Southampton’s first workhouse was “a house of twelve rooms for the habitation of poor people” built following a bequest in 1629 from a man by the name of John Major. This poor house was eventually transferred to a site in French Street which later became the location of St John’s Hospital. It is marked as 19 on P. Mazell’s map of Southampton from 1771. Today this is the site of a block of flats, having also been the site of a Georgian Theatre.
In 1753 a common workhouse was set up at Bull or Bugle Hall which had at one time been the home of the Earl of Southampton, which is shown as 18 on Mazell’s map.
In 1771 a proposal united all of the town’s parishes to form a poor law incorporation and in 1776 it was decided to build a new workhouse to the north of St Mary’s Churchyard. This new workhouse, despite having the capacity for 220 inmates, soon became over crowded. It was reported that inmates slept four to a bed and that there was no segregation of the sexes. In 1845 it was suggested that a new workhouse was to be built on the common and in 1863 it was suggested that Archer’s Lodge be purchased for this purpose, see illustration and Tallis’s map of 1851.Neither proposal was carried through and in 1865 it was decided to build a new workhouse on the land next to the existing poorhouse by St Mary’s Church.
A competition for a suitable design was held and the foundation of the new workhouse was laid in 1866. Just over two years later the workhouse was opened to a mixed reception from the town’s ratepayers. Opposite the workhouse located in two converted houses were school’s for the boys and girls from the workhouse. The size and location of the workhouse can be clearly seen from Bacon’s map of 1890.
By 1940 the workhouse was taken over for use as an emergency food centre and following the 1944 Education Act it became the home of Southampton Technical College. Today it houses part of Southampton City College.