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Living in the workhouse

The workhouse was strictly split into separate areas for the different classes of inmate. These were:

  • Able-bodied men
  • Able-bodied women
  • The elderly, disabled and sick
  • Children

Once the inmates had been placed within their ward they were unable to mix with the other classes of inmates. Husbands and wives were forbidden to talk to each other and children would often go for weeks without seeing their parents. Workhouses had one central dining room where all meals were eaten in silence with the inmates in rows all facing the same way to deter interaction. They also had their own school-rooms, nurseries, chapels, fever wards and mortuaries.

The inmates would sleep in huge dormitories on simple wooden or iron-framed beds. The bedding would often be a straw-filled mattress and cover. Bed-sharing, especially among the children, was common.

The inmates might also have to share one "toilet" among up to 100 inmates - this toilet was usually no more than a hole in the ground, although later on earth closets and chamber pots might be provided in the dormitories.

Once a week the inmates were bathed and the men shaved. These bath sessions would be supervised, which was a further imposition on the inmates' privacy and dignity.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2003]