Workhouse Drawings Collection - UCD Digital Library

Workhouse Drawings Collection

Abstract: The Workhouse Drawings collection contains a representative sample of drawings, plans, and documents drawn from the Irish Architectural Archive's Workhouse Collection. The Workhouse Collection (reference 85/138) in the Irish Architectural Archive includes surviving drawings for workhouses built in Ireland to provide relief for the poor. Built between 1839 and 1847, the workhouses were designed in a Tudor domestic idiom by architect George Wilkinson. Occasionally drawings are accompanied by other documents including the standard printed specification or, more rarely, items of correspondence. Many are in extremely poor condition and their extreme fragility precludes public access. This online collection provides access to drawings and documents relating to the Mallow, Castleblayney, Lismore, and Gorey workhouses. The drawings for Mallow Workhouse may be considered a representative set of the surviving drawings for the Tudor style workhouses built by Wilkinson. The majority of the drawings were produced mechanically (engraved and printed). The inclusion of drawings from Castleblayney, Lismore, and Gorey, in addition to those of Mallow, ensures that this online collection includes samples of each printed drawing.

Dynamic map showing the locations of workhouses in Ireland. Includes information on the current status of the building or if the building no longer exists. Links to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage record for the building are included where available.

Link to full screen visualisation:

  1. Mallow Union Workhouse : elevations
  2. Mallow Union Workhouse : ground plan
  3. Mallow Union Workhouse : one pair plan
  4. Mallow Union Workhouse : two pair plan
  5. Mallow Union Workhouse : plan of drains
  6. Mallow Union Workhouse : section on line A.B on ground plan
  7. Mallow Union Workhouse : section on line C.D on ground plan
  8. Mallow Union Workhouse : sections on line E.F and line L.M on ground plan
  9. Mallow Union Workhouse : sections on line G.H and line I.K on ground plan
  10. Mallow Union Workhouse : drawing for partition across Dining Hall
  11. Mallow Union Workhouse : drawing for Board Room chimney piece
  12. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : drawing for entrance door to front entrance building
  13. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : drawing (A) for entrance door to master house
  14. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : drawing for doors with ventilators over to cells of idiot wards
  15. Mallow Union Workhouse : drawing for windows no. 1
  16. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : drawing for windows no. 2
  17. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : detail for dormer window
  18. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : drawing for windows marked B on plan
  19. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : drawing for 6ft square ventilators over staircases in wings of main building
  20. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : drawing for Ventilators &c., over stairs &c. &c. 4 feet square (on plan)
  21. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : pattern for gable boards to wings of the main building
  22. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : patterns for gable boards for entrance block
  23. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : pattern of gable boards for infirmary building
  24. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : drawing shewing the manner of constructing the vaults and cesspools for privies
  25. Mallow Union Workhouse Ireland : drawing for cast iron ventilators
  26. Union Workhouses Ireland : drawing for construction of washing trays
  27. Specification of works required to be performed in the erection of the Union Workhouse
  28. Correspondence
  29. Castleblaney Union Workhouse : section on line C.D. on ground plan
  30. Castleblaney Union Workhouse : section on line G-H on ground plan
  31. Castleblaney Union Workhouse : section on line I.K on ground plan
  32. Castleblaney Union Workhouse : drawing for vane to be constructed on roof over stone turrets of staircases
  33. Circular relating to the frosts
  34. Circular relating to the windows for the new workhouses, Ireland
  35. Circular relating to the opening lights of the windows of the workhouses
  36. Circular relating to external doors
  37. Specification of works required to be performed in the erection of the Union Workhouse
  38. Particulars of the fittings to be provided for the Castleblaney Union Workhouse
  39. Castleblaney Union Workhouse : list of the several locks, hinges, and window fastenings, forwarded to the above workhouse
  40. Interior view of part of a workhouse building shewing the construction & arrangement of the sleeping platform, bedsteads
  41. Gorey Union Workhouse : details for brickwork &c to doors and windows entrance front
  42. Fifth annual report of the Poor Law Commissioners
Original version
Date created:
Type of Resource
still image
Physical description
42 items
Biographical/historical information
