This is the story of the impressive building in Whielden St, Amersham, which started life as a workhouse, then became part of Amersham Hospital, and is now luxury apartments.

This fine flint and brick gothic building was designed by the renowned architect George Gilbert Scott and built in 1838/9 in the Tudor style. This was in response to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 which obliged parishes to form a “Union” to build a workhouse.

This was to replace the smaller work or poor-houses which until then had been the responsibility of each individual parish.

The Amersham Union covered some 111 square miles and 12 parishes, which included Chesham, Beaconsfield, the Chalfonts and Penn. The Union was run by a Board of Guardians who met for the first time on March 30, 1835.

Typically, a Union Workhouse was built in the largest town of the Union. In Amersham’s case this should have been Chesham, but to that town’s disgust the Board chose Amersham instead!

Before the new workhouse was built the Board of Guardians decided that as an interim measure all the male paupers (poor people) should be accommodated in the existing Amersham workhouse, the female paupers should go to Chesham workhouse, and all the children to the one in Chenies.

Many of these would have been leaving their home parish for the first time. This policy caused great resentment which sometimes resulted in violence.

For example, on May 23 1835 a nasty riot took place when ten elderly paupers and one boy were being transferred from Chesham workhouse. An angry mob followed the cart, jeering and throwing stones at the official who was overseeing the transfer.

As the cart slowed when ascending the hill out of Chesham towards Amersham (now) New Town the mob were able to liberate the paupers, and they left the official lying in a ditch.

A detachment from the Metropolitan Police, then only recently formed, had to be summoned from London to restore order and make the transfer.

Life in the new Amersham Workhouse was tough, the inmates had to wear uniforms, work hard and were forced to attend church on Sundays. Men, women and children were housed in separate wards. So workhouses were not popular places, and most people dreaded them.

But they did at least provide “a roof over their head” for poor, old and infirm people, and a ward for sick inmates. Vagrants wards were also provided for homeless people and travellers.

For nearly 100 years after the new workhouse opened the name of Whielden St was changed to Union St.

Starting in 1900 the workhouse accepted poor people who were sick from anywhere in the Union, effectively becoming a hospital service.

The demand was so great that in 1903 an infirmary block was built for accident cases and for those with a contagious disease. Before that the latter had been sent to the “Pest House” half way up Gore Hill.

In 1924 the infirmary block became known as St Mary’s Hospital and was increasingly used for the people of Amersham and the surrounding area. However wealthier people preferred to use the War Memorial Hospital in High Wycombe.

There were 140 inmates in the workhouse in 1925, 70 of them being sick and 50 mentally or physically infirm. Vagrants were a great problem. They came in large numbers, as their wards were more comfortable than sleeping outside and the food was better.

In 1925 10,977 tramps passed through the workhouse. The wards for vagrants did not finally close until June 6 1939, even though on April 1 1930 Bucks County Council took over the site and the workhouse became The Amersham Public Assistance Institute and St. Mary’s Hospital. It was then that Union St reverted back to Whielden St.

When war was declared on September 3 1939 parts of the site were commandeered to provide an Emergency Services Hospital for both military personnel and civilians.

Prefabricated huts were erected on the site by Canadian Forces and the Local Agricultural Office (who oversaw wartime food-production in the area) was housed in the old Union building.

In the hospital The Amersham Public Assistance Institute operated the nursery and geriatric wards, and had 138 beds in 1945.

An off-shoot of St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington ran the main hospital services, with 280 beds in 1945. An emergency Maternity Hospital was established in Shardeloes Mansion.

The old Poor Law system was abolished in the National Health Service Act of 1946 and Amersham General Hospital was formally established when the NHS began on July 5 1948.

George Gilbert Scott’s workhouse building was used for a time as an administration unit of Amersham Hospital.

It was also given Grade 2 listing. In the 1990’s it was decided to sell it off together with adjoining buildings and land for private development.

This took place in 1999 and the conversion into luxury apartments began, these now sell for around £0.5 million each.