699 and consequently nearly 103 years of age; living in 3 centuries and 5 reigns - William and Mary, Ann, George I, George II and George III. He enjoyed the perfect use of his faculties to the very last, and had such an aversion to physic and physicians, that on his death bed when the Governor was ordered to procure medical assistance for him, he earnestly requested that none might be got."


In 1841 there were 17 residents at Gauxholme,

aged between 4 months and 80 years:

James Awkard



Thomas Barker



Thomas Barker



Samuel Crowther



Abraham Farrer



James Farrer



Susan Farrer



Samuel Fielden



William Greenwood



Martha Haigh



Elisa Harrison



Susan Holt



Samuel Jackson



John Marshall



Richard Marshall

4 months


Sarah Marshall



Ann Mayall




In 1844 a report was made about the workhouse, which stated that the it occupied the middle floor of a 3 storeyed building by the main road, set against a hill, and had outside access from this floor. The three rooms were occupied by an old woman, a man and his wife and child; 2 women and a girl; 6 men, 2 women and a child. The person in charge was one of the paupers. Some of the paupers received a regular food allowance. The old woman received tickets, which she could take to any shop in town. There were 2 idiots, but one of these provided for himself with money from the Relieving Officer, whilst the other carried water for a neighbour for which she received food. Some of the inmates went out to work.

By 1851 there were just 14 people living there. Edward Farrar, aged 71, looked after the place. He is recorded as a pauper so perhaps his wages were low or maybe he just received bed and board for services rendered.

Edward Farrar wid head & pauper
retired HLW  
John Wood   pauper
HLW Todmorden
Thomas Pickson   pauper
PLW Middlesex
Emma Jane Pulman wid pauper
PLW Middlesex
William Pulman unm pauper
labourer Middlesex
Emma Pulman unm pauper
cotton piece maker Middlesex
Cecilia Pulman unm pauper
cotton piecer Todmorden
Martha Pulman   pauper
scholar Todmorden
Ann Mayall mar pauper
Martha Mayall   pauper
Elizabeth Harrison mar pauper
Betty Woodhead wid pauper
Samuel Fielden unm pauper
labourer Todmorden
Elizabeth Stansfield unm pauper
labourer Todmorden
The 1861 census shows us there were 18 residents, only 2 of whom were men.
Betty Woodhead

matron and widow of labourer

Susan Clegg

widow of labourer

Ann Binns

wife of lunatic

Hannah Stephenson


Mary Rogers

widow of french polisher

Ann Mayall


Martha Mayall

cotton frame tenter

Sarah Mayall


Elizabeth Stansfield

disabled by epilepsy

Eliza Harrison


Hannah Greenwood

hawker of earthenware

Betty Walton


Sarah Walton


Ann Walton


Elizabeth Suthers


John Newhill


Samuel Fielden


Margaret Holmes



Of the above people, Samuel Fielden and Ann Mayall had been there since 1841, 20 years, and little Sarah Mayall was in the Union Workhouse in 1891 recorded as a lunatic. Several of the others had been there at least 10 years.

Hannah Stephenson died not long after the census was taken. Her death was reported as follows:

The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), Saturday, June 22, 1861


On Thursday an inquest was held at the Queen Hotel before T. F. Dearden Esq. touching the death of HANNAH STEVENSON aged 59 years, who was found dead in bed on Monday morning at the Gauxholme Workhouse near Todmorden. It appeared from the evidence of several witnesses that she was subject to fits and it was supposed that she had died during the night while in one of them; but no alarm was given nor had there been any sign of a struggle. A verdict of Died from Natural Causes was returned.


In 1867 a report by the committee said that the poorhouse consisted of one bedroom with 3 beds; 1 room for cooking with a bed in it; a room for washing purposes; and an arched room 8 feet square with no opening for light or fresh air apart from one doorway containing one bed. There were 6 females occupying 4 beds in 2 rooms, and 1 man in the arched room. The local committee reported that all was well except for the arched room, but the single man whose room it was had slept there for 30 years and was in good health. This was Samuel Fielden - see below.

