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We enjoyed our visit very much especially the tour and talk given by Brian but a tea shop is badly needed, we would really have enjoyed a cuppa to round off our visit.
I haven't visited the work house recently however it is dissapointing not read of the nursery in the front part of the building from where many babies and youngsters where adopted in the 50's as this may appeal to many just from a nostalgia point of view.
I was adopted from there in 1953 and visited in the early 90's when I first found out that this was the place my new life started from, sitting in the office talking to staff about the facts of my adoption they had records and to my amasement told me I was quite possibly sat in the office where my birth mum was when she actualy handed my sister and I over even more possiblt still the same furniture from the same day still in there also
I have since located and met my other siblings who stayed either at home or with other memnbers of family and my eldest sister can remember going there with mum not only at hand over time but she also thinks they visited prior to adoption
When I was searching for birth family information the staff there wher truely helpfull and informative
Guess now I should visit and see if my recent memories of my visit are extended on with the " Work House " experience adding to these
This workhouse is now owned by the national trust and is set in the most beautiful setting. It is around £6 per person to get in and this includes an audio tour.
I enjoyed going into the village for lunch before entering the workhouse. There are some lovely pubs and shops to look around making it a full day out. The workhouse is easy to find and is very accessable from the motorway - car parking is also free and plentyful.
Very friendly and helpful - 2 older ladies in the shop give you your audio tour and take your entrance fee. They were very knowledgeable and more than happy to help with any enquiries you may have.
A little long and drawn out in parts. I feel it could have been condensed for better effect. We got a little bored in parts and skipped on.
The workhouse itself
A very interesting building to visit - shows its previous uses very well (right up to when it was used in the 60s as a bedsit for poor families!) Unfortunately not all the work house is open due to decay - this is a shame as there are some interesting rooms locked away.
Well worth a visit - especially if youre a national trust member and its free!
Southwell Workhouse is by far my favourite National Trust property. A must see for any Victorian History fan or National Trust lover. Also a great place to go during the summer holidays if you want to keep your kids minds active.
Southwell workhouse is the greatest surviving example of the Victorian workhouse and it just so happens to be the blue print that all the other workhouses were built on. Southwell Workhouse was the brain child of an idea by Rev. John Becher who had set up a parish workhouse as his solution to relief those in desperate situations. After his parish workhouse did infact help to reduce the poor rates (by about 70%? if I remember right!) he sold his idea to a further 50 local parishes forming a union. They then went on to adapt their workhouse ideals on a larger model starting work on Southwell in 1824.
If I remember correctly (again!) it was used as a workhouse until the start of 1900 when it was converted into a hospital for the terminally ill and in the 1960s a wing was converted into flats for single mothers and the national trust has done one of the rooms up to how it would of been used then, with the archers blasting out sugar sugar from a record player. It's so surreal to go from the big spaceous silent rooms down a little corridor to the bright little flat.
As you go around Southwell Workhouse you are given an audio guide and really have to use your imagination as, of course, no authentic furniture from the workhouse days survives. But walking around the workhouse is so eery but beautiful! If you're only planning on going once you need to take it all in, don't rush from room to room but listen to your audio guide, read the poem in the upstairs bedroom, walk along the well worn grooves in the flooring and picture the crowded rooms and beds. Find out all the nitty gritty facts like these: If there were more people than work in the work house inmates were made to re-paint the walls over and over and historians have found hairs of inmates trapped between the layers of paint, and how they had to stop bone crushing after inmates were caught eating rotting flesh off the bone they were so hungry. And for a history buff like me I found that ruddy fascinating.
The workhouse is a great place to go to now, as it's really hitting home with this 'credit crunch' people loosing jobs, in debt ect and to think if it was only 100 odd years ago some of our loved ones might of been facing the workhouse.
Only thing is, remember to take a pack lunch (although there are some lovely pubs nearby!) The workhouse has a basic toilet block but that's it. You can't complain about their not being a cafe because if there was one I think it would completely ruin the whole feel of the place.