A system of workhouses to provide relief for the poor was established in England and Wales by the Poor Law Act of 1834. Although a Royal Commission found that such a system of indoor relief was unsuited to Irish conditions, the Government of the day, relying on the investigations of the Poor Law Commissioner George Nicholls, opted to replicate the workhouse system in Ireland. The 1838 Act for the More Effectual Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland (1 & 2 Vict., Cap. 56) provided for the division of the country into Poor Law Unions, each managed by a Board of Guardians, and the construction of a workhouse in each Union.
Biographical/historical information
Whereas different architects had been able to compete for workhouse commissions in England and Wales, it was decided that in Ireland the task of building all the new workhouses should be given to a single architect. In January 1839 the 25-year-old George Wilkinson, who had designed a number of English and Welsh workhouses, was appointed. The awarding of such an enormous commission to an English architect caused much resentment amongst the native architectural fraternity, but Wilkinson, assisted by one full-time assistant and a clerk, applied himself efficiently to his task. Designed in a Tudor domestic idiom, with picturesque gabled entrance buildings, 130 workhouses had been completed by 1847.
Biographical/historical information
A second phase of construction was undertaken during the Famine. Fever hospitals were added to existing workhouses from circa 1847 onwards, and between 1849 and 1853 a further thirty workhouses were built. These were plainer buildings with a different layout. The analysis of drawings under the Drawings heading is concerned only with the standard Tudor-style workhouses of the first phase.
Biographical/historical information
The Fifth Annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners, May 1839, included details of "the measures which [the Commissioners] have adopted for introducing into Ireland the provision of the Act of last session, for the more effectual Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland". An abridged version of the Report containing just the contents relating to Ireland was published in booklet form also in 1839.
Biographical/historical information
The Appendices which accompanied the Report in both its full and abridged manifestations contained 'Documents Issues by the Board Under the Irish Poor relief Act', with Section 9 consisting of 'Papers as to the Providing of Workhouses in Ireland' and Section 10 consisting of 'Plans, &c., of Workhouses for Ireland, to contain from 400 to 800 paupers'. Two ground plans were included, one for a 400 to 500 person workhouse and one for an 800 person workhouse. Each plan was accompanied by a 'Bird’s Eye View Shewing the General Arrangement' for the building. These drawings constitutes templates for the Tudor-style first wave of Wilkinson’s workhouses from which the constructed buildings did not significantly deviate. An important feature of the design was its flexibility; "the pans [were] so arranged as to allow of [an] addition being made without either interfering with the part already executed, or occasioning any sacrifice of the previous outlay".
Biographical/historical information
The documents in Section 9 of the Appendices included detailed "particulars of the… Drawings" in which Wilkinson explained the various areas of the workhouse, the materials to be used, the ventilation system, and the procedures to be following in moving from site selection to construction. He noted that once a site has been identified and "surveyed by the Architect", "the plans are immediately prepared". The local availability and cost of building materials were to be ascertained. A set of working drawings and a specification were then to be lodged with the clerk of the particular Board of Guardians for inspection by local contractors who might tender for the job. Procedures for the tendering process were stipulated in the Appendix, as were the forms of contract which the successful bidder would enter with the Commissioners, one for a complete workhouse and one for partial constriction. Under the full contract, the contractor undertook to build for an agreed fee within an agreed timeframe "a workhouse and buildings, according to the specification… and agreeable to the several plans, sections and elevations, as set forth or shown on the several drawings". Construction was to proceed "under the immediate superintendence and inspection of a clerk of works, appointed with strict regard to his qualifications"; this clerk was to report regularly to the Poor Law Commissioners or their architect.
Scope and content
It is clear from the procedures described above that Wilkinson would have had to issue a considerable number of drawings – elevations, plans, sections and details – for each building in the workhouse programme. The Workhouse Collection (85/138) in the Irish Architectural Archive includes surviving drawings for eighty-one workhouses, all located in the twenty-six counties of the Republic of Ireland. (Presumably the Northern Ireland drawing were handed over to the relevant authorities post partition.) For some buildings twenty or more drawings remain, for others only one or two. Occasionally drawings are accompanied by other documents including the standard printed specification or, more rarely, items of correspondence. Many are in extremely poor condition due to the fact that the room in which they were stored flooded at some point . Their extreme fragility precludes public access.
Scope and content
