Back to the workhouse

It’s been a long time, but next week I’m hoping to get back to the library for some more research on Blean Union Workhouse. I started the project by researching specific people who were in the workhouse on a specific date. Having managed to get quite a long way in tracing their stories, I turned my attention the workhouse itself.

The problem that I’m having, apart from the fact that the library is nearly an hour’s drive away, is that there is so much material it’s hard to know where to start and what to pull out. There are many huge books that are handwritten minutes of the Guardians’ meetings, containing regular reports on the financial status and also correspondence and other notes. There are files of letters. I’ve already spent time ploughing through the admissions registers.

There is so much data there, but the challenge is pulling useful, interesting information from it. Bearing in mind that it’s all hand-written, sometimes difficult to read, and individual resources are not indexed, I’m reduced to reading, making notes of interesting anecdotes within the records and looking for some sort of narrative thread.

I’m trying to concentrate my search around the 1880s to 1890s, as that’s when the families I researched were there, but I’m wondering whether I should try to make it a general history of the workhouse as well. There is a thesis available on the workhouse, but that seems to concentrate on earlier times, and sets the workhouse in the context of the society surrounding it, rather than focusing on the workhouse itself.

On the other hand, what in that history is likely to be interesting and relevant to readers? I can’t imagine that a detailed record of the finances would be interesting to read, and I don’t have the ability to pull out the deeper significance of them anyway. I’m interested in stories about the people, but such stories are likely to be short anecdotes rather than a long cohesive thread.

Any suggestions would be very welcome. In the meantime, I need to find the information I need to book a desk and order a resource for next week’s planned visit.


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  1. Rosalie Raftis

     /  July 23, 2015

    I am very interested in the workhouse as my great great great grandmother Mary Daws died there in 1872. I was able to visit Kent last year and saw the Workhouse and some of the villages where my people lived. Looking forward very much to your blog on this subject

  2. I think actually a real understanding of the social context of what it meant to go to the work house would be really interesting for a lot of people, especially when you consider the difference between then and today where parts of society not any expect assistance they actually think they deserve to have their lives fully funded and paid for,The difference in attitudes from then to today and just how bad things got before you sought assistance then opposed to living in a society where there are generations born on benefits with no intention of ever getting off them (a minority I know) possibly not quite the actual direction you were thinking of but still something I find fascinating

    • Yeah, that’s what I’m finding, actually. When you hear of someone being sentenced to a month of hard labour for failing to support their child, it brings home the difference between then and now. Is it better to have a system where people suffer or one where people can take advantage? Personally, I think the balance lies somewhere in the middle.

  3. beautybyyoux

     /  July 13, 2016

    Emily if possible can you get in contact with me at all? I’m hoping your blog is still live. I currently live in the converted hospital and am desperate for some info and pictures of the original workhouse / hospital. Would love to chat. Ellie X

    • Hiya, yes I’m still intending to carry out further research on the workhouse, I’m just limited by time and money at the moment. I don’t have any pictures of the original workhouse, but if you search the web there are some put up by Peter Higginbottom, who is a big researcher in the workhouse area. You can email me at coinlea at the big mailing system run by google – not writing the address openly as I get enough spam as it is, but hopefully that’s enough for you to decode it.


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