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Care Of The Poor And Sick In Chipperfield

2nd of November 2006

Quite recently, I just happened to be looking at the Chipperfield/Kings Langley section of the 1822 Ordnance Survey Map, when my eyes alighted upon the words Pest House. Pest House Lane, now Croft Lane, was clearly marked and there on the left hand side, at the lane end, was marked the Pest House. So at last, we have it in black and white. At that time there was no marked track through to Scatterdells Lane, as there is on later maps.
The 1839 Tithe Map showed Pest House Field and Pest House Meadow on either side of the end of Pest House Lane. Unfortunately, no-one could recall having been told by a forebear, where exactly this building had been and yet everyone knew of its existence. Is there any evidence of a former building in the existing field? May be the foundations have lain undisturbed for well over a century.
At this time, Chipperfield did not have its own church and so came within the ecclesiastical parish of Kings Langley. The Parish Vestry was a forerunner of the Parish Council and its members had responsibility for the care of the poor and the sick. In 1750, the village workhouse was situated in Kings Langley High Street, on the site where there is currently a ladies’ fashion shop and prior to that a hat shop. Workhouses were built in the 18th century to provide shelter for the destitute, who were given the opportunity to work at tasks such as weaving, straw plaiting or stone picking.
During the 18th century, people with infectious diseases such as diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles and smallpox, were cared for in isolation buildings called Pest Houses and it appears that Chipperfield’s Pest House catered for the residents of both Chipperfield and Kings Langley. Even though it did not become compulsory for children to be vaccinated until 1867, Dr.Wotton of Kings Langley, carried out  vaccinations in Chipperfield on Mondays between 9.00 and 10.00a.m., as early as 1840.
In 1834, the Poor Law was changed and the whole system reformed. Six parishes, which included Kings Langley, were brought together as the Hemel Hempstead Union, which was later to become Hemel Hempstead Rural District Council. Fourteen Guardians, including two from Kings Langley, were elected annually to fairly administer the Poor Law under the guidance of the Poor Law Commissioners in London.
A major change in the law, resulted in the abolishment of the old workhouses. Kings Langley workhouse was closed in 1834/35 and demolished shortly afterwards. The poor were transferred to the new Union Workhouse in Queensway, Hemel Hempstead, built to accommodate 100 paupers. Some will recall that this building later became the maternity hospital. All the parishes had to contribute towards the upkeep of the Union.  In 1843, it was calculated that it cost just under 4d. a day, to maintain a pauper in the Union House.
The 1834 Poor Law Act also stipulated that workhouses should provide sick wards, and an infirmary was built in Hemel Hempstead with 224 beds for the aged, infirm and chronic sick. The Pest House was no longer required in Chipperfield and Miss Liddle recorded in her book that the property was sold to John Parsley, Lord of the Manor, in 1838.
(Reference books: Dacorum Within Living Memory,  The History of Kings Langley and A History of the Shops in Kings Langley High Street.)
Mary Nobbs

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