It consisted of rows of workshops around a central courtyard, with Kendrick's remodelled house forming the north and east sides. The premises included a large dye-house containing three furnaces, two woad vats and a float vat), a stockarding house, a medling loft with beating hurdles, several weavers' shops containing six broad looms and a kersey loom, and various clothworkers' shops.The main entrance, at the north side was through an ornate dutch-gabled stone gateway. By 1633, a Widow Lampit had been given the free use of several rooms in the workhouse to teach and set the poor on work is spinning and carding.Eden, in his 1797 survey of the poor in England, reported of the St Mary's workhouse that: The Poor are chiefly maintained in a workhouse, erected about 20 years ago, for £1,400, of which £650 has been paid off. The parish has a standing overseer, who, it is generally observed, keeps down the rates more than officers elected annually. Tea is generally used here, twice a day, by the Poor; the other part of their diet is, principally, the best wheaten bread, and occasionally a little bacon; it is seldom sufficiently boiled, and is thought to give them the sallow complexion which is much observable here.
In winter generally about 80 or 90 persons in the house. Diet in Workhouse: Breakfast—Sunday—Bread, cheese and beer; Monday and Friday—Bread and broth; Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday—Milk pottage; Thursday— bread and cheese. The population falling within the union at the 1831 census had been 16,042 — 5,112 in St Giles 4,048 in St Lawrence, and 6,882 in St Mary.
By 1628, the site had been redeveloped to provide a workhouse for poor clothiers.
The impressive building (for which William Brockman, brickmaker of Tilehurst, supplied 200,000 bricks and 20,000 tiles) became known as "The Oracle" — the name possibly deriving from "orchal", a violet dye obtained from lichen.
The Oracle became a troop garrison during the English Civil War, and then 'an Habitation for an idle sort of Poor, who lived in it Rent free.' The building was demolished in 1850 and the site redeveloped. It rarely happens that a labourer supports himself, wife and children without applying for parochial aid; weavers who can earn 18s.
Later parish workhouses included: St Giles', an old building on Horn Street for 62 inmates; St Laurence's, a group of old cottages on Thorn Street, for 100 inmates; and St Mary's, a building on Pinkney's Lane dating from the 1770s, also for 100. a week do not hesitate soliciting relief, if a temporary stagnation of business curtails their common receipts, and reduces them to those difficulties which a little parsimony might have obviated.The mayor and burgesses were to purchase: a faire plot of ground within the said towne...