ONCE the site of a workhouse St Mary's Hospital holds many memories.

St Mary’s Hospital used to care for hundreds of geriatric patients in the five years before it closed in 1993, and was knocked down to make way for development.

But its history dates back to the days of the Poor Law and workhouses.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

The site was originally known as the Colchester Union Workhouse Infirmary when it was built in 1837 - a year after the Poor Law Act made such miserable places statutory.

It was a place where the destitute with no home, no job and no future could turn to when other hospitals would turn them away but they were generally not pleasant places to be.

Colchester was not alone in having such a place, many nearby towns in Essex had them including Tendring, Maldon, Braintree and Halstead.

They were often Victorian built buildings and many, such as St Peter’s in Maldon and St Mar’s went on to become hospitals.

Babies were often born there too, like Ethel Howe pictured here with her husband and young daughter.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

She managed to get out of the establishment and forge a happier life but sadly many did not.

The workhouse and infirmary eventually became St Mary’s Hospital, which was a public assistance institution.

This meant it was accommodation for the elderly, the chronic sick and unmarried mothers.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

The hospital closed in the early 90s after Colchester General Hospital was built in 1985.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

Once the doors have been closed for good, work began on re-developing the site and before this could be done a major archeological dig took place which helped experts glean even more details about the town’s rich past.

This included, in 2002, the discovery of a Roman resident of the town near to the site.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

The unknown Roman adult of the third century was found along with pottery remains at Topfield, a former doctor’s house next to the hospital.

Both Topfield and St Mary’s cover the ancient approach road to the ceremonial Roman Balkerne Gate along which two temples are known to have existed.

Historians thought it could indicate the fact a cemetery may have been originally underneath the redeveloped site and carried out investigations with this in mind.

Developers later turned the 7.6-acre site into a residential development to replace the Victorian hospital buildings.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

Topfield was bought by a separate developer and three-storey town houses were later built there.

But these images recall its many lives before that which will live on in the memories of Colcestrians.