Northgate Workhouse Hospital – Facing demolition within the month

The Blake hospital. Former Workhouse hospital. The only surviving part of the former workhouse.
The Blake hospital. The only surviving part of the former workhouse.

Somerset County Council have announced that they will begin the demolition of the old Blake Hospital, early in the New Year. The Bridgwater Town Development Forum has called on the County Council to consider if the historic building could be re-used as part of the proposed new school. Now the Bridgwater and District Civic Society has entered the debate and called for a face to face meeting to deal with the issue.

Civic Society chair Dave Chapple asks “Is Bridgwater about to suffer-after the Splash fiasco- a second rushed demolition of an iconic local building? A few months ago, an officer of Somerset County Council assured a packed meeting of the Bridgwater Town Development Forum that the old Blake Hospital would not be demolished without a very careful re-consideration. Bridgwater Civic Society has fears that the hospital-originally the Northgate Workhouse Infirmary-could be bulldozed in January without the County Council having given Bridgwater people the courtesy of any serious reasoned assessment.

‘Somerset County Council have plans for a new primary school on the hospital site. The Civic Society believes that, if population growth figures justify the school, there is no reason, given a little imagination, and consideration for the place of the Blake Hospital in the lives of thousands of Bridgwater people since 1836, that the old hospital could not be incorporated into the new school design. Such conversions are commonplace in our cities, and, many years later, are often given conservation awards. Why cannnot Bridgwater be given the same consideration?”

County position

The Bridgwater Workhouse as it would have appeared in 1864
The Bridgwater Workhouse as it would have appeared from 1837 until demolition in the 1960s

A County spokesman said “This has been carefully considered by the County in developing their plans for a school. However, it has been concluded that it is not practical to re-use the building in total or in part, such is the condition of the building and its configuration. Moreover, English Heritage has confirmed that the building would not attract a Listing. SCC gave an undertaking that part of the materials would be used in some way as a monument to the previous use of the land and explanations boards to refer to the historic elements of the site.”

Bridgwater South County Councillor Leigh Redman has requested information from the County Council asking for access to the documents from English Heritage which they have based their decision to demolish the building on. So far this has not been forthcoming.

Town position

The workhouse hospital - still standing in 2016
The workhouse hospital – still standing in 2016

Town Council Leader and Westover ward councillor Brian Smedley has called a meeting of the Community Assets Panel for Wednesday January 6th so that County can meet face to face with the town council and the civic society. The County have countered with a public consultation at the Victoria Park centre on Wednesday 13th January (2-6pm) followed by a round table meeting with the Town Council and the Civic Society on the 14th.

Cllr Smedley said “We are convinced that there is a strong case for a new primary school in Bridgwater but we would like County to make that case better and for this site specifically. We aren’t opposed to this site but we have been asked by the Town Development Forum to seek ways to incorporate the workhouse hospital into the school build if this is possible and we would like to explore all these possibilities instead of rushing to a hasty demolition. We support the leisure planned usages for Northgate and have contributed to the process that has led to this – we’re 100% behind the enhancement of the green space, the leisure facility on the Splash site and the proposals for the development to complement the existing town centre, we just want some co-operation from County over these two sticking points -the school and the workhouse hospital.”

For the history of the workhouse click here.