A trip back in time to the workhouse

It’s Wednesday and it’s time for Rambler5319 to take over with his guest post again. Enjoy….

 

Perhaps you remember the post NaCl (from 1st Aug) about salt: its early production techniques and different uses. In it I said I would try and visit the Salt Museum at Northwich in Cheshire and last Friday that’s what I did. First thing to note is that, a couple of years ago, the place changed its name from the Salt Museum to the Weaver Hall Museum & Workhouse. I had intended to write up on the whole visit but there was quite a bit of interesting stuff on the workhouse so will do that this week; next week will cover the salt bit of the Museum and another site visit.

I arrived, in boiling sunshine, an hour or so after opening time and yet was still able to choose any spec in the completely empty car park!

Here’s the front entrance
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The Museum is housed in the refurbished original buildings of the old Workhouse, built as you can see in 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne. The irony is that an original salt museum, built in 1887 by two local businessmen involved in the salt industry, collapsed due to salt mining subsidence! A replacement was built in 1909 and eventually the collection moved to Weaver Hall in 1981.

I went in and paid my entry fee; parking was free. The curator led me through to the start point – the video room; a film show for one as I was the only visitor so far. After the brief intro film, the first displays were all workhouse related. Of course the workhouse was never meant to be an easy life; it was tough in order to deter people from taking it as an easy option. No state handouts for people to become dependent upon. All inmates had to work. Children were educated in the belief that by so doing they would improve themselves and their prospects. Here’s a quote from a 1901 Poor Law Handbook:

“The care and training of children are matters which should receive the anxious attention of Guardians. Pauperism is in the blood, and there is no more effectual means of checking its hereditary nature than by doing all in our power to bring up our pauper children in such a manner as to make them God-fearing, useful and healthy members of society.”

Interesting that they saw ‘pauperism’ as an inherited (“in the blood”) condition.
Here’s a poster, from a London workhouse in 1902, showing one kind of job people were given to do – in this case, Oakum Picking:
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Note, from the write-up, the effects on people doing this work over a period of time. I’m sure they are what today we would call RSI (repetitive strain injury).
Next up was the laundry area and here are some examples of items you would expect to find there:
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You can see the two signs to encourage the workers to keep going: one says, “Hard Work Is Its Own Reward” and the other hanging on the right wall, “Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness”. Do you believe it?

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An interesting chart was this one below giving the daily & weekly meal allowances for each category of inmate: male, female, child, over 60s, nursing mothers & sick. Have a good look through and see what you reckon to those meals if you had to eat them.
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In some areas of the country H.M. Prisons allowed each prisoner 292oz (8.27kg) food per week; workhouse rations, in the same area, were set at 137oz (3.88kg). Meals were to be conducted in silence and sometimes without cutlery! However if you look at the allowances in the Northwich Workhouse some do seem quite generous. I was curious as to what they might equate to so did a quick measure on my kitchen scales of some of the food rations there.

For example, here’s a pic of the over 60s allowances which they could have in place of the breakfast gruel.
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Here’s the same sugar ration in a jam jar:
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1oz of tea per week equates to the tea in approx 14 tea bags (had to add a bit as theirs would have been loose tea); that means approx 2 cups of tea/day. 5oz butter looks reasonable but it has to last a week. The sugar pile on the plate is 6ins (15cms) diameter, or roughly half a jam jar, but as they were not getting any other sweet food maybe that just had to do. Apart from sugar in tea what else would they use it for?

Bread weight works out at roughly 1 slice (modern day) = 1oz (on my bread anyway); that means men got the equivalent of 12 slices/day, (adding breakfast & supper together) which seems quite a bit more than I’d consume. Most days men got 2lbs (908g) of potatoes.

Here’s my plate with 1lb (454g) so half a day’s ration:
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That’s 19 smallish potatoes so 38 for a day’s worth of 2lbs.

There were some other historical exhibits but not related to the workhouse or salt industry. Here’s one poster, advertising a concert at a local dance hall, in the early 1960s.
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You could have seen the Beatles play for an entrance fee of 10/- (or 50p/80 cents). Notice you also got The Cadillacs and The Psychos on the same bill. The following week Gene Vincent was due to appear with “HMV Recording Stars” The Outlaws; tickets were only 7/6 (37.5p/60 cents) for that one. And you could dance for four hours (7.45-11.45pm) – if you had the energy. Ah, those were the days, eh?
Then I came across this one. It was quite a high toilet from the ground to seat level. I wondered why? The note on the top warned the reader not to use it in the corridor (as if anyone would in a public place!). You may be able to read that.
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It also said to lift the lid to find out more info, so I did and here’s what it said inside:
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Imagine that – no flush. You just leave the waste, which dropped down a long pipe, to be washed away by water from the kitchen. It didn’t say if the toilet was likely to be located upstairs or downstairs; if upstairs imagine the length of the pipe down to the ground floor where your number twos would wait for someone in the kitchen to empty the sink. Hmm…..(I understand some people pooh-poohed the idea of including this exhibit….haha.. See what I did there?)

The next exhibit was interesting because of why it was made: “the model of the canal boat Wren was presented to Rev R.V. Barker, at the end of his ministry, by the local boatmen and the address was signed by the captains of the canal boats – Wasp, Beagle, Bunbury & Wren – in recognition of his ministry to them in Nantwich in 1879.
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After the museum I headed north of the town to sit by the canal and have my sandwiches.
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What a lovely peaceful spot and, a few minutes later, just the chugging sound of a westbound narrow boat passing by.
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Different pace of life on the canals! 4 mph speed limit though most go a bit slower to prevent damage to the banks caused by the waves the boat creates as it goes along. Soon it was home time and back to the hustle & bustle of city life. (Time also to remember that we today have much to be thankful for in state and government provision so that the poor don’t have to go to institutions like the old workhouse any more.) It had been a really interesting day out.

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14 responses to this post.

  1. The Beatles for 80 cents!!! Can you imagine?!? That photo had me thinking those prices would be worth living in another time for … then I read about the toilet … 🙂

    Reply

  2. Never would have thought that they had a museum to salt. Now the movie SALT, that was pretty good. I watched it on TV last night…….lol

    Reply

  3. So interesting!!!

    Reply

  4. Great post there, thanks, really interesting

    Reply

  5. […] a follow up to the post NaCl (1.8.12). I covered the first part of it in last week’s post – “A Trip Back In Time To The Workhouse”. This one is to cover the salt side. Here’s my salt collection. (The tray map may be familiar […]

    Reply

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