My wife and I live in Birmingham and last weekend we went on the long awaited trip to the Workhouse. The drive took us approximately two hours some of that time spent trying to find the Workhouse as we saw no sign advertising it's whereabouts. Anyway directions from a very friendly local found us pulling up in the carpark. The sight of the Workhouse promised much and the National Trust must be congratulated on saving such an important historical building for the nation. Unfortunately, once inside, our initial excitement and expectations were quickily brought down to earth by a building full of empty rooms and a sign saying 'No photography beyond this point'. This was quite amusing as there was nothing to photograph anyway. Both of us love history as do many of our family and friends, but I find I am unable to recommend this building to anyone as the disapointment is beyond belief. A two hour drive, nothing to eat once you get there, and a building full of nothing. True, the audio guide was interesting to a point and quite different but even that lost it's appeal after a while. The NT I think needs to rethink on this one.....great job, great idea but sadly lacking in imagination. Sorry!
The Workhouse, in the wonderful village of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, is the best surviving example of these 19th century institutions in the UK. Southwell itself is situated 13 miles East of Nottingham and about 8 miles from the town of Newark.
The Workhouse institutions were linked with the Poor Laws which date back over 400 years. The Old Poor Law made every local parish responsible for its own poor, and the cost was passed on to property owners in the parish. While public opinion, just like today, varied enormously, the cost was getting out of hand with a doubling of costs to £8million in the fifteen year period until 1818.
Rev John Thomas Becher, in Nottinghamshire, had experimented with a small workhouse in Southwell and after reducing the poor rates by 75% he gained the support of surrounding parishes to pool their resources and copy his workhouse ideas on a grander scale, gaining the economy of scale. The scheme involved 49 surrounding parishes and the Southwell Workhouse was built in fields in 1824. It went on to be the model and influenced the new national system, finally leading to amendments in the Poor Law Act (1834), or the New Poor Law.
These workhouses were in place right up until the move to the modern welfare state in 1948, after the Second World War. While some institutions remained, they were taken over by different public bodies e.g. converted to State Hospitals. The local authority in Southwell used Southwell Workhouse until the late 1970s to house homeless families. It was finally purchased by the National Trust in 1997 to protect it from being potentially developed into luxury flats. The National Trust had recognised that it was in the best condition of all Workhouses across England and Wales and acquired it, with the intention of carrying out repair where necessary and creating a very interesting historical place of interest with regards to the Poor Laws and 19th century life as a result. The Workhouse was finally opened to the public in 2002.
Entrance fees are an affordable £4.90 for adults, with concessions for children and families. There are even lower entrance fees available for those who arrive on greener modes of transport and not their own car (although I am not sure how they would know this!). There is a large parking area at the entrance to the grounds, which was unmanned midweek. A level pathway running at the side of the substantial front grounds and vegetable plots leads to the very small shop and reception area for tickets. (Note there are no eating facilities at the Workhouse, visitors should plan on eating in the nearby village if necessary). There was a small amount of potatoes, grown at the site, simply bagged available for sale at the reception for very reasonable prices.
Visitors tour the Workhouse via a self guided tour, and with the aide of an Audio Guide. You are also provided with a small information pamphlet showing a layout of all floors of the workhouse, and for a further £3 you can purchase a NT guide to the property. I joined the NT on the day of my visit, and received my NT guide as a free gift for membership (as well as immediate free entry). You will see there are guides in some of the rooms as you tour the property, who are happy to discuss different aspects of the Workhouse, and you can also pre-book a guided tour, for an additional fee.
The Workhouse itself is a triumph of architecture and design. There are three wings to the property, all spanning from a central tower, which included the Masters living quarters and offices. This ensured that Men, Women, were all housed separately, and did not routinely meet in the course of carrying out their duties.
