Listed building bid launched for vagrants’ cells at Melton’s St Mary’s Hospital site

A view of the vagrants' block taken in 2001
A view of the vagrants' block taken in 2001
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Melton Council is seeking to get listed building status for a block of vagrants’ cells at the town’s St Mary’s Hospital site on Thorpe Road.

The vagrants’ cells/casual ward is an ancillary building to the 1836 former Melton Union Workhouse.

The vagrants’ block was for vagrants, or tramps, passing through the town looking for shelter. At the time it was illegal to sleep on the streets so they either had to rent a room somewhere in the town or, if they had no money, sleep in the cells.

The former casual ward contained work cells for stone-breaking. Vagrants used to break up stone inside their cells and then pass the small pieces through outlet grids which have since been bricked-up.

The building was later used as storage and part of it was converted to a mortuary, but many of its features remain intact, including the original cell doors, bedsteads and cabled alarm system.

An application was submitted by members of the public more than 10 years ago for the listing of the vagrants’ cells/casual ward but it was declined, with English Heritage stating the building fell below the required standard.

But now a fresh bid is being made for the building to be listed as supporters of the application to Heritage England believe the criteria for listing has developed and changed since the early 2000s and since then a number of similar buildings around the country have been listed.

A consultant expert from the Museum of London Archaeology was asked by NHS Property Services, the owners of the hospital site, to give his advice on the buildings.

In his report the consultant said: “The vagrancy shelter, although somewhat altered, is an interesting item but of no more than local interest.”

The 1836 former workhouse building at the hospital site was somewhere poor people in the area could go to, where, in return for the work they did, they were given food and clothing. Adjacent to the old workhouse is the detached 1863 former matron’s residence, which is largely unaltered.

As previously reported in the Melton Times, the former workhouse was designated Grade II listed status in 1976 but was de-listed in 2001 by English Heritage which, at the time, stated the building’s historical importance, architectural quality and integrity were below the standard required to justify its listed status.

The former matron’s residence, a building which stands alongside the workhouse, wasn’t listed by English Heritage on grounds that the former workhouse had been de-listed and the building wasn’t of sufficient interest to justify listing in its own right.

Melton Council is now seeking to place what is known as an Article 4 direction on the buildings. This would mean the new owners of the hospital site, due to be announced shortly, wouldn’t be able to demolish the buildings without first submitting a planning application to the council seeking permission. Without this permission the new owner would be legally entitled to knock them down.

A 28-day public consultation on the council’s Article 4 direction proposal is now set to take place before the authority considers the public’s feedback and whether or not to place the direction on the buildings.