Drawings: While individual plans, sections and elevations, were produced by hand for each workhouse, the fundamentally uniform nature of the Tudor-style buildings which constitute the majority of Wilkinson’s first 130 workhouses allowed part of the drawing production process to be mechanised. A number of drawings for common elements were printed, some using the then relatively new zincography process, a cheaper alternative to lithography.
Scope and content
Plans: Though broadly similar in size – Appendix Section 9 of the 1839 Poor Law Commissioners Report contained a chart setting out the dimensions of the plots requires for each size of workhouse – each site was different and so individual plans for each workhouse were produced. The plans follow the standard pattern delineated in the 1839 Report, varying only depending on the size of accommodation to be provided. Plans can deviate from each other in the sizes of the yards or location of drains etc. rather than in the dimensions or disposal of the main building blocks. Ground, first and second floor plans, roof structure plans and roof plans were issued, usually on three sheets. Site and drainage plans might also be provided. Colour washes could be used on plans – grey for walls, pink for drains, cisterns etc, and yellow for timber.
Scope and content
Elevations: As with plans, elevations, though standardised, were individual produced for each workhouse, or rather hand-produced copies were issued pin-pricked from a standard template. Generally only one sheet was issued showing the front elevations of the entrance and main blocks. Elevation drawings were uncoloured.
Scope and content
Sections: Sections were also standard, and some hand-drawing sheets were issued, usually pin-pricked copies from templates. However, a large number of section drawings were also printed. Four or more section sheets could be issued for each workhouse, consisting of separate sections for various part of the building – the entrance block, the centre and wings of the main block, the infirmary, the dining hall/chapel and the laundry. Coloured washes could be used on sections – blue-grey for stone and metal, and yellow for timber. Printed sections included section though end wing of main block (generally on line on plan given as AB), section through central section of main block (CD), at least two varieties of which were issued, one including a dormer window and one without, and sections on one sheet through entrance block (EF) and infirmary (LM). Hand-drawing sections included sections through dining hall/chapel (GH) and laundry (IK); these could be issued together on a single sheet or on two separate sheets.
Scope and content
Details: Some detail drawings were hand drawn, again pin-pricked copies from standard templates. These could include the chimney piece in the board room and partitions in the dining hall.
Scope and content
Printed Drawings: Printed drawings were commonly headed in block capitals 'Union Workhouse Ireland', with the name of the specific workhouse written in above. They were almost all 'signed' in block capitals Geo: Wilkinson Archt. A number were also dated. Many of the surviving examples have manuscript additions such as instructions or additional measurements. Aside from the sections noted above, printed drawings include: Interior perspective main block. Drawings for doors including the entrance block door, the door to the master’s house (central section the main block), and door to 'idiots cell'. Drawings for ventilation towers or 'turrets' over the stairs of the main block, and for smaller 'ventilators'. Drawings for windows including the various sized windows in the front and back of the entrance and main blocks, and for the dormer windows in the main block. Drawings for the privies and cesspits. Drawing for sliding iron wall vents. Drawing for the washing trays in the laundry. Drawing for bedsteads. Drawing for fire grates.
Scope and content
The drawings for Mallow Workhouse may be considered a representative set of the surviving drawings for the Tudor style workhouses built by Wilkinson from 1839 to 1847. Mallow was constructed to accommodated 700 people at a cost of £6,090 with an additional £1,160 for fittings. It opened in August 1842. Twenty-six drawings survive for the building, as well as the printed specification and one item of correspondence.
Ownership/custodial history
The drawings are the property of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and were transferred to the Irish Architectural Archive in 1985 on extended loan.
Architectural drawings   linked data (gmgpc)
Almshouses--Designs and plans
Workhouses--Designs and plans
Irish Architectural Archive . 0085/138
Suggested credit
"Workhouse Drawings Collection," held by Irish Architectural Archive. © Public domain. Digital content by University College Dublin, published by UCD Library, University College Dublin <>
Related item
Irish Famine Research Project

Cited/referenced by
[1] Irish Architectural Archive. Workhouse Drawings Collection Finding Aid. Dublin, Ireland : Irish Architectural Archive –
[2] Dictionary of Irish Architects. Wilkinson, George (Dictionary of Irish Architects entry). Dublin, Ireland : Irish Architectural Archive2019 –
Record source
Descriptions created by staff of UCD Library, University College Dublin based on information provided by the Irish Architectural Archive. — Metadata creation date: 2017-03-24

Rights & Usage Conditions

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Workhouse Drawings Collection is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The original work is in the public domain

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