Lurgan Poor Law Union was formed on the 16th January 1839, and covered an area of 125 square miles. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 25 in number, representing its 19 electoral divisions. Thirteen of these guardians came from the Lurgan area (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
Breagh, Brownlow's Derry, Carrowbrack, Drumcree, Kernan, Lurgan (2), Montiaghs, Portadown (3), Tartaraghan (2). The Board also included 4 ex officio Guardians, making a total of 29. The Guardians met each week at 11am on Thursday.
The population falling within the union at the 1831 census had been 62,259 with divisions ranging in size from Aghalee (population 1,411) to Lurgan itself (5,615).
Large stretches of bogland, being described as non-profitable along side the granted areas were also given witht the two manors.
The new workhouse, built in 1840, was designed by George Wilkinson. It occupied a six-acre site to the south-west of Lurgan and could accommodate 800 inmates. The cost of the building was £8,581 plus £1,319 for fixtures and fittings etc. It was declared fit for the admission of paupers on 1st January 1841, and admitted its first inmates seven weeks later on the 22nd February 1841. It covered an area which had a population of around 70,000, it was a collection of huts and tents with one permanent building. The site location and layout are shown on this 1907 map below.
The buildings followed Wilkinson's typical layout. An entrance and administrative block at the north-east contained a porter's room and waiting room at the centre with the Guardians' board room on the first floor above. Side wings ran back from the entrance block towards each end of the main accommodation block which had the Master's quarters at the centre, and male and female wings to each side. At the rear, a range of single-storey utility rooms such as bakehouse and washhouse connected through to the infirmary and idiots' wards via a central spine containing the chapel and dining-hall.
During the height of the famine between 1845 and 1848 one person in ten turned to the workhouse for help, sheds were enclosed and new ones erected to accommodate an additional 1200 inmates. A 40-bed fever hospital was erected at the south of the workhouse. A 50-bed extension was soon added, with temporary sheds erected for a further 300 fever patients. The dead were buried in an adjacent graveyard near to the well that supplied the workhouse water.
The place was run on a shoestring budget. In 1846 it cost 2 shillings and 2 pence to keep a pauper a week. But as the numbers grew the belt had to be tightened even more and this weekly figure was brought down to just one shilling and five pence farthing. The fever could kill in 12 hours. A man was seen working in the field in the morning and at 9 o'clock that night he was dead.
Between December 1846 and November 1847 a total of 1,118 people died. So great was the number of deaths that the original three acre field had to be extended. A six acre field was bought. The Coffinmaker in the workhouse made 3 sizes of Coffins priced at 6d, 9d and l/3d. Burials were discontinued in this Cemetery when Monbrief Cemetery was opened.
The Workhouse Cemetery was in the Townland of Aughnacloy.
There seems to have been some skulduggery in the workhouse accounts as this letter to the Chief Secretary for Ireland on 21 February 1896 and itís subsequent reply by none other than the Chief Secretary for Ireland himself, shows.
"I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with reference to the Local Government Inquiry recently held at Lurgan, whether he can state what frauds, if any, were proven against officials, contractors, or other persons in connection with the supply of goods to Lurgan Workhouse, and whether any steps have been taken in the matter by the Local Government Board?"
MR. M. McCARTAN
Sir, It has been found as a result of the investigation referred to, that certain deficiencies did exist in the workhouse stores, and that the Union had suffered considerable loss during the past few years by the removal or loss of articles of clothing, &c. There was, however, no direct evidence to show whether the late master and matron of the workhouse had been guilty of fraud, or whether the deficiencies were the results of carelessness. These persons having ceased to be Union officers are not subject to penalties from the Local Government Board, but the Board have pointed out to the Guardians that they should consult their own solicitor as to whether there is evidence to justify proceedings 806 being instituted by the Guardians against them. This matter will be considered by the Guardians at their meeting on the 27th inst. One of the relieving officers was proved at the Inquiry to have acted in contravention of an Act of Parliament by supplying goods to the workhouse, and he has been called upon to tender his resignation. The Guardians have also been informed that, owing to the fact that stock of material and stores of the workhouse had not been taken by them in accordance with the regulations, they are largely to blame for the loss sustained by the ratepayers.
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,)
At the 1901 census, the population of the Union was 53,718 with 18 officials and 403 inmates in the workhouse.
In 1929, the workhouse became Lurgan and Portadown District Hospital, later Lurgan Hospital. Much of the original buildings have now been demolished. The main and chapel blocks survive, with parts of the entrance block incorporated into the present hospital frontage.