Thursday, June 2, 2016

England: Southwell Workhouse

Back in the day, if you couldn't pay your debts you didn't simply file for bankruptcy. You were sent to the workhouse until you paid what you owed . . . which is really trick to do if you're basically locked up. I visited the Southwell Workhouse, the first workhouse built that all the others copied.

Walking down this path and entering the institution was a last resort. A degrading shame. A stigma that would haunt you for the rest of your life.

Once inside, you were separated and segregated. Able-bodied women in one section, the men in another, and the children in a separate wing and later a completely different building. Families were torn apart. Efforts were made to find the men an apprenticeship or a job outside the facility, but since jobs were hard to come by and idleness was of the devil, men did menial tasks like picking oakum . . . stripping off old bits of tar from ropes used on ships so that the hemp could be re-used.

Women worked down in the cellars, where food was preserved and stored. Hmm. Dealing with spiders and dampness or rubbing your skin raw on hemp? Quite the choice.

Your accommodations were a bed and an outside privy (which was really just a hole in the ground).

Pretty grim, eh? But remember . . . the alternative was jail or running away to starvation. At least here you had a roof over your head and 3 meals a day. Granted, it was mostly gruel and a bit of meat, but better than nothing.


chappydebbie said...

Yikes. Pretty grim, indeed. But, fascinating too.

Southern-fried Fiction said...

Now I wonder which of your character will end up there?

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