Thursday, 1 March 2012

Event - Southwell Workhouse: A place of despair for Victorian poor

THE Workhouse at Southwell has welcomed more than 350,000 through it's imposing doors since it opened as a visitor attraction ten years ago.

Marketed as the best preserved workhouse still standing in England, the incredible-looking building – which dates from 1824 – tells the hidden story of the poor through its thought-provoking tour and other special activities.

To start the anniversary year off in style, the venue, which is owned and run by the National Trust, will reopen for the new season on Wednesday with free entry to a new exhibition Ten Years of Housekeeping at The Workhouse.

What better way to spend that extra leap year day?

Also, on March 13 (the actual anniversary of the opening), the director general of the National Trust, Dame Fiona Reynolds, will attend a presentation of long-service awards to more than 40 volunteers who have helped bring the history of the building to life.

She'll also launch a new laundry room where, instead of the usual formal cutting of a ribbon, she'll cut a washing line complete with some delightful pauper's clothing.

Property manager Rachel Harrison adds: "We are all very excited about 2012 as the tenth anniversary of opening the Workhouse to the public.
"As well as the ever-popular Graft, Gruel and Good-For-Nothings Days, family fun days and Easter trails, we have special events planned for 2012 – including a Victorian village fete and community drama weekend. We hope as many people as possible will come and celebrate with us."

The Workhouse was built as a place of last resort for the poor and destitute of Southwell, and was still being used for temporary accommodation for families into the 1980s.

Built at a cost of £6,500, it was originally known as the Thurgarton Hundred Incorporated Workhouse and served 49 parishes, each represented by guardians who held regular meetings there.

After the building found itself under threat of development into residential flats in the 1990s, the National Trust intervened to acquire the property. It spent £4.5m and three years on the purchase and restoration of the building, which opened its doors to the public on March 13, 2002.

The Workhouse's austere whitewashed walls once played host to a range of inmates who were divided into children, the elderly and infirm and the able-bodied.

The story is told from the perspective of those who lived and worked there – and you can listen to their tales and decide for yourself whether it was a place of despair or a beacon of hope.

You'll meet the Reverend Becher, founder of the Workhouse, and immerse yourself in the unique atmosphere evoked by the audio guide, which is based on real archive records.

Anyone interested in social history will love discovering how society dealt with poverty through the centuries.
You can also explore the segregated work yards, day rooms, dormitories, master's quarters and cellars, then see the recreated working 19th-century garden and find out what food the paupers would have eaten. 

Among the surprising and entertaining characters you'll get to meet are Sarah Godson, who once bared her bottom in church, as well as a host of others whose moving stories are told in a energetic way.

You can also find out more about your own ancestry through regular heritage events, as well as discovering the challenges the National Trust faced to preserve this amazing property.

And don't forget the Victorian vegetable garden, planted and harvested following a three-year rotation method, popular during the 1850s.

A strong team of volunteers work the land every Wednesday and harvest seasonal goods for you to buy from the stunning vegetable barrow.

The Workhouse is open Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5pm. Admission is £7 for adults, £3.50 for children and £17.50 for a family. Details on 01636 817250/


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