Time for some workhouse research

A photo of the pile of books I have for research

I have some heavy reading to do!

Following on from my previous post about my workhouse research, I’m definitely planning to do more research, to find out what I can about the inmates of the workhouse from that 1881 census: who they were, why they were there and what happened to them. I’ve collected a few books on the general topics of workhouses and local history, and it will be up to me to tie the two together.

I’ve been informed that the records are kept at the county’s historical records office, not at the local cathedral where I was originally told, so once I have some time I’ll be heading out there to get my reference library card and see what’s actually available. Worst case scenario: the records there are poor or non-existent and I’m reduced the sort of research I had to do for the Newing children – which still proved engaging and fruitful. Best case scenario: I can find out some real information about what their lives were like in there.

I’ve also contacted the man who wrote some of these books and runs the workhouses website. He appears to be the main expert on the workhouses in this country, and he’s wished me luck with the project. So having made it all so public I’ve got some real incentive to keep going!

My first step, apart from noting the snippets in the local history books, is to read the My Story book, which is the (fictional!) diary of a young teenager at the time of the workhouse. It mentions a workhouse near to Canterbury, but it goes by the fictional name of Stoneleigh, so I don’t know which one, if any specific one, the author was thinking of. So far, there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t be Blean Union Workhouse (or the Union, as I’m told it was always known in the area). This at least will ease me into the realities of life in a workhouse, without being too heavy to cope with on top of dealing with the last couple of weeks of work.

Then once I have the time I want to devote at least a few hours a week to serious research, not to mention at least a scouting trip to the historical records office, and hopefully more time spent there if the resources prove worth it.

I’ve watched these historical programmes on TV – thanks for the heads-up about the series based on ancestors in the workhouse – and I used to find it silly that people would tear up when hearing of the fate of Great-Grandad or whoever, but having researched a family I’d never heard of previously and finding that strangely emotional I now have much more sympathy for them!

Talking of which – there’s another of those TV programmes on tonight at 9pm. The first episode is still available in iplayer on the link above, so check it out!

Leave a comment


  1. Are you going to write a fictional book about it?


    • Might well do, but first just writing up my research. I actually got onto the workhouse when I thought of setting a ghost story in one of the houses that it was made into.


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