In the workhouse

My great grandfather spent time in a workhouse. It was a village workhouse and maybe not as big and forbidding as the large ‘union’ workhouses which came a bit later. But nonetheless, the knowledge that my forebear spent time ‘on the parish’ gives me an interest in workhouses.

We recently visited a workhouse, in the care of the National Trust at Southwell which is between Nottingham and Newark.

It is a large and imposing building but it only housed about 300 inmates which makes it quite small for a union workhouse. The union, by the way, means a union of parishes that contributed funds to one central workhouse. It was cheaper than each parish having its own!

image002 This was, of course, a picnic area for visitors. I’m sure residents at the workhouse had no such treats.

Some would have worked in the kitchens or the laundry.


Others, and this would have been unusual, would have helped grow produce in the garden.

National Trust volunteers help to set the scene by dressing up as paupers and working in the same gardens.


A passageway in the cellars. Apparently for much of the year it was wet down here.


For we visitors there is electric light. Obviously in 1824 when this workhouse was built there was no electricity but we’d hope that when the building was still in use as a residential home for the elderly in the 1980s electricity had been added.


This cellar was used for storing potatoes. They had to be on the shelving because the floor could be ankle deep in floods.

The notices hung up are poignant.


Click on the picture for a larger version – and then remember that these residents are not criminals. They have just run out of money. And as workhouses went, this was liberal and enlightened.

Here’s a meal sheet for children. Oh yes, plenty of children were accommodated in workhouses. Some started their lives in such an establishment. Sadly, many ended their short lives in the workhouse.


Well we can see that the diet wasn’t all that varied with breakfast and supper being identical seven days a week. They got the meat and veg dinner three times per week and broth and more bread three times. It isn’t specific as to what kind of pudding made up the Saturday meal.

An interesting visit, but almost most shocking was that the building was, in effect, still a poor home in the 1980s.




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One Response to “In the workhouse”

  1. Janet Says:

    A friend in Ireland once told me of her mother’s fear of ending her days in the Work House.

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