Posts Tagged ‘workhouse’

Great Grandad’s workhouse.

August 27, 2015

I commented, yesterday, that my great grandfather had spent time in a workhouse and suggested that his was nothing like the one at Southwell.

In fact, when I check up I find it was probably not so different for I realise that by the time great grandfather was a resident, the union workhouse had been built. It looked like this. This picture dates from the buildings time as an old people’s home.

This picture comes from


My Great Grandfather, James was born in 1851 and he was just about 4 when his parents, older brother and younger sister ran out of money and had to go to the poor house. This is what the records show.

Uckfield Union Workhouse

Mayfield, Sussex

James Frost born 1827, Labourer – 47 days – 25.3.1855

Hannah Frost born 1831, Labourer – 47 days – 25.3.1855

George Frost born 1850 – 47 days – 25.3.1855

James Frost born 1851 – 47 days – 25.3.1855

Mary Frost born 1853 – 47 days – 25.3.1855

The stay may have seemed endless to young James and, no doubt to parents who would have been kept apart. But it was only 47 days. I wonder if James senior had an injury or illness and was unable to work. He had been an agricultural labourer before and was afterwards, living into the 1890s.

Anyway, and no doubt thankfully, he was able to return to a home somewhere and continue labouring. He and wife Hannah had nine more children and, as far as I know were never inmates again although their address in 1861 was ‘The Old Workhouse’ at Buxted.

In the workhouse

August 26, 2015

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.