Sunday, 15 September 2013

In pictures: Southwell Workhouse


 
A Sunday drive to meet up with my dad found me in Southwell, a small cathedral town in north-east Nottinghamshire.  We'd chosen Southwell because he wanted to visit a National Trust property there, Southwell Workhouse.  Unusually for the Trust, this isn't a grand country house, but one of the first workhouses to be built in the UK.  We were lucky enough to arrive (by a happy accident rather than planning) on a Heritage Open Day, which meant we got in free, but the usual £7.50 charge would be well worth it.
 
The building housed both the old and infirm (who weren't expected to work), people of working age, and children. The men and women were expected to work for twelve hours a day - with breaks for meals only - while the children received three hours of schooling and worked for the remainder of the time. The work - scrubbing floors, digging the garden, breaking rocks - was deliberately dull, repetitive and exhausting. 
 
On a bleak and windswept day it made for a sobering visit.  The purpose of the workhouse was to provide accomodation and help for the very poorest, but to ensure that said accomodation was such hard work and so unpleasant that people wouldn't seek to enter it unless they were truly in need.  I was particularly struck by how similar much of the Victorian rhetoric about the "idle and profligate jobless" was to recent Coaltion scare-mongering about benefit 'scroungers'.  What with the recent controversy over the Workfare programme, I couldn't help but reflect on how little we have moved on as a society in the last two hundred years. 
 
 
 



5 comments:

  1. What lovely photos. I love seeing the little details, it always makes history feel so much more real to me. I love going to old buildings, I really should get back into the habit, I haven't been anywhere recently!

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    1. I'd really recommend a trip down the A1 to visit Southwell. The whole town is lovely, like something out of an Austen novel with gorgeous Georgian buildings.

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  2. Ooh, I love old buildings like this. Its great how they've retained it to look how it would have done back in the day.

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