Erpingham Poor Law Union was formed on 11th April 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 53 in number, representing its 49 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
County of Norfolk: Aldborough, Antingham, Aylmerton, Baconsthorpe, Barningham Norwood, Barningham Winter, East Beckham, West Beckham, Beeston Regis, Bessingham, Bodham, Briston, Cley next the Sea, Cromer (2), Edgefield, Felbrigg, Gimingham, Glandford with Bayfield, Gresham, Gunton, Hanworth, Hempstead, Holt (2), Hunworth, Kelling, Knapton, Letheringsett, Matlask, Metton, Mundesley, North Walsham (3), Northrepps, Overstrand, Plumstead, Roughton, Runton, Salthouse, Sheringham, Sidestrand, Southrepps, Stody, Suffield, Sustead, Thorpe Market, Thornage, Thurgarton, Trimingham, Trunch, Weybourne.
Later Additions: Upper Sheringham (from 1901).
The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 20,024 with parishes ranging in size from Barningham Norwood (population 42) to North Walsham (2,615). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-35 had been £16,532 or 16s.6d. per head of the population.
Initially, the Erpingham Union retained existing parish workhouses at Sheringham, Gimingham and North Walsham. The Poor Law Commissioners authorised an expenditure of £836 for alterations after which Sheringham could accommodate 300 inmates and Gimingham 100. Sheringham was used to house aged and infirm paupers.
However, the old workhouses proved unsatisfactory and a new Erpingham Union workhouse was erected in 1848-51 at West Beckham. It was designed by William J Donthorn who was also the architect of workhouses for the Aylsham, Downham, Freebridge Lynn, and Swaffham Unions. Erpingham was a cut-down version of his design for Aylsham, being an elongated cruciform plan. Construction of the building cost £7,386. The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1906 map below.
Erpingham workhouse site, 1906
Like Aylsham, the workhouse had an imposing entrance block, justifying its nickname of "Beckham Palace".
Erpingham entrance block, 1975.
Sketch by Ralph Potter.
The building was badly damaged by fire and was restored in 1888 at which time it could hold 539 inmates. However, in 1890 when Walter and Mary Emery were Master and Matron, there were only 78 in residence.
After its closure, the building stood empty and became derelict. The main building was demolished in the late 1970s.