When the parishes from Walton-on-Thames to Windlesham and including Chobham and Horsell were joined under the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the building of new workhouses was encouraged. When the new Chertsey Workhouse opened in Ottershaw in 1837, it was to replace existing parish workhouses. Opened in what was then known as Spinney Road, now Union Road, by Benjamin Butler of Chertsey it was designed by Sampson Kempthorne, architect to the Poor Law Commissioners for £4,277.
The land had been enclosed as part of the Enclosure Act from the wasteland and awarded to John Kirkpatrick Escott in c.1798. The land was purchased by the Poor Law Commissioners in 1834 and a pedimented block was built to contained male and female ‘paupers’ quarters’ with a dining room behind, wings for younger men and women and a separate infirmary. Later on more land along Spinney Road was bought, and a new infirmary, laundry, workshops, porter’s lodge, tramps’ ward and a school (behind the present Brook Hall) were erected.
The Chertsey Union was run by a Board of Guardians. The staff consisted of a master and matron, a relieving officer, a handful of nurses and/or domestic staff, a porter and several scrubbers. The vicar from Addlestone offered them spiritual guidance, and two doctors were on hand to deal with any health problems. There was also a schoolmaster and mistress for the education of the children.
The people consigned to the workhouse had a number of tasks. The able-bodied did outdoor work on the land, or picked oakum (a caulking fibre that was made by picking old tarred rope to pieces). Some also worked at the bone mill until it was discontinued as the bone dust was thought to cause lung disease, and older girls went into local domestic service. At the time of the 1871 census there were 177 male and 102 female ‘paupers’, including 6 with babies and 38 scholars. People who were considered to be “quiet ‘mental defectives’” were also admitted.
All the members of the workhouse were required to wear clothing supplied by the Guardians, and if they left wearing them, they were charged for their value, although emigration to a colony was encouraged by a free or assisted passage.
By the time of the First World War a new children’s home had been built, called Summerfield. In 1920 the Poor Law Unions, with their Guardians, were abolished, and the Poor Law Institute was renamed Murray House and converted into a home for the ‘mentally handicapped’, with close links to Botleys Park.
Stratton, H.J.M., ‘Ottershaw through the Ages’, 1990