Friday 20 June 2014

Get thee to the workhouse!

Southwell in Nottinghamshire is a small town with a lot of history.

We went for a trip around the workhouse, which is one of the earliest (1824) and is the most complete example remaining.
Southwell Minster showing the vegetable garden and Bramley apple tree in the foreground.
I learned some really interesting social history. Up until the early 19th century, if you were destitute, you went to your parish leaders and asked for help. You would be given 'poor relief' which would pay your bills and allow you to stay in your own home.
On the right is the toilet. Situated in the back yard and roofless.
After 1834, when you asked for help, the parish leaders would contact the workhouse and subject to assessment you would be offered a place in a workhouse. If you wanted to leave at any time, you were free to go, you just had to sign out, but you would not be given any help, you would have to find paid employment. During your stay there, the sexes were segregated at all times, and children were in their own wing.
At the discretion of the master, children may be able to see their parents for a short period on a Sunday, after church. All able-bodied inmates worked from dawn to dusk and in return, they were given three meals a day, a bed and a roof over their head. For many, it was a choice between this and starvation on the outside. Plus there was the bonus of free health care and education for the children. Workhouses were an effective and financially efficient way of providing relief to the poor. They saved the taxpayer a lot of money compared to financing the poor to remain in their own homes.
This lady was wonderful. She played a real character from the 19th century who managed to get herself into a bit of trouble for inciting others to sing normal songs instead of hymns and other misdemeanors. She found herself in financial difficulties after her husband had an accident on the farm where he worked and she was thrown out of the tied cottage. 'He got caught in the thresher. Cut to ribbons" she told me. "So you see, it's not my fault I'm in here." She also told us that matron was off to see the butcher again. Never came back with any meat, only a smile on her face. And as for Master, he kept going off to see his sick sister. She never got any better or any worse, but he was always in a much better mood after his visit. Fancy!
The two types of inmates. Idle and profligate. Blameless and deserving.

Although in a slightly different way, the poor lived here right up until the 1970s. Here is a one roomed apartment which housed a family of five.

Out and about viewing the other claims to fame, here is the Saracen's Head in Southwell, where Charles I spent his last night of freedom before surrendering at Newark Castle.

Southwell is also the birthplace of the Bramley apple, the first tree having been planted from a pip by a schoolgirl named Mary Brailsford. It is a really pretty little town, with the feel of a village, but with a majestic church plonked in the centre. The scale and contrast never fails to surprise.
Finally, here is a stained glass window in the Minster, designed by my friend's Dad, Patrick Reyntiens.
What did I wear? The Master's hat and a 1960's Hawaiian jumpsuit by Janet Lynn. When I first got it, it would have looked good accessorised with a red nose, a squirty flower and some big shoes, but I put in some darts, took out the side pockets, got rid of the green fabric additions, added some patch pockets on the front, and changed the neckline. A bit of decorative ric-rac completed the job.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderfully interesting blog! I have always wanted to visit a workhouse and now I feel like I have done with all your fantastic photos and details.
Good to see that jumpsuit finally got a day out. It has been kicking its heels in your wardrobe for an age! :)) xx

Anonymous said...

Ps: Like your new blogging extra! :) xx

Curtise said...

Fabulous refashioning of the jumpsuit, what glorious fabric! And I am laughing aloud at the sight of Pool Boy lounging on the Idle and Profligate bench - given all the cooking he does, I think he could be considered Deserving, don't you?
What an interesting place Southwell is. Social/industrial history is my thing, so I would love love love a browse around there. Ooh, the Master and Matron sound a naughty pair, don't they?! And a bit of Civil War history, apple heritage, and stained glass thrown in for good measure - perfect! Just look at that amazing window, and the awesome sky. Gorgeous! xxx

mispapelicos said...

Thank you so much for taking me with you in this tour.
looking wonderful in that dress

Fiona said...

Thanks for the tour of the workhouse, v.interesting. Your mister looks rather proud reclining there on the Idle & Profligate bench, surely not! Super jumpsuit, so clever of you to be able to alter it, I can only dream...

Vix said...

What a fascinating read, workhouses and the poor have always fascinated far more than tales of the aristocracy - probably 'cos I'd have ended up in one myself!
The posh school on the corner used to be one, bet the yummy mummies who clog up the avenue with their Audis would be horrified!
Love that Jimi snuck in.
You and Q look marvellous lounging on the benches. That jumpsuit is precious but I know what you mean about clown-like - I've resurrected a couple of horrors!

Helga said...

Oooo, how DIVOON is that jumpsuit, darling?!
You guys are just dripping with history! That workhouse is amazing, and you have been very informative about social history! I pretty much saw them as a place of slave labour, so I am now enlightened.....creepy place, though!