By 1871, the poorhouse had just 7 residents, and this time the census records their reason for being there.

Sally Wilson unm
housework Stansfield old age
Ann Binns unm
housework Todmorden old age
Olive Fielden wid
housework Stansfield old age
Ann Rogers wid
dress maker Langfield old age
Elizabeth Stansfield unm
formerly cotton spinner Todmorden lame hand
Betty Law unm
cotton operative, unemployed Stansfield sick
Laura Mayall unm
cotton spinner Todmorden orphan
The stories of five inmates and how they came to be there

Amanda Haigh

Amanda was born Amanda Cooper in 1796 in Ireland. In 1829, she travelled to Manchester where she met and married Edmund Haigh from Todmorden. This was on the 14th February 1830 at Manchester Cathedral. Edmund had been married twice previously, but both earlier wives had died young. He was a boatman, working on the Rochdale Canal between Todmorden and Manchester. They lived in Manchester and had four sons. They later moved to live in Bacup, which is where Edmund died in 1845, leaving Amanda with four small boys.

She was forced to claim Parish Relief in order to survive and received in total 18 shillings from the Township of Newchurch in which Bacup was a village. The overseers were quick to realise Amanda was not entitled to relief from Newchurch as neither she nor her late husband had legal settlement there. She was ordered to remove to her late husband's legal place of settlement, which was Todmorden. Amanda appealed against the decision to remove her, but to no avail. So, in 1846, she was removed and placed in the workhouse at Gauxholme, presumably along with her 4 small boys. The melancholy story of her appeal and the detailed witness statements can be read HERE.

What a dreadful shock this must have been for her. She had no connections to Todmorden and had never lived there. She would have no friends, and it seems the Haigh family weren't interested in her well being. She was, after all, Irish, and there was great prejudice against the Irish in the Todmorden vicinity. It is no wonder she took to the bottle. The Manchester Times and Gazette, on Saturday 7th August 1847, reported that Amanda was convicted of being drunk and disorderly in the workhouse, and was committed to prison for a month. Who cared for her children isn't known, but by 1851 she is living with two of her sons in a cottage in Gauxholme, working as a hawker. Sometime after 1871, she returned to the workhouse and died there in 1874, aged 78 years.


Samuel Fielden


Samuel Fielden was known as "Tuppy". He was born of poor parents and was known to be simple minded. His parents were handloom weavers at Calflee Cote, Walsden, his father being descended from the Bottomley Fieldens and his grandfather had latterly owned and occupied Knowltop Farm in Walsden. As Samuel grew up, it became evident he was a little demented and would struggle to earn his own living. However, his parents guided him, taught him to hand weave, and taught him good manners and how to behave in society. Sadly, they both died when Sam was a young man and he was fostered out to a couple. They couldn't manage his strange ways, none of his relatives wanted him, so Sam was sent to the poorhouse at Gauxholme where he lived the next 40 years. He was there, aged 30, in 1841 and was still there in 1861.


At the Poorhouse he learnt many skills. He was a strong and physically healthy man, and found casual employment wheeling coals and loading and unloading boats at the Gauxholme wharf. He always behaved well and was kept clean and fairly well clothed at the Poorhouse. He enjoyed loading and unloading boats as payment was often in kind - beer being the normal payment. He liked his ale and could keep up with the best of them.

Samuel was the single man who had lived in the airless arched room for over 30 years.

In 1860 he was sent to the wharf to clean up a very nasty mess. It is recorded in the town minute books that there was a sewage and waste problem at Gauxholme about this time. The drains were open channels and overflowed frequently, the resultant soil seeping just about everywhere. When he saw the scale of the mess he asked for 5 shillings. Incredibly, this was agreed. Sam took off his clogs and stockings, rolled up his trousers and went in to the middle of the soil barefooted, singing as he worked.

Gauxholme Wharf in 2004 with the Poorhouse in the background at the foot of the hill

Samuel was accidentally drowned in the canal on 21st February 1869 when almost 60 years of age.

