The original Union formed in 1818 consisted of 10 modern civil parishes which maintained their own poor. They were Rugby, Hillmorton, Bilton, Newbold on Avon, Long Lawford, Church Lawford, Clifton upon Dunsmore, Leamington Hastings, Kings Newnham and Newton. The agreement was signed on 27th June 1818.
The agreement specified that a new House of Industry would be built in Rugby, with the parishes sharing the costs in 'due proportions' to their poor rate. The House of Industry was to be run by the Governor supervised by a Guardians' Committee consisting of the Overseers of the Poor for the united parishes. There was also a Visitor who was appointed by the Justices to monitor the conditions in the House.
The new House of Industry was on a green field site on the south side of the Lower Hillmorton Road. The building contract with Thomas Harrall, mason and Richard Over, carpenter, both of Rugby was signed on 1st August 1818.
The house was built to accommodate 130 and by April 1819 was being fitted out and equipped. Beds and bedding were ordered for fifty beds. The iron bedsteads had deal bottoms with straw bolsters, 2 sheets and a blanket.
The first Governor and Matron were Mr and Mrs Charles Wilson of Dunchurch who took up their posts at the start of May 1819 on a salary of 80 guineas per year. The House opened for the reception of paupers on Thursday 24th June 1819.
The initial labour tasks were the production of hemp sacks for the men and spinning for the women. By May 1821 the Union had expanded to include 21 parishes.
On the 29th March 1836 the new Rugby Poor Union came into being, under the control of the Poor Law Commission in London. It consisted of 39 Parishes, in 3 counties with a total population of 16,668 in 1831. The 30 Warwickshire parishes were fundamentally the area covered by the present Borough. The 8 Northamptonshire parishes had mostly been in the old Rugby Union. The parish of Westrill and Stromore in Leicestershire was included. The new Board of Guardians consisted of the local Justices of the Peace and a number of elected guardians, at least one from each parish.
As the workhouse site belonged to the original founding 10 parishes the new Union had to pay a rent of £160 per year for use of the site. This continued until 1849 when the Board of Guardians bought the site for £4000.
In 1866 the first full time nurse was appointed after pressure from the Poor Law Board and the sick ward was further improved. A further enlargement was carried out in 1873.
By 1875 there were 50 elected guardians for 42 parishes. By the mid 1880s further expansion had occurred, the Union had taken on the additional tasks of sanitary district board and school attendance board and these required further specialist officers to be employed.
The workhouse now had an assistant relieving officer to deal with vagrants. There were 8 Medical Officers covering various districts, based in Rugby, Bilton, Crick, Yelvertoft, Brinklow, Marton and Dunchurch. There were also 3 relieving officers based at Rugby, Crick and Dunchurch, who also administered the public vaccinations. There was also an assistant overseer of the poor for Rugby Parish.
Between 1872 and 1892 Rugby Workhouse School averaged around 30 children. In 1894 Rugby Union closed its school. The Workhouse Teacher was replaced by a Children's Caretaker.
The average number of inmates during the winter rose from 99 in 1891 to 129 in 1895. In 1895 a further extension was made to the sick bay, the Guardians having rejected the cost of a new infimary building. In 1897 nursing by paupers was ended by appointing a wardsmaid and a second full time nurse.
The numbers using the workhouse kept growing; the averages reaching 148 in 1904-5 and 149 the following year. It was only in 1905 that the Guardians agreed to build a new infirmary.
About 1912 Rugby Union created 3 children's homes. The McClure and Townsend homes were in Charles Street and the Mitchison home was in Cromwell Road. Each home was run by its own Matron.
By 1923 there were a total of 71 elected guardians although from only 40 parishes. The staff outside the workhouse consisted of a clerk and assistant clerk, 8 medical officers for the districts, 2 relieving officers based at Rugby and Dunchurch and an assistant at Rugby. There was also a full time vaccination officer.
In the workhouse the master had a clerk who also acted as storekeeper and the matron had an assistant. There were now 6 nurses, a nursery assistant and a women's attendant. There were also a cook and a laundress.
In 1930 the old poor law unions ceased to exist and the 'Public Assistance Institutes' , the new name for the workhouses, were taken over and run by the County Council. By this stage 'in-door' relief had been abolished for the able bodied and the remaining occupants were the ill, infirm and elderly.
The Rugby Union Board of Guardians was replaced by the Rugby Area Guardians committee. It only met quarterly and the members were appointed by local authorities rather than elected and the mix reflected the new area served by the Rugby Workhouse. The parishes outside Warwickshire had been replaced with those of Monks Kirby Rural District, which had been part of Lutterworth Union, so the Rugby committee still covered 38 parishes.
At the start of the Second World War the infirmary was designated an Emergency Hospital. An Ambulance Station was created with access from Temple Street and the Temple Street Clinic probably started as a first aid post.