The Workhouse and Infirmary, Southwell, Nottinghamshire
There were hundreds of workhouses all over the country in Victorian times and The Workhouse and Infirmary at Southwell in Nottinghamshire, now owned by the National Trust, is one of the best preserved. Workhouses were built to house the poor and destitute – it was a last resort for most of the people who came through the doors.
Though it might have provided a better option than trying to survive outside, life was harsh in the workhouse – if you’ve read certain novels by Dickens, you’ll have an understanding of how grim it was. Men, women and children were separated, those who were able to work had to; in return they had a roof over their heads, they were clothed (albeit in uniforms), they were fed and the children usually received some form of education.
It's hard to imagine it all when you stroll up the path through the kitchen gardens on a warm sunny day; ahead of you is the austere red brick building, typical of Victorian times. If you take a tour you can see the collections that tell of the 150 years of history; just imagine it, imagine sitting there day after day, set to some tedious task like picking tarred rope apart into small fibres, scrubbing and washing, breaking stones. In the 1970s the building was turned into bedsits and you can listen to the memories of people who lived here then; their stories have helped to recreate how it looked back then.
As is the way with the NT, there’s a café, a second hand book shop and picnic areas in the gardens. Tours start at 11am but it’s best to check the website before planning your trip as opening days vary throughout the year.
T: 01636 817260 All information correct at the time of writing