John Wood

John was the bastard son of a sister of Joseph Wood of Stonehouse who later married a Mr. Leeming, a bailiff of Mr. T. E. Hammerton the Todmorden Solicitor. (He was solicitor in the 1860's) Joseph was the owner of the estate at Stonehouse. His nephew was a tall, strong young man, but of very weak intellect. He busied himself by handloom weaving and working on the farm, but in general, was incapable of work. When his mother married, she moved to live at Woodbottom in Walsden and John stayed on at Stonehouse with his uncle Joseph.

Uncle Joseph was an elderly widower when he married again. His new wife wasn't satisfied with the farm and began building other businesses in her husband's name until she had spent all his money and mortgaged the estate. The farm had to be sold, and the family moved to Toad Carr in Todmorden. The wife died but Joseph and John lived on, and were well-known members of the congregation at Christ Church. When Joseph died, John inherited a pension of 4 shillings a week from his uncle, but was unable to look after himself, as his "mind could not carry responsibility". He went to live in the poorhouse at Gauxholme. He was often seen around Walsden, visiting old acquaintances. The poorhouse always kept him clean and well dressed.


Ely Marshall

Ely had been known as Ely Two Times since he was a young boy doing some hand weaving for his mum and dad, a reference to how many pieces of calico he had managed that day. When he was older and married, he lived at Toad Carr in Todmorden. Weaving for a small payment to line the pockets of others wasn't for him. He went out and bought the raw materials, which he then manufactured into calico at home, and went out and about the district hawking his home made cloth himself. A one-man business, which would never make him rich, but always gave him the satisfaction that he was only working for himself. He often took goods rather than money, and then sold on the goods as well as his calico. He was often seen round the town with his pack slung over his shoulder, even into old age. His insistence on this type of life resulted in poverty as he grew older, and he ended up at the workhouse in Gauxholme, where he died a very old man on 8th. January 1856.


William Scholfield

William and his brothers were brought up by caring parents at a place near Summit, Walsden. His father was a time keeper for the navvies working on the construction of the canal. All the brothers could read, write and keep accounts. As a young man, William worked as an outdoor labourer, hand weaver, and boatman. After the death of his parents, he left home and deliberately became a tramp. He wandered about the area with the navvies, getting into trouble here and there, living rough and finding work only when he needed to. When he grew older he decided to settle down, and went to live with his brother Abraham at Moverley in Walsden.

Abraham and his wife were very religious, even to the extent of having a small area set apart in a room for daily prayers and repentance. William had to keep the peace with his family, so meekly joined in with the prayers, even though he knew he was a sinner and always would be. He married very late in life, to a widow of Gauxholme. This was a mistake on both parts. His roving disposition and irregular habits didn't go down too well at home, although his wife did try to cope with his eccentric ways. Eventually, and mutually, they separated. William took to tramping again, calling in occasionally to see his wife. The railway was being built at this time, and William took work with the navvies there. Then, his brother's influence came back to haunt him, and William took to preaching.

His favourite spot was over the canal bridge at the bottom of Pexwood Road, outside the workhouse (shown on the right). There he would hold forth, spout the scriptures, and appear to be under a spell. His enthusiastic outbursts always drew a large congregation. By this time, he was living at the workhouse, and there he died, an old man, on 9th. October 1850.

The building ceased to be used as a workhouse in 1879 when the Todmorden Union Workhouse opened its doors. The place continued to be occupied, however. On the 8th. August 1888, an inquest was held at the Navigation Inn just across the canal bridge, before the coroner, Mr. F. N. Molesworth. This concerned the death of an eccentric weaver names William Lord, who resided on  the premises, where he was found the previous afternoon with his head under the fire grate, and died in the presence of several witnesses. The jury's verdict was that he died of natural causes.

On 6th. January 1897 it was reported in the local press:

"Early this morning a portion of the property at the bottom of Pexwood Road, widely known as the Old Workhouse, fell with a terrible crash, and caused considerable alarm to the occupants of the four tenanted houses. Fortunately, no one was injured."

The building is still there, now a rather pleasant private house known as Four Winds. Was it a 5 star Pauper Palace, or not?