The tour itself begins with a short introductory film giving history and background information to the Workhouses, what life was like within them, and why people ended up in them. The writings of Reverend Becher are used as the narrative to much of this film.
The Paupers who entered the workhouse fell into different categories, namely, the old and infirm who could not work, and children, both deemed to be the deserving poor and adults who were poor because they chose not to work, or did not have the skills to do paid work, or the undeserving poor. As the tour begins, with the Mens wing, you can get to visit the different sections of the property, with the able bodied and infirm having separate exercise yards, day rooms and dormitories. A clever overlapping architectural feature of two opposite staircases for each wing ensures that the two groups never meet, despite the fact they could be in almost adjoining rooms. The able bodied are given gruelling menial tasks as work, which is unpaid, while the elderly and infirm did not have such demands placed on them.
The audio tape tells a story, with the recreation of a visiting Poor Law Inspector, getting a tour of the Workhouse and meeting various paupers along the way. This is combined with general information on the audio recording and works well, although can be a little too long in places. The tour itself is extensive, and will take well over 1 hour minimum as you wander through the yards, day rooms, dormitories of the segregated groups and visit both the staff areas and Masters offices and rooms, and the kitchens, scullery and cellars.
Very little furniture survives from the time, and it takes some imagination to form images of how the various rooms may have been laid out, with information gathered by the Trust from old pictures, surviving staff or paupers and the clues that the rooms themselves can offer e.g. the position of hooks on the walls might indicate the layout of the dormitories, as indeed do the wear marks on the floor.
The Workhouse is in strikingly good condition. The National trust has carried out some restoration on the exterior, based on Bechers plans. The layers and layers of paint have been peeled back and most rooms have been repainted to show how they might have looked in the mid 19th century, when most of England and Wales 600 Workhouses were complete and being ran under the new Poor Law Act. As very little furniture survived the Trust did make a conscious decision not to use reproduction furniture, but it is possible to see the differences between the areas, for example the simple painted brick of the pauper areas compared with the plastered walls and fireplaces of the Masters areas. Painting the walls every year would have been carried out by the paupers themselves. By contrast, one mans dormitory has been left in the exact condition that the National trust found it, and one of the womens dormitories HAS been recreated using beds and bedding which were typical of other institutions of the times.
I felt the tour gave an excellent insight into the lives of the paupers and indeed the staff. Workhouses were ran with very few staff, typically a Master and Matron, and Schoolmaster to around 135 paupers, although as the 20th century came, more staff were added and there were usually less inmates. Despite the fact that many may have been better fed on the very basic diet compared with what they might have received outside its walls, being admitted to the Workhouse was a last resort for many.
I felt that the 1970s bed-sit towards the end of the tour was particularly interesting, for the reason that the audio tape is a recording of a woman who lived there at that time, at the same time I myself would have been in my childhood. This one room housed the entire families beds, fireplace, sofa and cooking area and shows very clearly what life would have been like for the desperate and homeless even in relatively modern times.
The whole tour is extensive, and the advantages of the audio system are realised as you can spend as little or as much time at each particular point on the tour, with additional information stored on the tape for those who want to access it. The tour ends with a display room, charting a timeline of life, legislation and the workhouse around its walls, together with some hands on displays. Unfortunately the upper floors are not accessible for wheelchair users, but there is a virtual tour available.
The Workhouse is most certainly worth a visit, especially for National Trust members visiting or living in the area, but represents good value for money even for non members.
Tel 01636 817250
Open 12-5 every day except Tuesday during the summer months. Restricted opening hours apply during September, and the winter, check website for latest information before planning a trip. Guided tours available between 11-12 on opening days, subject to advance booking and groups welcome.
The best-preserved workhouse in England. Explore the workshops and dormitories of this imposing early 'welfare' institution. Meet 19th-century inhabitants with our audio guide. Interactive displays chart poverty through the ages. Play 'The Master's Punishment' game.