Building Milford Workhouse

The poor law commissioners had laid down a number of criteria that each site must possess for it to be considered suitable. The most important of these were that it was to be above the reach of common floods, if possible on a level site, with a clean supply of water. The site was to be at most a mile outside of the town and should not exceed twelve acres, to ensure that the site would be small enough to be tended by the male paupers of the workhouse.

The site for the workhouse could be bought or leased, but if the site was to be leased the guardians were to ensure that it could be held on a long term basis. In some unions in the country, sites were given to the boards of guardians free of charge by a wealthy local landowner. However, this was not the case in Donegal where the boards of Glenties, Inishowen, Milford and Stranorlar purchased their sites, while sites were leased in Ballyshannon, Donegal, Dunfanaghy and Letterkenny. Advertisements were placed in two local papers and in the General Advertiser, requesting offers for sites for the workhouse. In Milford the guardians suggested sites which they felt would be suitable to the assistant commissioner and he investigated the possibility of the sites being taken over by the board.

The workhouse was to contain a front building known as the admissions block where the applicants for relief came to be admitted and included the boardroom and the clerk's office. This block also contained accommodation for temporary inmates, for example beggars, who were seeking accommodation for one night only. It was also the area where the new inmates were kept until they had been examined to ensure that they had no infectious diseases.

The main building contained the quarters for the master and matron, the kitchen and stores, and the majority of the accommodation. The garden or yard between the admissions block and the main building was divided into a yard for the girls and a yard for the boys. The main building also contained the chapel, schoolroom and a dining hall which was partitioned to ensure that segregation of the different groups was maintained. The dining hall was also used during the day as a day room for the old and infirm of the workhouse. To the rear of the main building was the infirmary and separate wards at either end of it for people described at that time as idiots, epileptics and lunatics.

The materials used in the building of the workhouse were dependent on the range of materials available locally. Economy was very important to the poor law commissioners and by buying materials locally transport costs were reduced. Most of the workhouses were constructed out of rubble from local quarries and the mortar used was often made from sand taken from the workhouse site. In Donegal the lime used in the buildings was mainly lime of a "meagre character" from pure limestone rocks.

Above: Birds Eye View of the Standard Arrangment of a Workhouse (5th Annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners)

Left: Standard layout of the workhouse. (5th Annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners)

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