Gressenhall House of Industry Proposed

By the 1770s, residents of East Anglia were fed up with the system of social welfare they had inherited from their Elizabethan ancestors.  Their commitment to assisting the “deserving” poor (the old, disabled, orphaned) remained undiminished, but costs were skyrocketing; they reckoned England was spending 3 million pounds per year on poor relief.  At the same time, they felt a growing frustration with their inability to assure that the able-bodied poor were gainfully employed, and that the children of the laboring classes were brought up in the values of hard-work and deference to authority that were the bedrock of the social and economic order.  “Our domestic safety and comfort, our private wealth and prosperity, and our national riches, strength, and glory, are greatly dependent upon an industrious and well-ordered poor…” wrote local author R. Potter in January 1775.  In a major effort to reform the basis of their social welfare policies, fifty parishes in the county of Norfolk joined together to apply for an Act of Parliament that would incorporate them into a union for the purposes of attending to the needs of the poor.  When this Act was passed, and following in the footsteps of dozens of similar endeavors in the region, the Hundreds of Mitford and Launditch opened a massive “House of Industry” at Gressenhall, in the summer of 1777, with space for about 600 paupers. Here, the poor of all ages and conditions would, for the next century and a half, be confined: put to work or school, and cared for in their old age.


Eden, Frederick Morton, Sir. The State of the Poor: Or, an History of the Labouring Classes in England, from the Conquest to the Present Period.  Volume 2. London, 1797. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. Carleton College. 5 Jan. 2016.

Pope, Stephen. Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse: A History of the Buildings and the People Who Lived and Worked in Them. Norfolk: Poppyland Publishing, 2006.

Potter, R. (Robert). Observations on the Poor laws, on the Present State of the Poor, and on House of Industry. London,  M.DCC.LXXV. [1775]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. Carleton College. 5 Jan. 2016 .